Buddhism

The sixth century B.C. is considered a wonderful century in history. Great thinkers like Buddha, Mahavira, Heraclitus, Zoroaster, Confucius and Lao Tse lived and preached their ideas in this century. Among them the most successful were Jainism and Buddhism whose impact on the Indian society was remarkable.

Main aspects related to Buddhism

  • Life of Buddha
    • Buddha is also called as Sakyamuni or Thathagata. He is considered as the founder of Buddhism. He was born as Siddhartha to Suddhodhana, the ruler of Sakyan republic, and his wife Maya, on Vaisaka Purnima in the Lumbini gardens near Kapilvastu in the 6th century BC
    • Siddhartha married Yashodhara and had a son Rahula. His luxury life left him dissatisfied and he was troubled by the signs of sickness, old age and death that he observed in the worldly life.
    • At the age of 29, he decided to leave the palace in search of peace and understanding of the world’s ills. 
    • At the age of 35, again on Vaisaka Purnima, he attained enlightenment at what is now famously known as Bodh Gaya. He gave his first sermon in a deer park at Sarnath before his first disciples
    • Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana at Kusinara
  • Teachings associated with Buddhism
    • To avoid extremes of life, whether it is addiction to worldly pleasures or a life of painful asceticism and self-mortification.
    • Buddhism does not concern itself with metaphysical controversies
    • Buddha emphasized on moral progress which was independent of any creator of the universe
    • The essence of Buddhism lies in the realization that life is transient
    • Buddha seems to have accepted the idea of transmigration
    • Four noble truths of Buddhism are: They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.
    • The path to nirvana or cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold path- Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati) and Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
  • Buddhist councils:
    • After Buddha’s death, 4 councils were held
Buddhist CouncilTimePlacePatronized byPresident of the councilFeatures
1483 BCRajagrihaAjatashatruMahakassappaTripithakas were compiled
2383 BCVaishaliKalasokaSabbakamiDivision into Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas
3250 BCPataliputraAshokaMogaliputta TissaBuddhist missionaries were sent to other countries
41st CEKashmirKanishkaVasumitraDivided into Mahayana and Hinayana
  • The Tripiṭaka is composed of threemain categories of texts that collectively constitute the Buddhist canon: the Sutra Piṭaka (discourses and sermons of Buddha, some religious poetry and is the largest basket), the Vinaya Piṭaka (dealing with rules or discipline of the sangha) , and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka (treatises that elaborate Buddhist doctrines, particularly about mind, also called the “systematic philosophy” basket)
  • Schools of Buddhism:

Hinayana

    • It means ‘lesser path’
    • They are true to the teachings of Buddha
    • Its scriptures are in Pali.
    • Doesn’t believe in idol worship
    • Salvation through self-discipline and meditation
    • It was patronized by Ashoka

Mahayana

    • It means ‘Greater path’
    • Mahayana has two main philosophical schools – the Madhyamika & Yogachara.
    • Its scriptures are in Sanskrit.
    • It considers Buddha as God and worships idols of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas.
    • Salvation can be attained by means of faith and devotion to the mindfulness of the Buddha. It believes in mantras.

Vajrayana

    • It means “Vehicle of Thunderbolt”.
    • Established in Tibet in 11th CE
    • It believes that salvation can be attained by acquiring magical powers called vajra.
    • Much importance is given to the role of the guru called Lama who has mastered the philosophical and ritual traditions. There is a long lineage of lamas. The Dalai Lama is a well known Tibetan Lama.

Similarities and differences between Jainism and Buddhism

Similarities:

  • Both possessed the background of the Aryan culture and were inspired by the ascetic ideals and the philosophy of the Upanishads, particularly that of Sankhya-Yoga.
  • Both were the products of intellectual, spiritual and social forces of their age and therefore, both stood up as revolts against the prevalent Brahmanical religion.
  • Both emerged in eastern India which by that time had successfully retained some features of the pre-Aryan culture.
  • Both were started by the members of the Kshatriya caste and both appealed to the socially down-trodden, the Vaishvas who were not granted social status corresponding to their growing economic power, and the Sudras who were definitely oppressed.
  • Both, Mahavira and Buddha, the founders of Jainism and Buddhism respectively were Kshatriya princes and were able to get support for their cause from the contemporary ruling class, different Kshatriya rulers and economically prosperous Vaishvas.
  • Though both did not attack the caste system, they were opposed to it and therefore, drew large converts from the lower strata of the society.
  • Both opposed the ritualism and the sacrifices of Brahmanism and also challenged the supremacy of the Brahmanas.
  • Both believed that Nirvana or salvation of an individual meant his or her deliverance from the eternal chain of birth and death.
  • Both denied the authenticity of the Vedas as an infallible authority.
  • Both laid great stress upon a pure and moral life rather than practice of ritualism or even devotion to and worship of God as a means to attain salvation.

Differences

  • Jainism is a much more ancient religion as compared to Buddhism. According to Jaina traditions it had twenty-four Tirthankaras and Mahavira was the last of them.
  • The Jaina concept of soul is different from that of Buddhism. Jainism believes that everything in nature, even stone and water has a soul of its own. Buddhism does not believe so.
  • The concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) is different in Buddhism as compared to Jainism. While Jainism emphasized it very much, Buddhism remained liberal in its interpretation in foreign countries, and even permitted eating of animal flesh where it was a necessity or traditional diet of the people.
  • Buddhism emphasized elimination of caste distinctions more as compared to Jainism.
  • Jainism advised practice of strict asceticism to attain salvation while Buddhism advised its Upasakas to follow the middle path or Tathagata marga
  • According to Jainism, women and men householders cannot attain salvation while, according to Buddhism, it is possible for both
  • In Digambara sect of Jainism, it is necessary for the monks to go naked while Buddhism denounced it
  • Buddhism emphasized the organisation of Sangha more as compared to Jainism
  • According to Jainism, salvation is possible only after death while according to Buddhism it is possible during one’s own life if one is able to detach oneself completely from the worldly existence. Thus, while Jainism describes Nirvana as freedom from body. Buddhism describes it as destruction of the self or detachment from worldly existence.
  • Buddhism proved more adaptable to circumstances as compared to Jainism. That is why while Buddhism spread all over Asia and accommodated the traditions of the local populace; Jainism remained confined to India alone.

Buddhism and Bodhisattva

  • In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood.
  • In the Early Buddhist schoolsas well as modern Theravada Buddhism, a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a living Buddha that this will be so
  • In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has generated Bodhicitta, a spontaneous wish and compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings
  • As a result, the universe is filled with a broad range of potential Buddhas; from those just setting out on the path of Buddhahood to those who have spent lifetimes in training and have thereby acquired supernatural powers. These “celestial” bodhisattvas are functionally equivalent to Buddhas in their wisdom, compassion, and powers
  • Pan-Buddhist bodhisattvas include Maitreya, who will succeed Sakyamuni as the next Buddha in this world, and Avalokiteshvara, known in Tibet as Spyan ras gzigs (Chenrezi), in China as Guanyin(Kuan-yin), and in Japan as Kannon.
  • Although all bodhisattvas act compassionately, Avalokiteshvara is considered the embodiment of the abstract principle of compassion. Bodhisattvas of more localized importance include Tārā in Tibet and Jizō in Japan.

Mudras in Buddhism

Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger postures. They are symbolic sign based finger patterns taking the place, but retaining the efficacy of the spoken word, and are used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves.

They are also used by monks in their spiritual exercises of ritual meditation and concentration, and are believed to generate forces that invoke the deity.

While there are a large number of esoteric mudras, over time Buddhist art has retained only five of them for the representations of the Buddha. Images of the Buddha which exhibit mudras other than these are extremely rare.

These five mudras are:

  • Dharmachakra mudra
    • Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma’
    • This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.
    • It thus denotes the setting into motion of the Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma.
    • In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. This circle represents the Wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and wisdom.
    • The three remaining fingers of the two hands remain extended. These fingers are themselves rich in symbolic significance- the middle finger represents the ‘hearers’ of the teachings, the ring finger represents the ‘solitary realizers’, the Little finger represents the Mahayana or ‘Great Vehicle’
    • The three extended fingers of the left hand symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
    • This mudra is displayed by the first Dhyani Buddha Vairochana. Vairochana is believed to transform the delusion of ignorance into the wisdom of reality.

Buddhism

Figure: Dharmachakra mudra

  • Bhumisparsha mudra
    • Literally Bhumisparsha translates into ‘touching the earth’. It is more commonly known as the ‘earth witness’
    • This mudra, formed with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground, symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, when he summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment
    • It is in this posture that Sakyamuni overcame the obstructions of Mara while meditating on Truth.

The second Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya is depicted in this mudra. He is believed to transform the delusion of anger into mirror-like wisdom.

Buddhism

Figure: Bhumisparsha mudra

  • Varada mudra
    • This mudra symbolizes charity, compassion and boon-granting. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation.
    • The five extended fingers in this mudra symbolize the following five perfections- Generosity, Morality, Patience, Effort, Meditative concentration
    • This mudra is rarely used alone, but usually in combination with another made with the right hand, often the Abhaya mudra
    • This combination of Abhaya and Varada mudras is called Segan Semui-in or Yogan Semui-in in Japan.
    • Ratnasambhava, the third Dhyani Buddha displays this mudra. Under his spiritual guidance, the delusion of pride becomes the wisdom of sameness.

Buddhism

Figure: Bodhisattva making a Varada mudra (Sculpture belonging to the Pala period)

  • Dhyana mudra
    • The Dhyana mudra may be made with one or both hands
    • When made with a single hand the left one is placed in the lap, while the right may be engaged elsewhere. The left hand making the Dhyana mudra in such cases symbolizes the female left-hand principle of wisdom.
    • Ritual objects such as a text, or more commonly an alms bowl symbolizing renunciation, may be placed in the open palm of this left hand.
    • The Dhyana mudra is the mudra of meditation, of concentration on the Good law, and of the attainment of spiritual perfection

This mudra is displayed by the fourth Dhyani Buddha Amitabha, also known as Amitayus. By meditating on him, the delusion of attachment becomes the wisdom of discernment. The Dhyana mudra helps mortals achieve this transformation

Buddhism

Figure: Dhyana mudra

  • Abhaya mudra
    • Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. Thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear
    • In Gandhara art, this mudra was sometimes used to indicate the action of preaching.
    • The Abhaya mudra is displayed by the fifth Dhyani Buddha, Amoghasiddhi. He is also the Lord of Karma in the Buddhist pantheon. Amoghasiddhi helps in overcoming the delusion of jealousy.

Buddhism

Figure: Buddha statue in Abhaya mudra