Ancient India Simplified: Buddhism, its philosophy, doctrines, councils, literature and sects.

Buddha was a practical reformer. He addressed himself to worldly problems. The Four noble truths, Eight fold path and Ten precepts constituted the gist of his teachings. World is full of sorrow and man is unhappy because suffering is caused by desire/craving and if we end the desire, it leads to Nirvana and to end the desire one must follow the eight-fold path (Ashtangika Marga).

Philosophy of Buddhism

  • Doctrine of Karma is an essential part of the teachings of Buddha.
  • ‘Nirvana’ is the ultimate goal of life.
  • Emphasised on the moral life of an individual.
  • Neither accepted nor rejected the existence of God.
  • Did not believe in the existence of the Soul.
  • Emphasis on Ahimsa (Non-Violence).
  • Advocated on the observance of the middle path (‘Madhyam Marg’).
  • Opposed caste system and rejected the vedas and vedic rituals. Also Condemned sacrifices.
  • Did not acknowledge a permanent existence of anything or an immortal soul.

Buddhist Doctrine: Four Noble Truths

Five Incarnations of Buddha

Eightfold Path (Ashtangika Marga)

Great Events of Buddha’s Life

Buddhist Councils

CouncilYearPlacePatronPresided byPurposeOutcome
First Buddhist council483 B.C.Rajgir in MagadhKing AjatasatruMahakassapaTo complete the Buddhist scripturesAll teachings of Buddha were divided into two parts: 1. Vinaya Pitaka: Established under the leadership of Upali 2. Sutta Pitaka written under the leadership of Ananda.
Second Buddhist council383 B.C.VaishaliKing Kalasoka SabakamiTo settle down the dispute between two opposing groups: Monks of Vaishali and Pataliputra and Monks of Kaushambi and Avanti regarding the code of discipline.1. The council failed to bring about a compromise between two opposing groups.2. It ended in a permanent split of the buddhist order onto Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas.
Third Buddhist council237 B.C.PataliputraEmperor AshokaMogali Putta TissaTo revise the scriptures.1. The philosophical interpretations of Buddha were collected in the third Pitaka which was called Abhidhamma Pitaka.2. Heretical monks numbering sixty thousand were expelled from the order.
Fourth Buddhist council100 A.D.Kundalavana in KashmirKing KanishkaVasumitra, vice-president AsvaghosaTo settle disputed doctrines1. Rise of Mahayana and Hinayana2. Compiled commentaries of three pitakas.3. Decided certain controversial questions of differences that arose between the Sarvastivada teachers of Kashmir and Gandhara

Buddhist Scriptures

Buddhist scriptures are Pitakas, which were written in Pali language. Pitakas consist of three sections called Tripitakas namely Sutta pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. These were finally compiled at the 4th buddhist council.
Sutta Pitaka (Largest and the most important Tripitakas) Divided into five ‘Groups’Digha Nikaya: Collection of long sermons ascribed to the BuddhaMajjihima Nikaya: Shorter sermonsSamyutta Nikaya: Collection of brief pronouncements Anguttara Nikaya: Collection of over 2000 brief statements arranged in 11 sectionsKhuddaka Nikaya: Contains miscellaneous works in prose and verse.Among Khuddaka, there are 1. Dhammapada (Buddha’s universal Teaching), 2. Theragatha (Hymns of the elder monks) 3. Therigatha (Hymns of the elder nuns) 4. Jatakas (500 poems describing previous 500 births of Buddha).
Vinaya Pitaka Contains rules and regulations of monks and nuns 
Abhidhamma PitakaContains the metaphysics (religious discourses) of Buddha.

Famous Buddhist Works

Milinda Panha (Questions of Milinda)An account of discussion between Bactrian/Greek king Menander or Milinda and the Buddhist monk Nagasena.
Ceylonese ChroniclesThe history of Buddhism in Ceylon1. Dipavamsa (Island Chronicle), 2. Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle) and Culavamsa (Lesser Chronicle)
LalitavistaraMahayana text containing a flowery narrative of the life of Buddha.
SaddharMapundarikaMahayana text-Series of dialogues.
Vajracchedika (diamond cutter)Mahayana text- Metaphysical writing 
Sutralankara Earliest text of the Yogacara School written by Asanga
Lankavatara SutrasA legendary text of Yogacara.
Valpulya SutraMahayana Text- expanded sermons of Buddha
KathavatthuWork of 3rd century B.C.
BuddhacharithaWritten by Asvagosha

Buddhist Terminology

Main Sects of Buddhism

The first schism suffered during 2nd Buddhist council over small points of Monastic discipline and the order broke into two Sthaviravadins (in Pali called Theravada) and the Mahasanghikas.
The major split of Buddhism took place during 4th Buddhist council and there emerged ‘Mahayana’ (the great vehicle) and ‘Hinayana’ (the lesser vehicle) forms of Buddhism.
Staviravadins1. Were believers in the teaching of elders, and orthodox school.
Mahasanghikas1. The Mahāsaṅghikas believed in a plurality of buddhas who are supramundane (lokottara).
. Was a precursor of the Mahāyāna tradition
Lokkottaravadin1. Emerged from Mahasanghikas. 
Their philosophy was based on the concept of Lokottara Buddha or Supernatural Buddha.
Sarvastivadin1. Emerged from Staviravadins
2. Also called Vaibhashika because their doctrines were codified in a summary, the Mahabhhasa, later known as Vaibhashikas.
3. They maintain that the dharma factors are eternally existing realities.
Sautrantikas 1. Descended from the Sthavira nikāyaThose for whom the sutras, or the scriptures, are authoritative.
Maintained that the dharma factors are not eternal but momentary, and the only actually existing dharmas are the ones presently functioning.
Mahayana1. It arose out from Mahasanghikas.
2. Became very popular in Central Asia, China and Japan.
3. Prominent place given to Bodhisattvas who were of great kindness and helped humanity through their own suffering.
4. Bodhisattvas would help every living organism in attaining Nirvana.
5. It believes that saviour reincarnates time and again: ‘Maitreyi Buddha’.
6. They are associated with a divine Buddha called Amithabha or Amityas.
7. Sanskrit in place of pali was their language.
Hinayana1. They believed in the original teachings of Buddha.
2. They teach the attainment of salvation for one-self alone through self-discipline and meditation.
3. Non belief in Idol-worship. Worshipped Buddha in his Symbols.
4. This sect became popular in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos etc but lost popularity in India.
Vajrayana1. Also known as ‘Vehicle ’Came into existence in the 8th century A.D.
2. Patronage of Palas.
3. It spread to Tibet in the 11th century from Vajrayana Monastery of Vikramashila.
4. The sect is based on primitive cult and rituals and is full of magical formulae.
5. The chief divinities of this sect were the “Taras’. (the spouses of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas).
6. They consumed meat and wine. 
7. The Tantrik schools of Shahajayana and Tantryana developed from this sect.

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