Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. He was a Sakya Prince. King Suddodhan was his father. He was the chief of Kapilavastu in the Tarai of Nepal. His mother’s name was Mayawati. After one week of Siddhartha birth, his mother died and he was brought up by Mahaprajapati, his stepmother

Gautama Buddha married Yashodhara at the age of 19 and had a son named Rahul. He is known by various names such as Shakyamuni, Tathagata, and most famously as “The Enlightened One”.

As he feels that the world is full of miseries, which one must renounce, so at the age of 29 he left his house and travels in search of the truth. He attained supreme knowledge under a peepal tree near Gaya at the age of 39. After attaining his knowledge, he preached his earliest sermon at Sarnath, which is near Benaras.

Early Life of Lord Buddha

According to prominent historians such as Dr. Majumdar and N.N. Ghosh, they have an opinion that Siddhartha later known as Gautama Buddha was born in 566 BC. at Lumbini. He used to rule a small republic known as Kapilavastu.

Right from his childhood, he was very thoughtful. In the early 16 years of his life, Siddhartha was aware of state administration and military science. He was often lost in the problems of life and death. His father Shuddhodhan was deeply aggrieved to see this state of his son. He always has a desire for his son to engage in worldly pleasures. He, therefore, made available all luxuries and comfort around the prince but Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) showed no attachment to all these things. With a view to diverting his attention, his father married him to all extremely beautiful girls, Yashodhara but the pleasures of family life also failed to distract him from all the serious meditation. Since his childhood, Siddhartha was of a peaceful nature and he was inclined towards renunciation.

Four Great Signs

Before the renunciation of Siddhartha, four great incidents which the Buddhists call “Four Great Signs” took place in his life which exercised a tremendous influence on the future life of Siddhartha and he ultimately came to be known as “The Enlightened One” or Gautama Buddha.

First of all, he saw an old man with wrinkles on the body and was trembling while walking due to his very advanced age.  Siddhartha felt that it was folly to be proud of youth which was transitory.

Secondly, he saw a sick man who had become very weak. He realized that health has no permanent importance.

Thirdly, he saw a funeral procession and witnessed the relatives of the deceased weeping bitterly. He felt that such life has no significance whose end is so sad and tragic.

Fourthly, he saw an ascetic who looked very cheerful to him. He had renounced the world for attaining salvation.

Seeing all such sufferings of human beings, he acutely felt the transitoriness of worldly pleasures. He developed more hatred for worldly pleasures. He feels that the world was full of distress and misery and make a firm decision to renounce the world.

So, he left his family in search of ways for deliverance from the miseries of the world and went under the shelter of some spiritual teachers. He practiced intense yoga at the Usbela mount. But he failed to understand the secret of life and death. At last, he went through penance in Gaya under the Bodhi-tree for twelve years. After that when he opened his eyes, he had achieved Enlightenment. Then he began to be called Gautam Buddha. He attained that Enlightenment on the full-moon day of Baisakh. At that time his age was about forty years.

Renunciation and Enlightenment

Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) felt discontentment within himself after he had seen the four great sighs and one night at the age of 29, he left home while his wife Yashodhara and son Rahul were sleeping, and became an ascetic. This renouncing of the world in search of true knowledge is famous as Mahaparityaga in Buddhist literature.

He roamed here and there like a homeless ascetic for six years. He visited Rajgriha (Patna district) and Uruvela near Gaya and received religious instruction from two Brahmin teachers but his discontented self could not get solace. Also, he practiced self-mortification and made several vain efforts in search of the truth. He remained without food for many days that turned his body into a skeleton. He gave up the penances and took a bowl of milk-pudding offered to him by a village girl named Sujata. His five Brahmin disciples left him because they felt that he had left the path of true knowledge.

Having failed to find out the true knowledge through self-mortification, he took a bath in the steam of the river Niranjana (modem Lilajan) and sat under a Pipal tree in Bodh Gaya. Also, he started meditation with the determination to continue until he acquires the true knowledge.  After seven days at the age of thirty-five, he attained enlightenment and he came to be known as “Tathagat” or “Buddha”. After the enlightenment, only Siddhartha was known as Gautama Buddha.

Consequently, after he attains Enlightenment he left the Bodh Gaya and went to Kashi (present Varanasi). At Sarnath in Kashi, he delivered his first sermons before his five disciples. These sermons are known as ‘Dharam Chakra Pravertan Sutra’. Lord Buddha sent his five disciples to different places in order to propagate his teachings.

The simple and sweet language of Lord Buddha enchanted the people. Within a few days, the teachings of Buddha echoed throughout the length and breadth of India. Also, a number of men and women of all castes embraced Buddhism. Thus, Lord Buddha preached his religion for about forty years.

The Main Teaching of Gautama Buddha

Buddha preaches that sorrow and misery would end if the following eight principles were practices. These principles are famous as Buddha’s Eight-fold Path. They were:

  1. Right view
  2. Right aspiration (wishes and desires),
  3. The right speech,
  4. Right conduct,
  5. Right livelihood (ways of earning one’s living),
  6. The right effort,
  7. Right mindfulness (keeping the mind clean) and
  8. Right meditation (thinking).

Buddha said that we should not be too much lost in worldly pleasures, nor should we be altogether away from the world.

Buddha preached “Ahimsa”. We should not hurt anybody through actions or words. We should love all living beings. Also, we should return evil, not with evil but with good. We should always speak the truth. He did not say anything about God and did not believe in sacrifices.

Besides, the above teaching, Lord Buddha also mentions in his teaching on the four great truths and Eightfold Course or Middle Course.

Four Noble Truth

This world is full of miseries.

There is some cause for human miseries.

It is possible to get rid of worldly miseries.

And there are ways to be free of these miseries.

Eightfold Path or Middle Course-The Ashtagnik Marg

His contemporary philosophers have suggested severe penance for the attainment of salvation. By his personal experience, Gautama Buddha realized the uselessness of severe penance. He considered it harmful as a material and motivational force and aspiration. So he has suggested an Eightfold Path or middle course which is known as Ashtangik, i.e., an eightfold course of action. This Ashtangik Marg is as follows:

  1. The Right Insight (Samayak Drishti), which means to remember four truths. These four truths are essential for salvation.
  2. The Right Will-Power (Samayak Sankalp). The right will-power that is required to observe the four Arya truths.
  3. Right Speech (Samayak Vak). For self-control to speak the truth is necessary. One should be faithfully true to his words.
  4. The Right Deeds (Samyak Karmant). It involves to be free from stealing, to hate worldly pleasure, and violence.
  5. The Right Vocation (Samyak Aajiv). This means that one should earn his living by right conduct.
  6. The Right Exercise (Samyak Nyayam). This means to adopt good ways and to give up bad ideas.
  7. The Right Memory (Samyak Smriti). To remember known things properly. The right meditation is necessary to refrain from worldly pleasures.
  8. The Right Meditation (Samyak Samadhi). One who follows the above rules becomes pure automatically and he will be able to concentrate his attention. Concentration is necessary for salvation.

Thus, Lord Buddha himself got supreme knowledge by following the above principles. Needless to say here that Brahmanism, too, has advocated the above eight rules for attaining salvation (Moksha).

It is to be remembered that in the Buddha literature the above eight rules have been interpreted under three heads which have been named Morality (Sheedl), Meditation (Samadhi) and intelligence or wisdom. Under morality, the right speech, right actions and the right mention have been described. Under meditation, the right exercise the right action and the tight vocation have been discussed. For achieving Salvation, moral education, meditation, and intelligence have been considered necessary.

Reasons for the growth and spread of Buddhism.

The followings are the reasons for the growth and spread of Buddhism:

Dislike for the rituals of Hinduism

The practice of the rites of Hinduism was very expensive. Common people did not like it. The teachings of Buddha involved no expenses. Accordingly one can attain Nirvana by following moral conduct.

Simplicity of Buddhism

The philosophy of Buddhism was simple and easy to follow. Due to that id can be easily understood and by common people.

Dislike for the caste system

Buddhism discarded the caste system. The Vaishyas and the Sudras did not like with the supremacy of the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas. Hence, they welcomed Buddhism.

Use of Pali language

The language used by Buddha was very simple and easy to understand as compared With the Vedic Sanskrit.

Buddha’s personality

Another reason for the growth and spread of Buddhism is the attractive Personality of Gautama Buddha.

Royal patronage

Royal patronage under Asoka, Kanishka, and Harsha helped the cause of Buddhism to a great extent.

Absence of serious rivals

Buddhism faced no serious rivals during its birth, and as such, it could progress easily.

Reasons for the Decline of Buddhism

The following factors have greatly contributed to the decline and fall of Buddhism in India:

The hostility of the Brahmans

The Brahmans had never lost their influence over larger masses of the people even when Buddhism was the dominant religion. Thus, they regained their power at the time of the Brahmanical revival during the Gupta period. So, Buddhism lost its royal patronage.

Assimilative power of Hinduism

The assimilative power of Hinduism is possessed by the wonderful power of assimilation. In the course of time, much of Buddhist ideas and doctrines were absorb in Hinduism. The Brahmans in making their religious system more popular and comprehensive (the power to understand) did much to loosen the hold of Buddhism on the masses.

Unpopularity of Buddhism

Buddhism with its austere morality and atheistical (Nastik) tendency could never carry strong conviction to the common people.

A serious split in the Buddhist Church

Along with the extension of Buddhism, there appeared a serious split in the Buddhist church. A new form of Buddhism known as Mahayana gradually developed. The division of Buddhism into Mahayanism and Hinayanism greatly hastened the decline of the religion.

Corruptions in the Sangha

The corruptions introduced into the Sangha or monastic order, by the growth of wealth in the monasteries has the effect of diminishing popular respect for the Buddhist teachers.

Foreign Settlers prefers Hinduism to Buddhism

Lastly, the foreign settlers who entered India during the Fifth and sixth centuries preferred Hinduism to Buddhism.

Why did Lord Buddha rise against Brahmanism?

The following are the reasons Gautama Buddha rise against Brahmanism:

  1. The eternity and Infallibility of the Vedas had been denied by Buddha.
  2. He also denied the efficacy of the Vedic sacrifices.
  3. He did not believe in the existence of God which Brahmanism strongly advocates.
  4. To Buddha, the Brahmans figured as exploiters. Consequently, he aimed at the abolition of the Brahmanical scriptures and the rites of sacrifices.
  5. He rose against the worldly and corrupted lives and deeds of the Brahmans.
  6. He also challenged the spiritual superiority of the Brahmanas and accused them of their false pride. Also, he did not like to divide human society into different classes. Hence, he strongly opposes to the Caste system of Brahmanism.

Thus, due to the above reasons Lord Buddha strongly rose against Brahmanism.

Impacts of Buddhism

Buddhism spread in India and in other countries of Asia. Today the number of Buddhists in India is very small and they are spread here and there. But this religion has flourished significantly in Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Japan, and Korea, etc. The different branches of this religion have been developed in Japan, China, and Tibet. These branches do not exist in India. Buddhism and its philosophy have gently influenced the Indian philosophical| systems. Nevertheless, it has been severally criticized in many contexts. There are many similarities in Buddhism and Brahmanism, yet their basic tenets are different. However, one cannot forget the impact of Lord Buddha on art, architecture, literature, paintings, and drama, etc.

Emperor Ashoka, Kanishka, and Harshavardhana adopted Buddhism and they contributed significantly to its development and extension. Because of these kings, Buddhism remained a state religion in India for a long time. It will not be an exaggeration to say that because of the impact of Buddhism public service, compassion and salvation became important ideals of Brahmanism also.

The impact of Buddhism can be clearly seen on Sophists and Christianity in Greece. The concept of Joseph of the Roman Church has an impact on Buddhism. The countries, where Islam spread were originally centers of Buddhism. So ‘to a great extent,’ there has been an impact of Buddhism on the people who adopted Islam. In fact, it is correct to say that even today Buddhism is an international religion because its followers are found in millions throughout the world. Any new religion may be propounded in the world, yet Buddhism will continue to exist.

Buddhist Literature

Lord Buddha did not write any book himself. But his disciples have compiled his teachings in the form of books. So a huge literature related to Buddhism is available today. Many, out of these collections, are of a high standard in the field of philosophy. The followers of Gautama Buddha compiled his teachings after 100 years of his death. That collection is famous as Tripitaka. The main three Pitaks are Vinay Pitak, Sukta Pitak, and Abhidhamma Pitak. Each Pitak contains several books. Therefore, they are called Pitak i.e. box.

Vinay Pitak is a collection of religious maxims and examples. The third, Abhidhamma Pitak is a collection of teachings and philosophical ideas of Lord Buddha.

Death of Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha years breathed his last when he was 85 years of age at Kushinagar in 486 BC after preaching Buddhism for 45 years. He had delivered the following message to his followers before he achieved Nirvana “Now, monks I have nothing more to tell you but all that is composed is liable to decay. Strive after salvation energetically”.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh

An Extreme Useful Guide to History of Ancient India, Book

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.

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