This is an Indian religion that comprises different traditional practices and beliefs. It was founded by a prophet, Siddhartha Gautama also called Buddha. He was born in 563 B.C to Hindu parents but at the age of 35 he started spreading his doctrines after his enlightenment. He preached in the sixth century BC targeting mostly the subcontinents at the north-eastern side of India. In 483 B.C Buddha died after establishing a religion that is regarded as the best gift to mankind India has ever received. As the religion spread to different parts of the world, two branches were realized due to disagreement among the adherents. The two names are Theravada meaning the school of Elders and Mahayana meaning the many because it had a greater number of people at the time of division.
Theravada is widely spread in Sri Lanka and major parts of Southeast Asia. It is believed to be the oldest existing branch. In East Asia the Mahayana branch dominates. Some classification methods categorize Vajrayana as a third branch of Buddhism while others recognize it as a subgroup of Mahayana. Both branches are widespread in Asia. The foundation of Buddhism practices is based on: Buddha, his teachings, and the community. The emperor Ashoka who supported Buddhism encouraged people in his empire to accept this religion. He sent his people to preach Buddhism outside his empire to Afghanistan and several parts of Asia. During his reign Buddhism was spread outside India. Today this religion is found in every part of the world with about 500 million adherents. It is ranked the fourth most popular religion after Christianity, Islamic, and Hinduism.
The essential teachings of Buddha
His teachings are found in the Dhammapada and clearly states that if these laws are followed people will have peace and happiness. He taught about the noble truths, how to end suffering, and basic ethics also called silas.
The four noble truths about suffering are:
- There is suffering that marks experiences and everything.
- Suffering is caused by desire or craving
- Suffering ends when the desire or craving is ended
- When the Eightfold path is practiced, freedom from suffering is achieved
The Eightfold Path to end suffering:
- Understanding the above-mentioned noble truths is important in an attempt to end suffering. Understanding the fact that nothing is permanent and changes will always be it is important. He taught that we are all one and not separate individuals.
- Determination was taught as a way of ending suffering in that, people should be determined to avoid what is wrong and evil but do what is good. Everyone should be determined to give up evil thoughts that bring disharmony, frustration, and suffering. He encouraged thoughts that bring love, kindness, and caring for others this will lead to end of suffering and a start to happiness.
- Frivolous speech causes suffering. In his teaching he encouraged right speech by calling for the end of telling wrong information. He taught that talks such as backbiting and gossip cause disharmony suffering. Abstinence from harsh, malicious, and arrogant language is also a key factor in cessation of human suffering. In his teaching he emphasized that telling the truth at the right time and giving a harmonious speech alleviates disharmony and frustrations. People should avoid negative comments and use of harsh words but instead, cultivate harmony by use of kind and loving words.
- The acts of people lead to their own suffering. He encourages the undertaking of actions that are moral, ethical, honest, and good. He taught that every action taken should be for the good of oneself and others. Abstaining from dishonest activities and engaging in peaceful and honest dealings alleviates suffering.
- Some livelihoods cause suffering and frustrations. Buddha taught that making our earning from right occupations alleviates the suffering of people and other living creatures. He described some activities like making weapons and poisons as occupations that diminish the well-being of people and other living things directly.
- He taught about effort in preventing wickedness and encouraging goodness. He taught about striking a balance between doing something excessively and not doing it at all. The right effort should be cultivated in the lives of people. Everyone should work on his or herself to acquire self-improvement.
- The Buddha teachings encourage the state of being watchful and mindful. The intentions of a person must be right and this is developed by avoiding drugs and alcohol which clouds the mind of a person. Mental awareness should be developed intentionally and steadily.
- Concentration is important in an effort to end suffering. A wandering mind, troubled mind, and an unsteady mind cause suffering and should be avoided. This is done by meditating and focusing the mind properly and routinely while one is awake. A person should develop body, emotional, and mind awareness to alleviate suffering.
Buddha also taught five basic ethics or precepts that include:
- Abstaining from taking away the lives of other creatures but instead show love to them
- Avoid stealing and instead people should be generous and give freely to others.
- People should avoid engaging in unacceptable sexual acts but be contented and faithful.
- Avoid lying and giving false reports but instead tell the truth always.
- For clarity and awareness of mind, people should avoid taking intoxicants like alcohol.
Buddhism and Hinduism are related in some practices and beliefs and also contrast in some theories and traditional practices. During the Vedic rituals the Hinduism religion believed in offering animal sacrifices. The Buddha’s teaching is against killing of living things saying that this act causes suffering and frustration. He explained that the benefits of killing are only to the killer and his family but cause shortening of life. This belief of Buddhism has been accepted by Hinduism and they ceased sacrificing animals during their Vedic practices. Today, rice and milk are offered instead of animal sacrifices.
Buddhism is a religion that calls for peace. It is ranked as the most peaceful religion with Buddha’s teaching of harmony and peace, and everyone is encouraged to avoid suffering. They have never engaged in Holy war despite their movement to spread their religion. Hinduism has been influenced by this non-violent religion and has encouraged peace among its members. Buddhism has also modified the culture in India by the development of unique art and architecture.
Buddhists believe that one does not need to depend on Vedas for salvation which was the belief of Hinduism. Buddhism encouraged the practice of meditating and being watchful in order to be right in mind. This practice has been accepted in Hinduism. Buddhism was accepted in India because it freed people from orthodoxy and traditional suffering. The Indian society was full of the Caste system that denied people freedom of choice. Through its teaching, Buddhism was able to challenge these practices of Hinduism and influenced them positively.
Hinduism has received some words, ideas, and expressions from Buddhism hence modification. This is evident because some words and statements are not found in Hinduism literature that was there before the emerging of Buddhism. For example the description of materialists by Buddhism as people who think of the world as a place of total enjoyment is borrowed by the Hinduism. Some words example nirruaa and niruaira in Hinduism were not there before the development of Buddhism. Thus Hinduism has been influenced by Buddhism.
Some teachings of the Buddhism have been assimilated into Hinduism. For example in the description of the Yoga practice, the Middle path found in the Buddha teaching is adopted. During the concentration process in Buddhism some gradual psychological steps are outlined. The Hinduism has adopted these stages thus being modified. Buddhism has referred to life as suffering and this is seen in Hinduism passages as well.
The appeal of Buddhism
In the modern world Buddhism is appealing to many people. The number of Buddhists is rapidly growing in several parts of the world. In Asia, Communism had displaced Buddhism but today it is getting back faster. People have recognized the facts about Buddhism and have realized that it is scientifically based and allows reasoning. Europe, United States, and Australia are the continents where Buddhism is spreading fastest. In Europe many people feel hopeless and empty. They have accepted Buddhism because it calls them to have self-improvement which gives hope, good results, and positive changes in their lives.
It is appealing to many people because of its call for peace. The world today is full of nonsense violence and hatred and people are opting for it. It is an old religion that has never used force to spread its doctrines. There is friendliness and unity among the members of different Buddhism branches. This religion is appealing also because of its non-judgemental acts. It encourages kind-heartedness, care, and acceptance. This has attracted a lot of people to join this unique religion.
Buddhism does not have myths and mysteries that cannot be understood by the common people. It does not test the rationality of humans and it is easy to understand. This makes it appealing compared to other religions that have mysteries only understood by preferred persons. It is also appealing because it does not shift the blame to a higher supremacy. It states that we are responsible for our actions whether good or bad. People determine their destiny by their actions today determining their experiences in future.
Buddhism is appealing to many people because it does not have strange dogma. It does not deny its adherents the freedom to think and question its doctrines. It does not reject scrutiny and investigations because there is no sin of blasphemy. Another major reason for its rapid gain of popularity is because it is in agreement with the modern science. There is no doctrine of Buddhism that contradicts the scientific facts. The Buddhism is open and calls for correction where its facts do not correspond to the scientific discoveries. For example, the Dalai Lama said that if any of Buddhism doctrines are found to be superstitious they would be dropped to avoid misinforming the adherents. This makes the Buddhism more appealing to the Western people.
Therefore, it is concluded that Buddhism will continue gaining popularity as science advances and continue to disagree with other religions. The world is full of wars and violence; people will always prefer a religion that calls for peace and harmony making Buddhism popular. With increased struggle and hopelessness people will accept Buddhism because it gives encouragement.
Conze, Edward. Buddhism: its essence and development. New York: Harper, 2001.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda. Hinduism and Buddhism. India: Kessinger publishing, 2000.
Humphreys, Christmas. Buddhism. New York: CRC press, 2003.
Muller, Friedrich Ma. The Dhammapada: Essential Teachings of the Buddha (sacred wisdom). New York: Watkins publishers.
Saunders, Kenneth. Buddhism and Buddhists in Southern Asia. India: Kessinger publishing, 2006.