Buddhism is fundamental teachings on the nature of reality. Fourth-largest religion in the world with several branches (or schools), including Theravada and Mahayana. Vishak Purnima stands for enlightenment. Nirvana is peace or shanthi. Objective is to attain nirvana and freedom from the cycle of birth and death. It was also believed that Buddha did not announce a new religion, but reformation of existing practices (now called Hinduism). He walked barefooted for 45 years with about 400 or so followers and never owned so much so as a small hut for himself. He was unique teacher with his words:
- I am just a human being nothing more, nothing less.
- I am awakened (or enlightened). Every one is capable of enlightenment.
- Do not worship me, just remember my teachings.
- Do not take anything for granted (including my teachings). You do your own home work and believe in YOURSELF. Be your own guru.
- Morality/Ethics are more important than metaphysics.
Salutations to buddha
புத்தம் சரணம் கச்சாமி | தர்மம் சரணம் கச்சாமி | சங்கம் சரணம் கச்சாமி
Respects to Buddha (saints and enlightened ones), Dharma (cosmic order or duty.) and Sangha (spiritual community promoting order)
(1) ஓம் அஹிம்சசொரூபாய வித்மஹே தத்துவ புருஷாய தீமஹி தந்நோ பௌத்த ப்ரசோதயாத்
Salutations to buddha (awakened one), form of ahimsa or compassion and great philosopher
(2) ஓம் ராஜமூர்த்தியாய வித்மஹே சித்தர்த்தாயா தீமஹி தந்நோ ஞானகுரு ப்ரசோதயாத்
Salutations to royal (king) Siddhartha, a great teacher of wisdom
(3) ஓம் தர்மமார்காய வித்மஹே சூனியதத்வாய தீமஹி தந்நோ கௌதமபுத்த ப்ரசோதயாத்
Salutations to Gauthama buddha, who preached shunyata or theory of Impermanence" (all objects are ever changing) and eight paths of dharma (
Right view; Intention; Effort; Speech; Action; Livelihood; Mind/ Mindfulness; and thoughts/Concentration)
Buddhism comes from the word budhi which means 'to wake up' and thus Buddhism can be said to be the just philosophy of awakening. The
words philo, which means ‘love’, and sophia which means 'wisdom’. So philosophy is the love of wisdom, or love and wisdom. Vishak Purnima stands for enlightenment.
Uniqueness of Buddhism
- Buddha stressed on equality and crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices and ritualism attracted the oppressed in large numbers. The revivalists understood the need to appropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism to win over the masses.
- The Buddha teaches, “A good ruler is delighted in righteousness, a good person is endowed with wisdom, a good friend does not betray his friends and happiness is achieved by not doing evil.”
- Buddhism is a cosmic religion and transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Concepts are based on the experiences of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. [Einstein]
- Buddhism emphasizes the importance of the scientific outlook in dealing with the problems of morality and religions. It encourages to discard heresies, blind faith, miracles and magic.
- Karma (intentional action) is not predestination imposed on us by any one or creator. The karma or deed may be mental, oral or physical. Buddha reinforced karma is what is keeping the cycle of births and deaths. Action due to desire leads to bondage and suffering. Action without selfish desire, leads to liberation from the karmic cycle.
- Buddhist authors use the philosophies like Saamkhya, Nyaaya and Miimaamsaa of ancient India
Brief on buddha
Born into a India royal family in 563 BC, eventually found that worldly comforts and security do not guarantee happiness. Siddhartha was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around and resolved to find the key to human happiness. Eventually, after six years study, struggle and meditation he had an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards he was called the Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and patience were legendary.
Buddha, a transformer
Buddha appeared to be less of a critic and more of a transformer. Buddha does not engage in argumentative discourse. He asked some deep, probing questions to understand the mind of the person he was speaking with, then issued a teaching appropriate for that mind, at that time, at that place. Buddha worked towards the path to the cessation of suffering (humanist). He believed that clinging to an ideology is dangerous and even the teachings of the Buddha should be wholly abandoned if it leads one to impart suffering on others or self. Buddha made it clear that each person is responsible for his/her own path. He appointed no successors. He suggested the path, that ultimately leads to well-being, transforms the painful and messy business of living into an act of compaditional teassion and loving kindess.
Buddha rejected animal sacriffices and the dominance priest class, which were seen as the products of the Vedic practices during his time. Buddha did not form any religion, just wanted to reform the existing faith. He just started the institution of monastries (Sangam), to develop monks.
Middle way, a philosophy of compromise and moderation
Buddha tried extreme fasting and got so thin. In the end, he rejected all these crazy extremes because they just didn’t work. Similarly he tried many extreme methods to find out solution to suffering. Finally, he chose middle path or middle way, a philosophy of compromise and moderation. He figured out what worked and what didn’t. If something didnot work, he had courage to acknowledge and reject it and moved on. When Buddha started teaching, he advised his students to do the same. He didn’t ask anyone to take his instructions blindly. Guru can only show the way and give his experience. He wanted us to check for ourselves and find solutions.
Buddha did not give a mystical or supernatural explanation for any odd observation. He realized that the truth is rarely found in the extremes. He practiced instead the “ observe yourself as you eat to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
Buddha realized that instead of roaming in the forest for enlightenment, he should practice of Yoga & Meditation to control the temptation. Ego, Anger, Greed, Lust & Attachment, are the causes of human's pain & Suffering.
Tolerance and compassion
Buddhism was started with boundless tolerance and compassion. The Buddha imbued the robber Angulimala’s mind with metta (universal love) and the robber was converted into a spiritual wayfarer. The priest class, who were once voracious meat eaters, turned vegetarian. He preached compassion and non violence towards all living beings. He promoted spiritual practices like meditation, concentration, and service.
Impermanence - shunyata
Buddha’s silence (or refused to answer any questions) on the issue of the existence of God made him an atheist. But atheism should refer to non believers in the existence of either God or soul or any ultimate reality. To explain, all saints have used concepts such as: "Impermanence" (to be ever changing) or "Maya" - illusory and not real. Some scholars have discounted the Buddha’s teachings, claiming that he is promulgating a belief in "emptiness" or "nothingness." However, teachings about shunyata (emptiness) are not only found in Buddhist literature, but are also prominent in the writings of many of the saints. "It (God) is neither existent nor non-existent (shunya), its nature is beyond the reach of senses and thought." [Gorakh Nath] "Meditation on the Formless (shunya) is enjoyed by all knowers of Truth." [Sant Kabir]
Buddhism by the Numbers
- 3 Jewels of Refuge are: Buddha; Dharma (the teachings); and Sangha (the Buddhist community)
- 3 higher trainings are: Morality; Concentration; Wisdom
- Buddha preached Four Noble Truths: (1) life is painful because nothing in this material world is permanent or reliable; (2) suffering is caused by desire, attachment, and ignorance; (3) there is a state beyond suffering called nirvana; and (4) nirvana is reached by following the eight-fold path of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
- 5 aggregates (skandhas) are: Form; Feeling; Recognition; (Mental) formations; and
- 6 Mahayana perfections are: Generosity (giving); Moral discipline (ethics); Patience;
Effort and energy; Meditative concentration; and Wisdom.
- 8-fold path is Right view; intention; speech; action; livelihood; effort; mindfulness; and concentration
- 10 Theravada perfections are: Generosity; Moral discipline; Patience; Effort; Meditative concentration; Wisdom; Renunciation; Truthfulness; Loving-kindness; and Equanimity
- 10 non-virtuous actions are: Killing; Stealing; Sexual misconduct; Lying; Divisive speech; Harsh speech; Idle gossip; Craving; Aversion; and Delusion
Buddhist Ideas absorbed by the Hinduism
- For all practical purposes, Buddhism is one of the divisions of Hinduism. Buddha like other saints reformed some of the Hindu practices.
- Buddha and many saints are accepted as gurus. Lord Buddha is considered as one of the ten major incarnations of Lord Vishnu by some.
- The mini dheivams and village angels of buddhism were absorbed as Hindu deities.
- The animal sacrifice was abandoned and priests converted themselves to vegetarians
- Monastries were established following such practice by Buddhists
- Soonyavadha of Buddhism became Mayavadha
- Buddhist Jataka tales and epics got modified and became part of religious stories
- Buddhists teach about the law of karma in which our actions in this life determine our next birth. This was a very old concept popular in many parts of ancient India
Buddhism as a world religion
Having spread to all parts of Asia, and is now spreading to Europe and the Americas too. There are two major schools of thought in Buddhism. Under the Theravada (doctrine of the elders) or Hinayana ("lesser vehicle") school of thought, Buddha's form cannot be displayed as a human, but is instead shown through symbolism-footprints, the wheel of life, the bo tree under which he sat to attain enlightenment, an elephant (his mother saw an elephant in a dream before he was born), and stupas. Mahayana ("greater vehicle") Buddhism, in which statues and pictures of Buddha are shown, became popular around 100 AD. Hinayana followers say that the path to nirvana is an individual quest. Mahayana followers believe that everyone can attain nirvana, and they aspire to reach the state of Buddhahood not for themselves, but in order to help other living entities.
Buddhism important places
There are four important places connected with Buddha's life: his birth site in Lumbini, Nepal; the site of his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, Bihar; the site of his first sermon in Sarnath, near Varanasi; and the place of his death in Kushinagar, UP. When Buddha died, his body was cremated and the ashes given to people to whom he had preached.
At Rajgir, Buddha converted King Bimbisara to Buddhism, and the First Buddhist Council was held there. At Vaishali, Buddha preached his last sermon and announced his approaching nirvana. At Nalanda are the remains of an ancient Buddhist University. These three places are all in Bihar near Patna. Other places in India are famous Buddhist places because of monuments, temples, or cave temples built there. The finest of these are at Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra, Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.
Nagarjuna, from Nagarjunakonda (c. 150 – 250 C.E.) was one of the earliest significant Buddhist thinkers to write in the Sanskrit language rather than in the Pali script. Supported the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) school of Buddhism and credited with writing the the doctrine of emptiness and to propose the two-truths doctrine. Shunyata, translated into English as emptiness, voidness, openness, has multiple meanings depending context. This was triggering development for Advaita. Nagarjuna is often mischaracterized as a nihilist due to his radical rejection of "self." For Buddha and Nagarjuna, Samsara is not an illusion/maya but like an illusion (mayavat). People are already connected at all levels (i.e., matter, mind, and spirit) through interdependent arising.
Nagarjuna has the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, on the nature of our reality. The body/mind is simply a vehicle by which we experience this world. We return to oneness after death. Nothing is fixed. What have not taught are far more numerous than what have taught. Human consciousness had begun as a ripple that decided to leave the ocean of consciousness,'timeless, spaceless and eternal'. Humans forgot that it was part of the infinite ocean and felt isolated and separated. There appears to be an abundance of injustice/suffering and also compassion/beauty in our world.
Siddhartha vs Yashodhara
In the scene above from the epic Tibetan motion picture “Samsara”, a high Lama Tashi who left the monastery to marry and father a son. Tashi has unwittingly recreated the moment when Gautama Buddha left his wife Yashodhara and his son Rahul. His wife Pema has ridden ahead of him and met him at the outskirts of the monastery. She asks questions which every one should ask. Only a man could have made the choice when he left in the night without a word. No woman can walk away from their child. All scriptures are silent on this.
Every question Pema asks Was Yashodhara broken hearted when Siddhartha left her so cruelly? Did she feel anger or dispair? And what did she tell their son Rahul when he got older? How did she explain to a young man a father’s choices such as Prince Siddhartha made? Mother can not desert, but father can?
Scriptures discuss about how Gautama suffered from having to make such a cold decision, his Family in exchange for enlightenment. But silent on the subject of Yashodhara’s much greater suffering. Yashodhara was a deeply compassionate and even saintly person, always engaged in acts of charity with the most disenfranchised while Gautama was unaware of suffering. Does one need to abandon their duty to achieve enlightenment?
Later Indian scriptures like Geeta, highlighted the importance of duty and greatness of grahastha (married life supporting the society). In Indian marriages, there will be a ceremony called Kasiyatra.
Points to think
- Buddhism today is an amalgamation of selected teachings of many teachers, combined with myths and culture from many countries.
- Life Is Suffering is seeing the glass half empty rather than half full. Life can be an enjoyable adventure or journey
- All Suffering Is Caused By Ignorance and also human made. Much suffering is caused by poverty, accidents, disease, and countless other factors that can be addressed by the positive application of science and social reforms.
- Easy to say Right Views, Intention... so on? What is right is highly subjective and personal.
- Monks are divorced from the world that works, creates wealth, and continues the human race.
- Buddha said that life exists as constant change, but many leaders want religion to remain fixed and dead like a rock.
Timeline of Buddhist History
Buddhism is fundamental teachings on the nature of reality. Fourth-largest religion in the world with several branches (or schools), including Theravada and Mahayana.
- 5th Century BCE: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha, based on whose teachings Buddhism developed.
- 269-231 BCE: Reign of King Ashoka, patron of Buddhism; sends first Buddhists to Sri Lanka in the third century.
- First half of 2nd century CE: Reign of King Kanishka; Mahayana Buddhism spreads to Central Asia.
- 520: First Zen patriarch Bodhidharma arrives in China and Buddhism enters Japan from Korea.
- 7th to 8th century: Vajrayana Buddhism established in Tibet.
- 11th to 14th century: Theravada Buddhism established in Southeast Asia.
- 1199: Nalanda University destroyed.
- 13th century: Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren Buddhism established in Japan.
Prior to Gupta Era, royal people were influenced by buddhist and Jain monks. From Gupta Era, Shaivam and Vaishnavam were revived. There were few extremists like Shashanka king of Bengal, Toramana, Mihirakula and Pushyamitra who destroyed objects like Bodhi tree and destruction of Buddhist images and monasteries. Buildings and all work of treasure including valuable knowledge at Nagarjuna Konda were destroyed. 12th century, the biggest library at Nalanda was destroyed by invasions. There were instigators like Kumarila. Some idols were converted as gods of their faiths. Gaya Asura, may be Buddha replaced by Vishnupada by placing a massive stone on the “demon’s” head. Kushinara Rambhar Bhavani, Sal Kusa Madhava, Puri Jagannatha, Gaya Vishnupada temple have Buddhist history.
Kanishka of Kushans (Mongolians or closely allied to them) promoted Buddhist learning. Harshavardhana, Bhaskaravarman and Dhuvabhatti involved all belief systems in religious discourses. Other rulers like Guptas have Saka or Turki dynasty links. Mauryas inter married Greek for building relationship. The Hellenistic, Turk and Mongolian elements are now part of Indian life and culture. All lead to a great revival of old culture and Sanskrit learning.