Buddhism and Jainism
Causes for the growth of Buddhism and Jainism
The primary cause for the rise of Jainism and Buddhism was the religious unrest in India in the 6th century B.C.
The complex rituals and sacrifices advocated in the Later Vedic period were not acceptable to the common people. The sacrificial ceremonies were also found to be too expensive. The superstitious beliefs and mantras confused the people.
The teachings of Upanishads, an alternative to the system of sacrifices, were highly philosophical in nature and therefore were not easily understood by all. Therefore, what was needed in the larger interests of the people was a simple, short and intelligible way to salvation for all people. This need was fulfilled by the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira.
Other than the religious factor, social and economic factors also contributed to the rise of these two religions. The rigid caste system prevalent in India generated tensions in the society. Higher classes enjoyed certain privileges which were denied to the lower classes. Also, the Kshatriyas had resented the domination of the priestly class. It should also to be noted that both Buddha and Mahavira belonged to Kshatriya origin.
The growth of trade led to the improvement in the economic conditions of the Vaisyas. As a result, they wanted to enhance their social status but the orthodox Varna system did not allow this. Therefore, they began to extend support to Buddhism and Jainism. It was this merchant class that extended the chief support to these new religions.
Five Great Events of Buddha’s Life and their Symbols
- Birth – Lotus and bull
- Great renunciation – Horse
- Nirvana – Bodhi tree
- First Sermon – Dharmachakra or wheel
- Parinirvana or death – Stupa
Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.
The Buddha is believed to have been born in the 5th century, around 560 BC, in the town of Lumbini (modern day Nepal) into a Hindu royal court in the Shakya Kingdom of Northern India. In his privileged early years he saw little of the world beyond, knowing nothing of suffering, disease or death.
Then, as a mature adult he ventured out and saw the difficulties and suffering prevailing in the lives of most people but, seeing a simple ascetic on a path of discoverywho was seemingly carefree and at peace he decided that he needed to find some answers of his own.
With his eyes opened he was feeling increasingly dissatisfied with his life and wondered if salvation from all this suffering was attainable but, he believed that any solutions were to be found beyond the comforts and constraints of the palace walls.
At the age of twenty-nine Siddhartha decided to leave the palace and try to understand the cause of all this human suffering and hopefully to discover a method of salvation, not just for himself but for humanity as a whole. In the dark of night he rode out of the palace with a single servant then, once beyond its boundary he dismounted by a stupa (temple), changed out of his princely clothes into simple monks robes, cut his long hair and bade farewell to horse and servant.
Travelling widely he studied under many great masters but found no satisfaction, he then spent six years as an ascetic, depriving himself to the point of near starvation but still believed himself no closer to any epiphany.
Now he began to eat normally again and allowed himself basic comfort, he soon arrived in Bodh Gaya, where he sat under a large fig tree (Bodhi tree) pondering his experiences in peaceful meditation. During this period his thoughts clarified into a profound understanding, he was tested to break his purity of thought with various distractions by Mara, the personification of evil, but resisted all temptation remaining true to his quest for spiritual knowledge.
After seven weeks of focussed meditation in Bodh Gaya, he found enlightenment, his Awakening, a subliminal insight into the world around him, his present and past. Recognising that the route to contentment lay in ‘the middle way’, to live in balance without extremes he saw too that physical life itself was the cause suffering and salvation lay in breaking free from samsara (rebirth) to achieve nirvana, liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
In achieving nirvana one could live out this physical existence in blissful peacefulness free from the confusions of delusion and desire and reach parinirvana upon the ending of this life to spend eternity in freedom as pure spirit. He now understood the reality of existence and this was his spiritual awakening, or bodhi, which is known as ‘moksha’ in Hindu terminology, the religion The Buddha was born into and remained all his life.
The Buddha decided that people needed to know about his discovery and that he was obliged teach his wisdom. The message should be kept simple and available to all people regardless of caste, ancestry, ethnicity or education.
To that end he developed his understanding of ‘the middle way’ into the ‘Four Noble Truths’ which contained the ‘Eightfold Path’ to enlightenment and set off to the largest city of the region, Varanasi (once Benares), to preach and set the wheel of dharma in motion.
At first Shakyamuni Buddha was unsure as to whether he could teach his path to enlightenment to people generally. He was concerned that the prevailing sense of greed and hatred coupled with an overriding ignorance driven by the human ego would prevent them from recognising his subtle and gentle path to self-realisation. Thankfully he was convinced to share his experiences as at least some people would comprehend.
Teaching from a deer park in Sarnath, he established a following before spending the next forty-five years of his life travelling widely across Northern India spreading the message of salvation.
His basic message, his dharma, was simply reduced to the phrase – ‘all that exists will pass away’.
He sought only to develop a monastic order, he never wanted his teachings to form a religion nor did he seek to be glorified for his achievements. He believed that the knowledge he attained of liberation was no more than a universal truth open to all sentient beings.
Aged eighty years old, the Buddha’s physical life ended in the remote jungles of Kushinagar, India, thereby attaining Parinirvana, a deathless state.
Nearing death he is famously believed to have have told his followers to ‘follow no leader’, he always told disciples to be responsible for their own actions and thoughts, as he recognised no God concept, higher being or, a Creator.
His final words were reported to have been the phrase that he had repeated over the years, ‘All that exists will pass away’ adding, to ‘strive for your own liberation with diligence.’