Gautama Buddha and His Contribution towards Buddhism!
Siddhartha, Gautama or Sakyamuni, who was known as Buddha after his attainment of Enlightenment probably lived between 560 and 480 B.CL He was the son of Suddhodan, Chief of Kshatriya caste who ruled in Kapilavastu in the foothills of the Himalayas on Nepal border.
Traditionally he was said to have been born in Lumbini Park while his mother Mayadevi was on her way to her father’s house.
The discovery of Ashoka’s Pillar in the Lumbini Park with the inscription ‘Here was born Buddha, Sainkyamuni’ leaves no doubt in the truth of the traditional belief about Gatama’s birth place. Mayadevi died at the time of the birth of the child and was reared up by his aunt and step-mother Gautami after whose name he was called Gautama.
Though born in a royal family Gautama did not find pleasure in the princely pursuits of hunting, warfare, riding etc. He became somewhat introvert in nature. At the age of sixteen he was married to a princess variously known as Gopa, Bimba, Yasodhara, Subhadraka etc: A few years were passed by him in the pleasures of the royal palace. But human sorrow, disease and death made him disconsolate.
He felt increasingly disturbed in mind. All the pleasures of the palace life could not bring any peace of mind for him. He became busy in the thought of finding way to salvation of human soul. At the age of twenty-nine a son was born to him. He was christened Rahul. The birth of the son made him feel that he was being drawn more into worldly life. Soon after, he renounced the world leaving wife, child and all the pleasures of the royal palace.
As a recluse he tried many of the disciplines and doctrines current at that time, followed the precepts of many a Sannyains, exercised every conceivable austerity and penance but failed to attain the truth he was seeking after. He also travelled far and wide and had been to Uruvilla and Rajagriha.
At Uruvilla near Gaya Gautama practised severest of penances which reduced his body to all bone and Skin. But Truth still eluded him. He then took bath in the Niranjana River, modern Nilajan or Lilajan and sat under a pipal tree in fresh meditation. Here he ultimately received what he believed to be the Truths of life and death.
The place where he attained the Truth came to be known as Bodhgaya and the tree under which he had sat in meditation is known as Bodhi tree. After getting the Enlightenment he came to be known as Buddha. He then gave his first sermon in the Deer Park near Sarnath and initiated five disciples.
For next forty-five years he peached his religion in Bihar and Ayodhya and set up Buddhist Samgha. In the course of his peaching he came into touch with Bimbisara, king of Magadha and Presenjit, king of Kosala. He is said to have converted Bimbisara into Buddhism.
At the age of eighty he breathed his last at Kushinara or Kushinagara, modern Kasiari. Demise of Buddha is called Mahaparinirvana and it is supposed to have taken place at 486 B. C. Some put the date at 480 B.C. According to Sinhalese Buddhist texts, Buddha’s Parinirvana is placed in the year 544 B. C.
Essence of the teaching of Buddha is based on four great truths: the Truth of Pain, that is, human beings are subject to sorrow, disease and death; Truth of the Origin of Pain, that is, every pain has its cause and it is greed or desire; Truth of the End of Pain, that is, pain must be ended by elimination of desire, Truth of the Elimination of Desire, that is, the path to be followed for the elimination of desire.
Buddha, therefore, recommended the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha was neither in favour of extreme austerity in religion nor extreme enjoyment of worldly life. His was a Middle Path which could be followed by the householders. His Noble Eightfold Path was a middle path.
The eight virtues recommended by Buddha in his Eightfold Path are: Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Efforts, Right Mindfulness, Right Contemplation and Right Livelihood. The Noble Eightfold Path, if followed would ‘open the eyes, bestow understanding, lead to peace of mind, to higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana’.
Nirvana was extinguishment of cravings and of desires and the consequent end of suffering. On the eve of his death Buddha in his last exhortation to his disciples pointed out that decay was inherent in things and one has to work for salvation with diligence. Working for salvation requires observance of moralities such as non-violence, continence, non-lying, non-stealing and abandonment of luxury, slander, hankering for wealth, animal sacrifice and similar other practices.
Other requisites for salvation are Samadhi, i.e. deep concentration, which will lead to Prajna i.e. insight which in its turn will lead to Sambodhi, i.e. Enlightenment and Nirvana. Buddhism does not recognize the existence of God and other gods and goddesses. The Divine character of the Vedas is also not recognised by Buddhism. Like the Jainas, the Buddhists do not believe in caste system. Gautama Buddha established a Samgha with all his disciples. Gradually Samgha became an inseparable part of Buddhism.
Buddha did not reduce the principles of his religion to writing. He had exhorted his disciples verbally in Pali language. After his death his disciples summoned a Buddhist Council at Rajagriha and divided Buddha’s teachings into three Pitakas i.e. Baskets, and reduced them to writing.
The Three Pitakas were Sutra Pitaka wherein Buddha’s sermons and activities were compiled. In Benoya Pitaka the rules of conduct to be followed by the Buddhist monks and nuns were written down. In Abhidhamma Pitaka the philosophy of Buddhism was put into writing.
In later times there arose difference of opinion about the sermons of Buddha to resolve which three more Buddhist Councils were convened. The Second Council was held at Vaisali after almost a hundred years from the death of Buddha. The third Council was held at Pataliputra during the reign of Asoka and the fourth and the last Council was held at Kashmir or Jullundar which was called by Kushana king Kanishka.