Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Origin of Buddhism

Siddharta Gautama, founder of Buddhism, came from Shakya clan. He was born at Lumbini in the southern Nepal at the beginning of the Mgadh Period (546-324 BCE). His father Suddodhana being the ruler of Kapilvastu, Siddharta spent the early years of his life in utmost luxury. Before long, he got in touch with the life outside. He was deeply grieved at the sights he saw. He later concluded that rel life was all about inescapable grief and sorrow. He then chose to become an ascetic. But ascetism asceticism too seemed to be meaningless. It was then that he decided to lead moderation and not to engross himself in penance and self mortification. He sat under a fig tree, the Bodhi Tree (as it is famous now) and decided to seek truth. He vowed not to leave the place until he got the answers to the worldly troubles. At the age of 35, he gained enlightenment and became popular as Lord Buddha.

Though Buddha was immensely accepted during his lifetime and the number of adherents continued to grow, it was only during the royal patronages of kings and rulers that added up to its domain. A number of Buddhist councils were held in different parts of the country. The First Buddhist Council was held during the 5th century at Rajgaha under the noble support of King Ajatasattu. The Second Buddhist Council was organised at Vaisali a hundred year later.

It was only during the reign of Maurya ruler Ashoka the great that Buddhism came to be established at the national level. Ashoka, after being greatly shocked at the bloody sight of Kalinga, had a change of heart. He later followed Buddhism and decided to lead a peaceful life. He set up a number of monuments and stupas all around the country. These pillars and stupas bore the noble teachings of the Buddhist faith. He even sent emissaries to far off countries to spread the message of Lord Buddha.

King Kanishka, during the 2nd century BC, organised the Fourth Buddhist Council at Kashmir. It was during this council that the Sanskrit cannon of the scriptures are said to have been fixed. This happened due to the two schisms that were formed - Mahayana and Hinayana. After this, Kanishka also applied numerous changes. The ancient Buddhist relics came to be worshipped. Images of Lord Buddha were set up and treated with utmost respect. Local residents were also allowed to visit the monasteries. And before long, an exotic cult transformed into a well-accepted religion. By the end of the 7th century, Buddhism had fairly spread throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Later on, the Indian royalty and merchants immensely supported the religion and set up a number of monasteries and stupas all over the country. The most important was the monastery complex at Nalanda in Bihar. It served as a major Buddhist centre to the whole world. The Turkic invaders, however, devastated and destroyed many of the monasteries in the country and Buddhism became less intense. In countries like Bhutan and Sikkim, independent Himalayan kingdoms, Buddhism survived. The tribal in the Norteast India still practised the faith. Sri Lanka too was among the upholders of the Buddhist tradtions. One of the reasons for a sudden decline of Buddhism could be the royal patronage that shifted from Buddhist to Hindu intellectual schools.

During the early 20th century, Indian witnessed the rise of Buddhism. The European antiquarian and dedicated activities of Indian devotees specially owe the credit. The foundation of the Mahabodhi Society in the year 1891 helped immensely to popularize the philosophy of Buddhism. The Himalayan communities and the Tibetan refugees practise vajrayana that came into existence from the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Vajrayana emphasises the intercession of Bodhisattvas, the enlightened beings who take birth to guide the people on earth along the path of the truth. In the Himalayan kingdoms, a hierarchy of monks is established and Buddhists held them in high regard.

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