The history of the world has been enriched by an amazing number of religions gravitating around five spiritual trends: Judaism and Christianism, Mahometism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese Religions, but few of them have survived through the ages.
Buddhism triumphed among the other religions trough Non Violence Principle.
Born between 567 and 487 B.C., in Kapilavastu in India, Siddarta Gautama was a prince with a carefree life of pleasure. But he could not remain immune to the heart of human suffering. At the age of thirty he called for is charioteer, asked for his horse and left his palace life behind forever. Thus was inaugurated an episode in religious history among the most important ever. Later, Buddhist literature was to dub it the Great Renunciation.
First, he went on the wrong track. Under two teachers, he learnt to enter states of consciousness that were imperturbable. Unimpressed, Siddarta left the two men. He then decided that the answer could not be found until bodily desires were overcome. So followed a period of self-mortification. Five companions from the teacher's sect were his co-sufferers. One day during meditation, he felt a cool breeze soothe his body and ease his mind. In a flash, he saw what was incorrect about starving the body of its needs: he was seeking to cast aside the body in pursuit of the final answer when such separation was unnatural. The body and mind, Siddarta concluded, were one and could not be torn apart. So, after seven years of searching he came back to a normal life accepting nourishment and so on. He began to meditate again, looking deeply into his own feelings, disentangling reality from dogma. Then one night it happened. Siddarta, "the one who attains his aim", became who was to be named soon after the Buddha, the Awakened One.
The doctrine of non-self, as it came to be called, was not a theory of no self. It did not say that there was no self. It did not challenge the idea of a soul, since the soul, the Godhood immanent in every man, was understood to have manifested as the world itself. Instead, the theory of non-self pointed to the insubstantiality or emptiness behind the idea of identity.
The Buddha's major departure was from Brahmanism, which were the existing set of religions of his time. Brahmanical thinking had entangled the matter of enlightenment or liberation with a complicated system of gaining religious merit. The arrangement of society into castes, which grew rigid and degrading, further occulted the system. After some time, it was comprehensible only to the few who had engineered it and whom upheld it - the Brahmans. Gone was the spirit of intense inquiry, of poetic wonderment and of renunciation which found expression in the sacred texts such as the Upanishads and the Vedas.
Buddhism can thus be seen as a revolt against Brahman orthodoxy. But as far as the Buddha is concerned, he was a man who was in internal revolt rather than external rebellion.
Buddha advocated the middle-way, one that charted the territory between sensual indulgence and self-abnegation, to solve the problem. An extremely simple logic formed the bedrock of his teachings. He postulated that life was filled with suffering, the scales of joy and sorrow tilting to favor happiness this instant and grief the next. Both emotions and events had no permanence. Yet, what caused such a burden of misery? In a word - desires. A vast territory of psychological ferment, of demands for appreciation and gratification, in fact, nothing less than the whole core of the human self, lay in the mind. With desire, the game of the mind began. Often man sang to desire's mesmerizing tune without knowing why. It was in his ignorance that the tragedy lay.
The next step in the doctrine followed naturally: do away with desires. And the gates of abiding happiness and nirvana would be opened; But the Buddha differed from all others in the way he chose to end desire. The trick was not to avoid it or to get involved in a confrontation with it but to look deeply into its nature and causes. It was more a matter of cultivating an attitude of mindfulness towards desires rather than willfully bludgeoning them into temporary submission. The Buddha even developed breathing exercises and routines to help nurture such awareness and sensitivity.
The first to walk the middle way with the Buddha were his five companions. They also formed his audience when he delivered his opening sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath. So significant is the event that Buddhism has marked it as the Turning of the Wheel of Law, forming the nucleus around which the order grew. The Buddha gave to his order simplicity and humility.
At the age of eighty, after having taught for half a century, he died. Buddha's disciples continued to teach his doctrine for centuries. Buddhism became globally successful. At the beginning of the 21st century, half the world’s population declared themselves Buddhist.
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