Buddhism is one of the major religions born in India. This religion, based on the preaching of Lord Buddha who was originally known as Siddhartha Gautama, gradually spread from India to most of Asia due to its principles promoting peace and importance of middle path in life. The concept of Nirvana or Supreme Salvation has been stressed on along with a righteous life in Buddhism. The religion has some remarkable features in contrast with Hinduism and Christianity. This research work explains the origin, principles and significance of Buddhism. Along with a contrast between Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity and Islam respectively, there is detailed interview of a follower of Buddhism at the Mahabodhi temple in the city of Gaya which is situated in India. Buddha is believed to gain the divine Awakening under the holy tree next to this temple. This interview has provided details about how a common man perceives Buddhism. Other than the interview, several sources from the internet have also been used along with the interview to provide information about the religion.
India has been the land of origin of several religions. Buddhism is one of the oldest religions which originated in India and is now the fourth largest religion in the world. Founded by Lord Buddha or Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha Gautama between the 6th to 4th centuries BCE (‘ Buddhism’, 2009), the religion encourages man to adopt a peaceful and righteous life to the supreme salvation which frees man from the cycle of birth and death.
Early life of Lord Buddha
The young Lord Buddha known as Siddhartha was the son of King Suddhodana. He was born in the forests of Lumbini and raised in Kapilvastu. An astrologer had professed that Siddhartha would either grow to be a renowned king or a sage. King Suddhodana prevented every means to keep Siddhartha away from spiritual exposures. But Prince Siddhartha managed to sneak out several times and witnessed the sufferings of his subjects while roaming around his kingdom. The famous Four Sights- an old man, an ill man, a dead man and a saint- moved and disturbed him. He realised that life is full suffering. No matter what, a man has to grow old, fall ill and die one day. The fourth sight- of a saint- prompted that he was freer from sufferings than the people in worldly life. He heard the word Nirvana in a different context one day and felt greatly pleased. He finally left the royal life in search of truth. After years of meditation, inspirational encounters and realisation, Siddhartha gained the spiritual awakening which he sought so earnestly. And he turned into Lord Buddha. Buddha means the awakened one (Swearer, 2004).
Buddhism and its principles
Even before the divine awakening, Lord Buddha had learnt a lesson- the middle path in life. (The Middle Way of the Buddha”, 2012). He meditated without food or water for several days and lost weight drastically. But then he realised after listening to a song on the very concept that it is better to choose a middle path between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification (‘ Buddhism – The Middle Path’, 2012). The teachings of Four Noble Truths is regarded to be significant in Buddhism which comprises the truth of suffering, the truth of origin or reasons behind suffering, the truth of termination of suffering and the paths which can lead to termination of suffering.
1. Buddha- It is the ultimate title for those who attain Nirvana. It is prime belief- Buddha is the Unique Absolute Refuge. Buddha is the Imperishable, Eternal, Indestructible and Absolute Refuge (Sebastian, 2005).
2. Dharma- The teachings of Lord Buddha which can lead to a light of enlightenment
3. Sangha- Those who have attained any of Four Stages of Enlightenment.
Another significant set of beliefs in Buddhism is the Noble Eightfold Paths. Sucitto (2001) told that these paths are interconnected and moderate each other. These eight paths are as follows:
1. Right View: Viewing the elements of world as the way they are and not what they seem externally.
2. Right Intention: Righteous intentions to learn, improve and not harm others
3. Right Speech: Speaking what is truth, just and righteous
4. Right Action: Acting in the righteous way not to hurt others
5. Right Livelihood: A righteous life without harming others
6. Right effort: Efforts to improve the quality of life
7. Right Mindfulness: Using mind positively to perceive things and think
8. Right Concentration: Correct meditation
Review of the Interview site location
The location chosen for conducting interview on Buddhism is Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India. Lord Buddha attained the divine awakening under the holy Bodhi Tree, next to which this temple was built in 5th to 6th century BCE (Whc. unesco. org, 2002). However, its foundation was laid by Emperor Ashoka much earlier in 250 BCE. Today, the temple has a main tower measuring 180 feet along with four small towers surrounding it. It is a very beautifully carved temple made of bricks and surrounded by stone railings on all the four sides.
The interviewee is a 56 years old monk, an ardent follower of Buddhism found at the Mahabodhi Temple itself. The interview was conducted in Hindi mainly with some sentences in English. It has been translated into English later.
Interviewer: Hello sir! First of all, I want to thank you for your time in prior. May I know your name?
Interviewee: My name does not matter. It is my thoughts and deeds. You don’t need to thank me as whatever you shall know in the course of this conversation is in the name of Buddha.
Interviewer: For how long have you been a Buddhist?
Interviewee: Last 35 years, I was not born a Buddhist. I had reached Bihar (a state in Eastern India) when I was in twenties. I came in contact with several Buddhist monks in 1977 in Bodh Gaya and got drastically influenced by them. Whatever they told me about the truth of life and death, the reasons behind all the sufferings in this world and the futile financial success people die for- it appealed to my heart. I started to believe in Buddha and today, He means everything.
Interviewer: It certainly seemed to have appealed you and influence your existence. Reading the principles and living it are different. What do you do which makes you a Buddhist?
Interviewee: I believe in Buddha and see the sheer logic in His preaching. I would not lie that I also analysed the teachings of Buddha first before I accepted it. It was true no matter which aspect of my life I applied it to. My anger, love for money, desire to get a good job and other materialistic longings- what did they fetch me? More of instability and less of contentment!
Interviewee: Are you not working to earn a living?
Interviewer: I am working. Buddhism does not ask you to stop working at all. It inspires you to choose a righteous life. Thinking good, doing good and improving the quality of life! I do not harm others nor want them to be unhappy. I seek peace. And I pray for all to be happy. It is one of the Four Immeasurables taught to us. We meditate and pray for all sentient beings to be happy and free of sufferings, anger and partiality.
Interviewee: What is the middle path?
Interviewer: Legends tell that before Awalening once while Buddha was meditating without having a single drop of water or food, he heard a song which meant- Don’t pull the strings of sitar so loosely that they does not produce music. But don’t pull the strings so hard either that they break. Buddha understood the significance of Middle Path. He took food, water and then, meditated to attain the divine Awakening.
Interviewee: Why the Nirvana is so important?
Interviewer: Because it is the ultimate way to attain God and free the soul from the cycle of birth, death and suffering. Every child is born and raised to become an accomplished citizen. But can he beat death? Can he beat the sufferings without following the right path? Freeing oneself from the greed, hatred and delusion, walking on a path of righteousness and taking refuge in the feet of Buddha- Nirvana is a summation of all.
Interviewer: What is the significance of meditation in Buddhism?
Interviewee: Meditation is very important to delve deep inside the mind. A mind which is disturbed or doubtful requires focusing and using his concentration rightly to know why he is disturbed. Anger or frustration does not let us see the answers clearly. We usually sit cross legged and begin thinking. We move towards light from darkness and try to seek an answer. Sometimes, we begin with a mind full of thoughts and end up focussing on our breaths solely. This gives us an insight.
Interviewer: What is Zen?
Interviewee: It is one of the most popular forms of Buddhism but not in this part of the continent. Zen is followed in China and Japan mainly. It also greatly emphasises on mediation and spiritual awareness. When an individual perceives himself in truest form, without any ego and worldly desires or attachment, he becomes a part of and in fact equivalent to Buddha himself. Zen focuses on such enlightenment. It gives immense power and self-control to a dedicated practitioner.
Interviewer: I am really glad for you took time to illumine Buddhism in such simpler words. Peace be with you!
Interviewee- Peace be with you!
Contrast between Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity and Islam
Buddhism and Hinduism have several contrasting features. Both the religions originated in India and believe in Supreme Salvation or Nirvana or Moksha. The priests of both religions are celibate and live a life dedicated to Nirvana. Idol Worship is a part of both and so is the mantra recitation in Sanskrit. A righteous life is stresses on in all the religions of the world. One prominent practice which is significant in both Hinduism and Buddhism is Meditation or Yoga with concepts of Dhyan and Samadhi. The various holy symbols like Swastika, Tilak, Mudra, Dharma Chakra and Rudraksha are common to Hinduism and Buddhism. But there are several differences between the two religions too. Hinduism does not forbid the attainment of pleasures or love. But Buddhism considers attachment and worldly pleasures to be the causes behind sufferings. This is the main difference along with difference in beliefs on castes. Hindus believe in caste system strongly while Buddha denied it. Though some of the texts, usually Upanishads are considered to be connected in both religions but other than these, the religious texts in both the religions are different. Buddhism regards Mahayana Sutras, Pali canon and Pali Tipitaka as sacred texts. Hinduism considers the four Vedas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita as sacred texts. Worshipping God is not a prime focus in Buddhism, but it is important in Hinduism.
Christianity and Buddhism are often connected due to some of the similar sayings between Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ (Bentley, 1993). Their birth stories were mystic too. Jesus was born to a virgin mother. Buddha was born in the forest of Lumbini without causing any pain to her mother and walked immediately after birth. They both did miraculous healings. Buddhism and Hellenism cast influences upon each other due to constant contact between the proprietors and followers of both concepts. It was believed by several that Buddhism influenced Christianity in several parts of the world (Bentley, 1993). However, the differences were also clear. Buddhism did not focus on God or Lord being everything and it believes in incarnation. Christianity regards Jesus Christ to be everything.
Islam and Buddhism are very different to each other in spite of being followed largely in Asia. The former believes in Prophet Muhammed and latter in Lord Buddha. The women and men enjoy equal rights in Buddhism but it is not so in Islam. While all Buddhist seek peace to spread Buddhism, there has been use of violence and war to spread Islam through conquest. Nirvana means giving up desires in Islam but it means getting free from the cycle of birth and death in Buddhism. Also, Islam believes in Allah to be the creator of the Universe but Buddhism does not. Meditation is not an indispensable part of Islam; there are 5 pillars in Islam which matter. Buddhism believes in the Three Jewels, the Noble Eightfold Path and other principles.
Buddhism has been one of the most successful religions because it promotes internal peace. Several of the Buddhist practices have inspired its followers to master their senses and bodies. Believing in the Three Jewels, The Eight Paths and Nirvana, Buddhism preaches a life of simplicity and quality. Therefore, it is also one of the fastest growing religions I the world.
Visiting a Buddhist temple and interviewing a follower of Buddhism helped understand Buddhism better. There are some interesting contrasts between Buddhism and other major religions of the world. Being followed by millions around the globe, it has influenced numerous people to achieve a peaceful and stable life. The deep insight into reality and motto of life which Buddhism provides helps strengthen the inner built of an individual. No matter one follows Buddha or not, some of its principles are actually worth analysing. It would only teach to be simple and help in seeking inner peace.
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