The Buddha belonged to a small gana known as the Sakyagana, his father was Suddhodana. His mother Mahamaya died 7 days after his birth and he was brought up by his step mother Gautami (that’s why he is called as Gautam Buddha also). The site of nativity of Gautama Buddha is marked by the celebrated Rummindei Pillar of Ashoka.
He enjoyed married life for 13 years and had a son named Rahula.
After seeing an old man, a sick man, an ascetic and a corpse, he dicided to become a wanderer.
His chariot was Chann and Kanthaka was his favorite horse. His leaving of palace life is called ‘Maha-Bhinishkramana’ at the age of 29. Initially he practiced severe asceticism, but found it of no use.
He attained Nirvana six years later at the age of 35 under a peepal tree known as Bodhi Tree. According to him Nirvana is not extreme asceticism, but it is a state of bliss and peace of mind. After that enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, he was known as the Buddha or the Wise One.
He then went to Sarnath, near Varanasi, where he delivered his first sermon which is called Dhamm-Chakra-Parbartana or turning the wheel of law. He was also called Gautam or Sakya Muni or Amitabh or Tathagat also.
He spent the rest of his life travelling on foot, going from place to place, teaching people, till he passed away at Kusinara.
According to Buddhist philosophy, the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing; it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it. Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence. He considered the world as full of misery. Man’s duty is to seek liberation from this painful world.
The Buddha taught in the language of the ordinary people, Prakrit, so that everybody could understand his message.
Buddhism was atheistic, in as much as God was not essential to the Universe.
The acceptance of nuns in the Buddhist monasteries was a revolutionary step from the point of view of the status of women.
The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation. Unlike the brahmanical idea, karma was not used to explain away caste status, since Buddha rejected caste.

Buddhism stands on three pillars –

I. Buddha
II. Dhamma – His teachings
III. Sangha – Order of Buddhist monks and nuns


He called for a ‘middle path’ – neither extreme indulgence nor self-mortification. He showed way for self-restraint instead of self mortification and right action instead of inactivity.
His teachings are –
I. Four Great Truths (World is full of sorrow; cause of all pain and misery is desire; Misery can be ended by controlling desire; desire can be controlled by 8 fold path)
II. Eight Fold Path or Ashtangika marga (Right faith, right thought, right action, right livelihood, right efforts etc)
The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation.
Buddha didn’t recognize god or soul unlike Jaina.


Buddhism remained confined to a few place like Magadh and Koshala till around 100 years of his death and gained true prominence only during rule of Ashoka.
Over the years, Buddhism developed into many branches. Some of them are –
I. Theravada – literally, ‘the Teaching of the Elders’ or ‘the Ancient Teaching’, is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India. It is relatively conservative and closer to early Buddhism and is still prevalent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia etc.
II. Hinyana – It is also the oldest and original branch and perhaps more orthodox. It depicts Buddha and incidents associated with his life only through symbols and prohibits representation of Buddha in human form.
a. Lotus and bull – Birth of Buddha
b. Horse – Renunciation
c. Bodhi Tree – Nirvana or Enlightenment
d. Wheel – It stood for first sermon at Sarnath,
e. Stupa – Parinirvana
f. Empty chair – Mahaparinirvana
III. Mahayana – Mahayana (literally the ‘Great Vehicle’) is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Mahayana Buddhism originated in India during times of Kushana. It was popularized by Kanishka and believes in gods, putting Buddha at the top of them. Its emphasis is more on devotion, charity and prayer instead of austere self-restraint. It depicts Buddha in human form, while earlier and original Hinyana form prohibits it. According to the teachings of Mahayana traditions, ‘Mahayana’ also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called ‘Bodhisattvayana’, or the ‘Bodhisattva Vehicle’; Bodhisattva is an enlightened being (bodhi – gyaan, Sattva – existence) or a minor god. Padmapaani is the most popular Bodhisttva. Others are like Amitabh, Vajrapani etc. In early Indian Buddhism the term bodhisattva was used generally to refer specifically to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jatakas, which are the stories of his lives, depict the various attempts of the bodhisattva to embrace qualities like self-sacrifice and morality.
This had two distinct features as compared to Thervada and Hinayana –
a. Earlier, the Buddha’s presence was shown in sculpture by using certain signs. For instance, his attainment of enlightenment was shown by sculptures of the peepal tree. Now, statues and pictures of the Buddha were made.
b. The second change was a belief in Bodhisattvas. These were supposed to be persons who had attained enlightenment. Once they attained enlightenment, they could live in complete isolation and meditate in peace. However, instead of doing that, they remained in the world to teach and help other people to find salvation.

Buddhist Councils were held after death of Buddha.

I. First Buddhist councilRajgriha, Ajatshatru – According to the scriptures of all Buddhist schools, the first Buddhist Council was held soon after the mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, dated by the majority of recent scholars around 400 BCE, under the patronage of king Ajatasatru at Rajgriha (now Rajgir). Its objective was to preserve the Buddha’s sayings (Suttas) and the monastic discipline or rules (Vinaya). The Suttas were recited by Ananda, and the Vinaya was recited by Upali. According to some sources, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, or its matika, was also included.
II. Second Buddhist Council – Vaishali
III. Third Buddhist Council – Patliputra, Ashoka
IV. Fourth Buddhist Council – Kashmir, Kanishka King
was patron and was presided over by Vasumitra, and Mahayana Buddhism is born. Though Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism had certain differences, they agreed on teachings of Buddha and differed only in the ways it should be followed.

Budhhist Literature

Budhhist Literature is classified as canonical and non-canonical. Canonical literature includes Tripitaka and non canonical literature includes Jatakas, probably written by ordinary people and later compiled, which tell stories of Buddha in past lives. Milinda Panha is another non-canonical text. Milinda Panha means ‘Questions of Milinda’. It contains the dialogue of Indo-Greek king Meander and Buddhist monk Nagasena in 100 BC. Nagasena answered questions of Milinda and he was converted to Buddhism.
Dipavamsa or ‘Chronicle of Island’ is another non-canonical text. It is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. Other non-canonical Buddhist literature includes – Mahavamsa written in Pali, Buddha Charita etc.
Tripitaka – After his death his teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of ‘elders’ or senior monks at Vaishali in present-day Bihar. These compilations were known as Tripitaka or Three baskets. Tripitaka traditionally contains three compilations –
I. Sutta Pitaka – carried teachings/sermons of Buddha. It also contained some Nikayas which were another category of Buddhist literature. It was compiled during first Buddhist Council.
II. Vinaya Pitaka – includeed rules and regulations for those who joined thes angha or monastic order
III. Abhidharma Pitaka – dealt with philosophical matters Buddhist principles.

Other Concepts related to Buddhism –

I. Pariniravana – In Buddhism, parinirvana is the final nirvana, which occurs upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi). Parinirvana of Budhha is called Mahaparinirvana.
II. Therigatha – It is a part of Buddhist literature that was compiled by Buddhist nuns.
III. Pavarna – It is a ceremony of Buddhists during which monks confess the offences committed by them during their stay at monetary.
IV. The Sangha – Both the Mahavira and the Buddha felt that only those who left their homes could gain true knowledge. They arranged for them to stay together in the sangha, an association of those who left their homesor monks. Men and women who joined the sangha led simple lives.
They meditated for most of the time, and went to cities and villages to beg for foodduring fixed hours.
V. Monasteries and Vihars – Both Jaina and Buddhist monks went from place to place throughout the year, teaching people. The only time they stayed in one place was during the rainy season, when it was very difficult to travel. Then, their supporters built temporary shelters for them in gardens, or they lived in natural caves in hilly areas. As time went on, many supporters of the monks and nuns, and they themselves, felt the need for more permanent shelters and so monasteries were built. These were known as viharas. Very often, the land on which the vihara was built was donated by a rich merchant or a landowner, or the king. The local people came with gifts of food, clothing and medicines for the monks and nuns. In return, they taught the people.
VI. Madhyamaka School – It was founded by Acharya Nagarjuna who was an important Buddhist teacher and philosopher belonging to Satvahana kingdom. Along with his disciple Aryadeva, he is credited with founding the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism.

Causes for decline of Buddhism in India –

I. Bikhsus started to receive large doles and indulged themselves into luxuries, leading to their moral degeneration.
II. Buddha at that time was considered as one of the incarnations of the Vishnu and thus became a part of Vasihnavism.
III. Both Buddhism and Jainism started image worshipping during later part.
IV. Hinduism reformed itself
V. Monks were cutoff from common lives, relinquished Pali for the Sanskrit
VI. For their riches, monasteries became targets of choice for invaders

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