A Brief History Of Buddhism

Buddhism was started by the followers of Siddhartha Gautama (circa 563-483 BC). He was born into a Hindu family of the kshatriya caste in what is now known as Nepal. At the age of 29, he abandoned his wife and young son and went in search of enlightenment.

He achieved enlightenment some time later while sitting under a bodhi tree near Patna. After 49 days of rapture and resisting temptations (Mara), He, now known as Buddha, formed an order of monks and went forth to teach the word. After 45 years of teaching their philosophy of enlightenment Buddha died and reached Nirvana, the state in which ‘ideas and consciousness cease to exist’.

One of the most important concepts to Buddhists is the Tipitaka (the ‘Three Baskets’), which is a record of the Buddha’s doctrines as set down by His early followers after his death. The writings in these ‘three baskets’ tell the story of Buddha’s life (Buddha); record his laws (Dharma); and his guidelines for establishing and maintaining a monastic order (Sangha).

Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the wheel of life in a comparable fashion to Hindus. They also believe that this cycle of life, death and rebirth can be broken by attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment can be achieved by adherence to the Four Noble Truths.

Life is transient despite the cycle of life, death and rebirth and can only create suffering (dukka) because of the pursuit of mortal desires. Suffering and desire can just be overcome by achieving Nirvana, which can be achieved by following the Eightfold Path, otherwise called the ‘Middle Way’.

The Middle Way consists of: correct belief, thought, speech, action, livelihood, work, mindfulness and concentration. These make up the nucleus of Buddhist ethics.

A characteristic of Buddhism is the monastic order. Men can become monks for a couple of years or for life. There is also a female monastic order. In some sects, boys go into the monastery for a period of between a few weeks and a few months as part of their passage into adulthood. Boys in Thailand are expected to become monks for a number of weeks before they eventually get married.

Monks live an ascetic life in monasteries or temples. Each village has a temple in much the same way as western villages have a church, but each temple tries to uphold a population of at least nine monks, which is considered the ideal number for some of their duties like blessing a house or performing a wedding ceremony.

Buddhist monks live on charity given by the local villagers. In Thailand the novice monks walk the streets in the early morning collecting donations of food, which has to be eaten before noon, after which they may not eat. Monks are not allowed any contact with women at all. They may not even sit next to them on a bus or hand the fare to a female bus conductress.

Buddhist temples are primarily for personal contemplation and meditation. They are open to anyone twenty-four hours a day and people use them to gain respite from the hustle and bustle of every day life. Group prayer meetings are far less common a trait of Buddhism than they are in Judaism, Christianity, Islam or even Hinduism.

Owen Jones, the writer of this article writes on many subjects but is at present involved with Easter.If you would like to read more, please go over to our web site entitled Celebrating Easter

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