Statues, History, Facts

Buddhism facts and history

"If there is any religion that could respond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism."
― Albert Einstein

At the end of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth century BCE, a man, popularly known as the Buddha (the Enlightened One), led a community of hundreds of yellow-robed followers on the path of salvation. A small religious community that began as a heterodox sect, which denied the stringent orthodoxy of Brahmanism, went on to become one of the main and foremost religions in India, its birthplace, and the world, with great emperors patronizing its activities. With the passage of time, Buddhism also became one of the richest religions in the East, the adherents of which, were big traders, educationists, and rulers. However gradually, the glory of Buddhism began to fade as Brahmanism revived itself with utmost force and power. The religion then seemed to have traveled full circle. The number of its followers decreased to such a large extent that it again went on to become a minor sect. Nevertheless, in spite of these kinds of historical trends, the religion is the fourth-largest organized faith in the world today, with approximately 376 million followers worldwide.

Buddhism: A Brief History

Quick Fact: Both Buddhism and Jainism rose simultaneously as an open challenge for the already established Brahmanism. The new religions were based on equality, and aimed to accommodate everyone, wanting to be their part.

Before Buddhism was established in India, Brahmanism was the main religion, followed by majority of the people. This orthodox religion was founded on the basis of the chaturvarṇa, a four-fold class system. This system divided the society into four broad hierarchical ranks viz. the Brāhmaṇs (the priestly and scholarly class), the Kśatriyas (the rulers and warriors), the Vaiśyas (the merchants and traders), and the Śudras (the working class). Owing to this hierarchy, the upper classes enjoyed maximum privileges, and the lower ones were almost deprived of any of them. This kind of social division, not only gave rise to social inequality, but had also triggered dissatisfaction and rage among the people of the lower classes for those of the upper ones. Buddhism rose and flourished against this backdrop, wherein people, especially those who were underprivileged and unprivileged, broke away from the hierarchical structure of Brahmanism, and joined the newly founded heterodox sect in enormous numbers.

The Buddha

The history of Buddhism begins with the birth of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama in a small city state of Lumbini, in present-day Nepal. Though his date of birth is highly debated, what we know for sure is that he was the son of King Śuddhodhana (the local chieftain of the Śākya clan) and Queen Mahāmāyā, and was born after his mother saw a white elephant in her dream. When the queen narrated her dream to the royal astrologer, it was prophesied that the child to be born would either be an extremely able ruler, or a teacher who would inspire the world. Being a prince, Gautama was a pampered child, but he never seemed to like the luxuries and comforts, which his palace gave him. On the contrary, he always seemed to be curious about the happenings outside the palace walls. He wanted to know how and where the common people lived.

One day, he went out to survey the city in his chariot, and came across the four inescapable truths of human life, which proved decisive in making him what he became, in the years to come.

✬ While touring the town, Gautama first saw an old man, and was repulsed by his appearance. But, on learning from his charioteer that all men are bound to grow old, Gautama was even more troubled. He had realized that youth and beauty can never last forever.

✬ Next, he came across a man who was very sick, looked pale, and was shivering with fever. He was even more horrified by this sight, and realized that suffering was indeed an inseparable part of life.

✬ The third scene that the prince witnessed, made him even more sad. He saw a corpse being carried to the cremation ground, followed by a number of weeping mourners. He realized that death was unavoidable, and everyone who took birth, had to meet this destiny.

✬ The fourth sight that Gautama saw, made him realize that in spite of the terrible sufferings and sad truths about human life, one can stay satisfied and happy. The fourth time he saw a poor religious beggar, clad in a shabby yellow robe. Yet, there was an expression of content and calmness on his face, such that he seemed inwardly satisfied.

After having seen all this, Gautama knew where his path lay, and he set his heart on becoming a wanderer. Once this decision was made, he stuck to it, despite all the efforts of his father to instill him on the throne. One night, when everyone in the palace was asleep, he stripped of his jewelry and royal garments, put on a hermit's robe, and quietly left his palace in search of the Ultimate Truth. Finally, after years of severe penance and meditation, he achieved Enlightenment, and then as the Buddha, he set out with his followers to enrich the world with his teachings.

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We respected one another's values and beliefs, so much so that I filled my chest with teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Atheism and so on, in addition to the compulsory Islamic classes for all Muslim girls.

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Focuses on personal spiritual development, insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.

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