Buddhism is a religion that was founded byBuddha about 2,500 years ago. To this day, the religion draws itsteachings from the words and life Buddha. Just like many otherreligions, there are factions in Buddhism. The factions differ basedon religious practices and conformity to culture. Primarily, Buddhismhas two main factions. One side believes in doing according toscriptures of Buddha while the others have since modified thescriptures to conform to modern times. According to the Buddhists,Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life. The teachings of Buddharevolve around the life of a common Buddhist. They address daily lifeaspects such as meditation, marriage, human relationships, and basicneeds. The teachings of Buddha revolve around creating a human beingwho is at peace with his inner self and those around him. Theteachings aim at elevating human suffering so that they can live alife of peace and happiness. The discussion on Buddhism will exploreBuddha’s primary concerns, his relation with the caste system inIndia, and why the religion gained favor in the Indian royal Courts.
Buddha’s primary Concerns
According to Senshi temple (2016), Buddha’sprimary concern was human suffering and how to end it or minimize it.According to Buddha, human suffering can take numerous forms. Amongthe most common are disease, stress, strained relationships, and lackof inner peace. Buddha’s perspective of human suffering stillapplies in the modern world because the aforementioned factors areresponsible for what constitutes modern day stress. For instance,strained relationships with loved ones will lead to stress, andconsequently cause diseases such as depression, high blood pressureand heart condition.
Human suffering is root cause of conflictbetween people of same or different groups. Human beings think thatthey can end their suffering by invading the peace of theirneighbors. However, the result is more suffering with no peace atsight. After reading the teachings of Buddha, the most commonquestion that many people ask is what causes human suffering?According to Buddha, suffering is a result of ignorance, greed, oranger. A human being does not all of them to encounter sufferingjust one factor is enough to cause unimaginable suffering.
Greed stems from the fact that human beingsdesire what is beyond their reach. In the words of Buddha, when humanbeings salivate for what they cannot have, it leads to dukkha(suffering). In the modern world, greed is also a major concern.People are willing to live beyond their means because they care toomuch, about what others think of them (Zenguide.com, 2016). The thingabout material things is that they lead to more craving.
Enjoying a good meal or buying that sports caronly leads to more suffering because human beings are rarelycontented. This noble truth is still prominent in the life of modernman and it takes various forms. Craving for more good things willlead to greed. Because of greed, people will cheat, steal, or evenkill. It is upon the individual to know that material things do notlead to any form of satisfaction whatsoever.
Ignorance is the inability to see the truthabout things. It is because of ignorance that a human being will diveinto more debt in order to maintain that affluent lifestyle (Caurus,2004). The failure to see the truth behind everything is a recipe forsuffering and misunderstanding. For instance, before the scientistsdiscovered waves, people were ignorant of them. The ignorance keptpeople in the dark and increased their suffering in the process.
Most of the misunderstandings and delusions arebecause people fail to see the truth in things. Ignorance blinds thepath to free human beings from suffering. Even in today’s world,ignorance is still a root cause of suffering. Human suffering such asgambling, hunger, and alcoholism are all due to ignorance. If thosesuffering from the aforementioned would only know the solution totheir problems, they would not be in that position any longer.
Apart from identifying the sources of humansuffering, Buddha also provides solutions to end human suffering. Inhis teachings, Buddha says that the sole purpose of every human beingin this world is to find an end to their suffering. A state of peaceof mind in which the person is free of suffering is called Nirvana(Zenguide.com, 2016). Buddha was able to attain this status afteryears of searching. He tried all the other methods aimed at endinghuman suffering to no avail. After six years of meditation andsoul-searching, Buddha was able to come up with the eightfold path- apath that leads to cessation of Dukkah (human suffering).
Top on the list in the eightfold path, isunderstanding. Buddha associates understanding of the four nobletruths to the first step in the cessation of Dukkah (Bodhi, 2010). Ahuman being should always harbor the right thoughts if she is toattain nirvana. The right thoughts are those of happiness,harmlessness, and those that do not have ill will. Thirdly, Buddharecommends that people should always strive to have the right speech.The right speech in this context refers to refraining from falsehood,slander, and frivolous talks.
The concept of the right action simply meansdoing the right thing, as one would wish others to do unto him.Buddha’s teaching on the right livelihood specifies what kind oftrading activities his followers cannot engage in if they wish toattain Nirvana. According to Bodhi (2010), Buddhists should not tradein animals for slaughter, weapons, intoxicants, poison, and slaves.The right effort requires people to endeavor to stop, and eliminateevil from this world. The concept of right-mindedness revolves aroundfeeling right about one’s body, mind, and mental objects. The finalconcept in the eightfold path is the right meditation, which involvesconcentrating one thing with unwavering attention. The rightmeditation helps to create a calm and concentrated mind.
Buddha’s relationship to the Indian castesystem, women, and wars between rival kings
The Indian Caste system was a form of socialstratification that organized the members of the society into groupsof people in relation to their perceived importance in the society.The practice of the Indian caste system dates back to 500BCE towardsthe end of the Aryan period (Pruthi, 2004). During the said era,there arose kingdoms around most parts of modern day India. Therulers and religious leaders formed the cream of the social hierarchysystem. They controlled the resources within the kingdom and theywere held in high regard in the society. Their dominance over therest of the society was evident in numerous aspects including rightof way on the streets, special seats during ceremonies, and marryingamongst themselves.
After the fall of the Aryan rule, Kingdomsdisintegrated into smaller factions that settled at the foot of theHimalayas around 1500 BCE. The smaller kingdoms used their militaryresources to raid each other hence, the social importance of warriorwas quickly recognized. Together with the rulers and religiousleaders, the kingdoms formed the top cream of the social hierarchy.
In addition, Buddha was against the castesystem because it created many complications in the lives of people.He was of the idea that people needed to follow a simple life inorder to for them to follow his teachings (Hanh, 2008). Keeping theirlives simple would allow them to concentrate on the importantelements of life such as the cessation of Dukkah.
On the other hand, the caste system shifted theattention of his followers from leading a life of purity, tounimportant things such as their social status in the society. Inaddition, he claimed that the caste system added to human sufferingbecause it made most of them to desire things that were out of theirreach. For instance, the slaves and peasants desired to climb up thesocial ladder, something that was virtually impossible. Their cravingfor an unachievable social status only adds to their suffering. Inaddition, Buddha thought that the caste system created greed formaterial things because it was assumed that the wealthier a personwas, the higher their social status.
Buddha’s view of women was that they wereequal to men and important members of the society. At a time whenwomen were treated as the property of men, Buddha stood out from thecrowd by assuring women of their equality (Hanh 2008)). True to histeachings, he set up a twofold Sangha- one for monks and the otherfor nuns. He protected the nuns from discrimination andgender-specific conventional roles.
At the same time, Buddha claimed that since hehad experienced the awakening, his mind was pure and free of any formof gender bias. He also opposed the school of thought, which saidthat women could not attain the status of Buddha unless they werereborn into a male form. The school of thought held by many Buddhistsof his time was quick to point out that women were incapable of theawakening because their minds were not fully developed to concentrateon one thing and that they were not pure.
However, many scholars have come up tocriticize Buddha’s view of gender equality. They claim thatBuddha’s recognition of women as equal to men was just cosmeticbecause deep down he considered them to be inferior to men (Sponberg,1985). They point out to his building of an institution in whichwomen were over reliant on men. According to Sponberg (1985), theyalso claim that he was reluctant in building a Sangha that cateredfor women. On the proponent’s side, scholars claim that when Buddhawent through the awakening, his mind was freed from gender prejudiceand biasness. They therefore claim that Buddha respected women andtreated them as equals of men.
Buddha lived at a time when kingdoms werefighting each other. This was after the fall of the Aryan kingdom.The Buddha was totally against violence and any form of war betweenthe rival kings of India. In his life, Buddha preached the peacefulcoexistence of people from all kingdoms. In his eightfold path,Buddha insists that a person must have the right livelihood for himor her to achieve nirvana.
Moreover, Buddha specified that the sale ofdeadly weapons and poison are a deterrent to the cessation of Dukkah.This concept of the eightfold path to the awakening is a clearindication of the Buddha’s position on violence. Whilst otherreligions were for the idea of using violence to conquernon-believers and amass more wealth, Buddha insisted on peacefulcoexistence between neighbors. In his quest for peaceful coexistence,Buddha and his followers avoided situations that would create warbetween them and the kings.
Why Buddhism gained favor in the royalcourts across Northern India
At the time when Buddhism was fast gainingpopularity, societies were breaking up due to complex externalfactors. Among the major external factor influencing the Indiansociety, was the urban revolution. People were moving to urbancenters in their thousands hence dealing a blow to the traditionalcaste system (Keown, 2014).
Societies were also changing their mode ofgovernance to accommodate the changes that they were experiencing.When most societies got to know about the emerging religion that wasBuddhism, they thought of it as a vessel through the transitionperiod. The religion touched on the various factors that constitutethe life of human beings. It addressed issues such as propertyrights, peace, marriage, and human suffering. Buddhism was a religionand a constitution all under one roof (Keown, 2014). In short, it wasan all rounded way of life that many societies sought to adopt.
The Indian royal courts fell in love withBuddhism because it addressed peaceful coexistence between rivalkingdoms. At a time when kingdoms were killing each other forterritory and wealth, the last thing that many royal courts wantedwas a religion that pitted them against each other (Keown,2014).Buddha’s teachings also addressed most of the sources ofsuffering for members of the higher social hierarchy and thecommoners alike. His promise to a life free of any suffering made himwelcome to many royal Indian courts. After periods of fighting andkilling each other, the royals thought that was best if they tried anew set of beliefs. In addition, his teachings on inner peace andpeace with other people also made Buddhism popular in Indian royalcourts.
In conclusion, Buddha’s primary concern ishuman suffering also referred to as Dukkah. Dukkah is a result ofignorance of Buddha’s noble truths, and greed. In order to stopDukkah, Buddha provides an eightfold path. Buddha’s view of theIndian caste system was that it prevented people from ending theirown suffering. He also held women in high regard at a time when theywere considered next to slaves. His religion was against the warsbetween Kingdoms that settled at the foot of the Himalayas. Histeachings on peaceful coexistence between people made his religionfavorable in the Indian royal courts.
This research exercise was a learningexperience for me. Before the assignment, I barely knew anythingregarding Buddhism save for the monks that I usually see in movies.The exercise enabled me to read about Buddha, a phenomenon figure inthe history of Buddhism. After this research assignment, myperception of Buddhism has changed completely. I now know what thereligion stands for and how it came into being. I have also learnedthe meaning of terms, such as the awakening and Dukkah, which I neverknew what they stood for.
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Keown, D. (2014). The role of deterrence inBuddhist peace-building. Journal ofBuddhist Ethics, 21,655-678.
Pruthi, R. K. (2004). Indiancaste system. Discovery PublishingHouse.
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Sponberg, A., & toward Women, A. (1985).the Feminine in Early Buddhism`. Buddhism,Sexuality and Gender, ed. José Ignacio Cabezón (Albany: StateUniversity of New York Press, 1992),3-36.
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