Basic Ideals of Buddhism
Life of Buddha
Historically Buddha Siddhartha Gautam, founder of Buddhism was born in the city of Lumbini and raised in Kapilavastu, near the modern town of Taulihawa, Nepal. After Siddhartha was born, his father, king Siddhartha, was supposedly visited by a wise man and told that Siddhartha would either become a great king (Chakravartin) or a holy man (Sadhu). Determined to make Siddhartha a King, the father tried to protect his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. So, he made arrangements in such a way that Gautama would never know worldly sufferings. Despite his father’s efforts, at the age of twenty-nine, he discovered the suffering of his people, first through an encounter with an elderly man and on subsequent gaps outside the palace where he encountered various sufferings of people such as a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic.
Gautam, deeply depressed by these sights, sought to overcome old age, illness and death by living the life of an ascetic. Gautama escaped from his palace, leaving behind the royal life to become a mendicant. For a time on his spiritual quest, Buddha experienced with extreme asceticism, which at that time was seen as a powerful spiritual practice: such as fasting, holding the breath, and exposure of the body to pain. He found, however that these ascetic practices brought no genuine spiritual reliefs.
After abandoning asceticism and concentrating instead upon meditation and, according to some sources, anapanasati (awareness of breathing in and out), Gautama is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the middle way – a path of moderation that lies mid-way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl and then, sitting under a pipal tree or sacred fig. (ficus religiosa), now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. His five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he attained bodhi, also known as “Awakening” or “Enlightenment” in the west. After his attainment of bodhi, he was known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha and spent the rest of his life by teaching his insights (Dharma). He died around the age of 80 in Kushinagara.
Precepts in Buddhism
There are eight precepts in Buddhism. Among them five precepts are not given in the form of commands such as “thou shalt not…”, but are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate as well. They are:
1) To refrain from taking life. (non-violence towards sentient life forms).
2) To refrain from taking that which is not given (not committing theft).
3) To refrain from sexual misconduct (abstinence from immoral sexual behaviour)
4) To refrain from lying. (speaking truth always)
5) To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness (refrain from using drugs or alcohol) In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict and becomes a precept of celibacy.
The three additional rules of the eight precepts are:
6) To refrain from eating at the wrong time (only eat from sunrise to noon)
7) To refrain from dancing, using jewelry, going to shows etc.
8) To refrain from using a high, luxurious bed.
Buddha has also taught with clarity, how people should live with their family members and other members of the society, bringing happiness not only to themselves but also to the world.
Condition for the Welfare of a Community
The seven conditions for the welfare, prosperity, and happiness of any community, nation or country have been described in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Dighanikaya. These conditions must be considered before serving the people for their gradual development and welfare. The conditions include:
1) To assemble on occasion whenever necessary to discuss the affairs of the community.
2) To do everything by consensus.
3) To respect old traditions and not transgress them.
4) To respect and obey elders and superiors.
5) To respect, worship and honor all religions.
6) To honour and respect all holy people, irrespective of their caste, creed or gender.
7) To respect women in general.
Buddha and Buddhism
The sixth century B.C. witnessed a great restlessness in the world and it was an era of awakening. During this period there was a spiritual and moral unrest too in the society. As a result, reformists raised their voices against the evils of existing social order in their respective countries and showed new ways to the people.
This period of religious awakening prevailed not only in India but also in other parts of the world. As a result of this spiritual unrest in the 6th century B.C. many reformists’ schools, thoughts, doctrines, and streams sprang up. Of these, mainly Buddhism and Jainism survived and the rest either died out or got outlived.
Gautam Buddha was the founder of Buddhism and one of the noblest and the greatest teachers of the world. Buddhism was based on the noble teachings of Buddha. The Buddha himself wrote nothing but his teachings were handed down through his disciples. Buddhism was also one of the radical movements reacting to the dictatorship which arose in Asia during the later part of B.C.
Buddhism is a psycho-ethical tradition which is manifested mainly in two paths as a process of thought of gradual pacification (Pariyatti) and a way of practical application in life (Patipatti). Thought unfolds the nature of reality, eradicates the ignorance and resents admonition for visualization of truth face to face. The only problem is the suffering of mankind. The solution is the attainment of a state of bliss and the path is the tri-stepped way, passing from one point to another. It is Dukh (suffering); the latter is Nibbana (Moksha or Nirvana) and the path, the Magga. Non-violence (ahimsa) is one of the main planks of the teachings of the Buddha. Nonviolent attitude towards all living beings, which is the first precept in Buddhism, is based upon the principle of mutual attraction and rightness common to all nature.
Buddha openly opposed the caste system as propagated by the brahmanas and according to him no person could be superior or inferior in society merely by reason of birth.
Buddhism and its Tenets
Gautam Buddha clearly pointed out that the position of man depended on his conduct. This meant that it was a person’s attitude and behaviour (karma) which made a man superior or inferior. The Buddha had a very positive and revolutionary attitude towards women. The Buddha opened the doors of his Samgha and Dharma for the equal benefit of both men and women – a position that was exceptional for the time and was perceived as radical and dangerous by his critics. Adoption of such a position reflects an attempt on the part of the Buddha to locate virtue and spiritual potential beyond conventional gender distortions.
A large number of women took advantage of such an opportunity. There is enough evidence to suggest that women not only were conspicuously present in the earliest community, but also seem to have held prominent and honored places both as practioners and teachers. It cannot be denied that the Buddha unfolded new horizons for women by laying the foundations of the Order of Nuns. This social and spiritual advancement for women was ahead of the times and, therefore, must have drawn many objections from men, including monks.
Despite various forms of disadvantages and harassments, the combination of education in monasteries, free time, and a sense of personal moral superiority must have led many women into an organized life of unknown possibilities. Here, women were able to indulge in activities outside the home, including proselyte, development of organizational skills, and above all, an atmosphere where they could experience a sense of accomplishment.
Another very interesting aspect of the teachings of the Buddha was that he preached nonwastefulness, simplicity, contentment, liberality, and generosity. This aspect of the teachings of the Buddha is very relevant in the profit-driven global economy which is guided by unbridled development and gigantism and nonwastefulness.
By pointing out that the vulgar chase of luxury and abundance is the root-cause of suffering, Buddhism encourages restraint, voluntary simplicity, and contentment. Within this framework of Buddhist teachings, an attempt has been made to examine the theory and practice of social work in Buddhist tradition.
The teachings of the Buddha, clearly indicate that early Buddhists were very much concerned with the creation of social conditions favorable to the individual cultivation of socially engaged values. In course of time, Buddhism became a major religion and spread through most parts of Asia.
Buddhism and its Followers
There were many followers of the Buddha in the ancient period. Menander I, also known as Milinda was an Indo Greek king who ruled in the middle of the second century B.C. He was famous as a great patron and supporter of Buddhism. He was a great benefactor that the community looked upon him as a saviour who took up social activities for their welfare. Kanishka was a Kushan of Yuezhi ethnicity who ruled over the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent during first century B.C.
A number of legends about Kanishka were preserved in Buddhist religious traditions. Along with the Indian kings Ashoka and Harshavardhana, he is considered by Buddhists to have been one of the greatest Buddhist kings. Along with social welfare related activities, he also encouraged Buddhist missionary activities abroad.
King Harshavardhan is famous as one of the greatest Buddhist rulers of ancient India. He became a patron of Buddhist art and literature. He made numerous endowments to the University at Nalanda for spreading education. All these kings used Buddhist teachings for social and welfare work for public.
In the modern period, Buddhism has spread to various countries of Europe, America, and Australia. Though Buddhism has been taking up social welfare activities since its inception but in the recent years, the involvement of Buddhist in social work has increased tremendously. A lot of Buddhist leaders are getting involved in social work. The Buddhist monks and nuns are coming out of the monasteries and do social service along with and for the common people. It is a new trend in the sense that the areas of interest are vast and extensive.