0
go back

A Historical Development of Buddhism

By Abindra Raj Dongol at
gandhara

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhist philosophy refers to the philosophical investigations intend to diagnose the suffering of mankind and offer an individual a solution to that suffering. This system of the investigation was developed among various Buddhist schools in India following the death of the Buddha and later it spread throughout Asia.

The main focus of Buddhism is to ease out the suffering and the steps are ethical action (Karma), meditation, and direct insight into the nature of "objects as they truly are".

Origin of Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Kapilvastu (present day Nepal) under Shakya dynasty during 5th century BCE. The prince was forecasted as a successful ruler or a great saint during the period of his birth. With the fear of becoming a saint, the king confined the young prince inside the palace with a luxurious lifestyle. During his growth, he didn't experience any suffering and also the king had ordered to hide old and sick people from the sight of the young prince when he was roaming around the city.

When Siddhartha Gautama turned sixteen, he married young beautiful girl Yasodhara and soon she gave birth to a son, named Rahula.

Siddhartha, in his early twenties, became discontent despite all the affluence he had in his palace. It was due to the encounters that he observed during his visits to the state. Those encounters were- an old man who was bent and trembling; a sick man suffering from disease; witnessed a funeral procession and a corpse; and lastly a wandering monk.

On the night of his 29th birthday, the young prince left his family and set out to know the answers about the origin of suffering and how to overcome it.

Siddhartha Gautama, at first studied under the well-known teachers of his days. He learned deep meditation and followed the yogic practices. Later on, he discovered that he had reached a saturation point where his teachers could offer him no more. So he left with five fellow followers.

In order to obtain spiritual development, Siddhartha Gautama starved and punished his body and lived the most austere life. At that time, It was believed that body and its desires were an obstacle to spiritual development.

However, at the point of near death, he saw a musical instrument, lute. He was shown that if the string is too loose, it was impossible to produce a rhythmic music. If the string is too tight, the string would break. If the string is tuned then it will produce a pleasant sound. Therefore he felt that the austere way will only harm his body and his objective will not be accomplished.

Therefore, He began to eat normally again. Seeing this behavior, his followers left him assuming him to be an impersonator.

He was all alone but did not quit his objective and in search of his answers, he sat under a Bodhi tree at a place called Bodh Gaya and determined not to move until he gets the answers he sought. His meditation was deep and on the night of the full moon in May, he was enlightened.

He felt complete relaxed and he understood the cycle of birth, death and the wheel of life. He understood his true nature and that of all living beings. This was the end of his spiritual journey, and at that moment he became "the Buddha, Enlightened one".

Development of Buddhism

After he became Enlightened, he pursued his life's mission. He accepted many men from higher and lower castes as followers. With an initiation from his aunt, he also accepted women as followers. Therefore, the Buddhist philosophy was then open to all, rich and poor, men and women of all levels of society, and all were equal in the community. He founded an order of monks. He roamed around towns, villages, and cities for the purpose of teaching about the cycle of birth, death, and wheel of life.

When Gautama Buddha was in lead, the Buddhism was purely philosophical but after his demise, the community slowly evolved into a religion-like movement. The teaching of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha became the basis of Buddhism. Earlier Buddhism was a relatively minor tradition in India. But apparently, by 3rd century BCE, the Buddhism was very different because the Mauryan Indian Emperor Asoka the Great (304-232 BCE) turned Buddhism into State religion of India. He provided a favorable social and political climate for the acceptance of Buddhist ideas, encouraged Buddhist missionary activity.

It was recorded that after the death of Gautama Buddha, his disciples had formed settled communities in different locations. The major factors for such fragmentation were doctrinal disagreements, language differences, loyalties to specific teachers. It was also recorded that about 18 schools of Buddhism were into practice but in reality, it was more than that, around 25.

At that time, a Buddhist school, Mahasanghika school of Buddhism came into existence due to the result of a dispute over the monastic practice. This school emphasizes supramundane nature of the Buddha, so others accused them of preaching Buddha had attributes of a god. Both stated issues resulted in expel of Mahasanghikas and thus formed two separate Buddhist lines: the Sthaviravada and Mahasanghika.

During the course of time, both schools of Buddhism underwent many transformations. The Mahasanghika School eventually disappeared. The Theravada school emerged from Sthaviravada and is the dominant form of Buddhism in Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In Northern India, during 1st century CE, a new Buddhist school Mahayana was formed. This school of Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism in Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea and Vietnam.

Almost everything from the core belief to goal of these schools of Buddhism is different, but it does have some similarities like-

  • Sakyamuni Buddha is the historical founder of Buddhism
  • The Three Universal Seals, Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Paths and Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are the basic foundation to all schools of Buddhism.
  • Threefold training of Precepts, Meditation and Wisdom is universal to all schools.
  • Organization of the Buddhist teachings/ Dharma into three classifications (Sutra, Vinaya, and Sastra) is practiced among the Buddhist Canons of various countries.
  • Mind over matter concept.
  • Mind as the principal area of taming and control is fundamental to all schools.

Difference in Monasteries

  • Mahayana's monasteries have placed Buddha Statues in the main prayer hall and Antique Buddha Statues all over the walls of the main prayer hall whereas Theravada's monasteries have placed Buddha Statues only in the main prayer hall.
  • Mahayana's monasteries are also decorated with beautiful thangka painting painted over the walls as well which Theravada's monasteries lack.