THE ORIGIN OF BUDDHISM
The Buddhist religion originated in northern India during the life of Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C.) who’s original name was Siddhartha Gautama, the son of one of the ruling Kshatriyas King in the modern border region between northern India and Nepal. During this period there were many different small Hindu Kingdoms scattered throughout what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Himalayas. Gautama Buddha was a Prince in one of these small Indian Kingdoms at the foothills of the Himalayas.
During the lifetime of Siddhartha Gautama (who was later called the Buddha - meaning the Enlightened One) there was much tyranny and exploitation of the people belonging to the lower castes in India under Hinduism. The Hindu Brahmin [Priests] and the Kshatriyas [Ruling Warriors] ruled over and exploited all other people not belonging to these two ruling classes. Furthermore, there were numerous power struggles between the Brahmin Priests and the Kshatriyas Warriors which led to much discontentment within the ranks of Hindu worshipers. This was the historical setting which led to the rise of the new religion called Buddhism.
The only historical information regarding the initial rise of Buddhism comes from oral traditions that were written down about 400 years after Siddhartha Gautama’s death. According to Buddhist oral tradition, when Siddhartha was an infant a Hindu sage prophesied to Siddhartha’s father, King Suddhodana Gautama, that Siddhartha would become a great ruler like his father if he remained in the palace. But if he went out into the world, he would become a Buddha [an enlightened one]. From this prophecy King Suddhodana Gautama supposedly believed that if Siddhartha was exposed to any human misery, he would leave his home to become an enlightened religious teacher. Therefore he ordered his subjects to shield Siddhartha from any form of evil or suffering by keeping him confined within the walls of the Kingdom’s luxurious palace. In this way Siddhartha’s father hoped that he would follow the footsteps of his father as a ruling King rather than a religious teacher.
At age sixteen, Siddhartha won the hand of his cousin by performing twelve feats in the art of archery. He may have taken more wives during his life, but his cousin Yashodara was his principle wife. Despite his fathers attempts to keep him confined to the palace, when the young Prince grew older he ventured outside of the palace walls for the first time. The Prince was shocked to see the sufferings of a leper and people weeping at a funeral procession. His charioteer told him that these kinds of sufferings were a regular part of real life. As Siddhartha kept riding he noticed that a saint had a perplexing calmness and sereneness on his face. The charioteer informed Siddhartha that the saint was happy because he had renounced all materialistic pleasures of this life. From these observations Siddhartha later determined that happiness was just an illusion. This brief excursion outside of the Palace walls left an indelible impression on Siddhartha which led him to eventually leave his beautiful wife and infant son to journey outside of the realm of his palace and kingdom in search for the true meaning of life. As soon as his first son was born, assuring that the royal bloodline would be continued, Siddhartha left the kingdom on a pilgrimage of inquiry and asceticism as a poor beggar monk seeking truth.
Siddhartha was just a young man when he left his luxurious life in the palace to journey throughout northern India seeking to learn the truth about life. Siddhartha spent much time with the Hindu monks who instructed him to subject his body to rigorous disciplines and punishments in order to achieve enlightenment. But Siddhartha later rejected these views and chose the middle ground of partial suffering rather than extreme suffering. Siddhartha’s teaching about enlightenment alleged that a Buddhist could attain Nirvana [Salvation] by living the life of the middle ground aestheticism which he interpreted to include fasting every day from 12 noon until the next morning, sleeping on a hard surface, and living a secluded life of self denial. The Buddhist concept of aesthetic monks emulates the ancient Hindu aesthetic monks that Siddhartha was familiar with. Siddhartha’s later Buddhist teachings were clearly influenced by the aestheticism of Hindu Priests and Monks.
At the age of thirty five, Siddhartha Gautama alleges that he found enlightenment about the true meaning and purpose of life while meditating under a Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, within the state of Bihar. After Siddhartha’s alleged enlightened he was later called the Buddha [Enlightened One]. Siddartha’s teachings about reincarnation and rigorous self denial was clearly influenced by the Hindu teachings of his day. Siddharth [The Buddha] began preaching sermons on his thoughts about enlightenment throughout India until his death at the age of eighty.
Left: A Hindu Monk praying on the banks of India’s Ganges River. Right: A Buddhist monk in meditation. Buddhism clearly incorporated aesthetic monks and its belief in reincarnation from the Hindu religion of India.
THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA
Siddhartha’s teachings discarded the Hindu Brahmanical system that divided human society up into different castes based upon birth. Since the majority of the population within Hinduism were in the lower castes the new religion spread like wildfire throughout India and the Himalayas. He shunned the Hindu rituals and devotion to Hindu deities. He taught that God or Gods are irrelevant because they are also subject to suffering and that they themselves also need Nirvana [Salvation from sufferings].
Siddhartha did not reject the existence of Gods altogether but he taught that these gods were also subject to suffering and to reincarnation just like all humans allegedly were. Therefore Siddharth appears to have rejected the idea of a mighty God or Gods creating all material things, including mankind. According to Buddha, both human and divine souls or spirits had to obtain Nirvana (salvation from the materialistic life) through many reincarnated lives. How can any deity create mankind and all material things and then need to experience many different birth’s and deaths in order to achieve salvation? Any God who needs salvation [nirvana] cannot be mighty enough to create life?
Buddhism does not deny the existence of a God or the existence of many Gods. However, according to Buddhism each God must also achieve wise enlightenment through many reincarnated lives just like mortals. If a God is really a God then how can a Deity also need to be enlightened? And if a God needs to be saved from death’s and re-birth’s through many reincarnations how then can He be considered a God at all?
This presents a serious problem for Buddhism. If there is no God or Gods who created all things then where did the created beings come from in the first place? If all deities were subject to births and reincarnations then how could they be powerful enough to create anyone? If the deity or deities all needed to achieve salvation through many births and deaths just like humans then how can these alleged deities have been powerful enough to create all material things, including mankind? And if all human beings now living have all been reincarnated from past lives, how then can there be enough human spirits around to justify close to 7 billions humans living in the 21st century?
f there is no God creating these new human beings then where did these billions of humans come from? There could not have been enough humans around in past lives to justify so many different reincarnated lives now living! Buddhists cannot answer these questions. How then can the world’s inhabitants be expected to join a religion if it makes no logical sense?
THE WHEEL OF THE LAW
THE WHEEL OF THE LAW IS THE SYMBOL OF THE BUDDHIST RELIGION
Gautama Buddha borrowed the Hindu idea of reincarnationism. To the Buddha, both people and deities need salvation from the continual sufferings of the wheel of reincarnated lives. Buddhists are taught that they need to get off the wheel of repeated death’s and rebirth’s by living according to strict Buddhist Law. When they do finally achieve nirvana they are rewarded with eternal non-existence.
The central teachings of Buddhism stems from what Siddhartha called The Four Noble Truths:
1. Life is full of suffering (dukkha);
2. Suffering is caused by desire and craving;
3. One can be free from this suffering by removing desire and craving;
4. The way to eliminate desire and to get free from the cycle of birth and death is by following the Eight-Fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Path consists of: right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, and right concentration. By following the above path, one can attain Nirvana or salvation, which would free the soul from suffering and the cycle of birth and death.
Gautama Buddha was so successful in spreading his ideas of enlightenment that multitudes of former Hindu’s became his followers and many Indian States accepted Buddhism as the official State Religion of their Kingdoms. Buddhist teaching was spread by word of mouth only for four hundred years before the Buddhist teachings were finally written down as Buddhist Tripitikas [Scriptures]. By the second century A.D. Buddhism eventually spread throughout most of Asia to become a major world religion.
After the Buddha died the Sangha continued to spread Buddhism but it split into many groups. These groups each translated the Dharma a little differently. These groups began to form monasteries throughout India and Buddhism was transformed from a group of wandering beggar-monks to communities of Buddhist monasteries. From the 18 schools that formed out of these groups, three major branches of Buddhism eventually formed; the Theravada (the doctrine of the elders), the Mahayana (the Great Wheel), and Vajrayana (the Diamond Vehicle). These groups make up the Buddhist community and the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanha are known as the "Three Jewels" of Buddhism.
If reincarnation were true then there would have to be a higher power orchestrating the reincarnations and creating new human spirits to keep up with growing world populations. The Buddhist religion cannot answer critical questions as to how these alleged reincarnations take place or who or what divine power orchestrates this process!
The Buddha’s teachings left Buddhist followers with many unanswerable questions. If a Buddhist begins to ask questions about the legitimacy of the Buddhist religion he or she is told that these questions are irrelevant. Buddhists are taught that questioning the legitimacy of Buddhism will cause the seeker of wisdom to get off the track from true enlightenment. Any religion that condemns sincere and open questions about the legitimacy of that religion cannot be a true religion at all. For how can a true religion be true if it does not make sense to its own followers?
The Buddha taught that when salvation [Nirvana] is achieved it causes that person to reach a state of nonexistence. If people simply stop existing when they reach Nirvana, then what is the real purpose of life after all? Why go through all of the strict aestheticism of Buddhist Monks just to reach the state of non existence? If I really believed in Buddhism I would not bother trying to reach Nirvana because I could keep living on in future lives. To cease existing is like a spiritual death. Who would want their spirit to be annihilated out of existence? Why would anyone want to struggle to achieve enlightenment through many reincarnated lives just to be rewarded with a state of eternal nothingness. You have struggled very hard to meet the high standards of Buddhism just to have your spirit cease to exist. What kind of a reward is that? It is not a reward at all but a punishment for good behavior.
How can a Buddhist know that the Buddha was accurate in his beliefs? Are they just to accept the teachings of the Buddha without ever questioning it? If all people in every religion had this attitude then no one would ever find the true religion at all. The geographical location of one’s birth or the family into which one was born cannot automatically determine weather or not one’s religion is true. To learn more read our book entitled “Finding The True Religion.”
Above and Below Right: Ancient Hindu aesthetic monks. Buddhism was clearly influenced by ancient Hinduism.
Dharma is an Indian term that is understood to mean simply the law of life. Within Buddhism, the Dharma means more specifically the teachings of Buddha.
Following Buddha's death his followers convened to create a system of doctrines that they could all agree on. These teachings were then handed down orally over future generations through Buddhist monks. In 80 B.C., Buddhist scribes finally compiled the teachings of the Buddha on paper, which became the Pali Canon, also called the Tripitaka. The teachings contained rules for conduct, methods for spiritual attainment, and the ethics taught by the Buddha.
Buddhism was passed on orally from Gautama Buddha’s death in 483 B.C. until the oral traditions of Buddha’s teachings were finally put in writing in 80 B.C. This presents a problem for Buddhism. The test of the accuracy of historical documents is measured by how much time and how many generations it took from the original teaching of the religion to be placed in writing. Four hundred years is a very long time when we consider that the United States is less than 250 years old. There were many generations of oral teachings that could have easily led to additions and detractions in the real teachings of Gautama Buddha.
The historical record proves that the apostles of Jesus the Messiah placed Jesus’ teachings in writing within a few decades after Jesus’ death. Each writer of the New Testament Scriptures lived during the lifetime of Jesus the Messiah and were eyewitnesses of the events that they themselves recorded. Therefore Christianity is historically more trustworthy than Buddhism because the teachings of Jesus were recorded by those living during the same time that Jesus had lived. The apostles of Jesus were eyewitnesses of all of the events that they wrote about. Moreover, the apostles circulated these books during the lifetime of many other eyewitnesses who would have exposed any fictitious accounts, had the facts been otherwise.
In contradistinction, the teachings of the Buddha were never put into writing until about 400 years after the Buddha had died. Many historians believe that the teachings of Buddhism could have been easily distorted by years of oral story telling. It is just plain fact that people do not always pass on oral traditions accurately, especially if they were passed down orally from many generations prior to being written down.
Buddhism thrived in India because it recruited people from all of the different castes of Hinduism and treated each caste equally. The Hindu’s believed and still believe that people must move up through the caste systems through many reincarnated lives. According to Buddha, nirvana, or deliverance from suffering, is extended to everyone who strictly obeys the laws of a monastic life. Therefore many in the despised and rejected lower castes in India warmly embraced the new Buddhist religion.