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Buddhism – “China: Its History and Culture” – Morton, W. Scott

March 31st, 2011 · No Comments · China, Religion

The historic Buddha, known as Sakyamuni, founder of the religion about 500 B.C., was a prince of Magadha in modern Nepal in the Himalayan foothills. The tradition of Buddhism was at first purely oral, and it is not easy to distinguish early fact from later accretions in the establishment of his beliefs and teaching.

Certain of the historic Buddha’s experiences seem to have been put into easily memorable form, such as his encounter with four forms of suffering—poverty in a beggar, pain in the cries of a woman in childbirth, sickness, and death in the form of a corpse—as the young prince went out of the four gates of the palace on four successive days, in spite of his father’s attempts to keep him within its sheltered walls. Moved by these experiences to go upon a spiritual quest, the prince left his wife and young son and joined a band of ascetics. He entered upon a period of rigorous fasting but came to feel that self-inflicted suffering was not the way to the answer he sought. Retiring to the jungle for meditation, a traditional Hindu method of seeking total privacy, Sakyamuni sat down under a bo tree and vowed he would not leave until he had attained the truth. His temptations were represented in later art by seductive maidens wheeling around his head to divert him from his quest, and the sympathy of Nature was represented by earthquakes and portents accompanying his struggle. At length his quest was rewarded, and he attained enlightenment and thus became Buddha, “the enlightened one.”

It is to be noted that no dependence upon a personal god was involved and that his experience seems to have been in the nature of a psychological breakthrough, in which he arrived at an intuitive understanding of suffering and of life as a whole. The experience was accompanied by a profound sense of release and well-being. He expressed his new insights in sermons in the deer park at Benares, and disciples, including some from the band of ascetics, are said soon to have gathered around him.

The essense of Buddha’s early teaching was summarized in the Four Noble Truths: that life is suffering, that the cause of suffering is desire, that the answer is to quench desire, and that the way to this end is by the Eightfold Path, a pattern of right living and thinking. Specifically, his followers vowed not to kill, steal, lie, drink, or become unchaste. Monastic orders for men and women were soon set up. The Three Precious Things were said to be the Buddha, the Dharma (the Law or Way), and the Sangha (the Monastic Order).

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