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History of Buddhism

...... ... .


 2500 Years Of Buddhism

P.V. Bapat



Sixth century B.C. was remarkable for the spiritual unrest aml intellectual ferment in many countries. In China we had LaoTzu and Confucius, in Greece Parmenides and Empedocles, in Iran Zarathustra, in India Mahavira and the Buddha. In that period many remarkable teachers worked upon their inheritance and developed new points of view.

The Purnima or full-moon day of the month of Vaisakha is connected with three important events in the life of the Buddha--birth, enlightenment and parinirvana. It is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar. According to the Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha's parinirvana occurred in 544 B.C[1]. Though the different schools of Buddhism have their independent systems of chronology, they have agreed to consider the full-moon day of May 1956 to be the 2500th anniversary of the mahaparinirvana of Gautama, the Buddha. This book gives a short account of the story of Buddhism in the last 2,500 years.

The main events of the Buddha's life are well known. He was the son of a minor ruler of Kapilavastu, grew up in luxury, married Yasodhara, had a son, Rahula, and led a sheltered life where the world's miseries were hidden. On four occasions when he went out of his palace, so the legend tells us, he met an old man and felt that he was subject to the frailties of age, met a sick man and felt that he was also subject to death, and met an ascetic with a peaceful countenance who had adopted the traditional way of the seekers of religious truth. The Buddha resolved to gain freedom from old age, sickness and death by following his example. The mendicant tells the Buddha:

narapungava janmamrtyu bhitah sramanah pravrajitosmi moksa- hetoh[2]

I am a sramanah, an ascetic, who in fear of birth and death have left home life to gain liberation.

The sight of the holy man, healthy in body, cheerful in mind, without any of the comforts of life, impressed the Buddha strongly with the conviction that the pursuit of religion was the only goal worthy of man. It makes man independent of the temporary trials and fleeting pleasures of the world. The Buddha decided to renounce the world and devote himself to a religious life. He left his home, wife and child, put on the garb and habit of a mendicant, and fled into the forest in order to meditate on human suffering, its causes and the means by which it could be overcome. He spent six years in the study of the most abstruse doctrines of religion, suffered the severest austerities, reduced himself to the verge of starvation in the hope that, by mortifying the flesh, he should surely attain to the knowledge of truth. But he came very near to death without having attained the wisdom that he sought. He gave up ascetic practices, resumed normal life, refreshed himself in the waters of the river Nairanjana, accepted the milk pudding offered by Sujata: nayam atma balahinena labhyah. After he gained bodily health and mental vigour he spent seven weeks under the shade of the Bodhi tree, sitting in a state of the deepest and most profound meditation. One night towards the dawn his understanding opened and he attained enlightenment. After the enlightenment the Buddha refers to himself in the third person as the Tathagata: he who has arrived at the Truth. He wished to preach the knowledge he gained and so said: "I shall go to Banaras where I will light the lamp that will bring light unto the world. I will go to Banaras and beat the drums that will awaken mankind. I shall go to Banaras and there I shall teach the Law." "Give ear, O mendicants ! The Deathless (amrita eternal life) has been found by me. I will now instruct. I will preach the Dharma." He travelled from place to place, touch :d the lives of hundreds, high and low, princes and peasants. They all came under the spell of his great personality. He taught for forty-five years the. beauty of charity and the joy of renunciation, the need for simplicity and equality.

At the age of eighty he was on his way to Kusinagara, the town in which he passed into parinirvana. Taking leave of the pleasant city of Vaisali with his favourite disciple, Ananda, he rested on one of the neighbouring hills and looking at the pleasant scenery with its many shrines and sanctuaries, he said to Ananda, citram jambudvipam, rnanoraraam jivitam manusyanam. "Colourful and rich is India, lovable and charming is the life of men." On the banks of the river Hiranyavati in a grove of sal trees, the Buddha had a bed prepared for himself between two trees. He gently consoled his disciple, Ananda, who was lamenting bitterly. "Do not weep, do not despair, Ananda. From all that he loves man must part. How could it be that what is born, what is subject to instability, should not pass? Maybe, you were thinking, 'we have no longer a master'. That must not be, O Ananda. The doctrine I have preached to you is your master." He repeated:

handa dani bhikkhave amantayami vo:  

vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha’ ti 

Verily, I say unto you now, O monks: All things are perishable; work out your deliverance with earnestness. 

These were his last words. His spirit sank into the depths of mystic absorption and when he had attained to that degree where all thought, all conception disappears, when the consciousness of individuality ceases, he entered into the supreme nirvana. 


In the life of the Buddha there are two sides, individual and social. The familiar Buddha-image. is of a meditating sage, yogin, absorbed and withdrawn, iost in the joy of his inner meditation. This is the tradition associated with the Theravada BuddhiSm and Ashoka's missions. For these, .the Buddha is a man, not God, a teacher and not a saviour. There is the other side of the Buddha's life, when he is concerned with the sorrows of men, eager to enter their lives, heal their troubles and spread his message for the good of the many: bahu-jana-hitaya. Based on this compassion for humanity, a second tradition matured in North India under the Kusanas (70-480 A.D.) and the Guptas (320-650 A.D.). It developed the ideal of salvation for all, the discipline of devotion and the way of universal service. While the former tradition prevails in Ceylon, Burma and Thailand, the latter is found in Nepal, Tibet, Korea, China and Japan. 

All forms of Buddhism, however, agree that the Buddha was the founder, that he strove and attained transcendental wisdom as he sat under the Bodhi tree, that he pointed a way from the world of suffering to a beyond, the undying, and those who follow the path for liberation may also cross to the wisdom beyond. This is the root of the matter, the essential unity underlying the many differences in outlook and expression that came to characterize Buddhism as it spread from India to other parts of the world. 

The essence of all religion is a change in man's nature, The conception of second birth, dvitiyam janma, is the central teaching of the Hindu and the Buddhist religions. Man is not one but a multiplicity. He is asleep, he is an automaton. He is inwardly discordant. He must wake up, become united, harmonious within himself and free. The Greek mysteries implied this change in our nature. Man himself is conceived as a grain which could die as a grain but be reborn as a plato different from the grain. A bushel of wheat has two possible destinies, to be pounded and made into flour and become bread; or to be sown in the ground, to germinate and become a plant, and give a hundred grains for one that is sown. St. Paul borrowed this idea in describing the Resurrection when he says: "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." The change is a transformation of the substance itself. Man is not a Complete final being. He is a being who can transform himself, who can be born again. To effect this change, to be reborn, to be awakened, is the goal of all religions as of Buddhism. 

Our subjection to time, to samsara, is due to avidya, unawareness, leading to infatuation, depravity, asava. Ignorance and craving are the substratum of the empirical life. From avidya we must rise to vidya, bodhi, enlightenment. When we have vipassana, knowledge by seeing, clear perception, we will acquire samara, unshakable calm. In all this, the Buddha adopts the Vedic criterion of certainty which is rooted in actual knowledge which is attained by immediate experience, direct intellectual intuition of reality: yatha-bhuta-nana-dassana.


The Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up, and died a Hindu. He was restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilization. Even so have I, monks, seen an ancient way, an ancient road followed by the wholly awakened ones of olden times....Along that have I gone, and the matters !that I have come to know fully as I was going along it, I have told to the monks, nuns, men and women, lay-followers, even monks this Brahma- faring, brahmacharya that is prosperous and flourishing, widespread and and widely known, become popular_ in short, well made manifest for gods and men.

The quest of religious India has been for the incomparable safety, fearlessness, abhaya, moksa, nirvana. It is natural for man to strive to elevate himself above earthly things, to go out from the world of sense to free his soul from the trammels of existence and gross materiality, to break through the outer darkness into the world of light and spirit. The Buddha aims at a new spiritual existence attained through jnana or budhi absolute illumination. "But I deem the highest goal of a man to be the stage in which there is neither old age nor fear, nor disease, nor birth, nor death, nor anxieties, and in which there is no continuous renewal of activity."

pade tu yasminn na jura na bhir na run na janma naivoparamo na cadhayah tam eva manye purusartham uttamam na vidyate “yatra punah punah kriya”[3]

The Buddha aimed at a spiritual experience in which all selfish craving is extinct and with it every fear and passion. It is a state of perfect inward peace, accompanied by the conviction of having attained spiritual freedom, a state which words cannot describe. Only he who has experienced it knows what it is. The state is not life in paradise where the gods dwell."You should feel shame and indignation, if ascetics of other schools ask you is in order to arise in a divine world that ascetic life is practised under the ascetic Gautama." Even as the Upanisads distinguish moksa from life in brahmaloka, the Buddha points out that the gods belong to the world of manifestation and cannot therefore be called absolutely unconditioned. Existence has as its correlative non­existence. The really unconditioned is beyond both existence and non-existence. The state of the mukta, the Buddha, is higher than that of the Brahma. It is invisible, resplendent and eternal. There is a higher than the gods, a transcendental Absolute described in the Udana as ajata, unborn, abhuta, unbecome, akata, unmade, asankhata, uncompounded. This is the Brahmin of the Upanisads which is characterized as na iti, na iti[4]. The Buddha calls himself brahma-bhuta, he who has become Brahmin. The Buddha adopted an absolutist view of Ultimate Reality though not a theistic one. He felt that many abstained from actiorl in the faith that God would do everything for them. They seemed to forget that spiritual realization is a growth from within. When the educated indulged in vain speculations about the Inexpressible, the uneducated treated God as a being who could be manipulated by magic rites or sorcery. If God forgives us any way, it makes little difference how we live. The Buddha revolted against the ignorance and superstition, the dread and the horror, which accompanied popular religion. Besides, theistic views generally fill men's minds with dogmatism and their hearts with intolerance. Doctrinal orthodoxy has filled the world with unhappiness, injustice, strife, crime and hatred. 

The conception of the world as samsara, a stream without end, where the law of karma functions, is common to all Indian 'systems, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh. Nothing is permanent, not even the gods. Even death is not permanent, for it must turn to new life. The conduct of the individual in one life cannot determine his everlasting destiny. The Buddha does not accept a fatalistic view. He does not say that man has no control over his future. He can work out his future, become an Arhat, attain nirvana. The Buddha was an ardent exponent of the strenuous life. Our aim is to conquer time, overcome samsara, and the way to it is the moral path which results in illumination.

The Buddha did not concede the reality of an unchangeable 'self, for the 'self’ is something that can be built up by good thoughts and deeds, but yet he has to assume it. While karma relates to the world of objects, of existence in time, nirvana assumes the freedom of the subject, of inwardness. We can stand out of our existential limits. We experience the nothingness, the void of the world to get beyond it. To stand out of objective existence there must come upon the individual a sense of crucifixion, a sense of agonizing annihfiation, a sense of the bitter nothingness of all the empirical existence which is subject to the law of change, of death: maranantam hi jivitam. We cry from the depths of unyielding despair: mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya. Who shall save me from the body of this death? If death is not all, if nothingness is not all, there is something which survives death, though it cannot be described. The T is the unconditioned, something which has nothing to do with the body, feeling, perception, formation, thought, which are all impermanent, changeable, non-substantial. When the individual knows that what is impermanent is painful, he becomes detached from them and becomes free. The indispensable prerequisite of this is a higher consciousness of an “I” or something like it : attena va attaniyena.[5] This “I” is the primordial essential 'self the unconditioned, whose realization gives us liberty and power. The 'self is not body, feeling, consciousness, etc. But from this it does not follow that there is no 'self at all. The ego is not the only content of the 'self though it is the only content that can be known objectively. There is another side to our 'self which helps us to attain nirvana. When the Buddha asks us to be diligent, to strive for salvation, he is referring to the inward principle which is not swept away by the current of events, which is not controlled by outward circumstances, which protects itself from the usurpations of society, which does not submit to human opinion but jealously guards its rights. The enlightened is free, having broken all bonds. The ascetic is one who has gained mastery over himself, "who has his heart in his power and is not himself in the power of his heart.''[6] The Buddha when he attained nirvana is far from being dissolved into non-being. It is not he that becomes extinct but the passions and desires. He is no longer conditioned by the erroneous notions and selfish desires, that normally go on shaping individuals. The Buddha realizes himself to be free from the characteristics that constitute an individual subject. He has vanished from the sphere of dualities. "Whatever thought he desires, that thought will he think, whatever thought he does not desire, that thought will he not think.[7] The Buddha taught us to pursue prajna and practise compassion, karuna. We will be judged not by the creeds we profess or the labels we wear or the slogans we shout, but by our sacrificial work and brotherly outlook. Man, weak as he is, subject to old age, sickness and death, in his ignorance and pride condemns the sick, the aged and the dead. If anyone looks with disgust on any f~llow-being who is sick or old or dead, he would be unjust to himself. We must not fred fault with the man who limps or stumbles along the road, for we do not know the shoes he wears or the burdens he bears[8]. If we learn what pain is, we become the brothers of all who suffer. 


Buddhism did not start as a new and independent religion. It was an offshoot of the more ancient faith of the Hindus, perhaps a schism or a heresy. While on the fundamentals of metaphysics and ethics the Buddha agreed with the faith he inherited, he protested against certain practices which were in vogue at the time. He refused to acquiesce in the Vedic ceremonialism. When he was asked to perform some of these rites, he said, "And as for your saying that for the sake of Dharma I should carry out the sacrificial ceremonies which are customary in my family and which bring the desired fruit, I do not approve of sacrifices; for I do not care for happiness which is sought at the price of others' suffering.''[9] 

It is ture that the Upanisads also subordinate the sacrificial piety to the spiritual religion which they formulate, but they did not attack it in the way in which the Buddha did. The Buddha's main object was to bring about' a reformation in religious practices and a return to the basic principles. All those who adhere to the essential framework of. the Hindu religion and attempt to' bring it into conformity with 'the voice of awakened conscience are treated as avataras. It is an accepted view of the Hindus that the Supreme as Visnu assumed different forms to accomplish different purposes for the good of mankind. The Buddha was accepted as an avatara who reclaimed Hindus from sanguinary rites and erroneous practices and purified their religion of the numerous abuses which had crept into it. This avatara doctrine helps us to retain the faith of the ancestors while effecting reforms in it. Our Puranas describe the Buddha as the ninth avatara of Visnu.

In Jayadeva's astapadi (of the Gitagovinda) he refers to the different avataras and mentions the Buddha as an avatara of Visnu, and gives the following account: 

O you of merciful heart denounced the Feda where the slaughter of cattle is taught, O Kesava, you, in the form of the Buddha, victory to you, Haft, lord of the world. 

nindasi yajnavidher ahaha srutijatara

sadaya-hrdaya, darsita pasughatam 

kesava-dhrta buddhasarira jaya jagadisa hare[10]

The commentator writes: yajnasya-vidhana-bodhakam veda samuham nindasi, na tu satyam ity artbah  

The Buddha does not condemn the whole Sruti but only that part of it which enjoins sacrifices. 

Jayadeva sums up the ten avataras in the next verse: 

Who upheld the Vedas, supported the universe,

bore up the world, destroyed the demons, deceived

Bali, broke the, force of the Ksatriyas,

conquered Ravana, made the piough, spread mercy, 

prevailed over aliens, homage, O Krisna

who took the ten forms.

vedan uddharate, jagan nivahate, bhugolam udbibhrate,

dailyan darayate, balim chalayate, ksatraksayam kurvate,

Paulastyam jayate, halam kalayate, karunyam

atanvate,mlecchan murcchayate dasakrtikrte krisnaya tubhyam namah 

The commentator writes:

karunyam krpam atanvate buddha-rupena vistarayate 

The Buddha utilized the Hindu inheritance to correct some of its expressions. He came to fulfil, not to destroy. For us, in this country, the Buddha is an outstanding representative of our religious tradition. He left his footprints on the soil of India and his mark on the soul of the country with its habits and convictions. While the teaching of the Buddha-assumed distinctive forms in the other countries of the world in conformity with their own traditions, here, in the home of the Buddha, it has entered into and become an integral part of our culture. The Brahmins and the Sramanahs were treated alike by the Buddha and the two traditions gradually blended. In a sense the Buddha is a maker of modern Hinduism. 

Occasionally humanity, after an infinite number of gropings, creates itself, realizes the purposes of its existence in one great character and then again loses itself in the all too slow process of dissolution. The Buddha aimed at the development of a new type of free man, free from prejudices, intent on working out his own future, with reliance on one's own self, attadipa. His humanism crossed racial and national barriers. Yet the chaotic condition of world affairs reflects the chaos in men's souls. History has become universal in spirit. Its subject matter is neither Europe nor Asia, neither East nor West; but humanity in all lands and ages. In spite of political divisions, the world is one, whether we like it or not. The fortunes of everyone are linked up with those of others. But we are suffering from a.n exhaustion of spirit an increase of egoisyn, individual and collective, which seem to make the ideal of a world society too difficult to desire. What we need today is a spiritual view of the universe for which this country, in spite of all its blunders and follies, has stood, which may blow through life again,bursting the doors and flinging open the shutters of man's life. We must recover the lost ideal of spiritual freedom: atmalabhan na param vidyate. If we wish to achieve peace we must maintain that inner harmony, that poise of the soul, which are the essential elements of peace. We must possess ourselves though all else be lost. The free spirit sets no bounds to its love, recognizes in all human beings a spark of the divine, and offers itself up a willing victim to the cause of mankind. It casts off all fear except that of wrong doing, passes the bounds of time and death and finds inexhaustible power in life etemal. 




_ P.V Bapat, M.A., A.M. Ph.D (Harvard), Retired Professor of Ancient Indian Culture, pali, and Buddhism, Poona University and Fergusson College, poona.

_ P.L. Vaidya, M.A. (Calcutta), D, Litt. (Paris), Editor, Critical edition of the Mahabharata, Bhandarkar oriental Research Institute, poona.

_ C.V. Joshi, M.A., formely professor of Pali, Baroda College.

_ B.Jinananda, M.A., Ph.D (London), Vidya-Abhidhamma-Sutta Visarada, Reader in Sanskrit and Pali, Department of Buddhist Studies, Dehli University.

_ (The late) P.C. Bagchi, M.A., D. Litt (Paris), formely Vice-Chancellor, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan.

_ V.V Gokhale, B,A., Ph.D. (Bonn), Professor and Head of the Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University.

_ I.H. Takasaki, Ph.D. (Bonn), Professor and Head of the Department of Indian Philosophy, and Sanskrit, Tokyo University.

_ R.C. Majumdar, M.A., Ph.D. Historian.

_ Ankul Chandra Banejee, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D., Professor of Pali, Calcutta University.

_ G.H. Sasaki, Professor of Buddhism, Otani University, Japan.

_ Nalinaksha Dutt, M.A., Ph.D., D. Litt. (London), B.L., M.P., formerly Head of the Department of Pali, Calcutta University.

_ S. Dutt, M.A., B.L., Ph.D. (Calcutta), formerly Reader in English, Delhi University.

_ Bharat Singh Upadhyaya, M.A., Lecturer in Hindi, Hindu College, Delhi University.

_ Bhadanta Anand Kausalyayana, well-known Hindi writer.

_ (The late) Rahul Sankrityayan, Mahapandit, Tripitakacharya.

_ K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, M.A., Director, Institute of Traditional Cultures, Madras.

_ T.N.Ramachandran, M.A., Retired Jt. Director-General of Archaeology, Government of India, New Delhi.

_ C. Sivaramamurti, M.A., Assistant Director, National Museum, New Delhi.

_ S.K. Saraswati,  M.A. (Calcutta), Curator and Secretary, Victoria Memorial Museum, Calcutta.

_ D.B. Diskalkar, M.A, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona.

_ Pandit N. Aiyaswamy Sastri, Professor of Buddhist Studies, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan.

_ Lama Anagarika Govinda, German by birth; eminent writer on Buddhism.

_ H.V. Guenther, M.A., Ph.D., Austrian by birth; formerly Adhyapaka in Tibetan, Varanaseya Sanskrit Visvavidyalaya, Varanasi.

_ Padmanabh S. Jaini, M.A., Tripitakacharya, Lecturer in Pali, London School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

_ U.N. Ghoshal, M.A., Ph.D. (Calcutta), Retired Professor of History, Presidency College, Calcutta.

_ Bhikshu Sangharakshita, British by birth; noted Buddhist writer, Founder-President of the Kalimpong Branch of the Maha Bodhi Society.

_ D. Valisinha, B.A., General Secretary, Maha Bodhi Society of India, Calcutta.







[1] The Bodh Gaya inscription gives 544B.C. as the date of parinirvana

[2] Asvaghosa: Buddhacarita. V.17.

[3] Asvaghosa: Buddhacarita. XI,59.

[4] Cf. also "from which the words turn back together with the mind, not having attained". Taittiriya Upanisad, 11, 4. In the Tattiriya Brahmins it is said: "Before the gods sprang into existence, I was", II, 8, 8

[5]  Majjhima-nikaya. XXIX.

[6] Majjhima-nikaya XXXII

[7] Anguttara IV, 35; Majjhima XX.

[8] Cf. rudraksam tulasi-kastham, tripundram bhasma-dharanam yatrah snanani homas ca japah va devadarsanam na ete punanti manujam yatha bhuta-hite-ratih


[9] Buddhacarita, XI, 64.

yadattha capistaphalam kulocitam kurusva dharmaya makhakriyam iti namo

makhebhyo na hi kamaye sukham parasya dukhkha-kriyaya yad isyate  


[10] I.9




(hạ tải trọn tập sách này)


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