A Brief History of Buddhism

In the late 6th Century B.C.E, Sidharta Gautama founded Buddhism. Buddhism a religion or philosophy that teaches tenents about overcoming desire to alleviate suffering, compassion, wisdom and moderation in order to achieve Nirvana.

Early Life

It is said that Sidharta Gautama was a prince born in Lumbini, Nepal around the year 563 B.C.E. He was born into the ruling clan called the Shakya. His father was the highest ruler or the king named Suddhodhana Tharu of Kapilavastu. His mother was Maya, the daughter of the king of Devadaha, who was also the uncle of King Suddhodhana. 

King Suddhodhana was foretold by a wise prophetic man about Gautama’s future. He said that if Gautama was to stay in the realm and palace of Shakya’s, he will be a great king. However if Gautama is to leave and travel, he will be a holy man; a great prophet. Thus the king made him stay in the palace walls and showered him with riches and gave me a beautiful wife named Yashodhara.

They married when he was only sixteen, but at that time an age considered to be rightful marrying age. They had a son named Rahul. However, at the age of 29, Gautama defied his father and left the palace to know the outside world.

When he went out he saw four people who were ill and suffering. He saw an old crippled man, a very sick man and a body of a dead man. Then he also saw a poor holy ascetic man who was homeless and suffering. This opened his eyes to the truth of the world and so he decided to leave the palace, his wife and son. He decided to be an ascetic.

Buddha’s Holy Life

When he left all the riches his family has bestowed him including his wife and son, Siddhartha Gautama decided to be an ascetic. Ascetics were holy men of Hindu who practiced self denial and allowed their bodies to suffer in order to free the soul (atman) from suffering and turmoil.

Gautama became a Jain ascetic, the most extreme form of asceticism. This meant that he only ate very little to the point of only consuming just six grains of rice a day. He learned many things and gained much wisdom, more than his gurus could teach him, so he left and embarked on his own path.

He wanted to know the answer into how to free the soul from much pain and suffering. He fasted and fasted and denied himself so much and yet he found no answer.

One day in his journey, he found a fig three or the Bodhi Tree and sat underneath it and meditated. Here he realized that putting one’s health in harm and too much self denial did not lead to Enlightenment.

He then discovered the Middle Path of the balance and harmony of the mind and body. The Middle Path meant a balance of both curbing one’s desires and nourishing the needs of the mind and body; nothing too much or nothing too little. At that point he reached enlightenment.

And so Siddhartha Gautama became Gautama Buddha or the Enlightened One. He went out to spread the teachings of how to free the soul from the constant strain of suffering brought by life and rebirth. He taught others about virtue and goodness. He traveled to teach others the way to curb desire and thus freeing one’s soul from the suffering it brings and the constant agony of rebirth.

Buddha’s Important Teachings

12 Laws of Karma

4 Noble Truths

Noble 8 Fold Path

5 Precepts

12 Laws of Karma

The 12 Laws of Karma states a chain reaction for the things that you do. It states that all things are interconnected but it goes beyond that. It also teaches proper virtue.

Most people think of Karma as something like “what goes around, comes around” but these laws teaches proper behavior and thinking in order to live in goodness.

Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths states the cycle of suffering and how to emancipate ourselves from it. It stays that (1) life is full of suffering. Suffering does not only mean pain, but also the state of constant needing and wanting and the state of impermanence of pleasure and happiness. The second truth it states is that, we suffer because we long and desire things and cannot learn to let go of them. We want constant happiness, constant love and constant pleasure, and clinging on to these desires causes us pain. The third teaching of the these four truths state that we can release ourselves from suffering is by letting go of our desires. And the last truth states that we can only stop our desires by adhering to the Noble 8 Fold Path.

Noble Eightfold Path

Right Viewpoint – Know and live by the 4 Noble Truths.

Right Values – Do not desire money or wealth but rather strive to help others. Do not harm others.

Right Speech – Do not gossip, slander or use foul language. Witness only the truth and provide good counsel

Right Actions – Do not harm others. Do not kill, steal, do vices or do immoral acts.

Right Livelihood – Your occupation should never be linked to killing others. You should not work in a job that causes others to suffer.

Right Effort – Do tasks that make you a better person and help others become better.

Right Mindfulness – Have a clear mental state. Do not think of evil thoughts and control your emotions.

Right Concentration – Practice meditation to help clear the mind and soul and connect to the Universe.

5 Precepts or 5 Rules

These rules help you control your aggressive tendencies and it allows you to become a good person.

I will not hurt others, be it human or animal.

I will not steal.

I will not commit sexual fornication.

I will not tell lies to slander others.

I will not partake in alcohol or drugs and keep my head clear.

Is Buddhism a Religion or a Philosophy

Buddhism is a way of life. Buddha himself did not teach about gods but rather he taught others a way to end suffering. He wanted others to learn the truth. He himself said that one should not just follow something blindly, but rather observe and discover.

And unlike other religions, Buddhism is tolerant of other beliefs. It accepts Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many more. What Buddhism aims is for a man to free himself from suffering by learning how to live in virtue and in goodness.

Read more to know about the life of the Buddha

You may also read about the basic teachings of Buddha by reading about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

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