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BUDDHISM

The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini  in Nepal approximately 2581 years ago.  He was the son of a king who reigned over a poor region of Nepal.

 

To keep his son from witnessing the miseries and suffering of the world, Siddhartha's father raised him in opulence in a palace built just for him, and  sheltered him from knowledge of human hardship. According to custom, he married at the age of 16, but his life of total seclusion continued for another 13 years until he was 29. 

One day he ventured out beyond the palace walls and was quickly confronted with the realities of human frailty.  He saw a very old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic. The next day, he left his kingdom, wife and son to lead an ascetic life, and determine a way to relieve the universal suffering that we now understood to be one of the defining traits of humanity.

For the next six years, Siddhartha lived an ascetic life and partook in its practices, studying and meditating using the words of various religious teachers as his guide. He practiced his new way of life with a group of five ascetics, and his dedication to his quest was so stunning that the five ascetics became Siddhartha's followers.

When answers to his questions did not appear, however, he redoubled his efforts, enduring pain, fasting nearly to starvation, and refusing water.   Whatever he tried, Siddhartha could not reach the level of satisfaction he sought, until one day when a young girl offered him a bowl of rice. As he accepted it, he suddenly realized that corporeal austerity was not the means to achieve inner liberation, and that living under harsh physical constraints was not helping him achieve spiritual release.

 

From then on, Siddhartha encouraged people to follow a path of balance instead of one characterized by extremism. He called this path the Middle Way.

That same night, at Bodh Gaya in northern India, Siddhartha sat under a Bodhi tree, vowing to not get up until the truths he sought came to him, and he meditated until the sun came up the next day. He remained there for several days, purifying his mind, seeing his entire life, and previous lives, in his thoughts.  Here he attained enlightment and then decided to teach.

He came across the five ascetics he had practiced with for so long, who had abandoned him on the eve of his enlightenment. To them and others who had gathered, he taught his first sermon (now known as Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma), in which he explained the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which became the pillars of Buddhism.  The Buddha defined the Five Precepts which all Buddhists follow.

 

The ascetics then became his first disciples and formed the foundation of the Sangha, or community of monks. Women were admitted to the Sangha, and all barriers of class, race, sex and previous background were ignored, with only the desire to reach enlightenment through the banishment of suffering and spiritual emptiness considered. 

 

Until he was 80 he taught the Dhamma (which is the name given to his teachings).  When he died in Kushingar in India, it is said that he told his disciples that they should follow no leader.

The spread of Buddhism :

From its origins in northern India, Buddhism spread southwards to Sri Lanka, eastwards to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and into parts of Indonesia.

 

It spread westwards into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the areas around Tajikistan until it was suppressed in these areas by firstly the Zoroastrians and then the Islamic expansion.   Also it spread northwards into the Himalayan kingdoms of Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, then further north into Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia, China, Korea and Japan.

 

Communism had a serious impact on Buddhism in China, Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia.   

 

Within all these countries it is estimated that there are over 14000 Buddhist scriptures. 

Now Buddhism has communities outside of Asia.  An estimate of Buddhist population worldwide is between 650 million and 1.6 billion.  In 2016 in Australia, those who followed the Buddhist religion were approximately 2.4% of the population of Australia.

Buddhists follow three main traditions which are ;

  • Theravada or Southern tradition; (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos)

  • Mahayana or Northern tradition; (China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam),

  • and the Vajrayana tradition. (Tibet)