Buddhism began in the sixth century in India by a man named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha's father was a king, and when he was a boy, a fortune teller was brought before the ruler to tell of the boy’s future. According to the soothsayer, Gautama would either become a great King and India would become united under him, or he would become not a conqueror of India but a redeemer of the people. The king sought to bring up his son to be a great conqueror, and shielded Siddhartha from the sight of death, disease, and age, and showered him with worldly pleasures. The boy was dressed in finest fabrics of the time and was kept within the decorated walls of the palaces, and was said to have 40,000 dancing girls for his own entertainment. As a young man he was strikingly handsome and intelligent, and at 19 married his beautiful cousin and had a son.
Despite this lavish lifestyle, Siddhartha was not happy even though his father protected him from the ugliness of life. One day, on a ride into town, Siddhartha saw an old man, bent over from years of hard labor, and on that day learned of old age and suffering. Young Siddhartha was shocked by what he saw. He had never been exposed to the realities of life that kept his family in luxury. On successive ventures into the city Siddhartha saw more suffering. People racked with disease and crippled by hardship met him at every corner. He could not bear the hardships that these people faced.
After the harrowing experience, Siddhartha left his beautiful wife and son to seek the purpose of his life. He went to the forest to join a group of ascetic Hindus, and lived a life of meditation and self sacrifice. After nearly starving himself to death, he soon realized that this path was not the way to enlightenment.
He left the ascetics, and as legend has it, sat beneath a peepul tree and began to meditate, searching for an escape from the suffering of life. Beneath this tree he became the Buddha, and reached a place called Nirvana. In Nirvana, the Buddha transcended the sufferings of life, removing the boundaries of life allowing himself to experience the undescribable and the unutterable destiny of the human spirit. However, with immense compassion for the people of the world, the Buddha returned to teach others of his experience.
The teachings of Buddha differ from other religions because it never grapples with the unanswerable questions such as the existence of gods. Instead Buddha taught how to live a good life on earth and how to rid oneself of the inherent pain and suffering of existence. His discoveries, after awakening, are summed up within the Four Noble Truths:
The First Noble Truth is that of Dukkha or suffering, meaning that life is suffering, being that while one can have a good time on earth these distractions hide the fact that much of the mind is left wanting for deeper fulfillment.
The Second Noble Truth is that of Tanha or desire, meaning that life’s sufferings is caused by one’s constant
The Third Noble Truth is thankfully that this pain can ridden through the removal of desire. And the way to do this lies in the final Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path can steer one away from desire and pain and toward the salvation of Nirvana, and toward the ideals of compassion and worldliness. The Eightfold Path includes:1. Right Views One must agree with a reasonable mind to set out for enlightenment.
2. Right Intent One must have the right intent of attainment.
3. Right Speech One must speak of truth and not of trickery
4. Right Conduct One must understand one’s behavior and be ethical within the Five Precepts which are:
6. Right Effort One must remember that the Way is hard and takes considerable effort.
7. Right Mindfulness The mind has the most influence upon a man or woman, and must also align in the search for enlightenment.
8. Right Concentration As the Buddha did under the peepul tree, one must find the Way through meditation and personal observation. The discovery of the boundlessness of life must be discovered from within.
After Buddha’s death, different interpretations arose that would soon separate into different sects of Buddhism. As Buddhism spread across Asia, it was quickly absorbed in India as a variation of Hinduism, but in neighboring countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Thailand and China, Buddhism flourished as individual entities.
Upon entering China, Buddhism was assimilated into the basic philosophy and religion of China, much in the way Taoism and Confucianism added to the popular Chinese understanding of the world. It is not uncommon for a person to be a Buddhist, a Taoist, and a Confucian all at the same time. The fact that the three complement each other in their scope and the willingness of the Chinese people to harmonize the religions gave China a diverse set of philosophies for its people to ascribe to.
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