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Buddhism and Jainism | Ancient India

Notes on Buddhism in India | SSC CGL and SSC CHSL

Table of Contents


  • Buddhism started in India over 2,600 years ago as a way of life that could transform a person.
  • It is one of the important religions of South and South-Eastern Asian countries.
  • The religion is based upon the teachings, life experiences of its founder Siddhartha Gautam, born circa 563 BCE.
  • He was born into a royal family of the Sakya clan who ruled from Kapilvastu in Lumbini, which is situated near the Indo-Nepal Border.
  • At the age of 29, Gautama left home and rejected his life of riches and embraced a lifestyle of asceticism or extreme self-discipline.
  • After 49 consecutive days of meditation, Gautama attained Bodhi (enlightenment) under a pipal tree at Bodhgaya, a village in Bihar.
  • Buddha gave his first sermon in the village of Sarnath, near the city of Benares in UP. This event is known as Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana (turning of the wheel of law).
  • He died at the age of 80 in 483 BCE at Kushinagara, a town in UP. The event is known as Mahaparinibban.

Tenets of Buddhism

Buddha asked his followers to avoid the two extremes of indulgence in worldly pleasure and the practice of strict abstinence and asceticism.

He ascribed instead the 'Madhyam Marg' or the middle path which was to be followed.

According to him, everyone was responsible for their happiness in life, stressing upon the individualistic component of Buddhism.

The main teachings of Buddhism are encapsulated in the basic concept of four noble truths or ariya-sachchani and eightfold path or ashtanga marga.

Four noble truths:

Suffering (dukkha) is the essence of the world.
Every suffering has a cause – Samudya.
Suffering could be extinguished – Nirodha.
It can be achieved by following the Ashtanga Marga (Eight-Fold Path).

Eight-Fold Path: the path consists of various interconnected activities related to knowledge, conduct, and meditative practices.

  • Right view
  • Right intention
  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right effort
  • Right concentration

Dukkha and its extinction are central to the Buddha’s doctrine. Suffering is not limited to the actual pain but also to the potential to experience these things.

The essence of Buddhism is the attainment of enlightenment. It points to a way of life that avoids self-indulgence and self-denial. There is no supreme god or deity in Buddhism.

The ultimate goal of Buddha’s teaching was to attain Nibbana, which was not a place but an experience and could be attained in this life.

Buddha also established a code of conduct for the monastic order and the laymen to follow, also known as the Five Precepts or Pancasila, and refrain from them.

  • Violence
  • Stealing
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Lying or gossip
  • Taking intoxicating substances, like drugs or drinks

Major Buddhist Texts

  • The Buddha's teaching was oral. He taught for 45 years, adapting the teaching to suit the group he was addressing.
  • The Sangha memorized the teachings, and there were group recitations at festivals and special occasions.
  • The teachings were rehearsed and authenticated at the First Council and were divided into Three Pitakas in 483 BC.
  • His teachings were written down around 25 B.C.E. in Pali.

Three Pitakas

The Vinaya Pitaka consists of rules of conduct and discipline applicable to the monastic life of the monks and nuns.

The Sutta Pitaka consists of the main teaching or Dhamma of Buddha. It is divided into five Nikayas or collections:

  • Digha Nikaya
  • Majjhima Nikaya
  • Samyutta Nikaya
  • Anguttara Nikaya
  • Khuddaka Nikaya

The Abhidhamma Pitaka is a philosophical analysis and systematization of the teaching and the scholarly activity of the monks.

Other important Buddhist texts include Divyavadana, Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Milind Panha, etc.

Buddhist Councils

Buddhist Councils marked important turning points in early Buddhism.

These councils resulted in sectarian clashes and the eventual Great Schism that resulted in the two major schools, Theravada and Mahayana.

In total, four major Buddhist councils were convened:

First Council

  • It was held soon after the Mahaparinirvan of the Buddha, around 483 BC, under the patronage of King Ajatshatru, and was presided by Mahakasyapa, a monk.
  • The council was held in the Sattapani cave at Rajgriha.
  • The council was held to preserve Buddha’s teachings (Sutta) and rules for disciples. During this council, the teachings of Buddha were divided into three Pitakas.

Second Council

  • It was held in Vaishali, a village in Bihar, under the patronage of King Kalasoka in 383 BC. It was presided by Sabakami.

Third Council

  • It was held in 250 BC in Patliputra under the patronage of Ashoka and was presided by Moggaliputta Tissa.

Fourth Council

  • It was held in 72 (A.D) at Kundalvana, Kashmir. It was presided by Vasumitra, while Asvaghosa was his deputy under the patronage of King Kanishka of the Kushan Empire.
  • Buddhism was divided into two sects, namely Mahayana and Hinayana.

Schools of Buddhism

  • Mahayana
    • It is one of the two main schools of Buddhism.
    • The term Mahayana is a Sanskrit word that means "Great Vehicle."
    • It believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and Idol worship of Buddha and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature.
    • It originated in northern India and Kashmir and then spread east into Central Asia, East Asia, and some areas of Southeast Asia.
    • Buddhist schools embedded in China, Korea, Tibet, and Japan belong to the Mahayana tradition.
  • Hinayana
    • Lesser vehicle, also known as Abandoned Vehicle or Defective vehicle. It believes in the original teaching of Buddha or the Doctrine of elders.
    • It does not believe in Idol worship and tries to attain individual salvation through self-discipline and meditation.
    • Theravada is a Hinayana sect.
  • Theravada
    • It is the most ancient branch of extant Buddhism today.
    • It remains closest to the original teachings of the Buddha.
    • Theravada Buddhism developed in Sri Lanka and subsequently spread to the rest of Southeast Asia. It is the dominant form of religion in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
  • Vajrayana
    • Vajrayana means “The Vehicle of the Thunderbolt,” also known as tantric Buddhism.
    • This Buddhist school was developed in India around 900 CE.
    • It is grounded on esoteric elements and a very complex set of rituals compared with the rest of the Buddhist schools.
  • Zen
    • It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty as the Chan school of Chinese Buddhism and later developed into various schools.
    • It spread to Japan in the 7th century C.E.
    • Meditation is the most distinctive feature of this Buddhist tradition.

Spread of Buddhism

  • Buddha had two kinds of disciples – monks (bhikshus) and lay worshippers (upasakas).
  • The monks were organized into the Sangha to spread his teachings.
  • The Sangha was governed on democratic lines and was empowered to enforce discipline among its members.
  • Owing to the organized efforts made by the Sangha, Buddhism made rapid progress in North India even during Buddha’s lifetime.
  • After Buddha's death, his followers traversed on his path of meditation and roamed throughout the countryside.
  • For 200 years, Buddhism remained overshadowed by its Hindu counterparts until the advent of the Great Mauryan King – Ashoka.
  • After the bloodbath in his Kalinga conquest, emperor Ashoka decided to give up the policy of world conquest and adopted the Dhamma conquest.
  • Ashoka During the third Buddhist council, 'Ashoka' dispatched various Buddhist missions to different areas such as Gandhara, Kashmir, Greece, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, and Thailand.
  • Through his missionary effect, Ashoka spread Buddhism into West Asia and Ceylon. Thus, a local religious sect was transformed into a world religion.

Contribution of Buddhism to Indian Culture

Buddhism has made a remarkable contribution to the development of Indian culture:

  • The concept of ahimsa was its chief contribution. Later, it became one of the cherished values of our nation.
  • Its contribution to the art and architecture of India was notable. The stupas at Sanchi, Bharhut, and Gaya are wonderful pieces of architecture.
  • It promoted education through residential universities like those at Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramasila.
  • The language of Pali and other local languages developed through the teachings of Buddhism.
  • It had also promoted the spread of Indian culture to other parts of Asia.
Kinshu Patel

Kinshu Patel

Kinshu is a content writer at Exam Lounge. She has experience as an educational content writer for the past 3 years. Her main field of interest is General awareness including History, Geography and Current Affairs

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