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The religion of Buddha was based on democratic principles besides being simple and practical. Morality was the basis of his Dharma and everybody could join it without any distinction of caste or creed. His doctrine is contained in the "Sermon of the Turning of the Wheel of Law"(Dharmachakraparivartana Sutta), which the Buddha is said to have preached to his first disciples at Varanasi. He preached to his followers the four noble truths concerning sorrow. He also preached about the reason for sorrow, and laid emphasis on Trishna (desires), as the chief source of discontentment among human beings. He suggested the Noble Eight-fold Path to get rid of sorrow. He also emphasized to character building, condemned violence, preached Ahimsa (non-violence) and opposed the caste system.
Four Noble Truths (Chatwari Arya Satyani)
- The world is full of sorrow (Dukkha): Buddha describes this world as full of sorrow and suffering. According to him, birth is sorrow, death is sorrow, meeting with the unpleasant is sorrow and separation from the pleasant is sorrow. Every wish unfulfilled is sorrow.
- The reason for sorrow (Dukkha Samudaya): The chief reason of sorrow is desire for material enjoyment and earthly things. In fact, desire is responsible for births and deaths.
- How sorrow can be averted (Dukkha Nirodha): If a man is able to exercise control over desires, he can obtain Nirvana (Moksha) and escape from the unending cycle of births and deaths.
- Remedy for sorrow (Dukha Nirodha Gamini Pratipada): Buddha suggested the eigth-fold path for getting rid of sorrow and attaining salvation. He was of the opinion that self-mortification, repetition of prayers, sacrifices and chanting of hymns were not sufficient to attain Moksha. Following the Ashtangika Marga (eight-fold path) is the easiest way to attain Moksha.
The Eight-Fold Path (Ashtangika Marga)
- Right Views: One should have the knowledge of four noble truths, which were put forth by Gautam Buddha in the first sermon at Sarnath.
- Right Aspiration: One should renounce all pleasures and have no malice to others.
- Right Speech: One should abstain from lying and should not speak harsh words or abuse anybody.
- Right Action: One should always perform good deeds and right actions.
- Right Living: One should adopt right means of livelihood and should abstain from any forbidden modes of living.
- Right Effort: One should suppress evil from raising its ugly head and should also make efforts towards eradicating already exisiting evils.
- Right Mindfulness: One should always remain self-possessed and careful to overcome both hankering and dejection.
- Right Meditation: One should concentrate the mind on right things.
The noble eight-fold path is aptly described in the following verse:
“Of all sins the avoidance,
Of merit the acquisition,
Of mind the purification,
This is the Buddha’s Admonition.”
Middle Path: Lord Buddha was the follower of the middle path. He preached to his followers to avoid both extremes of life: a life of extreme pleasure and a life of extreme self-mortification. One should follow a path of moderation.
Emphasis on Character Building: Buddha laid great emphasis on character because he knew that only a man of character can follow the following rules and take a step towards salvation.
- Refrain from harming living beings.
- Refrain from taking what is not given.
- Refrain from evil behaviour in passion.
- Refrain from false speech.
- Refrain from alcoholic drinks.
- Refrain from eating at forbidden times(i.e. after midday).
- Refrain from dancing, singing, music and dramatic performances.
- Refrain from the use of garlands, perfumes, unguents and jewellery.
- Refrain from the use of a high or broad bed.
- Refrain from receiving gold and silver.
The first five rules were meant for householders, but monks were required to follow all ten rules, although certain exemptions were granted. These were not lifelong vows. If a monk felt that he could no longer adhere to them then he was allowed to leave the Order.
The first vow did not mean complete vegetarianism. The monk was allowed to eat meat under certain conditions provided that the animal was not specifically killed for his benefit. The third vow, for a monk, meant complete celibacy. For a layman, it meant avoiding extra marital relations. The fourth rule was taken to include lying, perjury and slander. The sixth vow referred to not eating any solid food after midday. The seventh rule exempted singing and music for religious purposes.
Ahimsa (Non-Violence): Buddha laid stress on Ahimsa. He condemned violence to any living being. He discouraged taking meat so that people might stop hunting and killing animals. But he allowed some of his followers to take meat under certain conditions. He emphasized that the spirit of love is more important than good deeds.
No Faith in the Vedas: Buddha had no faith in the authority of the Vedas. He rejected the infallibility of the Vedas outright. But he kept silence on the existence of God because he realized that the controversy and discussion surrounding the existence of God is beyond the power of common man to understand.
Opposition to Caste System: He had no faith in the caste system. He not only challenged the caste system but raised a voice against the supremacy of the priestly class. He never considered caste to be a barrier in the way of salvation. He allowed every individual without any distinction of caste or creed to be admitted to Buddhism and thus opened the door of Nirvana even for low-born people. He had a firm faith in the principle of equality.
Nirvana: Nirvana literally means the blowing out or extinction of craving or desire (Trishna). It is a tranquil state of life when a person has either fulfilled all his desires or is free from all craving. According to Buddha, attaining Nirvana was the fundamental principle of life. In Jainism, Nirvana meant salvation after death, but in Buddhism, it stands for True Knowledge by which a man secures freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. Nirvana is the highest emotional state of spirituality.
Theory of Karma and Rebirth: The law of Karma, its working, and the transmigration of the soul are important doctrines of Buddhism. Buddha preached that the condition of man in this life and the life to come rest on his Karma. No prayer or sacrifice could wash out his sins except good Karma. A man is the maker of his own destiny. It is not possible to escape the consequences of his bad actions. He takes birth again and again in this world and suffers due to ego and desire. If a man has achieved success in extinguishing his desires and performed good Karma he will be freed from the bondage of rebirth and shall attain salvation.
Ethical Code and Morality: The Buddha stressed treading the path of ethical code and morality. He advised his followers to perform good actions, virtuous deeds and to inculcate sublime thoughts. According to him, a man should be generous to his friends, speak kindly of them, act in their interests in every way possible, treat them as his equals and keep his word to them. Husbands should respect their wife and comply as far as possible with their requests. They should not commit adultery. Also, Wives should be thorough in their duties, gentle and kind to the whole household. Employers should treat their servants and workpeople decently. Among the most important vehicles of Buddhist ethical teaching are the Jataka stories. These are mostly of secular origin; some teach shrewdness and caution in everyday life while others teach generosity and self-abnegation.