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NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ODISHA

BUDDHISM
SOCIOLOGY PROJECT
Astha Ahuja
BUDDHISM

Many ideas found in the Upanishads (c. sixth century BCE onwards) show that people were
curious about the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death and rebirth. Was rebirth
due to past actions? Such issues were hotly debated. Thinkers were concerned with
understanding and expressing the nature of the ultimate reality. And others, outside the Vedic
tradition, asked whether or not there even was a single ultimate reality. People also began
speculating on the significance of the sacrificial tradition. Teachers travelled from place to
place, trying to convince one another as well as laypersons, about the validity of their
philosophy or the way they understood the world. Many of these teachers, including
Mahavira and the Buddha, questioned the authority of the Vedas. They also emphasised
individual agency suggesting that men and women could strive to attain liberation from the
trials and tribulations of worldly existence. This was in marked contrast to the Brahmanical
position, wherein, as we have seen, an individuals existence was thought to be determined by
his or her birth in a specific caste or gender.
This brings us to Buddha- One of the most influential teachers of the time was the Buddha.
Over the centuries, his message spread across the subcontinent and beyond through Central
Asia to China, Korea and Japan, and through Sri Lanka, across the seas to Myanmar,
Thailand and Indonesia.
According to these traditions, Siddhartha, as the Buddha was named at birth, was the son of a
of the Sakya clan. He had a sheltered upbringing within the palace, insulated from the harsh
realities of life. One day he persuaded his charioteer to take him into the city. His first
journey into the world outside was traumatic. He was deeply anguished when he saw an old
man, a sick man and a corpse. He realised in that moment that the decay and destruction of
the human body was inevitable. He also saw a homeless mendicant, who, it seemed to him,
had come to terms with old age, disease and death, and found peace. Siddhartha decided that
he too would adopt the same path. Soon after, he left the palace and set out in search of his
own truth. Siddhartha explored several paths including bodily mortification which led him to
a situation of near death. Abandoning these extreme methods, he meditated for several days
and finally attained enlightenment. After this he came to be known as the Buddha or the
Enlightened One. For the rest of his life, he taught dhamma or the path of righteous living.

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THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA

The Buddhas teachings have been reconstructed from stories, found mainly in the Sutta
Pitaka. Although some stories describe his miraculous powers, others suggest that the Buddha
tried to convince people through reason and persuasion rather than through displays of
supernatural power. For instance, when a grief-stricken woman whose child had died came to
the Buddha, he gently convinced her about the inevitability of death rather than bring her son
back to life. These stories were narrated in the language spoken by ordinary people so that
these could be easily understood.
According to Buddhist philosophy,

the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing;


it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it. -Buddhists do
not believe that there is anything everlasting or unchangeable in human beings, no
soul or self in which a stable sense of 'I' might anchor itself. The whole idea of 'I' is in
fact a basically false one that tries to set itself up in an unstable and temporary
collection of elements.
Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence.

It is by following the path of moderation between severe penance and self-indulgence that
human beings can rise above these worldly troubles. In the earliest forms of Buddhism,
whether or not god existed was irrelevant. The Buddha regarded the social world as the
creation of humans rather than of divine origin. Therefore, he advised kings and gahapatis to
be humane and ethical. Individual effort was expected to transform social relations. The
Buddha emphasised individual agency and righteous action as the means to escape from the
cycle of rebirth and attain self-realisation and nibbana, literally the extinguishing of the ego
and desire and thus end the cycle of suffering for those who renounced the world.
According to Buddhist tradition, his last words to his followers were: Be lamps unto
yourselves as all of you must work out your own liberation.

The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by
the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
What is the First Noble Truth?
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and
ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear,
embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It
is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead,
Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.

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What is the Second Noble Truth?
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we
expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not
get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee
happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your
wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and
craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy which
causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to
be reborn.
What is the Third Noble Truth?
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true
happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each
day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and
free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.

The Noble Eightfold Path


(1) Right View. (2) Right Thought. (3) Right Speech. (4) Right Action. (5) Right Livelihood.
(6) Right Effort (7) Right Mindfulness. (8) Right Concentration.
The Wheel is the symbol of the Dharma and is shown with eight spokes which represent the
Noble Eightfold Path. Right View is important at the start because if we cannot see the truth
of the Four Noble Truths then we can't make any sort of beginning. Right Thought follows
naturally from this. 'Right' here means in accordance with the facts: with the way things are -
which may be different from how I would like them to be. Right Thought, Right Speech,
Right Action and Right Livelihood involve moral restraint refraining from lying, stealing,
committing violent acts, and earning one's living in a way harmful to others. Moral restraint
not only helps bring about general social harmony but also helps us control and diminish the
sense of 'I'. Next, Right Effort is important because 'I' thrives on idleness and wrong effort;
some of the greatest criminals are the most energetic people, so effort must be appropriate to
the diminution of I, and in any case if we are not prepared to exert ourselves we cannot hope
to achieve anything at all in either the spiritual sense nor in life. The last two steps of the
Path, Right Mindfulness or awareness and Right Concentration or absorption, represent the
first stage toward liberation from suffering. To be aware and to be at one with what we are
doing is fundamental to proper living, this practice takes many forms but generally, the
formal practice is called meditation. In the most basic form of Buddhist meditation, a person
sits cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or upright in a chair. He/she quietly watches the
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rise and fall of the breath. If thoughts, emotions or impulses arise, he/she just observes them
come up and go like clouds in a blue sky, without rejecting them on the one hand or being
carried away into daydreaming or restlessness on the other.

What are the 5 Precepts?


The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the
life of anything living, to not steal, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual
overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing
mindfulness.

What is Karma?
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law
explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and
some gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all
individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic
effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the
action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.

WAYS IN WHICH BUDDHISM DIFFERS FROM HINDUISM

1) No need for priests (brahmins) or rituals.


2) Anyone can enter Nirvana, no matter how lowly, whereas in Hinduism only the brahmins
could achieve moksha.
3) In Theravada Buddhism, there are no gods. The Buddha is not a god.
4) Karma is not earned by following the dharma of your caste. Instead you can move toward
entry into Nirvana by following the eightfold path.
5) As the "middle way" Buddhism rejects extreme asceticism as well as great wealth. The
ideal in Hinduism is extreme asceticism.

WAYS IN WHICH BUDDHISM AND HINDUISM ARE SIMILAR:

1) Both believe in reincarnation.


2) Both believe there are many different paths to enlightenment.
3) Both believe that our suffering is caused by excessive attachment to things and people in
the physical world.
4) Both believe in an ultimate spiritual reality beyond the illusions of the physical world.
5) Both practice meditation and other forms of yoga.
6) Both believe that eventually all living spirits will achieve enlightenment and liberation,
even if it takes many incarnations. Remember that in Mahayana Buddhism, the original

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teachings of the Buddha are assimilated to Hindu practices, including prayers, gods (even the
Buddha as god in all his many incarnations). Mahayana Buddhism also introduces the idea of
(temporary) heavens and hells.

FOLLOWERS OF THE BUDDHA

Soon there grew a body of disciples of the Buddha and he founded a sangha, an organisation
of monks who too became teachers of dhamma. These monks lived simply, possessing only
the essential requisites for survival, such as a bowl to receive food once a day from the laity.
As they lived on alms, they were known as bhikkhus. Initially, only men were allowed into
the sangha, but later women also came to be admitted. According to Buddhist texts, this was
made possible through the mediation of Ananda, one of the Buddhas dearest disciples, who
persuaded him to allow women into the sangha. The Buddhas foster mother, Mahapajapati
Gotami was the first woman to be ordained as a bhikkhuni. Many women who entered the
sangha became teachers of dhamma and went on to become theris, or respected women who
had attained liberation. The Buddhas followers came from many social groups. They
included kings, wealthy men and gahapatis, and also humbler folk: workers, slaves and
craftspeople. Once within the sangha, all were regarded as equal, having shed their earlier
social identities on becoming bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The internal functioning of the
sangha was based on the traditions of ganas and sanghas, where consensus was arrived at
through discussions. If that failed, decisions were taken by a vote on the subject.
Buddhism grew rapidly both during the lifetime of the Buddha and after his death, as it
appealed to many people dissatisfied with existing religious practices and confused by the
rapid social changes taking place around them. The importance attached to conduct and
values rather than claims of superiority based on birth, the emphasis placed on metta (fellow
feeling) and karuna (compassion), especially for those who were younger and weaker than
oneself, were ideas that drew men and women to Buddhist teachings.

MAHAYANA BUDDHISM

By the first century CE, there is evidence of changes in Buddhist ideas and practices. Early
Buddhist teachings had given great importance to self-effort in achieving nibbana. Besides,
the Buddha was regarded as a human being who attained enlightenment and nibbana through
his own efforts. However, gradually the idea of a saviour emerged. It was believed that he
was the one who could ensure salvation. Simultaneously, the concept of the Bodhisatta also

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developed. Bodhisattas were perceived as deeply compassionate beings who accumulated
merit through their efforts but used this not to attain nibbana and thereby abandon the world,
but to help others. The worship of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattas became an
important part of this tradition. This new way of thinking was called Mahayana literally, the
great vehicle. Those who adopted these beliefs described the older tradition as Hinayana or
the lesser vehicle.
Supporters of Mahayana regarded other Buddhists as followers of Hinayana. However,
followers of the older tradition described themselves as theravadins, that is, those who
followed the path of old, respected teachers, the theras.

VAJRAYANA BUDDHISM

Another vehicle of Buddhism is Vajrayana- which is referred to as the diamond vehicle. This
sect of Buddhism is best understood as an extension of Mahayana Buddhism.
Vajrayana Buddhism defines tantra as a means to channel the energy of desire and transform
the experience of pleasure into realization of enlightenment.
Tantra refers to use of practices in religions which mostly involve the use of ritual or
sacramental action to channel divine energies. The earliest tantra probably grew out of the
Hindu-Vedic tradition. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the practitioner is initiated into incremental
levels of esoteric teachings under the guidance of a guru. Upper-level rituals and teachings
are not made public.