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Buddhism (Gautama Buddha, Schools of Buddhism)

news-details Image Source Sep 26, 2021 16:33 IST · 13 min read

Buddhism was founded by Gautam Buddha in 6th century BC, he was the son of Suddhodhan (king of Sakya republic) and Mayadevi.

Buddha asked his followers to avoid the two extremes of indulgence in worldly pleasure and the practice of strict abstinence and asceticism - he ascribed instead the Madhyam Marg or the middle path.

Gautama Buddha (563 BC to 483 BC)

Gautama Buddha (Siddhattha Gotama or Shakyamuni) was born on Vaishakha Poornima day in Lumbini (Nepal) into an aristocratic family in the Shakya clan but eventually renounced lay life.

He lost his mother (Mahamaya) just a few days after his birth and was brought up by his stepmother Gautami.

He was married to Yashodhara at the early age of 16 and had a son named Rahula.

At the age of 29, he left his palace and decided to become a wanderer.

He along with Channa, his charioteer and his horse, Kanthaka, wandered for six long years in search of truth (Mahabhinishkramana/Great Renunciation).

Buddha first meditated with Alara Kalama and then Uddaka Ramaputta - but he was not convinced with their teachings that liberation from sorrow can be obtained by mental discipline and knowledge only.

He later joined five wandering ascetics - Assaji, Mahanama, Vappa, Bhaddiya and Kondanna.

At the age of 35, he ultimately attained Nirvana (enlightenment) at Gaya, Magadha (Bihar) under a peepal tree (Bodhi tree), on the banks of river Niranjana and came to be known as the Buddha - the Enlightened One.

The Buddha delivered his first sermon on deliverance from sufferings to his five former companions at Sarnath. This event is known as Dhamma Chakka-Pavattana, which means turning the wheel of dharma.

The Buddha wandered about for over four decades, and established an order of monks and nuns known as Sangha.

He attained Parinirvana at the age of 80 at Kusinara (of the Mallas).

His last words were All composite things decay, strive diligently.

Great events of Buddha life
Lotus and Bull Birth
White Elephant Avakranti (conception or descent)
Horse Great Renunciation (Mahabhinishkramana)
Bodhi Tree Mahabodhi (Nirvana)
Wheel Dhammachakra Pravartana (First Sermon)
Footprints Nirvana
Stupa Mahaparinirvana (Death)

Buddha urges that one should not cling (hold on tightly) to anything (including his teachings). His teachings are only Upaya (skillful means or expedient tools) and are not dogma (belief).

3 Jewels of Buddhism (Triratna)
Buddha Founder/Teacher
Dhamma Teachings
Sangha Order of Buddhist Monks and Nuns (Upasakas)

The four noble truths form the core of the teachings of Buddhism are:

Four noble truths
Dukha (The truth of suffering) As per Buddhism, everything is suffering (Sabbam Dukham).
Samudaya (The truth of the cause of suffering) Trishna (desire) is the main cause of suffering.
Nirodha (The truth of the end of suffering) The pain/sorrow can be ended by the attainment of Nibbana/Nirvana.
Ashtangika-Marga (The truth of the path leading to the end of suffering) The end to the suffering is contained in the eightfold path.

Ashtangika Marga (Eight-Fold Path)

The path consists of eight interconnected activities and is a process that helps one to move beyond the conditioned responses that obscure one's nature. The Ashtangika-Marga consists of the following:

1) Right Vision (Samma-Ditthi)
2) Right Thought or Attitude (Samma-Sankappa)
3) Right or Whole Speech (Samma-Vacca)
4) Right or Integral Action (Samma-Kammanta): Do not commit violence, Do not covet the property of others, Do not indulge in corrupt practices or sensual behaviour, Do not speak a lie, Do not use intoxicants.

5) Right or Proper Livelihood (Samma-Ajiva)
6) Right Effort or Energy (Samma-Vayama)
7) Right Mindfulness or Thorough Awareness (Samma-Sati)
8) Right Concentration or Meditation (Samma-Samadhi)

Buddhist councils

Since the death of Buddha, Buddhist monastic communities ("sangha") have periodically convened to settle doctrinal and disciplinary disputes and to revise and correct the contents of the sutras.

These gatherings are often termed "Buddhist councils". Accounts of these councils are recorded in Buddhist texts as having begun immediately following the death of the Buddha and have continued into the modern era.

Buddhist Council Time Place Ruler President Specificity
First 483 BCE Rajgriha Ajatashatru Mahakassappa Buddha's teachings were divided into 3 categories or baskets (Pitakas)
Second 383 BCE Vaishali Kalasoka Sabbakami Division: Sthaviravadins - they felt they were keeping the original spirit of the Buddha's teachings.

(The Great Community) - Interpreted Buddha's teachings more liberally.
Third 250 BCE Pataliputra Ashoka Mogaliputta Tissa Main aim was to purify the Buddhist movement from opportunistic factions.

Sent Buddhist missionaries to other countries.
Fourth 1st Century CE Kashmir Kanishka Vasumitra Buddhism divided into Mahayana and Hinayana sects.

Schools of Buddhism

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present.

1) Hinayana (Theravada) It literally means "The Lesser path" and Theravada signifies "Doctrine of the Elders".

Hinayana is true to the teachings of the Buddha and was the original school of Buddhist philosophy.

It's scriptures are in Pali, doesn't believe in idol worship.

It believes an individual can attain salvation through self-discipline & meditation.

At present, it is found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and other parts of South-East Asia.

Ashoka patronised Hinayana.

2) Mahayana The terms Hinayana & Mahayana were given by the Mahayana school - Mahayana literally means "The Greater Path".

It's scriptures are in Sanskrit - this school of Buddhism considers Buddha as God and worships idols of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas.

Mahayana has two main philosophical schools - the Madhyamika & Yogachara.

It believes in universal liberation from sufferings for all beings, and spiritual upliftment.

Salvation can also be attained by means of faith and devotion to the mindfulness of the Buddha.

It believes in mantras.

3) Vajrayana Vajrayana literally means "Vehicle of Thunderbolt", it is also called "Diamond Vehicle" or "Mantrayana" or "Tantrayana" or "Esoteric Buddhism."

Vajrayana believes that salvation can be attained by acquiring magical powers called Vajra.

Vajrayana was established in Tibet in the 11th century.

The Two Truth Doctrine is the central concept of Vajrayana, the two truths are identified as "Conventional & Ultimate truths".

Conventional truth is the truth of consensus, reality and common sense notions of what does exist and does not exist.

Ultimate truth is the reality as perceived by an enlightened mind.

Vajrayana texts use a highly symbolic language "sandhya-bhasa" or "twilight language", It aims to evoke experiences considered to be most valuable, in their followers.

It also lays importance on the role of Buddhistavas but favours fierce deities known as Taras.

The rituals and devotion employ mantras (esoteric verbal formulas), mandalas (diagrams & painting for visualisation practices) and a complex array of other rituals.

Much importance is given to the role of the guru called Lama who has mastered the philosophical and ritual traditions.

It is predominant in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia.


In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood.

In the Early Buddhist schools as well as modern Theravada Buddhism, a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a living Buddha that this will be so.

In the Tibetan tradition, the following bodhisattvas are known as the "Eight Great Bodhisattvas", or "Eight Close Sons" and are seen as the main bodhisattvas of Shakyamuni Buddha:

1) Manjuusri ("Gentle Glory")
2) Avalokitesvara ("Lord who gazes down at the world")
3) Vajirapani ("Vajra in hand")
4) Maitreya
5) Kṣitigarbha ("Earth Source")
6) Akaaagarbha ("Space Source")
7) Sarvanivaranaviskambhin
8) Samantabhadra ("Universal Worthy", "All Good")

The three pitakas

The three pitakas are Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka.

1) The Vinaya Pitaka consists of rules of conduct and discipline applicable to the monastic life of the monks and nuns.

2) The Sutta Pitaka consists of the main teaching or Dhamma of Buddha. It is divided into five Nikayas or collections: Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya, Khuddaka Nikaya.

3) The Abhidamma Pitaka is a philosophical analysis and systematization of the teaching and the scholarly activity of the monks.

Buddhist Scholars

The objectives of the Buddhist teaching were to secure the salvation of individual or nirvana. The Buddhists created a new language Hybrid Sanskrit by mixing Pali with Sanskrit.
Scholar Details
Asvaghosha Author of the "Buddhacharita" (Acts of the Buddha) in Sanskrit. Contemporary of Kanishka. He was a scholar, poet, dramatist, musician and debater.
Nagarjuna He is the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism.
Asanga & Vasubandhu
Vasubandhu's greatest work, Abhidharmakosa, is known as an Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. Asanga was an important teacher of Yogachara or Vijnanavada school founded by his guru, Maitreyanatha. Both the brothers spread Buddhism in Punjab in the 4th century AD.
Buddhaghosa The Visuddhimagga - the path of purification, a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation, is considered to be his best work. He was a great Pali scholar.
Dinnaga He is known as the founder of the Buddhist logic, the last intellectual of the fifth century.
Dharmakirti He lived in the seventh century AD, and was a great Buddhist logician, a philosophical thinker and dialectician.


Astamahasthanas are eight great holy places associated with the life of Buddha: Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Sravasti, Sankasya and Rajgir.

Place Importance
Lumbini Lumbini is currently located in Kapilavastu district of Nepal, it is birth place of Buddha.
Bodhgaya It is located in Bihar on the bank of river Neranjana. It is known for place of enlightenment of Buddha.
Sarnath Sarnath is the deer park where Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon or Dhammachakraparivartan Sutra. At the time of Buddha, it was a part of Kashi Janapada.
Kushinagar Kushinara or Kushinagara is located in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh. It is the site of Buddha's death and mahaparinirvana. At the time of Buddha?s death, it was a capital of Malla janapada.
Sravasti Sravasti was located in Uttar Pradesh around area of Balrampur in modern Uttar Pradesh.Most of monastic life of Buddha was spent in Sravasti. In Buddha's times, Shravasti was capital of Kosala Kingdom.
Sankasya It's current location is Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh. It has some faiths of Buddhism that Buddha after is death descended from heaven here.
Rajgir Rajgir was the early capital of Magadh Janapada, which was ruled by Bimbisara during Buddha's time. After the great departure (Mahabhinishkramana), Buddha had first gone to Rajgir. He started begging alms over there and living life of an ascetic. King Bimbisara had offered Buddha his throne which he turned down.

Key Buddhist Terms

The terms and concepts associated with Buddhism are complex and can take years to master. Here is a list of most commonly used term in Buddhism:

Key Terms Meaning
Pavarana A Buddhist holy day celebrated on the full moon (Aashvin) of the lunar month, at the end of the rainy season (Vassa)
Upasakas Male followers of Buddhism
Upasikas Female followers of Buddhism
Pavrajya Going forth from home, the determination to renounce the world and undertake an ascetic path
Chaityas Prayer hall of monks
Viharas Monasteries
Parajika It includes four serious offences which result in expulsion from Sangha- sexual intercourse, taking what is not given, killing someone and making false claims of spiritual realisation
Upasampada Ordination ceremony when the novice becomes a full-fledged member of the monastic community
Bodhisattva An enlightened being who compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshipped as a deity
Bikkhu Sangha Sangha of monks
Bhikkhuni Sangha Sangha of nuns
Paribbajaka/ Parivrajaka Wanderer
Shakra God Indra
Sarvastivadin One of the popular schools of Theravada, which basically relies on the dictum that ?everything whether internal or external exists continuously in all the three phases of time?
Sautrantika Sautrantikas consider only the Sutras as valid (Teachings of Buddha) and not commercial literature

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