An iconic figure of Sakyamuni Buddha is enough to perceive the grandeur of this historical leader who influenced the social and political frame of India. There was an unprecedented charm in Buddhist teachings and Buddhist philosophy, something that is as relevant then as it is now.
No written records about the birthday of Gautam Buddha were found from his lifetime or from the one or two centuries thereafter. However, most people accept that this one of the great spiritual gurus lived, taught, and founded a monastic order during the Mahajanapada era during the reign of Bimbisara (c. 558 – c. 491 BCE, or c. 400 BCE), the ruler of the Magadha empire. He died during the early years of the reign of Ajatasatru, who was the successor of Bimbisara. Another widely accepted time frame for his life is between 563 BCE and 483 BCE. More recently his death is dated between 411 and 400 BCE, while at a symposium held in 1988, the majority of those who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha’s death. These alternative chronologies, however, have not been accepted by all historians. Although, birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha or Buddha Jayanti is celebrated on May 12 each year and is a major Buddhist festival.
The evidence of the early texts suggests that Siddhārtha Gautama/Buddha was born into the Shakya clan, a community which was inhabiting on the periphery of the eastern Indian subcontinent. According to Buddhist tradition, this place was called Lumbini (in modern-day Nepal). He was raised in Kapilvastu, the Shakya capital, which may have been either the present day Tilaurakot in Nepal or Piprahwa in India.
Born to Shakya Chief of Kapilvastu, Suddhodana, and Queen Maya, the daughter of the king of Lumbini, Buddha has a story that everyone should listen to. It is believed he was born en route Lumbini, under a sal tree. The infant was given the name Siddhartha which meant “he who achieves his aim” in a ceremony that took place after 5 days of his birth in which 8 Brahmins scholars were invited to read the future.
They all gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man except for the youngest Brahmin Kondanna who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.
King Suddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, shielded him from any contact with human suffering as well as religious teachings. It was after spending 29 years as the prince of Kapilavastu, Siddharth finally got a glimpse of the real world outside. It so happened that Gautam decided to meet his subjects, and in that attempt, he saw an aged man for the first time. His charioteer, Channa explained to him that all people grew old. In further trips, he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. His comprehension of the world suggested that he could overcome all this suffering by meditation and becoming an ascetic and thus, he decided to leave the royal responsibilities and family to attain enlightenment.
After leaving the palace, Buddha went from place to place over a period of 6 years, learning and mastering the technique of meditation. He once came to a point where he starved himself but in return gained no spiritual awakening. Finally, after meditating for 49 days under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, Bihar, Siddharth is said to have become what was prophesied for him – Buddha – the Awakened One.
With the awakening, the most important learning for enlightenment unfolded – the Middle Path, which construes following a path which away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Buddha also emphasised realizing enlightenment on one’s own. Here are the pillars of Buddha’s teaching:
The ideals of Buddhism are collectively known as the ‘Three Jewels’, or the ‘Three Treasures’. It is by making these the central principles of your life that you become a Buddhist. These are:
The Buddha (the yellow jewel): The Buddha refers both – the historical Buddha and the ideal of Buddhahood itself. The whole Buddhist tradition derives from the historical Buddha and all schools regard him as their root founder, guide and inspiration.
The Dharma (the blue jewel): Primarily it refers to the life teachings of the Lord Buddha. However, the word ‘Dharma’ has a number of meanings but most importantly it means the unmediated Truth. In this second sense, Dharma is the teaching that was born with the enlightenment of Buddha and were the communicated by him in the first sermon at Sarnath. The occasion is traditionally referred to as ‘the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma’, and the eight-spoked Dharma wheel is a common emblem of Buddhism.
The Sangha (the red jewel): Sangha refers to spiritual community, in broader terms it refers to the people with whom we share our spiritual lives and experiences. According to Buddhist teaching, we all need other people to learn from, we need guidance as well as support and friendship of other practitioners. This is very important because Buddhism is not an abstract philosophy or creed; it is a way of approaching life and therefore it only has any meaning when it is embodied in people. If we are to practise the Dharma we need the example and teaching of others who have done so before us, especially those who have gained insight into the nature of reality themselves. So the third of the Three Jewels is the Sangha or the spiritual community.
The Four Noble Truths: First Wheel of Dharma
Suffering: Buddha make one realizes that in life there’s always an involvement of suffering, in one form or the other.
The Cause of Suffering: The cause of suffering is craving and ignorance, which construes that we suffer because of our mistaken belief, greed or may be ego.
The End of Suffering: The good news is that our problems are temporary and the suffering can end as the awakened mind is always available to us.
The Path: Buddha preached that by practicing meditation, developing wisdom, and following a disciplined life we can take a journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering.
The two other Wheels of Dharma are Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention. While these teachings are the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism in which Buddha explains how to attain full enlightenment, or Buddhahood, for the sake of others; in the Hinayana teachings, Buddha explains how to attain liberation from suffering for oneself alone.
Another important formulation of the path is the Threefold Way of ethics, meditation, and wisdom. It is discerned as a progressive path, as ethics and a clear conscience provide basis for meditation, on the ground of which wisdom can develop. The Threefold Way includes:
Buddha preached that to live is to act, and our actions have either harmful or beneficial consequences for ourselves and others around us. Buddhist core ethical code is known as the Five Precepts which are principles of training. The Buddhist tradition acknowledges that life is complex and comes with several difficulties. It suggests that not one single course of action can be right in all circumstance, however it deciphers the action not as right or wrong but speak being skilful (kusala) or unskilful (akusala).
Meditation is the second stage of the threefold way and as far as Buddhism is concerned, this stage had its significance from the time of Buddha and his journey to enlightenment.
Buddha taught that the fundamental cause of human adversities is our existential ignorance. In order to abolish it, we need to hear and reflect on the teachings that indicate the Buddhist vision of life. Wisdom or Prajna means developing our own direct understanding of the truth.
The Noble Eightfold Path:
This can be assessed as the extended version of the Threefold Way and it is indeed an important and widely known Buddha’s teaching. Traditionally the teaching is considered as eight areas or ‘limbs’ of ‘right’ practice, which have a relationship to one other and are each essential element in an integrated approach to the Dharma:
- Right Understanding or Perfect Vision
- Right Resolve or Perfect Emotion
- Right Speech or Perfect Speech
- Right Action or Perfect Action
- Right Livelihood or Perfect Livelihood
- Right Effort or Perfect Effort
- Right Mindfulness or Perfect Awareness
- Right Meditation or Perfect Samadhi
Relevance of Buddhist Teachings in the Modern World:
Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity. – Buddha
Buddhism has something to offer and is relevant in all times. According to Dalai Lama, “Buddhist science and Buddhist philosophy have a great deal to offer to everyone. We don’t need to look at, or be interested in, Buddhist religion in order to benefit from the teachings and insights that are available in Buddhist science and philosophy.” If it is observed, Buddhist science deals with human psychology; it is an in-depth analysis of how the mind, emotions, perception work. It also deals in the area of logic, and insights into cosmology. On the other side, Buddhist philosophy deals with reality – our comprehension of reality and how one can deconstruct fantasies and projections about reality. With a detailed study about this, one can find both Buddhist philosophy and science to be helpful in training the mind and developing a more beneficial attitude toward life. So even if someone does not accept Buddhist as a religion but learns to live according to its teachings can lead a happy and blessed life.
Contribution of the Buddha and Buddhism:
Buddha has been a prominent influencer in the history of ancient India. The life story of Buddha and his teachings helped the country undergo major social and political changes. The founder of Buddhism Religion has contributed significantly in shaping our constitution as well. Here are what can be affirmed as the life achievements of Gautam Buddha:
Nothing brought Indian subcontinent closer in political and social field than Buddhism. The religion promoted a sense of national feeling amongst the Indians and it somehow shattered the dominance of the caste system which stood in the way of the achievement of this unity. It was mainly due to this unity and social harmony that the Mauryas could establish a powerful empire. E. B. Havell recognized the contribution of Buddhism when he stated “In social and political sphere Buddhism has played the same role in cultivating a national spirit in India which Christianity did in 7th century to integrate the diversified elements of Saxon Hierarchy.”
Curb on the Violent Spirit:
Buddhism emphasized Ahimsa or non-violence, which greatly affected the people. It is well known that Emperor Ashoka, under the influence of Buddhism gave up on war and started to practice Ahimsa.
Contact with Outside World:
Buddhist religion in India became the first religion to go trans-border with the support of kings like Ashoka and Kanishka (majorly). The religion spread to countries like China, Japan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Tibet and Sri Lanka. According to J. N. Sarkar, “Due to the spread of Buddhism in foreign countries, foreigners considered India as a holy place and the sources of their religion. This contact with the outside world also promoted political and commercial relations with these countries.”
A Simple and Comprehensible Religion:
According to K. M. Panikar, “To the common man this (Buddhism) was indeed a new gospel. There were no secret mantras, no expensive yagas or sacrifices and indeed no difficult doctrines as in the Upanishads.” And thus, it turned out to be a religion that could be easily followed by the common people.
Added to the Morals and Values:
Buddhism came attached with lessons of morality. It directed people to practice virtues like charity, purity, self-sacrifice, truthfulness, control over passions, non-injury to living creatures in thought and action. It is not that these were not known to the people as they have been mentioned in the Upanishads but it was Buddhism that put these virtues in actual practice.
Buddhism made a significant contribution in the field of education also. The Buddhist Sanghas and Viharas served as centres of education for students from far off destinations, including foreign countries, came here to receive education. Nalanda, Taxila and Vikramshila which gained reputations as great educational centres were actually originally only Buddha Viharas.
Development of Art:
A commendable contribution in the field of art, architecture, sculpture could also be seen by Buddhism. The Viharas, mandaps, yajnashalas, altars as well as stupas are the finest architecture example. It has to be noted that Buddhists were the first ones to erect cave temples. The method of the Buddhist art was of a continuous narration and the technique used was one of the memory picture.
Today is Buddha Purnima. The thought behind writing this article here is to spread the teachings of Gautam Buddha. These teachings are really necessary in today’s world as everywhere we can see hatred, violence, intolerance, injustice and discrimination. These are creating only rifts between two individuals. Peace has been lost. Compassion is nowhere to be seen. Where will we end up with such a way of living? Gautam’s teachings are as true in today’s time as they were when found. It only takes an introspection. What do you say?
Think about it!