What is Buddhism? History
Buddhism, the mere mention of it brings to mind tranquil monks and ancient temples.
It’s one of the world’s largest and oldest religions.
But if you live outside of Asia you probably don’t know much about it.
So what is the story of Buddhism and what do Buddhists believe.
Let’ find out.
The story of the Buddha takes many different forms and you’re supposed to believe whatever version helps you the most.
I’ve read many different accounts of the Buddha’s life, some portray him as a normal man while in others he’s essentially Captain Planet.
I’ve condensed the different accounts together and left in all the import parts.
The future Buddha was born, painlessly from his mother’s right side, in modern-day Nepal.
To King Suddhodana and Queen Maya rulers of Kapilavastu.
The King named him Siddhartha which means “He whose aim is accomplished”.
An old hermit named Asita came to visit the child.
What is Buddhism?
The apparently very trusting King and Queen let him hold the baby.
Asita claimed that this child would become a great emperor but if the boy ever left the confines of the palace he would instead become the spiritual leader to the whole world.
King Suddhodana, who had gone to the Disney villain school of parenting, decided to imprison his son in the palace.
Never let him see the outside world.
No signs of decay were permitted.
Flower petals were swept away as soon as they fell.
Sick and old staff were sent away.
Siddhartha was unaware that pain, aging, and death existed.
To make sure his son would never leave the King had Siddhartha married at 16 years old to Yashodhara.
It was love at first sight between them.
They had loved each other in many previous lives and may have mated while they were tigers at some point…
They had a son named Rahula, who was not a tiger.
They all lived happily ever after in the King’s pleasure palaces.
Until a musician, damn musicians ruining everything came and sang of the wonders of the world.
Siddhartha wanted to see this world and convinced his father that all future emperors need to see the world they will one day rule…right?
The King, confident that he had tied his son down, decided he could trust him to go outside and not start a global religion.
So at 29 years old, Siddhartha left the palace.
But not before the King had all the bodies and ugly people removed from sight.
Siddhartha was having a great time visiting his kingdom.
Until he came across a man with a bad cough.
He asked his charioteer, Chandaka, what was wrong with the man.
Chandaka explained that the man was sick and that everyone gets sick.
Chandaka had obviously not gotten the King’s memo.
This revelation blew Siddhartha’s mind.
On the next 2 trips, Siddhartha saw an old man and then a dead man.
Siddhartha became depressed knowing that everyone he loved would eventually grow old and die.
On his fourth visit, he met a homeless traveler.
This man had renounced all material things and was looking for a spiritual escape from life’s suffering.
Siddhartha inspired by this random homeless man decided he too needed to go on a spiritual quest.
He made Chandaka take him far away.
He then sent Chandaka home to tell Siddhartha’s wife and child that he was doing this because he loved them.
He needed to discover an escape to life’s suffering and if he didn’t die was going to part them eventually anyway.
After some wandering and studying meditation Siddhartha went to go live with
5 ascetics in the woods.
The ascetics practiced extreme deprivation to achieve enlightenment.
Siddhartha began a 6-year fast.
Sitting exposed to the elements and eating nothing but seeds that fell into his lap.
This effort turned out to be pointless, however.
Siddhartha realized that his mind was slow and clouded…
On account of the starvation.
This relation taught him that the true path lay between indulgence and deprivation.
He would later develop this concept into the Middle Path.
He gave up his fast by eating a bowl of rice milk.
His 5 ascetics friends left in disgust thinking Siddhartha had given up.
Siddhartha wandered until he came across a fig tree.
He was determined to sit under this tree, meditating until he reached enlightenment.
After 49 days of intense meditating, he did just that.
At 35 years of age, he had become the Awakened One, the Buddha.
The tree he sat under became known as the Bodhi Tree.
The direct descendant of this tree can still be seen at Bodh Gaya in India.
After some consideration, the Buddha decided he would share his knowledge with the world.
He found his 5 acetic friends at Deer Park, Sarnath.
And there he delivered his first teaching or Dharma.
Revealing for the first time his 4 Noble Truths.
The 5 ascetics became the first members of the Sangha, the Buddhist Monk Community.
The Buddha would wander the Gangetic Plain for the next 45 years…
What is Buddhism?
Gathering thousands of followers and accepting people of all genders, classes, and castes into the Sangha.
He died at 80 near Kushinagar.
His followers had him cremated and his remains were spread throughout the Indian subcontinent under monuments known as Stupas.
Which continue to be important pilgrimage sights today.
Buddhism would eventually spread out of the Ganges region.
First down south to Sri Lanka and South East-Asia.
Then north over the Silk Road route to Central and East Asia.
It would spread from Tibet to Mongolia where under the Mongol Empire it then made its way to Russia.
Later on, it would be exported further West.
So now that we know a little bit about the life of the Buddha let’s explore the core beliefs of Buddhism.
At this point, it’s important to note that the Buddha lived around 480-400BC and his teaching was recorded orally for centuries.
Because of that oral tradition, there are a lot of numbered categories.
Which made it easier for people to memorize and recite.
Numbered categories like the 4 Noble Truths which are:
Noble Truth Number 1: Life is suffering.
No matter what you do in life you will suffer. Ultimately everyone grows old, gets sick, and dies. I know depressing right, it’s getting better later on.
Noble Truth Number 2: We suffer because of craving. We are attached to impermanent things and because of this, we are destined to suffer. We need to change what we want rather than get what we want
Noble Truth Number 3: We can escape from this cycle of suffering. Yay!
Noble Truth Number 4: The Noble eightfold path will help us escape suffering and reach enlightenment. The Noble Eightfold Path is the Middle Way that the Buddha discovered.
It lies between the deprivation of the ascetic and the indulgences of a young prince. You don’t follow each step one after the other.
It’s more of a wheel that you spin altogether.
Step 1 is Right View or Understanding: It is understanding the 4 Noble Truths will help you stop suffering. You need to see that everything in the world is impermanent.
Step 2 is Right Intent: Why are you doing things? If they are done out of anger or greed they will only cause suffering. If they are done out of love and compassion they will remove suffering.
Step 3 is Right Speech: You should not hurt people with your words. You should not deceive people, obscure the truth through muddy language or take part in gossip. You should be truthful and clear.
Step 4 is Right Action: To always strive to do good in your actions. To not act negatively.
What is Buddhism?
Right Action covers the 5 Precepts.
Which are like Buddhist commandments.
Do not harm living creatures Do not steal.
Do not engage in sexual misconduct Do not lie or harm people with words.
Do not take intoxicating substances.
Step 5 is Right Livelihood: You should ethically earn your living. You shouldn’t be involved in arms or drug trading or in careers that involve hurting animals or people. The Buddha spoke out against slavery in his time.
Step 6 is the Right Effort: You should always go about your life with a positive attitude and enthusiasm. You should want to improve who you are.
Step 7 is Right Mindfulness: You need to pay attention. When you walk in the park you need to live in that moment. You shouldn’t be thinking of something awkward you did in school or whether you’ll be promoted next year. You should be able to live entirely in the present by being mindful.
Step 8 is Right Concentration: The ability to focus on a single object or concept. Be it a rock, Polar Bear, or Cats Gifs. Right Concentration helps you focus your mind and see things how they truly are. Right Concentration and Right Mindfulness are important parts of meditation.
By following the 8 fold path you can reach Nirvana.
The state of enlightenment the Buddha reached under that tree.
You reach Nirvana when you extinguish all wants and desires.
Ok so let’s take more bird eyes to look at Buddhism.
Buddhism is split between two major branches, Theravada and Mahayana.
Theravada is the older of the two.
It is considered to be more orthodox as well.
They think of the Buddha as a more human figure and there is a focus on using meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.
Within Theravada Buddhism, there is the belief in 3 things.
Nothing is permanent, life is suffering, and there is no self.
There is a huge emphasis on monastic life and rebirth in Theravada Buddhism.
Only monks can really reach enlightenment.
Mahayana Buddhism, which means Greater Vehicle is younger and considered to be more accessible to normal people.
It is called Greater Vehicle because of its inclusivity.
Mahayana also contains a lot of different schools such as Zen, Tantra, and Pure Land Buddhism.
They believe that enlightenment can be achieved in a single lifetime and that you don’t need to be a monk to achieve it.
Mahayana is the more religious of the two and has things called Bodhisattvas, which are people that have achieved enlightenment but delay Nirvana to help others do the same.
There is also more emphasis on idols and god-like beings.
Today Buddhism is the religion of around 488 million people or about 7% of the world population.
Nearly all of them live in the Asia-Pacific region at 98.7%.
Every other region has fewer than 1% each.
Buddhists though only makeup about 12% of the Asia-Pacific population.
Half of all Buddhists live in China but there are large Buddhist populations across Asia especially in Thailand, Burma, and Japan.
What is Buddhism?
So there we have it.
The life of the Buddha, the 4 noble truths, and the 8 fold path explained.
This video is meant to be a quick introduction to the topic and is part of a larger world religions series.
I hope that I managed to teach you something new and who knows maybe some of you are one step closer to reaching Nirvana.