Buddhism is a philosophical and spiritual doctrine that emerged in India in the centuries. VI BC and has as its precept the search for the end of human suffering and thus achieve enlightenment.
Its principles are based on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, known as Buddha, which means “Awakened” or “Enlightened”.
Buddhists, therefore, do not worship a god or gods, nor do they have a rigid religious hierarchy, being much more an individual quest when compared to Western monotheistic religions.
Characteristics of Buddhism
Buddhism is characterized by a series of teachings that guide the human being to let go of all the defects inherent in humanity such as anger, jealousy, envy to develop qualities such as love, generosity, wisdom etc.
Buddhism, therefore, is an attitude towards the world, as its followers learn to let go of everything that is transitory, which results in a kind of spiritual self-sufficiency.
In the Buddhist universe, which has no beginning or end, Nirvana would be the ideal stage, but this cannot be taught, only perceived.
Karma is a prominent topic in Buddhism. According to this idea, good and bad actions (arising from mental intention) will have consequences for the next rebirths. In each of them, the being will have the opportunity to let go of everything that prevents him from reaching perfection.
Therefore, rebirth, a process in which we go through successive lives, is precisely the cycle in which one seeks to break suffering in order to ascend to the purest abodes. This vicious cycle of suffering is called ” Samsara ” and is governed by the laws of Karma.
Thus, the intended path in Buddhism is the “Middle Way”, that is, the practice of non-extremism, both physical and moral.
The Buddha is not for the followers of the doctrine of a particular one, but a title given to a Buddhist master and to all who have attained spiritual realization of Buddhism. Thus, Buddha, in Hindu, means “the Enlightened One” or “the awakened one”.
The first Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakia dynasty in India, who left everything to devote himself to spiritual life. Born in 563 BC, his life is summed up by his followers in birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching and death.
Statue of Siddhartha Gautama
Siddhārtha Gautama was brought up surrounded by luxury, married and had a son, but in his youth he discovered the reality of human suffering and was shocked. He met four people: an elderly woman, a sick woman, another dead woman and, finally, an ascetic, and wondered about the origin of all that.
However, it was when he met this religious ascetic, who was mortifying himself under strict fasting, that he thought that there was the answer to his inquiries. So he shaved his head in humility, changed his sumptuous clothes for the unpretentious orange suit, and launched himself into the world in search of explanations for the enigma of life.
After seven years of deprivation, Gautama chose the shadow of a sacred fig tree and began to meditate, remaining so until he clarified all his doubts.
During that time, there was the spiritual awakening he was looking for. Illuminated by a new understanding of all things in life, he headed for the city of Benares, on the bank of the Ganges. His idea was to pass on to others what had happened to him.
Origin of Buddhism
Buddhism is born when Siddhārtha Gautama decides to share his path with others to reach the end of suffering.
Its doctrine is mixed with the beliefs of Hinduism making it a philosophy that easily adapted to each region where it was installed, as well as to every human being who wished to learn it.
In the 45 years that he preached his doctrine, throughout all regions of India, the Buddha always mentioned the “Four Truths” and the “Eight Trails”.
In addition, he summed up his thinking on the Golden Rule:
” Everything we are is the result of what we think “.
Only centuries after his death was a meeting held that defined Buddhist precepts, where two great schools prevailed: Theravada and Mahayana.
Teachings of Buddhism
The teachings of Gautama, given in the park of the city of Benares, defined the ways to follow to arrive at the wisdom of moderation and equality.
According to Buddhism, there are Four Truths:
- life is suffering;
2. suffering is the fruit of desire,
3. it ends when the desire ends,
4. it is achieved when one follows those taught by the Buddha.
With these “Noble Four Truths”, man has the basic elements to follow the “Path of the Eight Trails”.
They will demand purity of faith, will, language, action, life, application, memory and meditation.
From the third and fourth tracks, Buddha’s followers extracted five precepts, similar to the Jewish Christian commandments, as they advised not to kill, not to steal, not to do impure acts, not to lie and not to drink intoxicating liquids.
Four are the best known Buddhist schools:
The path of liberation through the Three Jewels prevails in them:
- The Buddha as a guide;
- Dharma as the fundamental law of the universe;
- The Sangha as the Buddhist community.
The expansion of Buddhism
During the three centuries that followed after Gautama’s death, Buddhism spread through Ancient India. He ended up having more adherents than Hinduism itself , the country’s traditional religion.
But, after spreading throughout Asia, it disappeared from the country of origin, giving way to Hinduism. During the expansion, taken by the silk trade route, it crossed the entire East.
The original doctrine differed, became less rigorous, adapted to the spiritual needs of ordinary people. This form of Buddhism has been called mahayana , or “greater vehicle”.
In Tibet, the doctrine merged with the ancient Bon-po religion , and later drifted to Lamaism .
In Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Ceylon and Vietnam, Buddhism has remained orthodox, being called hinayana , or the “lesser vehicle”.
Gradually, Chinese pilgrims and Hindu Buddhist monks began to cross the mountains, as missionaries.
One of the pilgrims, Hsuan-Tsang (or Xuanzang), left China in 629, crossing the Gobi desert and arrived in India. There, for 16 years he collected data on Buddhism and wrote, according to tradition, over a thousand volumes.
The Tsang dynasty prevailed in China and thousands of people converted to Buddhism.
Among other religions, Confucianism , Taoism , Zoroastrianism , Buddhism had the most profound concepts and over time it branched out into many sects.
Around the 7th century, Buddhism arrived in Korea and Japan, which after the conversion of Prince Shotoku Taishi, became a national religion.
In the following century, Buddhism arrived in Tibet, but it has already changed a lot. It was introduced by Padma Sambhava, a Hindu Buddhist monk.
The official religion was already in serious decline. It easily merged with new concepts and Lamaism emerged . This transformed Tibet into a theocratic state, ruled by the Dalai and Panchen Lamas – lamaist monks considered to be reincarnations of sanctities.
Buddhism entered Europe in 1819, where the German Arthur Schopenhauer developed new concepts, very close to Buddhism.
In 1875 the Theosophical Society was founded, which encouraged research on Asian religions.
Buddhism has expanded around the world and there are Buddhist temples in several countries in Europe, the Americas and Australia. Buddhist leaders take their concepts of life around the world, adapting to each society.