History of Buddhism

History of Buddhism dates back to 580 BC, with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born as a prince in Lumbini in north India, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of the light to truth. Living as an ascetic with discipline and meditation, Siddhartha attained enlightenment under a pipal tree in the Bihar town, Budh Gaya. He became a religious leader, teaching the path to enlightenment. Thousands of followers make a Buddhist tour to India to see the site.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path :

In the path to enlightenment, Gautama preached four Noble Truths.

»Pain is part of mankind's everyday life
»Our cravings of all kinds are the cause of this pain
»One has to free oneself of these cravings
»The pain of life, with which the Noble Truths are concerned, could be avoided by following the Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path leads Buddhists to nobility through the right course of action in eight
contexts, many being moral evils to be avoided. The eighth step, 'Right Concentration' is a Buddhist principle.

Right Concentration is described in Buddhist scripture as concentrating on a single object to induce a state of consciousness through deep meditation. Thus, the Buddhists achieve complete purity of thought that leads to Nirvana.  In Buddhism, Nirvana is a blissful transcendent state, which can be achieved either in life or after death and by anyone who becomes Buddha.

Greatest Era of Buddhism in India :

In the history of Buddhism in India, Ashoka the Great of the Magadhan Empire was the first Buddhist Emperor.  The first emperor to build a Buddhist state empire, he constructed various stupas with his inscriptions carved on pillars and rocks, spreading the teachings of Buddha and his principles. Buddhism spread to south India and Sri Lanka, which has still remained a stronghold of the earliest form of Buddhism, Theravada (meaning the 'school of elders').

Within Buddhism itself, there developed a rift over an elaboration of the Buddha's essentially simple message of personal salvation. In Theravada Buddhism, Buddhist saints were pure in terms of principles while the Mahayana sect had an excess of all-embracing Buddhist saints.

Councils of Buddhist Sangha :

First Council in Rajagaha :
» Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana
» Unanimous agreement on his teachings

Second Council in Vesali :
» After about a century of the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha
»Was conducted to settle clash between Mahasanghika majority (Great Assembly) of eastern India and Sthavira minority (the Elders) of the west, over nature of the Buddhist saint and monastic discipline

Third Council in Pataliputra :
» Held by Emperor Ashoka over worsening standards of monks
» Exclusion of bogus monks

Fourth Council in Sri Lanka :
» Wrote teachings of Lord Buddha for the first time
» Called Tipitaka or the Pali Canon, the entire writing divided into
» Vinaya Pitaka (rules for monks and nuns)
» Sutta Pitaka (Buddha's discourses)
» Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological systemization of Buddha’s teachings)

Another Council at Jalandhar or in Kashmir : 
» Sarvastivada tradition
» Convened by Kushana king, Kanishka around 100 CE

Buddhist sects :

Mahayana (150 BCE -100 CE) :
» A more popular and superstitious Buddhist sect with worship of semi-divine figures
» Emphasized on the existence of the historical Buddha in some place beyond this world
» New sutras introduced of which Lotus Sutra, Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra- great significance.

Theravada (3rd –7th century CE) :
» A new form of Buddhism, in which Buddha is a human, who with self-discipline shows the way towards nirvana. There is no trace of god in Buddhism.
» Emphasized on bodhisattva symbolizing empathy for all beings
» Stressed on drawing mandalas or 'magic' circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras, recitation of phrases or mantras and need for an experienced teacher to spread Buddha’s teachings

Spread of Buddhism :
India : From 7th century, the growth of Hinduism, decline of Buddhist universities and Muslim Turk invasions of northwest India brought the decline of Buddhism in India
Sri Lanka : Buddhism became state religion when Ashoka sent his son, Mahindra who succeeded in converting Sri Lankan King to Buddhism
China : Buddhism emerged around 1st century CE
Japan : In 4th century CE, Buddhism spread from Korea to Japan, becoming their state religion
Tibet : Padmasambhava, an Indian tantric master was influential in the spread of Buddhism
Western world : Buddhism was introduced between 19th- early 20th century