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religion. Many recent scholars regard it as a plurality rather than a single entity. As with other religions, some Buddhists claim that Buddhism is not a religion. Some say it is a body of philosophies influenced by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Gautama Buddha. Others say it is teachings to guide one to directly experiencing reality. Buddhism is also known as Buddha Dharma or Dhamma, which means roughly the "teachings of the Awakened One" in Sanskrit and Pali, languages of ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhism began around 5th century BCE with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Ancient India, and is hereafter referred to as "the Buddha."
For a more extensive description, see Gautama Buddha. Gautama, whose personal name according to later sources was Siddhartha, was born in ancient India. It is believed that he was born in the city of Lumbini, Nepal and raised in Kapilavastu, near the modern town of Taulihawa, Nepal. The traditional story of his life is as follows; little of this can be regarded as established historical fact. Born a prince, his father, King Suddhodana, was supposedly visited by a wise man shortly after Siddhartha was born and told that Siddhartha would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a holy man (Sadhu). Determined to make Siddhartha a king, the father tried to shield his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Despite his father's efforts, at the age of 29, he discovered the suffering of his people, first through an encounter with an elderly man. On subsequent trips outside the palace, he encountered various sufferings such as a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These are often termed 'The Four Sights.' Gautama, deeply depressed by these sights, sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Gautama escaped his palace, leaving behind this royal life to become a mendicant. For a time on his spiritual quest, Buddha "experimented with extreme asceticism, which at that time was seen as a powerful spiritual practice...such as fasting, holding the breath, and exposure of the body to pain...he found, however, that these ascetic practices brought no genuine spiritual benefits and in fact, being based on self-hatred, that they were counterproductive." After abandoning asceticism and concentrating instead upon meditation and, according to some sources, Anapanasati (awareness of breathing in and out), Gautama is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation that lies mid-way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl and then, sitting under a pipal tree or Sacred fig, (Ficus religiosa), now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. His five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained
bodhi, also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. After his attainment of bodhi he was known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha and spent the rest of his life teaching his insights (Dharma). According to scholars, he lived around the fifth century BCE, but his more exact birthdate is open to debate. He died around the age of 80 in Kushinagara (Pali Kusinara) (India).
Other teachings can be found in the sections below on early Buddhism and the main traditions, and also in separate articles on Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren, Shingon and Falun Gong. In Theravada Buddhism, any person who has awakened from the "sleep of ignorance" (by directly realizing the true nature of reality), without instruction, and teaches it to others is called a Buddha, while those who achieve realisations but do not teach others are called Pratyekabuddhas. All traditional Buddhists agree that Shakyamuni or Gotama Buddha was not the only Buddha: it is generally taught that there have been many past Buddhas and that there will be future Buddhas too. If a person achieves this awakening, he or she is called an arahant. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is thus only one among other buddhas before or after him. His teachings are oriented toward the attainment of this kind of awakening, also called liberation, or Nirvana. Part of the teachings ascribed to the Buddha regarding the holy life and the goal of liberation is constituted by the "The Four Noble Truths", which focus on dukkha, a term that refers to suffering or the unhappiness ultimately characteristic of unawakened, worldly life. The Four Noble Truths regarding suffering state what is its nature, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. This way to the cessation of suffering is called "The Noble Eightfold Path", which is one of the fundamentals of Buddhist virtuous or moral life. Numerous distinct groups have developed since the passing of the Buddha, with diverse teachings that vary widely in practice, philosophical emphasis, and culture. However, there are certain doctrines that are common to the majority of schools and traditions in Buddhism, though only Theravada regards all of them as central. Few valid generalizations are possible about all Buddhists.
Buddhism and intellectualism
Main article: Reality in Buddhism According to the scriptures, in his lifetime, the Buddha refused to answer several philosophical questions. On issues such as whether the world is eternal or noneternal, finite or infinite, unity or separation of the body and the self, complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and then death etc, the Buddha had
remained silent. One explanation for this is that such questions distract from practical activity for realizing enlightenment. Another is that such questions assume the reality of world/self/person. In the Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana sutras and Tantras, the Buddha stresses that Dharma (Truth) cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic: Reality transcends all worldly concepts. The "prajnaparamita" sutras have this as one of their major themes. What is urged is study, mental and moral self-cultivation, faith in and veneration of the sutras, which are as fingers pointing to the moon of Truth, but then to let go of ratiocination and to experience direct entry into Liberation itself. The Buddha in the self-styled "Uttara-Tantra", the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, insists that, while pondering upon Dharma is vital, one must then relinquish fixation on words and letters, as these are utterly divorced from Liberation and the Buddha. The Tantra entitled the "All-Creating King" (Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra) also emphasises how Buddhist Truth lies beyond the range of thought and is ultimately mysterious. The Supreme Buddha, Samantabhadra, states there: "The mind of perfect purity ... is beyond thinking and inexplicable ...." Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist yogi and teacher mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his 6 words of advice. Buddhist scholars have produced a prodigious quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts. See e.g. Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism. Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages.
History of Indian Buddhism
Main articles: History of Buddhism and History of Buddhism in India The History of Buddhism may be divided into the following five periods: 1. Early Buddhism (also called Pre-sectarian Buddhism); Professor Nakamura subdivides this into two subperiods: 1. original Buddhism 2. early Buddhism 2. Period of the Early Buddhist schools (also called Sectarian Buddhism, Nikaya Buddhism) 3. Early Mahayana Buddhism 4. Later Mahayana Buddhism 5. Vajrayana Buddhism (also called Esoteric Buddhism) It must be remembered that these developments are not always consecutive. For example, the early schools continued to exist alongside Mahayana. Indeed, some scholars have argued that Mahayana remained marginal for centuries.
Main articles: Pre-sectarian Buddhism and Early Buddhist schools The term Early Buddhism can be applied to both Pre-sectarian Buddhism and the Buddhism of the Early Buddhist Schools. Some scholars hold that the original teachings of the Buddha are not known.
 Sutta Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka
The earliest phase of Buddhism (pre-sectarian Buddhism) recognized by nearly all scholars (the main exception is Dr Gregory Schopen,) is based on a comparison of the Pali Canon with surviving portions of other early canons. Its main scriptures are the Vinaya Pitaka and the four principal Nikayas or Agamas. Various scholars have stated that parts of the contents of the Pali Canon can (probably) be attributed to Gautama Buddha. The central teachings can be classified under the following three headings.
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rebirth karma the Four Noble Truths
Rebirth has no discernible beginning, and takes place in a variety of types of life, later formally classified as the Five or Six Realms. The karma of good and bad deeds produces "rewards" and "punishments" either in this life or in a subsequent one. These may be either rebirths themselves or events therein. The content of bad deeds and the lower types of good deeds belongs to the subject of Sila or conduct. Higher rebirths can be attained by the practice of forms of meditation later classified as samatha or samadhi.
Some, particularly in Japan, have maintained a theory of an original Buddhism based mainly on the Sutta Nipata, which they consider the earliest scripture. The late Professor Nakamura summarized its main differences from the phase above in the following eight points. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. standard technical terms seldom used "dogmas" seldom taught many prose sentences in the Pali Canon date from after Asoka monks mainly solitary, monasteries scarcely mentioned ascetic lifestyle fairly different from later monastic no nuns
7. the Patimokkha did not exist 8. no special glorification of Buddha; all arahants equal
According to the scriptures, soon after the parinirvāṇa (Pāli: parinibbāna, "complete extinguishment") of the Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held. As with any ancient Indian tradition, transmission of teaching was done orally. The primary purpose of the assembly was to collectively recite the teaching to ensure that no errors occur in oral transmission. In the first council, Ānanda, a cousin of the Buddha and his personal attendant, was called upon to recite the discourses (sūtras, Pāli suttas) of the Buddha, and, according to some sources, the abhidhamma. Upāli, another disciple, recited the monastic rules (Vinaya). Scholars regard the traditional accounts of the council as greatly exaggerated if not entirely fictitious. As the Saṅgha gradually grew over the next century a dispute arose regarding ten points of discipline. A Second Buddhist Council (said in the scriptures to have taken place 100 years after the Buddha's death) was held to resolve the points of dispute. The result was that all the monks agreed that those 10 practices were unallowed according to Vinaya.
According to most scholars, at some period after the Second Council however, the Sangha began to break into separate factions. (Schopen suggests that Buddhism was very diverse from the beginning and became less so.) The various accounts differ as to when the actual schisms occurred: according to the Dipavamsa of the Pali tradition, they started immediately after the Second Council; the Puggalavada tradition places it in 137 AN; the Sarvastivada tradition of Vasumitra says it was in the time of Asoka; and the Mahasanghika tradition places it much later, nearly 100 BCE. The Asokan edicts, our only contemporary sources, state that 'the Sangha has been made unified'. This may refer to a dispute such as that described in the account of the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputta. This concerns the expulsion of non-Buddhist heretics from the Sangha, and does not speak of a schism. However, the late Professor Hirakawa argued that the first schism occurred after the death of Asoka. These schisms occurred within the traditions of Early Buddhism, at a time when the Mahāyāna movement either did not exist at all, or only existed as a current of thought not yet identified with a separate school. The root schism was between the Sthaviras and the Mahāsāṅghikas. The fortunate survival of accounts from both sides of the dispute reveals disparate traditions. The Sthavira group offers two quite distinct reasons for the schism. The Dipavamsa of the Theravāda says that the losing party in the Second
Council dispute broke away in protest and formed the Mahasanghika. This contradicts the Mahasanghikas' own vinaya, which shows them as on the same, winning side. On the other hand, the northern lineages, including the Sarvastivada and Puggalavada (both branches of the ancient Sthaviras) attribute the Mahāsāṅghika schism to the '5 points' that erode the status of the arahant. For their part, the Mahāsāṅghikas argued that the Sthaviras were trying to expand the Vinaya; they may also have challenged what they perceived to be excessive claims or inhumanly high criteria for Arhatship. Both parties, therefore, appealed to tradition. The Sthaviras gave rise to several schools, one of which was the Theravāda school. Originally, these schisms were caused by disputes over vinaya, and monks following different schools of thought seem to have lived happily together in the same monasteries, but eventually, by about 100 CE if not earlier, schisms were being caused by doctrinal disagreements too.
Buddhist proselytism at the time of emperor Aśoka the Great (260–218 BCE). Following (or leading up to) the schisms, each Saṅgha started to accumulate an Abhidharma, a collection of philosophical texts. Early sources for these probably existed in the time of the Buddha as simple lists. However, as time went on and Buddhism spread further, the (perceived) teachings of the Buddha were formalized in a more systematic manner in a new Pitaka: the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Some modern academics refer to it as Abhidhamma Buddhism. Interestingly, in the opinion of some scholars, the Mahasanghika school did not have an Abhidhamma Pitaka, which agrees with their statement that they did not want to add to the Buddha's teachings. But according to Chinese pilgrims Fa Xian (5th century CE) and Yuan Chwang (Xuanzang, 7th century CE), they had procured a copy of Abhidhamma which belonged to the Mahasanghika School.
Buddhist tradition records in the Milinda Panha that the 2nd century BCE IndoGreek king Menander converted to the Buddhist faith and became an arhat. Buddhism may have spread only slowly in India until the time of the Mauryan emperor Aśoka the Great, who was a public supporter of the religion. The support of Aśoka and his descendants led to the construction of more Buddhist religious memorials (stūpas) and to efforts to spread Buddhism throughout the enlarged Maurya empire and even into neighboring lands – particularly to the Iranian-speaking regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia, beyond the Mauryas' northwest border, and to the island of Sri Lanka south of India. These two missions, in opposite directions, would ultimately lead, in the first case to the spread of Buddhism into China, and in the second case, to the emergence of Theravāda Buddhism and its spread from Sri Lanka to the coastal lands of Southeast Asia. This period marks the first known spread of Buddhism beyond India. According to the edicts of Aśoka, emissaries were sent to various countries west of India in order to spread "Dhamma", particularly in eastern provinces of the neighboring Seleucid Empire, and even farther to Hellenistic kingdoms of the Mediterranean. This led, a century later, to the emergence of Greek-speaking Buddhist monarchs in the Indo-Greek Kingdom, and to the development of the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhāra. During this period Buddhism was exposed to a variety of influences, from Persian and Greek civilization, and from changing trends in non-Buddhist Indian religions – themselves influenced by Buddhism. It is a matter of disagreement among scholars whether or not these emissaries were, or were accompanied by Buddhist missionaries.
Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monk lighting incense in a Beijing temple. The most common way scholars categorize Buddhist schools follows the major languages of the extant Buddhist canons, which exist in Pāli, Tibetan (also found in Mongolian translation) and Chinese collections, along with some texts that still exist in Sanskrit and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. This is a useful division for practical purposes, but does not necessarily correspond to philosophical or doctrinal divisions since, despite the differences, there are common threads to almost all Buddhist branches:
All accept the Buddha as their teacher. All accept the Middle Way, Dependent origination, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, in theory, though in practice these have little or no importance in some traditions. All accept that both the members of the laity and of the Sangha can pursue the path toward enlightenment (bodhi). All consider Buddhahood to be the highest attainment.