The Buddhist Taditional Religion
Buddhism is one of the earliest religions followed to date. It came into being some time before the 6th BC and started after the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni, who was also known as Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, a town in Nepal. Siddhartha Gautama is believed to be the historical founder of the religion. The faith has been followed in various parts of the globe to date at times having great influence in the Asian Continent. Initially, the religion is believed to have its home in the Northeastern region of India (Ludwig). Since then Buddhism has spread through East, Central and South East Asia rapidly. In the current day, the religion covers for more than 200 million adherents globally. This is about 6% of the world’s population (Casanova 69).
(a). What were the Buddha’s primary concerns?
Buddha Shakyamuni was born in Lumbini, Nepal. His birth had been predicted long before his birth that he would be either a spiritual leader or a King. At one point during his childhood, the prince fell into deep meditation as he watched the land being ploughed. This was however short lived. The prince later in his late twenties retired to the forest to follow a spiritual life of meditation. This gave him enlightenment under the famous Bodhi Tree (Wilkinson and Teague 88). Later, the prince rose from his meditation and taught the first Dharma Wheel to the people. His teachings had the Sutra of the four Noble Truths and many other discourses. These formed the principle source of the Hinayana also considered as the lesser vehicle of Buddhism. The Hinayana teachings explained how to achieve liberation from all suffering for oneself. He later proceeded to teach the second Dharma Wheel which was concerned with the perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the third Dharma Wheel which was concerned with the Sutra Discriminating the Intention. The second and third Dharma wheels formed the Mahayana, also considered as the greater vehicle of Buddhism. The Mahayana taught how to get full enlightenment or Budhahood for the sake of other people (Fronsdal 128).
The Buddha in the teachings highlighted was primarily concerned with suffering. His teachings are summarized under the Four Noble Truths; there is suffering, suffering has its own origin, there is cessation of suffering and there is a path to cessation of suffering (Burtt). He explained that suffering came as a result of the impermanence of all things and relationships. The loss of what a person has is inevitable. He proceeded to explain that impermanence usually leads to the suffering connected to our bodies. Suffering according to the Buddha’s teachings also included anxiety, pain and worries that we will not be happy. Suffering from a different angle also encompassed all forms of struggle (Fronsdal 128).
Under the first Noble Truth, Buddha Shakyamuni taught about the origin of suffering. He taught that humans are limited to a notion of self which in a wider context forms their ‘ego’. The ego is however dependent on what one is attached to; their physical body, their homes, and the relationships they keep with other people, what they posses and their ideas as well (Fronsdal). According to Buddhists however, ego is an illusion that does not really exist in real life.
The second Noble Truth that the Buddha taught was on the Cessation of Suffering. The cessation of individual suffering also known as ‘Nirvana’ is possible according to the Buddhists teachings. Nirvana means the cessation of suffering with little or no struggle at all. It is an everlasting state of life filled with great peace and joy (Burtt 57). He taught that it is possible for one to see through the illusions of ego. He largely discouraged the acceptance of his teaching merely on blind faith and emphasized on the evaluation of his teachings before accepting it (Fronsdal 128). He taught that for one to end suffering, they must cut off all their greed and ignorance. This translated to changing the way one viewed life and fighting to live in a peaceful and natural way. Nirvana is the ultimate goal in Buddhism according to Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings (Burtt 99).
The final truth was based on the path to ending suffering. The path is also known as the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Way. He presented it in three aspects; the view, meditation and conduct. The view involved holding back attitude and considering all things to have a beginning and ending, the meditation involved the practice of awareness and mindfulness of the current state at all times and the conduct aspect involved acting in a way to refrain from all actions that are based on ignorance (Nhất Hạnh).
(b). How did the Buddha relate to the Indian caste system, women, and wars between rival kings?
The Indian Caste system is a social stratification system which broke down various communities into thousands of smaller endogamous units known as Jatis. Buddha always emphasized simplicity in the way people lived. He taught that people had to maintain simple lifestyles for them to be able to focus on the Buddhists teachings, Dharma. He emphasized on the equality of women for their enlightenment (Drummond 13). Many Buddhists hold on to the facts that women are incapable of awakening or becoming Buddha’s. They must get reborn as men first before they can awaken or become Buddha’s. The Buddha had tried so hard to promote equality among men and women alike. He created a twofold Sangha of monks and nuns. However, his action has been criticized over time and accused of biasness. He is said to have created the Sangha’s reluctantly and created a high degree of dependency of the women to the men. However, the Buddha was always thought to have harbored no thought of ill-will against women. His awakening as a Buddha made him considered to have utterly pure thought, kind and did not have any fault. He was considered to be free from any bias. The authenticity of the passages from some of the previous scriptures reveals the real nature of the Buddha (Drummond 14). He carried out various activities that helped promote gender equality for instance the protecting the safety of nuns and protecting them from conventional gender roles as well.
During Buddha’s time, the predominant religion in India, Brahmanism divided the people into four main castes; priests, traders, laborers and warriors. The castes rarely made social contact and the lower caste had fewer opportunities. The Buddha was born in a warrior caste. However, he severely criticized the caste system. He always ridiculed the priests’ caste which was considered to be superior. He severely criticized the theological basis of the system and created his own system which was open to all people including those that were considered to be outcasts. He is quoted saying ‘Birth does not make one a priest or an outcast, but behavior does.’ (Omvedt and EBSCOhost 9).
One major aspect of the Buddhist’s religion that made it outstanding over all other religions is the dislike for war and the promotion of peaceful co-existence between all people. This made the religion avoid instances that would have resulted into war. However, there were few instances where the Buddha got into war with kings of other territories.
(c). Why did Buddhism gain favor in the royal courts across northern India?
Based on the history about Buddhism, was the primary missionary bearer of its own values. The emergence of the religion was based on socio cultural transition that took place in the first Millennium across the face of the world. Various social and religious institutions were breaking down as a result of the increasing pressure of the more complex forms of political and economic activity which was associated with many factors among them urban revolution. During the transformation, new religious and philosophical solutions were sought. The Buddha was one of the great innovators who came up with the idea of Buddhism as a religion (Rin-chen-grub, Stein and Zangpo 16). The religion gained grounds fast in India thanks to the current state of the country then.
The Indian royal courts held Buddhism in high regard as is was considered to be a binging religion. Unlike other religions, Buddhism puts more emphasis on peaceful co-existence between people. The teachings of the Buddha on suffering are complete evidence of how the religion promotes peace. The Buddha taught on the noble truths and gave one of the truths about the cessation of suffering. The path involves the urge of each human to try and create a peaceful life for themselves and lay down their ego as well. This therefore gives more emphasis on promoting peace among people thereby getting the high preference by the courts.
The religion also gained favor from the courts as it was considered to be more realistic. The Buddha fought the Indian Caste system which caused massive social stratification among the people. He challenged the priests who were held in higher regard in the society and created an open and accommodative system where no one was considered an outcast unlike the caste system (Ludwig 8).
In a nutshell, Buddhism can be referred to as a religion of peace. Looking at its teachings, it is evident that the religion values peace and the well being of all the people. The teachings of the Buddha on suffering are the main guiding principles of the Buddhists in the promotion of a life with no suffering. The teachings give ways how one can end suffering thereby providing solutions to some of the problems faced by people. Other teachings by the Buddha also empower the aspects of the life free from suffering. The religion highly discourages war and advocates for the peaceful co-existence of people from all walks of life.
The religion had experienced some decline in the past few years due to its lack of strong roots. Other seemingly superior religions tried to fight off the religion but with time, much progress has been realized and it is regaining back its glory. With the current trends, the religion will gain grounds in more parts of the world. It will be considered in high regards just like other religions which are considered to be more superior.
Burtt, Edwin A. The teachings of the compassionate Buddha . New York: New American Library, 1955.
Casanova, José. Public religions in the modern world by José Casanova . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Drummond, Richard Henry. A broader vision : perspectives on the Buddha and the Christ. Virginia Beach: A.R.E Press, 1995.
Fronsdal, Gil. The Dhammapada : teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Shambhala, 2008.
Ludwig, Theodore M. The sacred paths : understanding the religions of the world. New York: Macmilan, 1989.
Nhất Hạnh, Thích. The heart of the Buddha’s teaching : transforming suffering into peace, joy & liberation : the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path, and other basic Buddhist teachings. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.
Omvedt, Gail and EBSCOhost. Buddhism in India : Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Incorporated, 2003.
Rin-chen-grub, Bu-ston, Lisa Stein and Ngawang Zangpo. Butön’s History of Buddhism in India and its spread to Tibet : a treasury of priceless scripture. Boston: Snow Lion, 2013.
Wilkinson, Philip and Steve Teague. Buddhism. New York: DK Publishers, 2003.