Context: Leaders and scholars from the global Buddhist community will convene in New Delhi to discuss contemporary global concerns from a Buddhist approach. The maiden conference is being organised by the Union Cultural Ministry and the International Buddhist Confederation, an umbrella organisation that acts as a forum for Buddhists worldwide. The conference is considered as a big step forward in India’s aspirations to interact with Buddhism, which has millions of adherents worldwide. Recently, India, as chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), hosted a meeting on Buddhist heritage that included all countries.
Theme of the Summit: ‘Responses to Contemporary Challenges from Philosophy to Praxis’.Image source: narendramodi.in
Objectives of the Summit
- The gathering’s major objective is to explore methods of disseminating and internalising universal principles while encouraging collaboration among Dharma practitioners across philosophical, cultural, and national boundaries.
- The ultimate objective is to solve acute global concerns while also developing a long-term plan for a peaceful and harmonious future.
- The summit intends to explore Buddhist teachings and practices in order to identify answers to challenges like- climate change, poverty and war, among others.
Buddhism belongs to the Shramana school of religious movements. The word Shramana means one who performs acts of austerity and ascetic.
Basic details of Buddha
- Buddha was born at Lumbini village of Kapilavastu Nepal in 563 BC in the Shakya Kshatriya clan.
- His clan considered themselves to be descendants of Ikshvaku dynasty.
- He died in 483 BC near Kushinara (Kushinagar, UP) and the event is known as Mahaparinirvana.
- Mahabhiraskramana or the Great Going Forth is the event when Gautam Buddha left his home and discarded worldly life.
Places Visited by Buddha
- After leaving his home in search of enlightenment Buddha visited Vaishali and learnt Sankhya darshan. He then went to Rajgriha and learnt yoga.
- He later went to Uruvela where he attained enlightenment. This event is known as Sambodhi.
- He then went on to Sarnath where he delivered his first sermon also called Dharmachakrapravartana. Buddha delivered his maximum sermons from Shravasti and made Magadha his promotional centre.
- Ashta-mahasthana refers to the eight significant places associated with the life of Buddha. These include: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Shravasti, Sankissa, Rajgriha and Vaishali.
- Buddhism is based upon triratnas i.e., Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
- Buddha propagated Ashtangik marga also called Madhya marga. He was always silent on the discussion of the existence of God but believed in rebirth.
- Buddha was against caste system and opened the gates of Buddhism for all castes. He allowed women to be admitted in sangha.
- Buddha suggested that when desires are conquered, nirvana will be attained which means that a man will become free from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
- Buddha’s chief disciple was Upali, and his most favourite disciple was Ananda. Buddha regarded the social world as creation of humans rather than of divine origin. Therefore, he advised kings and gahapatis to be humane and ethical.
- 1st Buddhist Council
- Place: Rajgriha, Bihar
- Ruler: Ajatshatru
- Accomplishment: Buddha’s teachings were compiled into Sutta Pitaka (Ananda) and Vinaya Pitaka (Upali)
- 2nd Buddhist Council
- Place: Vaishali
- Ruler: Kalashoka (Shishunaga dynasty)
- Accomplishment: Buddhist sangha was divided into schools i.e., Theravada or Sthavira and Mahasanghik or Sarvastivadin.
- Theravadi is the oldest Buddhist school with its main center in Kashmir. Mahasanghik’ s main center was in Magadha.
- 3rd Buddhist Council
- Place: Pataliputra
- Ruler: Ashoka
- Accomplishment: Compilation of the third pitaka i.e., Abhidhamma Pitaka which explains the tenets of Dhamma.
- 4th Buddhist Council
- Place: Kashmir
- Ruler: Kanishka
- Accomplishment: Compilation of Vibhashashastra by Vasumitra, a commentary in Sanskrit on the difficult aspects of Buddhist texts.
Buddhists again broke into 2 schools i.e., Theravadi or Sthavira became Hinayana and Sarvastivadin or Mahasanghik became Mahayana schools.
Sects in Buddhism
- Buddhist texts mention about 64 sects or schools of Buddhism. Teachers travelled from place to place, trying to convince one another and laypersons about the validity of their philosophy.
- Debates took place in the Kutagarashala – literally, a hut with a pointed roof or in groves where travelling mendicants halted.
- If a philosopher succeeded in convincing one of his rivals, the followers of the latter also became his disciples. So, support for any sect could grow and shrink over time.
Prominent sects of Buddhism
1. Hinayana School
- Hinayana is also known as Shravakayana. They saw Buddha as a great soul but not God. They were orthodox in nature.
- Hinayana followers believed in helping themselves over others to attain salvation. They did not believe in Bhakti and idol worship. Their scriptures are written in Pali.
- Later divided into 2 sects i.e., Vaibhashika and Sautrantika.
- Sub-schools of Hinayana:
- Staviravadin or Thervadins: Earliest school from which all other schools of Buddhism originated. They follow the original doctrines of Buddha closely. They believe only in the three Pitakas.
- Sarvastivada: This is one of the early Buddhist schools which originated during the time of Ashoka (Separated from Sthaviravadins). This school is popular in Kashmir and Central Asia. This school has been broadly divided into- Vaibhasika and Sautantrika.
- Mahasanghika: It is a school which came into existence after the 2nd Buddhist Council. It separated from the Staviravadis over the differences in following monastic practices. Sub-sects of Mahasanghika school are- Lokottarvada, Kukkutika and Caitika.
- Sammitiya: A subsect of Hinayana tradition which believes that though an individual does not exist independently from the five skandhas, or components that make up his personality, he is at the same time something greater than the mere sum of his parts. It popular in Gujarat and Sindh during 7th Century. Their important centre of learning was at Valabhi, Gujarat.
2. Mahayana School
- Its prime centre was in Andhra Pradesh. Its scriptures are written in Sanskrit.
- They see Buddha as incarnation of God and started his idol worship.
- Mahayana attaches importance to role of Bodhisattvas who delay their own salvation to help others to its path.
- They believed in the concept of transmigration of soul and rebirth. Later divided into 2 sects i.e., Shunyavaad (Founder: Nagarjuna) and Vigyanvaad.
- In 8th century AD, Vajrayana School developed as an offshoot of Mahayana school in which Tara is considered as wife of Buddha.
- In early medieval period a new form of Mahayana called Mantrayana came up in which Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwar began to be worshipped.
- Sub-Schools of Mahayana
- Yogachara School: Important scholars of this school were: Asanga and Vasubandhu. It attaches foremost importance to meditation as a means of attaining the highest goal. Hence, the name Yogachara.
- Madhyamaka School: Founder of this school was Nagarjuna. Idea of Shunyata is important feature of this school. It means that appearances are misleading, and that permanent selves and substances do not exist. Important scholars of this school were Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka and Chandrakirti.
Boddhisatvas in Mahayana Buddhism
|Avalokitesvara||Bodhisattva of compassion. Most universally acknowledged Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.Has many avatars, most famous being Padmapani (Holding Lotus).|
|Maitreya||Boddisattva to be reborn. Future Boddhisattva.|
|Manjushri||Boddisattva of awareness and wisdom.|
|Padmasambhava||Most famous in Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhism. Regarded as a second buddha there.|
|Vajrapani||An early bodhisattva in Mahayana. Vajra means weapon.|
|Tara||Female bodhisattva in Tibetan Buddhism. A manifestation of Avalokitesvara.She represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. A manifestation of Avalokitesvara.|
- Tripitakas are the oldest source of studying Buddhism.
- Sutta Pitaka: Encyclopedia of Buddhist thought and Buddhas religious ideas. It is divided into five groups or Nikayas. They contain popular works such as Theragatha and Therigatha and Jataka tales.
- Vinaya Pitaka: Rules of Buddhist Sangha. It contains two main sections (i) Sutta Vibhanga (ii) Khandaka and an appendix known as Parivara. Sutta Vibhanga contains Patimokka, a set of monastic rules, 227 for monks and 311 for nuns. Patimokka was recited by congregations of monks in the fortnightly uposatha ceremony held on the full moon and new moon days.
- Abhidhamma Pitaka: Buddhist principles and concept of dhamma
- Vishuddhimarga written by Ashvaghosha serves as a key composition to tripitakas.
- Mahavastu (by Hinayana sect) and Lalitvistara (by Mahayana sect) are biographies of Buddha.
- Pragyaparimita Sutra serves as the most important text for Mahayana sect. It was written by Nagarjuna who is known as the Einstein of India.
- Eight personal possessions allowed to a monk comprised three robes, an alms bowl, razor, needle, belt and water strainer.
- Senior monks held authority within a monastic community.
- Four most serious offences (known as parajika) involving expulsion from sangha were: (i) Sexual intercourse, (ii) killing someone (iii) Stealing (iv) Making false claims of spiritual attainment.
- According to tradition, first lay followers of Buddha were two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika.
- The laity was a person who had taken refuge in Buddha, dhamma and sangha but had not taken monastic vows. The laity included male followers (upasakas) and female followers (upasikas).
- There was a growing differentiation (social-stratification) amongst people engaged in agriculture – Buddhist literature refers to landless agricultural labourers, small peasants and large landholders.
- The term Gahapati was used in Pali texts to refer to small peasants and large landholders.
Buddhism and Women
- Initially, only men were allowed into the sangha, but later women also came to be admitted. (In Buddha’s lifetime only).
- This was made possible through the mediation of Ananda (Buddha’s dearest disciple).
- Buddha’s foster mother, Mahapajapati Gotami was the first woman to be ordained as a bhikkhuni.
- Therigatha is a collection of verses composed by bhikkhunis (part of Sutta Pitaka). It provides an insight into women’s social and spiritual experiences.
Reasons for decline of Buddhism
- Decline of Buddhist Sanghas: Sanghas became centres of corruption. Discipline of Vinay Pitaka was violated.
- Revival of Brahmanical Hinduism: Rites and rituals of Hinduism were simplified. It also incorporated Buddhist principle of non-violence and accepted Buddha as a Hindu incarnation.
- Buddhism lost royal patronage, which it received during the period of Asoka, Kaniska, and Harshavardhana. The Gupta rulers were great patrons of the Brahmanical religion.
- Buddhism was divided into several groups like “Hinayana,” “Mahayana” “Vajrayana” “Tantrayana” and “Sahajayana,” and ultimately, it lost its originality.
- Buddhist monks gave up Pali and took up Sanskrit, the language of intellectuals which was rarely understood by the common people. So, people rejected it.
- Mahayana Buddhists started worshipping Buddha as a God. Image worship was a clear violation of the Buddhist doctrines, which opposed the critical rites and rituals of Brahmanical Hinduism.
- Northern India was mostly ruled by the Rajputs from the eight to twelfth century who found great pleasure in fighting. They discarded the Buddhist principle of non-violence.