An amazing fable often heard… of a wealthy prince, who leaves all the luxuries of life in search of the ultimate truth; he returns as an enlightened one and his preaching becomes one of the most widespread religions of the world.
The unusual prophecy for his son, Prince Siddhartha, that he would either become a great king or a great ascetic, compelled King Shuddhodana of Shakya dynasty, to guard him and provide him with the best of comforts so as to refrain him from leaving the house. Being the ruler of Kapilavastu and with a prospective heir, he naturally wanted to believe in the words which prophesied that Siddhartha would be one of the greatest of rulers. But somewhere deep in heart he knew that it would never happen and tried best as a father would, to keep his son engaged in the worldly matters. Nevertheless, he did succeed in keeping his son at home for almost 29 years. But on the night his son was born, the future King of Kapilavastu, left the house in the darkness of midnight, in search of the ultimate truth; a truth to overcome sorrow and grief in human life. The path to this truth, he never knew, neither had he known whether he would succeed. But six years later after going through severe penances and austerity and later discarding even these for meditation the Prince realized the truth. From this point of enlightenment he was proclaimed as the Tathagata; the one who knows the truth and as Buddha; the one who is awakened or enlightened.
Buddha preached the four noble truths and the eight fold path to salvation and attaining nirvana. Buddha says man normally lives in extreme conditions. He either leads a life full of luxury and lust or becomes an ascetic torturing his body trying to reach to the ultimate truth. An ascetic also lusts for truth and a common man lusts for luxury, both ways they remain unsatisfied which forces them to come back on earth to search the unfound. So it is wise to walk on the middle path. This middle path is the eight fold path that can lead one to peace, insight wisdom and ultimately, Nirvana. The eight fold path comprises of: Right Views, Right Resolves, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection and Right Meditation. The four Noble truths the Lord spoke about were:
- Noble Truth of Sorrow:
It means all five components of individuality are sorrow.
- Noble Truth of the Arising of Sorrow:
Sorrow arises from desire of more which compels a person for rebirth.
- Noble Truth of Stopping the Sorrow:
Emancipation from this desire is the only way to stop sorrow.
- Noble Truth of the Way leading to Stopping of Sorrow:
The middle way of the eight fold path is the only one to stop the sorrow.
The core of the words of the lord meant that sorrow or grief is inherent in ordinary life and the reason for this is craving for individual satisfaction. The grief can be overcome by checking the craving and yearning for more. This is possible only if one takes the middle course between self indulgence and severe austerity; leading a moral and a disciplined life. And all the composite things in the world have to decay, so death is matter of fact and one should mourn this fact.
Buddha’s preaching and the doctrine to attain the Nirvana thus spread, spread all over the world through the word of mouth. The doctrine became religion and Buddha became the world’s greatest teacher. Based on the essence of equality and truth it became easier to adopt this doctrine and thus found many followers for the same. Later Buddhism divided it self in three major schools of thought. Namely the Theravadin or the Hinayana which stuck to the basic and historical principle and preaching of the Buddha. It says self emancipation is necessary and one has to pass through many lives to achieve that stage. The Hinayana Buddhism is practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Mahayana Buddhism which developed nearly 500 years after the death of Buddha believes in emancipation of the society as a whole, while the Hinayana Buddhism stresses on the needs of self emancipation. Mahayana takes the whole human kind in its stride but believes in previous births before attaining that kind of salvation. China, Japan and Korea are the principle countries following the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
The Vajrayana although believes and follows the doctrine of Buddhism believes that good deeds in a single life can help attain Nirvana or emancipation. This sect of Buddhism has strong roots in Tibet even today and is also followed in some parts of China and Japan. It has a set of rules and rituals along with the earlier ones that are to be followed strictly.
Today the birth land of Buddhism, India, finds very less followers for the religion. The spread of the religion in the Far East was instant and so was its decline in India. After Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, there were many Stupas were built to keep his relics and commemorate his being under the patronage of various kings and dynasties. The life story of Buddha gave an inspiration to young and old and many more fascinating stories were attached to it. These mythological stories and some real life stories form the part of the Buddhist art that is carved and painted throughout the world. Although the impact of Buddhism has weakened in India, these artistic forms of Buddhism never cease to fascinate the people world wide. These sites which are many in the country form a special pilgrimage to the Buddhists world wide. The four main Buddhists sites are: 1) The birthplace of Lord Buddha, Lumbini, today in Nepal; 2) The place of his enlightenment, Bodhgaya; 3) Saranath near Varanasi is the also important as the place of the Lord’s first sermon and 4) The place where Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana, Kushinagar. But there are many others which are visited as most revered Buddhists sites.