India has been home to several mystics across centuries. These visionaries and spiritual leaders have been contributing extensively to the field of spirituality, religion, philosophy, and other metaphysical studies since ancient times. The Buddha was one such spiritual leader who even though born as a human acquired the status of God during his lifetime. The enlightened one single-handedly managed to establish the foundation of Buddhism, a religion that holds 7 percent of the world population today. Buddhism is a subsect that originated from Sanatana Dharma and shares a lot of common ideologies with Hinduism. Like Hindus the Buddhists also believe in the concept of Karma, the afterlife, rebirth, and many more. However, the big difference between these two sects is that Buddhism doesn't accept the idea of a permanent soul. Hinduism promotes the seeking of self as they believe that a permanent entity known as the Jiva or soul is transferred from one body to another until one achieves Moksha. On the other hand, Buddhism promotes seeking selflessness. According to the Buddhists, everything in this cosmos is changing every single second. Hence there is nothing permanent like a soul that exists within us. However, at the time of death, there is a stream of consciousness that is transferred from one body to another. This stream of consciousness is also changing every moment. Hence Buddhism supports the idea of rebirth but rejects the concept of reincarnation. Buddhism as a religion is very well organized and is based on a set of laws and practices which are:
1)The 4 Noble Truths
2)The noble 8 fold path
Anyone abiding by this set of rules and practices is bound to achieve Nirvana which is our ultimate goal. Nirvana is a state of nonexistence where our stream of consciousness or energy merges with the universal consciousness and our individuality ceases to exist.
The Buddha was born to a king named Suddhodhana and his queen Maya Devi. Some scriptures suggest that Suddhodhana was a king from the Solar Dynasty (Ishvaku) while others suggest that they belonged to a community named Sakhaya who hailed from the northeastern part of India. The Buddha's birth name was Siddhartha Gotama. Queen Maya Devi had dreamt of an 8 tusk elephant entering her womb on the day she conceived Siddhartha. The prince was born in the city of Lumbini (in Nepal). As a ritual after his birth, a lot of astrologers were invited to his naming ceremony. The astrologers predicted that the prince was an extraordinary being and would grow up to become either a very great king or a great spiritual leader in the future.
Suddhodhana being a king himself wanted his son to become the heir of his throne. He decided to keep Siddhartha away from all the miseries and sufferings one experiences in life. He ensured that the prince never left the royal palace so that he is not exposed to the harsh realities of life. Siddhartha grew up and got married to a princess named Yashodhara. They also had a son and named him Rahul. Destiny had different plans for Siddhartha. One day he decided to get out of the palace and see his kingdom. He had never seen the outside world and desired to do so before taking up the throne officially. On his way, he encountered certain sights that changed his mind completely. These sights are known as the 4 divine sights. The first sight was that of an old man. Siddhartha had never seen an aged person and was unaware of the idea that everyone gets old. When he questioned his charioteer, he told him that everybody gets old and that it is the law of nature. The next sight was that of a diseased person. Siddhartha was unaware of diseases and ill health. The charioteer again informed that once we grow old our health deteriorates and we succumb to various illness and diseases. The 3rd sight was of a dead body. Siddhartha was unaware of death too as he had not seen a dying person before. the 4th sight was of a holy man basking in peace and joy while meditating.
These 4 sights led to a transformation inside Siddhartha's mind. He was no more interested in leading a royal life and now searched for a deeper meaning. He wanted to understand the nature of our existence and became the seeker of truth. He knew that he would not achieve his goal by staying inside the confinement of his royal life. Hence he decided to abandon everything and start living as a monk in the forests. Siddhartha left for good and never came back thus renouncing worldly life.
Soon Siddhartha started practicing and training under spiritual masters like Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. He reached the desired spiritual goals under them. He was then asked by the masters to join them. However, Siddhartha's quest remained unanswered. He had understood that meditation and going within was the answer to his spiritual quest. He now understood that death was not the end and that afterlife is based on Karma. People are born on different planets heavenly or hellish based on the actions they committed on Earth. However, he wanted to know the way to end this cycle once and for all. He wanted to achieve the Nirvana state. This quest made him dig deeper. He left his masters and started practicing austerities alone deep inside the forest. He worked on his breath, stopped eating, and practiced severe austerities. However very soon he realized that this strict way of living was not possible for the majority of mankind and something easier was needed. He needed to figure out a middle path between fancy material life and strict ascetic life. This quest led his fellow practitioners to leave him. They thought that Siddhartha did not want to pursue the ascetic life and was now searching was easier alternatives.
After a lot of wandering and trying different techniques ,one day Siddhartha decided to sit under a tree and meditate. He pledged that he shall not open his eyes until he received full awakening. This was the famous Pipal tree now known as the Bodhi tree where Siddhartha achieved enlightenment. This place was Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Today this is a world heritage site and people from all across the world travel to see this sacred tree. Siddhartha achieved his awakening and now wanted to share the same with his masters. However, both the masters were dead by now. He then decided to share his wisdom with his fellow practitioners. Siddhartha traveled to Sarnath to meet them. His friends initially did not believe him. However, all 5 of them agreed to listen to him. This is when Siddhartha gave his 1st sermon. Soon after this event one of the 5 was awakened and hence became the 1st Arahant (awakened being). Very soon all 5 received enlightenment. They dedicated themselves to Siddhartha and crowned him with a new name "The Buddha" (The enlightened one). They now decided to form a committee and spread this new-found knowledge to all. This is how the foundation of Buddhism was laid.
The Buddha simplified his learnings for the world by establishing the 4 Noble truths which are :
1) Suffering is the main constituent of our existence in this world
2) Suffering is caused due to our endless desires and attachment
3 )The way to end this suffering is to end our desires and lead a detached life as this will lead to Nirvana
4)The way to achieve this is to follow the noble eightfold path
The Noble eightfold path is
1)Right View - This illustrates the cause and effect theory. Our every action is bound by a reaction and hence we should choose our actions wisely. Hence our perspective towards life should be chosen wisely.
2)Right, Intention - The intent behind every action lay the basis of its consequences. Hence our Intent should always be right and virtuous
3)Right Speech - One should refrain from foul language and defaming anyone
4)Right Conduct - We should take ownership of our actions and hence act wisely always
5)Right Livelihood - The way we earn our living should be righteous and not by cheating and harming others
6)Right Effort - The efforts we put out to achieve our goals and earn our living should also be righteous and not foul
7)Right Mindfulness - Our mind is the key to our existence and hence keeping the mind pure and healthy is of utmost importance. One should abstain from habits that makes one ignorant and absent-minded. Every action should be committed with complete mindfulness and alertness.
8)Right Samadhi - To achieve the ultimate goal which is Nirvana one should practice meditation and sadhana. Meditation is the only way to achieve this state which will help us break through the matrix and end the vicious cycle of birth and rebirth.
Buddhism today has spread worldwide and people from all across the world have embraced it with open arms. The Hindus consider Buddha to be the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu among the Dashavatara.
Art Credit: Unknown
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