Brief history of Buddhism
Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world. It
was founded by Siddhartha Guatama (Buddha) in Northeastern
India. It arose as a monastic movement during a time of
Brahman tradition. Buddhism rejected important views of
Hinduism. It did not recognize the validity of the Vedic
Scriptures, nor the sacrificial cult which arose from it. It
also questioned the authority of the priesthood. Also, the
Buddhist movement was open to people of all castes, denying
that a person's worth could be judged by their blood.
The religion of Buddhism has 150 to 350 million
followers around the world. The wide range is due to two
reasons. The tendency for religious affiliation to be
nonexclusive is one. The other is the difficulty in getting
information from Communist countries such as China. It's
followers have divided into two main branches: Theravada and
Mahayana. Theravada, the way of the elders, is dominant in
India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Mahayana, the greater vehicle, refers to the Theravada as
Hinayana, the lesser vehicle. It is dominant in India,
Tibet, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and
Siddhartha Guatama was born in Kapilivastu. His father
was the ruler of the small kingdom near the Indian/Nepal
border. As a child, his future was foretold by sages.
They believed that he would someday be a fellow sage or
leader of a great empire. He led a very pampered and
sheltered life until the age of twenty-nine. It was at that
time that he realized that he had led an empty life. He
renounced his wealth and embarked on a journey to seek
truth, enlightenment, and the cycle of rebirths.
In the first years of his journey, Siddhartha Guatama
practiced yoga and became involved in radical asceticism.
After a short time, he gave up that life for one of a middle
path between indulgence and self-denial. He meditated under
a bo tree until he reached true enlightenment by rising
through a series of higher states of consciousness. After
realizing this religious inner truth, he went through a time
of inner struggle. Renaming himself Buddha (meaning
enlightened one), he wandered from place to place,
preaching, spreading his teachings by word of mouth. He also
gained disciples, who were grouped into a monastic community
known as a sangha.
As he neared his death, Buddha refused a successor. He
told his followers to work hard to find their salvation.
After his death, it was decided that a new way to keep the
community's unity and purity was needed, since the teachings
of Buddha were spoken only. To maintain peace, the monastic
order met to decide on matters of Buddhist doctrines and
practice. Four of these meetings are considered to be the
Four Major Councils.
The first major council was presided over by
Mahakasyapa, a Buddhist monk. The purpose of the first
council was to preach and agree on Buddha's teachings
and monastic discipline.
The second major council supposedly met at Vaisali,
one hundred years after the first. The purpose of this
council was to answer the ten questionable acts of the monks
of the Vajjian Confederacy. The use of money, drinking wine,
and other irregularities were among the acts. It was decided
that the practices were unlawful. This decision has been
found to be the cause of the division of the Buddhists. The
accounts of the meeting describe a quarrel between the
Mahasanghikas (Great Assembly) and the Sthaviras
(Elders). Tensions had grown within the sangha over
discipline, the role of laity, and the nature of arhat.
Pataliputra, now Patna, was the sight of the third
council. It was called by King Asoka in the 3rd century BC,
and was convened by Moggaliptta. The purpose was the purify
the sangha of the false monks and heretics who had joined
the order because of its royal associations. During the
council, the compilations of the Buddhist scriptures
(Tipitaka) and the body of subtle philosophy (abhidharma) to
the dharma and monastic discipline were completed.
Missionaries were sent forth to many countries as a result
of the council.
King Kanishka patronized the fourth council in 100 AD.
Historians are not sure if it was held at either Kasmir or