Buddhism and India
Emergence of Buddhism took place in 500 B.C. Buddhism became one of the world's foremost religions with large followings all over Asia, especially in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. Curiously enough, it was completely wiped out from India, the land of its birth. Buddhist teachings have however been entirely assimilated by Hinduism and Indian culture. Buddhism was admittedly one of the most powerful social reform movements in the history of India.
Buddha's name before he became the Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama. He was born around 563 B.C. In Kapilavastu which is in the north of Benares and the South of Nepal. He was the only son of a very powerful king. From a very young age he was a religious and philosophic nature. He was married and became the father of a Child. At the age of 27 Gautama was overwhelmed by the sorrow and sufferings of the world around. He had limitless kindness and longing to involve himself in a search for a panacea to remove pain and sorrow from life.
He was convinced that life was filled with suffering. This conviction led him to abandon his beautiful wife and infant son and go in search of truth and spiritual enlightenment. He became years of wandering monk and an ascetic of the Vedic tradition. After six years of wandering all over the north-east of India he experienced enlightenment while he was meditating under a huge Bodhi tree in Gaya district. There he believed he had discovered why life was filled with suffering and sorrows and how man could escape from this miserable existence. Buddha came to the conclusion that man could find release from the suffering of life in Nirvana, a state of bliss, a state of merging into non-existence. Old age, sickness and death were major experience of life which Buddha thought about a lot.
The life of Buddha and many stories about his life spread by his disciples are complied into one book called Jataka in which his message and thoughts have also been included. Buddha taught that life in its present form was unending cycle of birth and death and rebirth. Everyone's position and condition in life was determined by his behavior and good acts in his previous life. Good deeds of charity and compassion may lead to the rebirth of one as a wise and wealthy man. Evil deeds may cause one to be born as a poor and sickly man. As long as a person remains within this cycle of birth and death he will not escape suffering.
The only way to break through this vicious circle of life is by total detachment of oneself from all things of the world and in fact re-enunciation of the world. By riding himself of all earthly attachments of relations, of business and partnerships in life, man would be able to achieve perfect peace which Buddha called Nirvana (Salvation). To reach this goal of deliverance form the vicious circle of birth and deaths he taught a system called the 'Middle way'. This was a way free of extremes of renunciation and indulgence. He laid down a practically program for moving on through this Middle way. It is also called the noble eight fold path. It consists of
1.Knowledge of the truth to liberate oneself
2.Intention and will power to resist evil
3.Saying or doing nothing that will hurt others,
4.Respecting the life of all creatures, being moral and tolerating their rights,
5.Holding a daily work which will not hurt others, but will rather help and comfort others,
6.cleansing the mind of evil thought,
7.Practicing self-control in feelings and actions , and
8.practicing concentration in meditation.
Buddha's life and work make one of the most dramatic accounts of a religious leader. The devotion of his disciples, and his teachings were also extremely great and incomparable. The basic message he preached is known in one word Dharma which means one's supreme duty to truth. The disciples of Buddha preached his message of Dharma through out north India and attached large numbers of disciples. He organized his disciples into different forms of religious orders as monks, nuns, and laymen. As his following increased and his name and fame spread, many magic powers and miracles were credited to his person.
His compassion and religious insight produced innumerable stories and illustrations. His followers believed that Buddha had lived many lives before he was born as Gautama. Many stories were also written about these past lives of his. Buddha died at the age of 80. His disciples gave him an elaborate funeral and his relics with much divine power attributed to them were sent to different shrines. After his death his followers collected the traditions that had developed around his message of Dharma. The oldest collection of his teachings were scriptures with the name Trip taka meaning three baskets. These three baskets deal with disciplines for the order of Buddhist monks, discourses and sermons preached by Buddha, and the third basket contains systematic doctrines and discourses on Buddhist philosophy and ethics.
Most of his early teachings can be found in his sermon of Benares, the first teaching delivered by him after his enlightenment. The famous “Middle Way” was given in this. Then thereafter four “noble truths” which run very clearly through his whole system of religion. First is the truth of suffering involving a physical pessimism and despair, the total inadequacy of the finite against the infinite, the misery and pain behind everything. The second truth is the root cause of this misery.
According to Buddhism, it is the desire for and attachment to the sensory world. Peace of mind can be achieved by limiting our desires and not by fulfilling our desires. Desire lies at the root of suffering. Thirdly, deliverance from this suffering is possible by becoming unattached, passionless, and going into a state of absolute peace through total renunciation of material world. The fourth truth is of the ethical conduct and personal discipline which comes by following right thought, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right concentration as part of the eightfold path discussed earlier.
One of the most noteworthy features of Buddhism is the total absence of the mention of God. God the creator has been definitely counted out. However, popular gods have been given some place. There is no ruler of the universe. The popular gods are only as powerful as men The saints are much above gods. In the place of God, the mystery of the universal system, the law and order of the system and the inevitability of cause and effect have been emphasized. Impermanence is a permanent law.
The Upanishads were the foundation for Buddha's thoughts though he developed them in a new dimension. The tendencies to mythology, devotional worship, metaphysics associated with the personality of Buddha produced a sect in Buddhism called Mahayana which means the great and elaborate vehicle, as opposed to the fundamentalists and conservatives who strongly stuck to the original teachings of Buddha. They were known as Hinayana, the little vehicle. The Mahayana form later developed into temple worship and Buddha worship.
In India Mahayana completely disappeared into Hinduism. In other parts it's absorbed many native gods into its fold. The Buddhist community of monks, called sang ham, later degenerated into a formality and a ritual without meaning. It became a lethargic community of temple worshipers living on the Mahayana temples. In Japan especially Mahayana Buddhism became very popular. In Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, the Theravada school which means the way of the elders became the dominant sect of Buddhism.
What have Jainism and Buddhism offered to the People? Firstly, the were a social reaction against Brahminical domination. To prove their superiority, these religions adopted standards of morality and other practices which would prove the difference. Even so both Jainism and Buddhism are essentially the by products of Hindu philosophy as reflected in the Upanishads. The theory of Karma dominated these religions as in the case of Upanishads. Jainism especially evolved many religious practices which became contrary to the laws of nature and totally impractical in daily human life. There was no power in these religions to practice their teachings. As a result they became religion of empty rituals having no influence on the being of man.
Buddhism appeals to the modern world because of its intellectualism and philosophy speculated. Man is not one entity, he is a combination or coalescence of five past that is five khandha has or aggregates. The coming together of five Khandhas produces the illusion of the consciousness of the self. The five Khandhas (aggregates) are rupata (shape) Vedana (feeling) sahana (realistic ideation) sankara ( synthesized formulation) vijnana ( Consciousness and reflection from self). This five aggregates process brings out a nama (Nominal identification) perhaps modern psychology would be surprised at the psychological insights of Buddhism and its fantastic capacity to analyze these thing in the early days of 500 B. C. But the tragedy starts when we come to the final conclusion that Buddhism completely denies the unifying center of existence for the self. The exact meaning of the term Anaatima is: the being without soul. In this the whole Buddhist thought becomes a faith without a unifying center, and loses not only the souls of men but also its won soul.
Buddhism and Christianity
At the other extreme we see the answer of gospel coming with revolutionary dimensions. Buddhism and New Testament gospel stands poles apart. While the one stands for annihilation and negation of life, the other stands for new creation and abundant life. One stands for denial of existence, the other for affirmation of meaningful existence. One aims to abolish the earth and the heaven, the other stands for a new earth and new heaven. One stands for denial of self, the other stands for sublimation of the self. One sanctions escape from the endless cycle of life in time and space, the other stands for predetermined eschatological redemption of time, space and matter. One tries to move from despair to stoic serenity, the other moves with certainty and confidence from battle to glory. One moves into the space of inaction, the other moves into the intensity of purposeful action. One sees endless suffering as the only reality, the other sees glory in suffering as meaningful reality. Thus Buddhism totally fail to meet the desperate need of man in all the different situations of life.
Almost at the same period of time when Buddha lived and thought about all these problems of life, there was another man lived in Jerusalem. His name was Isaiah. He did not have nay of the glittering backgrounds of Siddhartha nor Mahavira. He was not a philosopher who meditated under a Bodhi Tree to find out the eternal meaning of life. He was a prophet who spoke for the living God. The total inability of man to save from his inescapable predicament was clear to him. His daily involvement with life with all its horrors was realistic.