Buddhism in India

Origin: Prince Siddhartha, who later became known as Buddha (the enlightened) all over the world, was born in India in the year 553 BC. Even as a child, although he enjoyed a very loving, joyous, rich and royal life, Buddha was worried about the sufferings of the world. When he grew up he gave up his kingdom, wife and everything, became a monk and went in search of Truth. After about six years he became aware about the root cause of all miseries in this world. He also realized what and how man should live in order to remain really happy, satisfied and peaceful. When he started sharing this new-found wisdom of his with others the religion of Buddhism started. Buddhism, based on the teachings of Gautam Buddha, soon became one of the great religions of the world. Buddhism preaches a system of morality or ethics and believes in non-violence and dignity of all living beings. Over the years the religion spread far and wide all across the globe.

Teachings: The most important Buddhist scriptures are the Tripitakas or ‘the three baskets’. The religious texts of the Buddhists are known as the Jatakas. The main teachings of Buddha can be summarized as follows. All sufferings in this world are caused by desire, and sufferings be ended by destroying desire. Nirvana, or true liberation may be attained by following the eight-fold path, The eight-fold path consists of right belief, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right recollection and right meditation. Ahimsa or the path of non-violence is to be practiced in life. All existing faith in sacrifices and rituals should be abandoned. Faith in the equality of men and not in the caste system is to be established.

Growth: Powerful ancient kingdoms as Magadha, Kosala and Kosambi supported Buddhism right in the days when Buddha was alive. His followers worked hard and set up monasteries and viharas across many parts of central India of those days. After his death a group of selfless monks who had learnt under him started spreading his word far and wide. Two hundred years after the passing away of Buddha, Asoka, the great emperor of the Mauryan Dynasty, embraced Buddhism and spread it far and wide. This was a great event which raised it to the status of a world religion. Ashok, Kanishka and Harshvardhan embraced Buddhism and contributed greatly to its growth and expansion throughout India. As a result, Buddhism remained as a State religion in India for long.

After the death of Buddha, four Buddhist Councils were held to compile the religious doctrine (Dhamma) and monastic order (Vinanya) from time to time. The Fourth Council was held in Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka. It was in this Council that Buddhism was formally divided into two, Hinayana (lesser vehicle) and Mahayana (greater vehicle). The Hinayanas followed principles of Buddhism in its original form. The Mahayanas started to worship the images of Buddha in the form of Bodhisattva. Today the population of Buddhists in India is very low, compared to other Asian nations. But the prominence of Buddhism in Indian life and culture is still great and strong. In Indian sculpture, architecture, literature, painting and drama, the character of Lord Buddha has created an undeniable impact and holds an immortal place.

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