Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Origin of Buddhism

When we talk about the origin of Buddhism we must consider the contemporary Indian religious and philosophical background of Buddha’s time. The Buddha as the founder of a new teaching, which is known as Buddhism today, appeared in a society where there were diverse types of religious and philosophical views. Among the great civilizations in the ancient time, India claims a unique place not only because of its amazing cultural and socioeconomic development but also having a great religious and philosophical achievement of the ancient world. The effulgence of its religious and philosophical implication can be traced as far back as to the Indus Valley Culture. Therefore, when the Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C., the religious and philosophical background was well known to Indian society, specially, through the Upanishad thinkers and the new religious movement of Sramanas. It was a mature and developed philosophical background. Apart from Brahmana priests, who mainly practiced textual studies and rites and rituals, there were some ascetics and various groups of sramanas who practiced meditation focusing on the development of the intellectual culture. Their homeless life was basically based on adibrahmacariyaka sila (brahmafaring life or religious life refrain from household matters) and abhisamacarika sila, which means a moral life with good conduct.

The Buddha explained that He rediscovered something which was practiced by the ancient Buddhas many kaplas (aeons) ago. According to the Buddha, the Dhamma always exists in this world but it lays hidden until a Buddha re-discovers it.

At the time when Buddhism was introduced to the Indian society, there were people who were ready to accept the Buddha's new message. We can state some important facts which caused for the success of introducing Buddhism to Indian society. The religious atmosphere at that time was peaceful and there was no threat for newly developed religions. As we find in the Indian religious history, the celibacy life was well reputed and accepted by the society with honour. Going from home to homeless life was a common practice in ancient India. It was a duty of a king to protect and help the religious groups. Therefore, religions enjoyed the royal patronage too. Specially, apart from the Brahmins, it was the time for Kshatriyas to going forth searching the truth. For example, Jaina Mahavira was a Kshatriya who had gone for homeless life before the Buddha.

Having spent 29 years as a royal prince, Siddhartha Gautama experienced the true nature of life, which made him to choose the homeless life. He left the palace seeking the answer for suffering and became a sramana following the ancient sramana tradition in India. He went to two meditation masters seeking the truth as other students did in the ancient time. He learned and practiced meditation under these meditation masters named Alarakalama and Uddakarama Putta. Sramana Siddhartha attained the highest jhanic level but he understood that it was not what he was seeking for. He left the both masters one after the other and entered the extreme asceticism following the way of self-mortification. The rigid asceticism was a common practice in ancient India. Ascetic Siddhartha followed various methods of self-mortification but he couldn't fulfill his wishes. Finally, he gave it up and selected the Middle Path as the way to realize the truth. He practiced Anapanasati, the practice of breathing in and breathing out, what he mastered under aforementioned two great masters. Finally, as a result of His great intutive knowledge and mindful practice,He realized the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and the DEPENDENT ORIGINATION of all phenomena and attained the Supreme Enlightenment (Sammasambodhi) under the Bodhi tree in Gaya.

Having attained the Buddhahood, the Buddha wanted to teach His Dhamma to others. But it was not an easy task to teach because the Dhamma He realized was deep, profound, subtle, and difficult to understand by the people who have dust in their eyes. The other thing was many ascetics and sramanas attached to either rigid austerities or rites and rituals. For instance, the Five Ascetics left the ascetic Siddhartha (the Buddha) when He gave up the practice of self-mortification.

However, the Buddha decided to teach His first previous masters under whom He studied meditation. According to the Mahavagga, the Buddha thought that those two masters were wise and had less defilements. But unfortunately they had passed away. Then, the Buddha thought about any other suitable people to teach His Dhamma first. The the five ascetics, the five fellow friends who attended Him during His struggle to attain the enlightenment by practicing self-mortification, came to His mind. Knowing that they were living at Isipatana Deer Park of Benares, the Buddha went there to teach his new message to them. As we explained earlier, again the Five Ascetic rejected the Buddha several times though Buddha explained to them that he attained to the Buddhahood. But still they were reluctant to accaept the Buddha. Finally, the Buddha questioned them whether He had ever talked to them in this manner before. Only at that time ascetics paid attention to the Buddha. The Buddha delivered His first teaching to them which is named as the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, the Stutta of Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma. The Buddha's very first teaching ascetic Kondanna understood the Dhamma. Next He taught to the other four ascetics and they attained sottapanna one after the other.Then, the Buddha gave them ordination and they became His disciples. Finally they all attained the arahanthood after listening to the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Anantalakkhana). This is the origin of the Buddhist monastic order. Then, a prince name Yasa, a son of a millionaire came to the Buddha and became a monk. He too attained to the arahanthood. The fifty four friends of Yasa including, Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati listened to the Buddha and entered the order and attained to the arahanthood. In this manner the first 60 arahantas were formed in the Buddhist monastic order.

It was the time for the spread of the Dhamma to the mass. The Buddha adressed His sixty disciples and advised them that they are free from all cancers and bondages and qualified to teach the Dhamma to others. Advising them, the Buddha asked them to set forth their journey for the benefits, happiness, and well-being of the mass, divine beings and also for the sake of themselves. They were asked not to go TWO monks on one way and each individual had to go on different direction for the rapid spread of the new message. The Buddha too went on to Uruvela and where one thousand Jatila followers with Three Jatila leaders, Uruvela Kassapa, Nadi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa were converted to Buddhism becoming monks. It was a huge success and great achievement of Buddhism because it helped to spread the message among the people rapidly. The Thirty Princes of Uruvela became the next group to enetered the Order. The great two sravakas of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallana together with two hundred fifty followers of wanderer Sanjaya, too entered. In this manner, the Buddhist Order expanded very quickly spreading the Dhamma far and near. If we considered the people who entered the Buddhist order in the very beginning of the sasana, all of them were either very educated or well disciplined ones. It made the Buddha’s missionary activity to go forward smoothly and effectively.

Later on due to influx of numerous disciples belonged to the various religious sects, people from every caste, profession, and social status, the number of Buddhist sangha increased rapidly. They spread the Dhamma all over the Indian subcontinent. The Buddha gave permission to the sangha to give ordination for those who were willing to enter the order. Having a wandering life, bhikkhus did a great service of spreading the Dhamma. The message of the Buddha went to the all categories of the Indian society and people enthusiastically accepted the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhism was a timely message, which was needed at that time where people had been exhausted due extreme views and ideologies of ancient Indian religious network.


Prabhath Rathnayake (ප්‍රභාත් රත්නායක) said...

This article brought me to my childhood. Of course I remember the life at Dhamma school, and from grade 1-9 ages... Things we learned about the life of Bhuddha and things we forgot ....
If you have, send me pdf files with these articles...
I have some Pakistan friends who interested in Buddhism

Ven. Dr. Chandawimala said...

OK, I will let you know when they are ready.