Buddhism9 Essay

This essay has a total of 2334 words and 10 pages.


Buddhism9




A Little History and One Person’s View on Buddhism

In India, around the 5th and 6th century BC, Siddhartha Guatama, also known as the Buddha,
founded Buddhism. It is one of the great Asian religions that teaches the practice of the
observance of moral precepts. The basic doctrines include the four noble truths taught by
the Buddha. Since it was first introduced into China from India, Buddhism has had a
history that has been characterized by periods of sometimes awkward and irregular
development. This has mainly been the result of the clash of two cultures, each with a
long history of tradition. Most of the difficulties have arisen due to the transplanting
of an Indian religious/philosophical system onto a culture strongly dominated by
indigenous secular, philosophical and religious systems.

In spite of these difficulties, Chinese Buddhism has come to have an important influence
on the growth and development of Buddhism in general and this has occurred largely because
of its own innovatory contributions (Eliade). The spread of Buddhism into China began in
Central Asia and was facilitated by the efforts of the Indo-Scythian king, Kanishka, of
the Kushan dynasty who ruled in northern India, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia in
the 1st and 2nd centuries (Encyclopedia Brittanica). He is said to have undergone an
Ashoka-like conversion upon seeing the slaughter caused by his campaigns. Around the
beginning of the common era, Buddhism started to filter into China from Central Asia via
the Silk Road, brought by monks, merchants and other travelers.

It also entered later via trade routes around and through Southeast Asia. It was nurtured
in the expatriate community of Loyang and other northern cities (The Encyclopedia of
Religion). Siddhartha (Buddha) was born around 563 BC in the town of Kapilavastu (located
in today's Nepal). Siddhartha's parents were King Shuddhodana and Queen Maya, who ruled
the Sakyas. Siddhartha’s history is a miraculous one...

One night, Queen Maya dreamed that an elephant with six tusks, carrying a lotus flower in
its trunk, touched her right side. At that moment her son was conceived. Brahmins (learned
men) came and interpreted the dream. The child would be either the greatest king in the
world or the greatest ascetic (a holy man who practices self-denial). The future child
would be named Siddhartha, which means "he whose aim is accomplished" (Snelling). Later
when Queen Maya was going to her father's home to prepare for the birth, she stepped off
her chariot in the Lumbini Gardens and held the branch of a sal tree to rest. In that
instant, Siddhartha emerged from her right side without any help. The infant walked seven
steps each in four directions of the compass, and lotus flowers sprouted from where his
foot touched the earth. Then the infant said, “No further births have I to endure, for
this is my last body. Now shall I destroy and pluck out by the roots the sorrow that is
caused by birth and death” (13).

Seven days later Queen Maya died. Mahaprajapati, Maya's sister, helped look after
Siddhartha. King Shuddhodana shielded his son from all kinds of suffering and hardship.
When Siddhartha was about 20, he married Yasodhara, daughter of one of the King's
ministers, and one year later they had a child named Rahula (meaning "fetter" or
"impediment")(18).


At age 29, Siddhartha asked his charioteer, Channa, to take him out of the city two times
without the consent of the king. During these two trips, Siddhartha saw "Four Sights" that
changed his life.

On the first trip, he saw old age, sickness, and death.
The second trip, he saw a wandering holy man, an ascetic, with no possessions. Siddhartha
started questioning the holy man, who had a shaved head, wore only a ragged yellow robe,
and carried a walking-staff. The man said, "I am... terrified by birth and death and
therefore have adopted a homeless life to win salvation... I search for the most blessed
state in which suffering, old age, and death are unknown"(33).

That night, Siddhartha silently kissed his sleeping wife and son, and ordered Channa to
drive him out to the forest. At the edge of the forest, Siddhartha took off his jeweled
sword, and cut off his hair and beard. He then took off all his princely garments and put
on a yellow robe of a holy man. He ordered Channa to take his possessions back to his
father. Next, Siddhartha wandered through northeastern India, sought out holy men, and
learned about Samsara (reincarnation), Karma, and Moksha. Attracted to the ideas of
Moksha, Siddhartha settled on the bank of Nairanjana River, and adopted a life of extreme
self-denial and penance’s, meditating constantly.

After six years of eating and drinking only enough to stay alive, his body was emaciated,
and he was very weak. Five other holy men joined him, hoping to learn from his example.
One day, Siddhartha realized that his years of penance only weakened his body, and he
could not continue to meditate properly. When he stepped into the river to bathe, he was
too weak to get out, and the trees lowered their branches to help him. A milkmaid named
Nandabala suddenly appeared and offered a bowl of milk and rice, which Siddhartha, almost
greedily, accepted. The five holy men left Siddhartha after witnessing this. Refreshed by
the meal, Siddhartha sat down under a fig tree (often referred to as the Bo tree or Tree
of Enlightenment) and resolved to find an answer to life and suffering. While meditating,
Mara (an evil god) sent his three sons and daughters to tempt Siddhartha with thirst,
lust, discontent, and distractions of pleasure. Siddhartha, entered a deep meditation, and
recalled all his previous rebirths, gained knowledge of the cycle of births and deaths,
and with certainty, cast off the ignorance and passion of his ego, which bound him to the
world.

Thereupon, Siddhartha had attained enlightenment and became the Buddha (enlightened one).
His own desire and suffering were over and, as the Buddha, he experienced Nirvana...
"There is a sphere which is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor air...which is neither
this world nor the other world, neither sun nor moon. I deny that it is coming or going,
enduring, death or birth. It is only the end of suffering"(http://www.buddhanet.net).

Instead of casting off his body and his existence, however, Buddha made a great act of
self-sacrifice. He turned back, determined to share his enlightenment with others so that
all living souls could end the cycles of their own rebirth and suffering. Buddha went to
the city of Sarnath and found the previous five holy men that deserted him earlier. When
they saw Buddha this time, they realized that he had risen to a higher state of holiness.
The Buddha began teaching them what he had learned. He drew a circle in the ground with
rice grains, representing the wheel of life that went on for existence after existence.
This preaching was called his Deer Park Sermon, or "Setting in Motion the Wheel of
Doctrine"(Hinells). Siddhartha revealed that he had become the Buddha, and described the
pleasure that he had first known as a prince, and the life of severe asceticism that he
had practiced.

Neither of these was the true path to Nirvana. The true path was the Middle Way, which
keeps aloof from both extremes. "To satisfy the necessities of life is not evil," the
Buddha said. "To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be
able to trim the lamp of wisdom and keep our mind strong and clear." Buddha then taught
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