ANCIENT INDIA IN THE TIME OF THE BUDDHA

THE BUDDHA AND INDIA


Birth of Buddha, from out of his mother's side, near her armpit

Buddhism began with Gautama Siddhartha (563-480 B.C.), The Buddha. Regarded as both a real-life historical person and religious figure, he was the son of a rich Hindu raja from the Sayka clan and lived 500 years before Jesus Christ and was a contemporary of Confucius, Socrates and Plato.

The Buddha was born about 563 B.C., though the date is a matter of some dispute, in the town of Lumbini (in present-day Nepal near the Indian border). He was a Kshatriyas, the Hindu caste of nobles and warriors that traced its descent to the sun. Gautama was his family name, Siddhartha, his first name.

Guatama Siddhartha was a prince of Sakya, a kingdom in the fertile plains and foothills below the great Himalayas. He was brought up in luxury. During his youth he lived in three different palaces—one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season—where his father kept him entertained with beautiful dancing girls and musicians so that he would not be tempted to venture out into the world. Upon witnessing death, poverty and old age for the first time, Gautama was shocked that such suffering could exist in the world. Gautama renounced his rich upbringing and decided to become a monk. Before setting off on his quest "to win the deathless state" he looked in on his sleeping wife and child but failed to awaken them out of fear they would try to dissuade him.

The 29-year-old Gautama left loved ones and life of luxury behind, accompanied only his charioteer and horse. The choice to leave his family is known as the Great Renunciation or the Great Going Forth. It represented both his break from his family and his break from the world of pleasure and desire for a quest characterizes as "baffling episodes of mysticism” that were "interrupted by blinding flashes of common sense." Guatama tried Hinduism, the predominant religion at that time, and the Jain faith, but later abandoned these beliefs because their followers practiced sacrifices and rituals beyond the understanding of common people. He then became an ascetic.

During his period 40-year period as a monk and teacher Buddha wandered from place to place with a group of loyal followers. He became famous. Crowds showed up to see him. Sometimes he would sit and talk and then hit the road again. The Buddha covered much of northern India in what are now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states when he was an itinerant monk and a teacher after receiving enlightenment. During the rainy season, Buddha and his followers settled in one place and were dependent local people to provide them with food and shelter.

The Buddha established the Jetavana monastery near Savatthi, one of the largest cities in India in The Buddha’s time, and over the years spent he more and more time at there, supported by gifts from King Bimbisara, who provided support in return for the merit the king hoped such acts would give him.

The Buddha died in Kushinagar in Uttra Pradesh in northern India, lying on a bed under two trees. Buddha reportedly died after eating spoiled meat. His last words reportedly were, "All this decay. A Buddha can only point the way. Become a lamp unto yourself. Work out your salvation. Strive on diligently.” For The Buddha death was like the final fade out a movie. His human life was over. More rebirths were not required He therefore was finally free and could say goodbye to human bodies. He is said to have passed into nirvana seven days after his death.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Buddhist Art: Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Buddhist Symbols viewonbuddhism.org/general_symbols_buddhism ; Wikipedia article on Buddhist Art Wikipedia ; Guimet Museum in Paris guimet.fr ; Buddhist Artwork buddhanet.net/budart/index ; Asian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Buddhism and Buddhist Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Buddhist Art Huntington Archives Buddhist Art dsal.uchicago.edu/huntington ; Buddhist Art Resources academicinfo.net/buddhismart ; Buddhist Art, Smithsonian freersackler.si.edu

Historical Sources from the Buddhist Era in India

In terms of addressing the history and life and government at the time of The Buddha lived, Buddhist and the Jain works are primarily devoted to the inculcation of religious ideas rather than the narration of political events. Occasionally, however, we obtain flashes of historical light from stories or anecdotes preserved in these books. It is thus incidentally that we learn of the sixteen great powers (solasa mahajanapadas), which must have existed in the seventh or the early sixth century B.C., as the list is given in the oldest Buddhist writings 1 and it does not exactly fit in with the conditions prevailing in the Buddha’s time. These states were at war, and one of the former, Kamsa, uniformly styled “Baranasiggaho” in Pali works, eventually succeeded in annexing the latter kingdom. At any rate, it is known beyond doubt that MahakoSala, father of Pasenadi, exercised complete sway over Kail. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Buddhist works naturally give us more details about the Sakyas, as the Buddha came of this stock. We are told that at the helm of the state was the President, who bore the title of Raja. It is uncertain whether he was drawn from one noble family only, and for what period he was elected. Thus, the Buddha’s father, Suddhodana, was a Raja, and we also hear of his cousin, Bhaddiya, holding this office. The business of the clan was carried on in the open assemblies in SantftSgaras or Mote-halls, where the young and the old, the rich and the poor alike were present. The Buddhist works give us a vivid idea of how deliberations were conducted in these assemblies, which were modelled on the religious SamghasJ We learn that there were regular meetings with proper seating arrangements made by a special officer called asanapahnapaka or asanaprajnapaka. Each meeting to be valid must have the requisite number of members present, but the chairman (Vinayadhara) was not counted for the purpose of the quorum. It was the duty of the whip (Ganapuraka) to complete the quorum by requisitioning the presence of members. The business began with the formal presentation (sthdpanam) of the motion (jhatti or jnapti), which was followed by a proclamation (amssdvanam). Discussion related to the motion only, and all cantankerous and irrelevant talk was avoided and checked. A resolution (pratijna) received one reading (J napti-dvitiya-kammd) and sometimes even three (jnapti-eatuttha-kammd). Silence of the members on the resolution was regarded as assent, but in case of disagreement they had recourse to various devices, like referring the matter to a committee, with a view to arriving at a unanimous decision. If no unanimity was possible, votes (chanda) were taken. Voting was by tickets (salaka), generally slips of wood, of various colours to indicate different views. The officer collecting votes was styled Salakagahapaka, who was expected to show no kind of prejudice, malice, or fear. Voting was perfectly free and unfettered, and the majority jview (ye-bhuyya sikatti) prevailed. A question, once decided, was not to be re-op^jed. Records of proceedings also appear to have been kept by clerks. The procedure was thus truly democratic, anticipating in many respects the working of modem popular assemblies.

The clan subsisted on the produce of the rice-fields, and the cattle grazed in the village common or the forests. The villages were grouped together, and persons following particular crafts generally lived at one place. For instance, potters, smiths, carpenters and even those following priestly avocations had their own settlements. On the whole, the Sakyas were a peaceful community, and cases of theft or other crimes were rare. Perhaps they also had, like the Koliyas, regular police officers, who were distinguished by a special headgear, and who were notorious for “extortion and violence.” When caught, the offenders were produced before a court of justice and carefully tried. The Vajjians, at any rate, had, as would appear from the Atthakatha or Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Maha parinibbana-Sutta, a very complicated judicial system; and punishments were awarded according to the Book of Precedents (Pavenu Potthaka), when the accused was uniformly adjudged guilty by a succession of officers, viz., Justices (Vi nkcaya Mahdmatas\ Lawyers (Vohdrikas), Doctors of Law (S fltra-dbaras), Council of Eight (. Aithakulakd), the General (Senapati), the Vice-Consul (Upa-raja), and the Consul (Raja). Each of these could, of course, let off the person charged, if considered innocent.

Steve Muhlberger wrote: “Brahmanical literature gives kingship a central place in political life, and seldom hints that anything else is possible. For moral philosophers and legislators such as Manu (reputed author of the Manu-Smrti between 200 B.C.-A.D. 200), the king was a key figure in a social order based on caste (varna ). Caste divided society into functional classes: the Brahmans had magical powers and priestly duties, the ksatriyas were the rulers and warriors, the vaisyas cultivators, and the sudras the lowest part of society, subservient to the other three. Moral law or dharma depended on the observance of these divisions, and the king was the guarantor of dharma , and in particular the privileges of the Brahmans. Another tradition is best exemplified by the Arthasastra of Kautilya (c. 300 B.C.), which alloted the king a more independent role but likewise emphasized his responsibility for peace, justice and stability Both Kautilya's work and the Manu-Smrti are considered classic expressions of ancient Indian political and social theory. A reader of these or other Brahmanical treatises finds it very easy to visualize ancient Indian society as one where "monarchy was the normal form of the state." [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

Villages and Cities in the Time of Buddha

The Jatakas, the Pitakas, and other Pali works furnish interesting information on the economic condition of India at the time of the rise of Buddhism. As at present, the bulk of the people then lived in villages. The population of a village (grama) was concentrated within a relatively small area, as the dwellings (grihas) were all clustered together to ensure safety. Around the villages there were arable fields (gramaksetra), divided into plots by channels for water or marked by a common fence. The holdings were usually small, but larger ones were not altogether unknown. The village folk had common rights over the adjacent forest (vana or dava or daya) and the grazing grounds, where the cattle belonging to various householders were sent under the charge of a collectively hired herdsman (gopalaka). [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Very few cities (nagaras or nigamas) are mentioned in Buddhist literature. Of these, the most important were : Baranasi (Benares), Rajagaha (Rajagriha), KauSambI, Savatthi (SravastI), Vesali (Vais all), Campa, Taxila, Ayojjha or Ayodhya, Ujjeni (Ujjain), Mathura, etc. Imperial Pataliputra was yet to be founded. The towns were generally fortified, and the houses were built of wood and brick s The poor then, as now, lived in meagre dwellings, the rich in im- posing and sumptuous structures, well plastered and painted both inside and outside. In the cities the people enjoyed greater comforts and led a gayer life.

The rural economy was based on what may be called ‘peasant proprietorship’. But no owner could sell or mortgage his part of the land without the consent of the village council. He cultivated the fields himself, but often employed labourers or slaves for the purpose. There were no big estates or landlords. The king received the tithes and his share, varying from one-sixth to a twelfth, of the produce in kind through the headman ((gamabhojaka). The latter was an important person in the village. He carried on there the business of the government. At that time he was probably either a hereditary officer or was elected by the village council, which also helped him in maintaining local peace and security. The village residents were endowed with a sturdy civic spirit. They united of themselves in such undertakings as laying irrigation channels, building mote-halls, rest-houses, etc. The women extended their full co-operation in these works of public utility. On the whole, each village was selfsufficient, and life was simple and unsophisticated. There were few rich men and no paupers. Crime was rate, but people sometimes suffered greatly from famines occasioned by droughts or floods.

Economy of India in the Time of Buddha

The main industry of the people was, of course, agriculture. Besides, they had made considerable progress in such crafts as wood-work including cartmaking and ship-building, architecture, leather-dressing, pottery, garland-making, weaving, ivory-work, confectionery, jewellery, and work in precious metals. There were other occupations (hma-sippas), e.g., tanning, fishing, hunting, dancing, acting, snake -charming, rush-weaving, etc., to which was attached a social stigma. It was the general tendency of young men to follow their fathers’ callings, but exceptions are also recorded. For castes did not always determine crafts. Thus, we find a weaver turning an archer, Ksatriyas working in the fields, and Hindus taking to trade, carpentry, and even tending cattle. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The age of barter was almost drawing to a close. Now the ordinary medium of exchange or transactions was a coin called Kahapana (Karsdpana). It was of copper, 146 grains in weight, and marks were punched on it by merchants or guilds, guaranteeing its standard and fineness. Other coins referred to in Pali texts were Nikkba and Suvanm of gold. Smaller copper tokens are called Masaka and Kdkanikd. We also hear of instruments of credit and interest (yaddhi) paid on loans. Banks were then unknown, and surplus money was either converted into ornaments, or hoarded in jars and buried in the ground, or put in the custody of a friend and a written record was kept of it. Money-lending (Ina-dana) was, of course, regarded as a legitimate profession, but usury was strongly disfavoured.

Persons following the same profession normally organised themselves into guilds (drent), and often lived, or had their business centre, in one ward or street (yith'i) of the town. The Ja takas name at least eighteen such groups. Each bad a President (Pa/nukhd) or Aiderman (Jetthaka), whose position was one of great responsibility and honour. Sometimes, to ensure greater cohesion different vargas or guilds perhaps combined together under a common head.

In those days trade, both inland and foreign, was fairly brisk. Merchants made fortunes by dealing in articles like silks, muslins, cutlery, armour, brocades, embroideries, rugs, perfumes, drugs, ivory, ivorywork, jewellery, etc. They went long distances up and down the great rivers of the country, and even undertook coasting voyages to Burma and Ceylon from Tamralipti (Tamluk) on the east, and from Bharukaccha (Broach) on the west. There are also references to voyages as far as Baveru (Babylon). Inland, the traders followed certain well-established routes, connecting the various parts of India. One of them ran from Savatthi (SravastI) to Patitthana or Pratisthana (modern Paithan in the Nizam’s dominions); another linked Savatthi with Rajagaha; a third skirted along the base of the mountains from Taxila to SravastI; and a fourth connected Kasi with the ports of the western coast. In crossing the desert of Rajputana the caravans were guided in the cool of nights by stars under the direction of ‘land-pilots.’ Brigands infested these routes, especially the less frequented ones, and looted merchandise when they could safely do so. Such dangers, coupled with the taxes and octroi duties paid in each state that was crossed, must have raised the prices of commodities very high. These long routes had several intermediate halts, and there were ferries on the way for crossing rivers.

Republics and Democracy in Buddhist-Era India


worship of headdress, Sanchi 1st centuery BC

Steve Muhlberger wrote: research into the Buddhist Pali Canon during the nineteenth century confirmed this picture of widespread republicanism. The Pali Canon is the earliest version of the Buddhist scriptures, and reached its final form between 400-300 B.C. It contains the story of Buddha's life and teaching and his rules for monastic communities. The rules and teachings are presented in the form of anecdotes, explaining the circumstances that called forth the Buddha's authoritative pronouncement. Thus the Pali Canon provides us with many details of life in ancient India, and specifically of the sixth century (the Buddha's lifetime) in the northeast. In 1903, T.W. Rhys Davids, the leading Pali scholar, pointed out in his book Buddhist India that the Canon (and the Jatakas, a series of Buddhist legends set in the same period but composed much later) depicted a country in which there were many clans, dominating extensive and populous territories, who made their public decisions in assemblies, moots, or parliaments. [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

“Though evidence for non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, republican polities were most common and vigorous in the Buddhist period, 600 B.C.-A.D. 200. At this time, India was in the throes of urbanization. The Pali Canon gives a picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth century B.C. as possessing 7707 storied buildings, 7707 pinnacled buildings, 7707 parks and lotus ponds, and a multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali, whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily to the city's prosperity and reputation. The cities of Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and noise. Moving between these cities were great trading caravans of 500 or 1000 carts -- figures that convey no precise measurement, but give a true feeling of scale: caravans that stopped for more than four months in a single place, as they often did because of the rainy season, were described as villages. Religion, too, was taking to the road. The hereditary Brahman who was also a householder, as in later Vedic tradition, saw his teachings, authority and perquisites threatened by wandering holy men and self-appointed teachers.

“There were warlord-kings who sought to control this fluid society, some with a measure of success. But the literature, Pali and Sanskrit, Buddhist and Brahmanical, shows that non-monarchical forms of government were omnipresent. There was a complex vocabulary to describe the different types of groups that ran their own affairs. Some of these were obviously warrior bands; others more peaceful groups with economic goals; some religious brotherhoods. Such an organization, of whatever type, could be designated, almost indifferently, as a gana or a sangha; and similar though less important bodies were labeled with the terms sreni, puga, or vrata. Gana and sangha, the most important of these terms, originally meant "multitude." By the sixth century B.C., these words meant both a self-governing multitude, in which decisions were made by the members working in common, and the style of government characteristic of such groups. In the case of the strongest of such groups, which acted as sovereign governments, the words are best translated as "republic."

“That there were many sovereign republics in India is easily demonstrated from a number of sources. Perhaps it is best to begin with the Greek evidence, even though it is not the earliest, simply because the Greek writers spoke in a political language that is familiar.

“Perhaps the most useful Greek account of India is Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander , which describes the Macedonian conqueror's campaigns in great detail. The Anabasis, which is derived from the eyewitness accounts of Alexander's companions, portrays him as meeting "free and independent" Indian communities at every turn. What "free and independent" meant is illustrated from the case of Nysa, a city on the border of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan that was ruled by a president named Aculphis and a council of 300. After surrendering to Alexander, Aculphis used the city's supposed connection with the god Dionysus to seek lenient terms from the king:

“"The Nysaeans beseech thee, O king out of respect for Dionysus, to allow them to remain free and independent; for when Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians...he founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit for military service ...From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order."

What Was Democracy Like in Ancient India

Steve Muhlberger wrote:“If we turn to the Indian sources, we find that there is nothing far-fetched about this idea. The most useful sources for mapping north India are three: The Pali Canon, which shows us northeastern India between the Himalayas and the Ganges in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.; the grammar of Panini, which discusses all of North India, with a focus on the northwest, during the fifth century; and Kautilya's Arthasastra, which is a product of the fourth century, roughly contemporaneous with Megasthenes. All three sources enable us to identify numerous sanghas and ganas, some very minor, others large and powerful. [Source: “Democracy in Ancient India” by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University., World History of Democracy site]

“What were these republican polities like? According to Panini, all the states and regions (janapadas ) of northern India during his time were based on the settlement or conquest of a given area by an identifiable warrior people who still dominated the political life of that area. Some of these peoples (in Panini's terms janapadins ) were subject to a king, who was at least in theory of their own blood and was perhaps dependent on their special support. Elsewhere, the janapadins ran their affairs in a republican manner. Thus in both kinds of state, the government was dominated by people classified as ksatriyas, or, as later ages would put it, members of the warrior caste.

“But in many states, perhaps most, political participation was restricted to a subset of all the ksatriyas . One needed to be not just a warrior, but a member of a specific royal clan, the rajanya. Evidence from a number of sources shows that the enfranchised members of many republics, including the Buddha's own Sakyas and the Licchavis with whom he was very familiar, considered themselves to be of royal descent, even brother-kings. The term raja, which in a monarchy certainly meant king, in a state with gana or sangha constitution could designate someone who held a share in sovereignty. In such places, it seems likely that political power was restricted to the heads of a restricted number of "royal families" (rajakulas) among the ruling clans. The heads of these families were consecrated as kings, and thereafter took part in deliberations of state.

States in Buddha-Era India

Ariga : It lay to the east of Magadha with Campa, near Bhagalpur, as its capital. Some of the Anga monarchs, like Brahmadatta, appear to have defeated their Magadhan contemporaries. Subsequently, however, Magadha emerged supreme. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Magadha : It comprised the modern districts of Patna and Gaya, and the capital was Girivraja. Among the notable pre-Buddhist rulers of Magadha were Brihadratha and his son Jarasandha.

Vaiji : It represented a powerful confederation of eight clans, and was called after one of them. The other prominent clans were the Licchavis, the Videhas, and the Jnatrikas. In Buddhist literature, the Vajjis, like the Licchavis, are often located at Vai6 all, which may accordingly be taken as the seat of the confederacy itself.

Malla : The territory of the Mallas was on the mountain slopes, probably to the north of the Vaijian confederation. They had two branches with their capitals at KuSinara and Pava. It is noteworthy that in Pre-Buddhist times the Mallas were a monarchy.

Ceti or Cedi : The land of the Cetis, identified with the Cedis of the older documents, lay near the Jumna, and roughly corresponded to modern Bundelkhand and adjacent tracts. Its metropolis was Suktimat! or Sotthivatl-nagara.

Vamsa or Vatsa : The country of the Vacchas was situated along the banks of the Jumna, to the northeast of Avanti, with its capital at KauSambl or KosambI (modern Kosam, about thirty miles from Allahabad). It was Nlcaksu who fixed ins residence here after the destruction of Hastinapura. To this Bharata dynasty belonged Parantapa, father of the Buddha’s contemporary Udena.

Kuru : The Kuru realm was in the neighbourhood of Delhi. Among its towns may be mentioned Indapatta (Indraprastha) and Hatthinlpura (Hastinapura). The Kurus had now lost their political importance.

Pancala : This region roughly corresponded to modern Rohilkhand and a portion of the Central Doab. It had two divisions. Northern and Southern, the Ganges forming the boundary line. Their capitals were Ahicchatra and Kampilya respectively. One of the early Pancala kings, Dummukha (Durmukha), is credited with conquests in all directions.

Maccha or Matsya : The Matsyas ruled to the west of the Jumna and south of the Kurus. Their capital was Virat-nagara (modern Bairat, Jaipur State).

Surasena : The Surasenas were masters of a kingdom, of which Mathura was the capital. It was here that the Yadava family played a great part.

Assaka : In the Buddha’s time the Assakas were settled on the Godavari with Potali or Potana as their chief town, but when the list was drawn up their territory appears to have been between Avanti and Mathura.

Avanti or Western Malwa : Its capital was Ujjain. The metropolis of its southern portion was Mihissati or Mahismati (modern Mandhata), where ruled the Haihayas in ancient times.

Gandhara i.e., modern eastern Afghanistan: Its capital was TaksaSila (modern Taxila, Rawalpindi district). The kingdom perhaps also included Kashmir.

Kamboja : The Kambojas also held sway in the north-west, being usually associated with the Gandharas in epigraphic records and literature. We hear of Rajapura and Dvaraka as its important towns.

The list is curious in certain respects. It recognises Anga and Ka£! as still independent, and does not mention Orissa, Bengal, or any place south of Avanti.

Democratic, Autonomous Clans in Ancient India

We learn from works in Pali that at the time of the Buddha there were, besides monarchical states, a number of democratic or autonomous clans, some of little account, and others enjoying considerable power. Amongst such communities we learn of the following

1) The Sakyas of Kapilavatthu or Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s clan: They were settled on the border of Nepal. Their capital has been identified with the present Tilaura-kot. They traced their descent from Iksvaku of the Solar race. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

2. The Bhaggas of Sumsumagiri : They were an ancient clan, being identical with the Bhargas of the Aitareja Brahmana. According to Dr. Jayasval, their seat of power was somewhere in or about the district of Mirzapur.

3. The Bulis of Allakappa : Not much is known about them. They were located near the kingdom of Vethadlpa, presumably between modern Shahabad and Muzaffarpur.

4. The Kalamas of Kesaputta : The location of their chief town is uncertain. Has it anything to do with the Kevins — a people mentioned with the Pancalas in the Satapatha Brahmana ? Alara, the great teacher of the Buddha, belonged to this tribe.

5. The Koliyas of Ramagama : They were to the east of the Sakyas, and the river Rohini formed the dividing line between the two territories. Their relations were generally peaceful, but once the two clans came into conflict for the distribution of the waters of the Rohini.

6. The Mallas of Pava, identified by Cunningham with Padrauna in the Gorakhpur district. Some, however, take Fazilpur to stand on the site of ancient Pava.

7. The Mallas of Kusinara, corresponding to modern Kasia, where was discovered a small temple with a colossal statue of the Buddha in the Varinibbana (Varinirvana) posture.

8. The Moriyas of Pipphalivana : The identification of the capital is doubtful. They are said to have been a branch of the Sakyas, and were so called because their place ever resounded with the cries of peacocks (mora).

9. The Videhas of Mithila (present Janakapur just within the Nepalese border). It is noteworthy that Videha, once ruled by Janaka of Upanisadic fame, was no longer under a monarchical government.

10. The Licchavis of VaiSali or modern Basarh in the Muzaffarpur district. They were an important people then. They were Ksatriyas, and as such got a share of the Buddha’s relics. They came into intimate contact with both Mahavira and the Buddha, and thus greatly profited by their exhortations and teachings. It is represented that the Licchavi oligarchy had a governing body comprising 7,707 Rajas. The Licchavis were noted for their full and frequent assemblies, and they carried on discussions in a spirit of confidence and concord.

Monarchical States in The Buddha’s Time


5th century lotus sutra fragment

During the lifetime of the Buddha the most important development in the politics of the country was the rise of the four kingdoms of Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala, and Magadha. They were now ruled by vigorous personalities, who had launched a policy of aggrandisement and absorption of neighbouring states. It inevitably led to conflicts among these powers, and, as we shall presently see, they were ultimately welded into one mighty empire. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

I. The Vatsa kingdom : Its capital was Kausambi or Kosambi, identified with modern Kosam on the Jumna, to the south of Allahabad. The Buddha’s contemporary ruler of this land was Udena or Udayana, son of Satanika Parantapa, of the Bharata dynasty. Tradition has preserved many stories of Udena’s love adventures and wars. For instance, the Udenavatthu informs us how once, after being captured — perhaps in war — by Pajjota (Pradyota) of Avanti, Udena eloped by a clever ruse with his rival’s daughter, Vasuladatta or Vasavadatta, and married her in his capital. Similarly, other legends mention the daughter of Dhridhavarman, whom he restored to the throne of Anga, and Padmavati, sister of king DarSaka of Magadha, as Udena’s queens. Echoes of his digvijaya and victory in distant Kalinga, and enmity with a KoSala king come from later Sanskrit works like the Kathdsaritsagara and the PriyadarJikd. It is, no doubt, difficult to rely upon them implicitly, but that Udena was a powerful prince, who was at war with some of his contemporaries and formed matrimonial alliances with the ruling houses of Avanti, Magadha, and Anga, appears to be the substratum of truth.

We do not know whether his son, Bodhikumara, succeeded him. The Kathasaritsagara, at any rate, would have us believe that the kingdom of Kausambi was annexed to Avanti by Palaka, son of Pradyota. Lastly, it may be added that Kausambi became a centre of Buddhist activity from the time of the Buddha, who was himself often there. Udena was at first not favourably disposed towards the new teaching, but was subsequently much impressed by conversation with a celebrated Buddhist monk, named Pindola.

II. Avanti : It was at this time ruled by Canda Pajjota (Pradyota), who had his capital at Ujjayinl. He had, as already noticed, matrimonial relations with Udena of KauSambI and perhaps also with the Surasena king of Mathura, called Avantiputto. Pajjota was a man of cruel disposition and inordinate ambition. According to the Pur anas, he had the “neighbouring kings subject to him.” We have referred above to his clash with Uclena, and his power apparently grew to such an extent that even Ajatatru had at one time to fortify his capital in expectation of an attack by Pajjota (Pradyota). His successors were weaklings, about whom history has not condescended to record anything of note. Of course, one of them, Palaka, appears to have annexed KosambI to his realm. He was overthrown by Ajjaka or Aryaka, son of Gopala, who did not ascend the throne in favour of his brother Palaka. The Purdnas, on the other hand, insert one ViSakhayupa between the two. Then followed Avantivardhana. Avanti was another important centre of Buddhism. It was the home of several ardent adherents of the Buddha, like Mahakaccana, Sona, Abhaya Kumara, etc. Indeed, Dr. Rhys Davids suggests that Buddhism, bom in Magadha, received its garb in Avanti, i.e., the Pali canon was composed in the form of speech then current there.

III. Kosala : The rise of Kosala in the very centre of Northern India was an important feature in the political situation of the sixth century B.C. Already during the time of Kamsa, who was one of the predecessors of Pasenadi (Prascnajit), the Buddha's Kosalan contemporary, the long-drawn struggle between this kingdom and Kasi had ended in the absorption of the latter. There are also references in Pali literature indicating that the Sakyas had accepted the hegemony of Kosala, and Pasenadi is often described as “the head of a group of five Rajas.” Besides, his sister’s marriage with Bimbisara, king of Magadha, must have further secured his position. But this very matrimonial alliance eventually became the cause of discord and conflict. For, as we shall see below, when Bimbisara was starved to death by his son Ajatasatru, the former’s wife, Kosaladevl, died of grief. Pasenadi then confiscated the township of KasI, which had been conferred on her as pin-money (nahana-cunnamula). This led to war between Kosala and Magadha, and it went on for some time with unvarying relentlessness but with varying fortunes. At last, a treaty was drawn up, and Pasenadi gave to Ajatasatru the hand of his daughter, Vajira, and also the revenues of the township of Ka&i in dispute.

IV. Magadha : The land of Magadha, regarded with aversion in Vedic literature, first owed its political importance to the dynasty founded by Brihadratha. His son, Jarasandha, who is the hero of many extravagant legends, appears to have been a powerful king. This line came to an end in the sixth century B.C., for when the Buddha lived and preached, Magadha was ruled by Bimbisara of the Haryahka-kula. He was the son of a petty chieftain, Bhattiya, and was also known as Seniya or Srenika. At first, he held his court at Girivraja, but later another capital, aptly called Rajagriha, arose around his new palace.

Kings in the Monarchical States of The Buddha’s Time

Educated at Taxila, Pasenadi was a large-hearted ruler. He gave lands on the royal domains to the Hindus, and also donated groves and built monasteries for the Buddhist monks. His relations with the Buddha were specially cordial, and he often used to visit him and seek his advice in difficulties. Once Pasenadi expressed amazement at the way the great Teacher maintained peace within the Order (Samgha), whereas the former was sorely troubled by the depredations of robbers, like Angulimala, and by the machinations of his family and ministers. Indeed, Pasenadi lost his throne on account of the revolt of his son, Vidudabha (Viruddhaka), instigated by the minister DIgha-Carayana. Pasenadi invoked Ajatasatru’s aid, but before entering Rajagriha the Kosala king died of fatigue and anxiety at its gates. AjataSatru honoured him by a state-funeral, and wisely left Vidudabha undisturbed.

Vidudabha’s reign is darkened by the terrible atrocity which he perpetrated on the Sakyas. Apparently he did all that to avenge their treachery in marrying Vasabha-Khattiya, a slave-girl, to his father, but perhaps his real motive in invading the territories of the Sakyas was to destroy their autonomy completely. We do not know anything more about Vidudabha or his successors

Bimbisara

Bimbisara extended his influence in the beginning by a policy of matrimonial alliances. His principal queens were KosaladevI, sister of Pasenadi; Cellana, daughter of the Licchavi prince 'Cetaka; and Ksema, Madra (Central Punjab) princess. These marriages not only show the high position of Bimbisara among his royal contemporaries, but they seem to have also paved the way for the expansion of Magadha. For instance, Ko^ala-devl alone brought as pin-money a part of Kail yielding a revenue of a hundred thousand.

Bimbisara also enlarged his kingdom by his military skill. We learn that after defeating Brahmadatta, he boldly annexed Ariga, which roughly corresponded to modern Monghyr and Bhagalpur districts. That other territories were absorbed into Magadha during the reign of Bimbisara is further clear from the estimate of its size given by the Pall commentator Buddhaghosa, according to whom it had almost doubled itself during the interval between the Buddha and Bimbisara’s successor. The government was well organised, and the activities of the high officers of the realm, called Mahamattas (Mahamattas), were strictly watched and controlled. The administration of criminal law was also severe.

Bimbisara cultivated friendly relations with distant states, for he is said to have received an embassy from a king of Gandhara, named Pukkusati. Incidentally it shows that Bimbisara must have flourished when Gandhara was still an independent kingdom, i.e., prior to the Achtemenid conquest about 516 B.C. We can arrive at a closer approximation to truth by another method. According to the Ceylonese chronicles Bimbisara’s reign lasted 5 a years, and Ajatasatru had ruled for 8 years at the time of the Buddha’s death, which has been fixed by Geiger and other scholars in 483 B.C. Add to this sixty years (52-I-8), and we get 543-44 B.C. as the date of Bimbisara’s accession to the throne. He was a patron of the Buddha from the very start of the latter’s career, and as a mark of good-will Bimbisara presented the famous Bamboo grove (Karanda-Venu-vana) to the Samgha. He also fed monks and exempted them from paying fares and ferry dues. But Bimbisara made endowments in favour of other sects as well, and we cannot, therefore, be sure how far he progressed along the path. Indeed, the Uttarajjhajana (Uttaradbyayana) Sutra and other Jain works even represent him as a devotee of Mahavlra and having faith in his Law.


Kushinagar, where Buddha died, in the 5th century BC according to a 1st century BC frieze in Sanchi Stupa 1's Southern Gate


Ajdtaiatru

Bimbisara was succeeded by his son Ajatasatru, also called Kunika, about the year 491 B.C. The latter was at first his father’s viceroy at Campa, the capital of Anga, where he learned the art of government. Tradition says that at the instigation of Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha and his rival to the leadership of the Samgha, AjataSatru imprisoned his father and starved him to death. It is difficult to accept this story literally, but what appears probable is that Bimbisata’s end was tragic and perhaps due to foul play. Afterwards, AjataSatru is represented in the Samannaphala-Sutta as having expressed remorse to the Buddha for his heinous crime, and the great Teacher felt impressed by his penitence and exhorted him to “go and sin no more.” AjataSatru’s visit to the Buddha is also depicted in one of the Bharhut sculptures of about the middle of the second century B.C. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The manner of her husband’s death gave such a tremendous shock to KoSaladevI that she too died of grief. Pasenadi immediately confiscated the revenues of the Kasi estate, which had been settled on her as ‘pin-money’, and this resulted in hostilities between him and Ajatasatru. The duel was a prolonged affair, fortune favouring each combatant alternately. At last, they came to terms, and the Magadhan monarch got not only the disputed township of Kail, but also the hand of Pasenadi’s daughter, Vajira. Henceforth Ka§i was permanently absorbed into the kingdom of Magadha.

The next important event in AjataSatru’s reign was his conflict with the Licchavis. Traditions differ regarding its cause. Any of these — Cetaka’s refusal to surrender AjataSatru’s half-brothers, Halla and Vehalla, who had taken shelter in VaiSall with certain prized objects, or an alleged treachery on the part of the Licchavis concerning a mine of gems — may have provoked war. But the real motive appears to have been the destruction of the power of the neighbouring oligarchy, which was without doubt a thorn in the side of an ambitious potentate. Ajatasatru took all possible precautions to ensure victory. He sent his trusted ministers, Sunidha and Vassakara, to sow dissensions among the Licchavi chiefs. He organised his army carefully, and equipped it with powerful and destructive weapons. The war, though long and sanguinary, ended in favour of Ajatasatru, and the Licchavi territories passed under his rule. Perhaps after the conquest of Vaisall, he carried his arms further northward, and the regions up to the mountains accepted submission to him. Thus the annexation of Ahga, Kasi, VaiSall, and other surrounding lands made Magadha the mightiest kingdom in Northern India. It naturally aroused the jealousy of Avanti, and although we hear of AjataSatru fortifying his capital in anticipation of Pradyota’s invasion, we do not know if it ever materialised in his time. According to Pali works, AjataSatru’s reign lasted 32 years, but the Puranas give 27 years only as its duration. The Jain works testify that he was a follower of their faith, but the Buddhist texts would have us believe that in his later days Ajatasatru did honour to the Buddha and found solace in his ethical teachings. Thus, it was due to his regard for the Buddha that Ajatasatru claimed a share of his relics, and enshrined them in a Stupa.

Religion During the Time of Buddha

Buddhism originated in northeast India in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. at a time when the local religion was Brahmanism, the predecessor of Hinduism. Brahmanism was dominated by Brahman priests who presided over rituals and sometimes practiced asceticism. Many of the ascetic Brahmin believed in a concept of the universe known as brahman and a similar concept of the human mind, known as atman . and thought it was possible to achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by achieving oneness with the atman. These concepts became cornerstones of Buddhism

The sixth century B.C. is one of the cardinal epochs in human history. It was an age of extraordinarymental and spiritual unrest in several regions widely apart. For instance, Zoroaster in Persia and Confucius in China were promulgating their teachings about this time. In India, too, ardent spirits were unusually active in quest of Truth, and the centre of this ferment was Magadha, where the Brahmanic influence was not yet so deep or potent. Already the Upanisads had marked a stage of revolt against cumber-some rituals and bloody sacrifices. The pretensions and caste-exclusiveness of the Hindus, which were galling to the people in general, had further prepared the ground for new doctrines to germinate. A host of teachers went up and down the country preaching and propagating their solutions of the abstruse problems of God and Soul, and of how to escape from the endless misery of births and deaths by the light of knowledge or the rigours of self-mortification. Numerous reforming schools 1 thus sprang up, but most of them either died out or outlived their utility in course of time. Two of these, known as Jainism and Buddhism, however, proved strong enough to survive, and even today they profoundly influence the thought and faith of mankind. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In the sixth century B.C., Buddhism was founded by the Buddha (born Siddhartha Gautama, ca. 563–483 B.C.) and Jainism by Mahavira (ca. 540–468 B.C.). These religions emerged at a time of great ferment, when philosophers and mystics advanced ideas about correcting the ills of Indian society, including the Brahmins’ exclusive access to the Vedic gods and the strictures of the caste system. Caste is first mentioned in the Upanishads. Indian society was divided into three strata: a high caste of priests, or Brahmins, who performed all religious rituals; an intermediate caste of warriors ( kshatriyas); and a lower caste of merchants (vaishyas). A fourth caste, defined in the early first millenniumA.D., consisted of servants (shudras). [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

The 6th and 5th centuries B.C. in India was also a time of curiosity, tolerance, and experimentation. Religious scholars and intellectuals speculated about things like the existence of other worlds, the finiteness or the infinity of the universe and whether existence was dominated by is or is not. The conditions were ripe for people to throw out traditional beliefs and accept new ones. A number of movements and leaders appeared. Their success often seemed based on their political skill, and their ability to organize and consolidate their followers with a simple, easy-to-embrace message.

There were a great many holy men and women wandering about. Some were hermits who lived in the forest or jungle. Others were ascetics who practiced various forms of austerities and offered sacrifices to things like fire and the moon. There were also charismatic leaders and sects of movements of various kinds and sizes. Early Buddhist texts counted 62 “heretical” sects. Among these were the Jains, the Naked Ascetics, the Eel-Wrigglers, and the Hair-Blanket sect. The Buddha’s greatest rivals were Nataputa, leader the Jains, and Makkhali Godla, the leader of the Naked Ascetics.

Buddhism was influenced a great deal by Hinduism and the other sects. It adopted Hindu beliefs about karma and reincarnation; followed Jain and traditional Indian views about not destroying life forms; and copied forms of organization for other sects for monks communities. The Buddha himself was like an ascetic Brahmin but was regarded as a heretic among Hindus because he emphasized the impermanent and transitory nature of things, which contradicted the Hindu belief in Paramatman (the eternal, blissful self).

Jainism Founded Around the Same Time as Buddhism

Jainism is believed to have been founded in around 500 B.C., around the time the Buddha lived, According to PBS” “Derived from the Sanskrit word "jina," meaning "to conquer," Jainism teaches that all life forms have an eternal soul bound by karma in a never-ending cycle of rebirth. Through nonviolence or ahimsa, the soul can break free of this cycle and achieve kaivalya. Traditions and ideas central to Jainism can be traced to the 7th century B.C., but Mahavira, the last of Jainism's 24 great spiritual teachers, formalized them into the Jain religion in the 6th century. Some scholars see the roots of the faith as far back as the Indus civilization in Gujarat. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]

“Central to Jainism are five vows: nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), chastity (brahmacharya), and non-possession or non-attachment (aparigraha). As a manifestation of ahimsa, Jain monks wear nets over their mouths and sweep the street with their clothing so as to avoid harming insects, thereby accruing karma from not injuring even the smallest life forms. Mahavira, whose teachings are recorded in the Agamas texts, taught liberation through the three principles of right faith (samyak darshana), right knowledge (samyak jnana), and right conduct (samyak charitra).

“Between the first and second centuries B.C., the Jains divided into an orthodox sect Digambara ("sky–clad") in which followers claimed adherence to Mahavira's philosophy by going without clothes, and the Shvetambara ("white–clad") sect. Approximately four million Jains practice the religion worldwide, and important places of pilgrimage among observers include Mt. Abu in Rajasthan, site of five ornate Jain temples, and Sravanabelagola, site of a 57.5 foot statue of Gomateshvara (Bahubali), Jainism's first spiritual leader or tirthankara. Today Sravanabelagola is the site of the Mahamastak Abhishek, the biggest Jain religious festival which takes place every 12 years, the last one in 2007.

Mahavira: the Founder of Jainism

According to PBS: “A contemporary of the Buddha, Mahavira (meaning "Great Hero") Vardhamana established the central tenets of the Jain religion in India during the 6th century B.C. Accounts of Mahavira's life differ, particularly between Jainism's two sects, but he was born a prince in Patna as early as 599 or as late as 548 B.C. and died of starvation brought on by fasting as early as 527 or as late as 468 B.C. Renouncing his secular life at the age of 30, Mahavira became an ascetic and through fasting, a vow of silence, and meditation, obtained perfection (keval-jnana) 12 years later. Through the principle of ahimsa, non-injury, Jainism teaches that souls can break out of the cycle of reincarnation or the cycle of constant rebirth. Considered the last of Jainism's 24 great saints (tirthankaras), Mahavira taught throughout India for 30 years after achieving keval-jnana and organized Jain adherents into monk, nun, and layman and laywoman orders. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]

According to the Jains, their religion originated in the remotest ages of antiquity. They believe that Mahavlra, the last Tirthamkara, was preceded by twenty-three other prophets. Of these, the penultimate, ParSvanatha, appears to have been an historical personage, but the rest are all dim and shadowy figures, wrapped up in mythology. He was the son of king ASvasena of Benares, but ParSva abandoned the royal state in favour of a life spiritual. His main injunctions were : (i) non-injury, (2) non-lying, i.e., not to tell lies, (3) non-stealing, (4) non-possession. We do not know how far he progressed in his mission, but the next Ttrthamkara, Mahavira, who followed Parsva after about 250 years, definitely placed the religion on a secure footing. Vardhamana, as Mahavira was known earlier in his family circles, was born at Kundagrama, near VaiSail. He was the son of Siddhartha, Head of the Ksatriya Jnatrika sect, and his mother was Trisala, sister of the Licchavi chieftain, Cetaka, whose daughter was married to Bimbisara. Vardhamana thus had an aristocratic lineage, and this must have materially helped him in his ministry. We learn that after leading an ordinary householder’s life till the age of thirty, he wandered away from home to become an ascetic. He practised severe meditation and subjected his body to the utmost self-torture for twelve long years. At last, he attained to omniscience (kaival yd), and was hailed as the ‘Nirgrantha’ (free of fetters), or the ‘Jina’ (conqueror), from which is derived the name of his followers. From this time onward till his death, thirty years later, at the age of seventy-two, Mahavira spread the tenets of his religion in Magadha, Anga, Mithila, and KoSala. To the four virtues enjoined by ParSva, he added a fifth, viz., strict chastity. He gave up clothing, and went about naked. Some scholars trace the division into Svetambaras and Digambaras to this new practice of Mahavira. But this view does not appear to be tenable, as the schism took place in the third century B.C. after the return of the Jains from South India, where they had retired owing to famine under the leadership of Bhadrabahu. Mahavira passed away at Pavapuri (in the Patna district), perhaps in circa 527 B.C. This, date, however, is open to certain objections. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Pall works mention that, when the Buddha began his ministry, there existed no less than sixty-two different sects (according to the Jain texts, their number was 363). Among these were the Ajxvikas, Jatilakas, Munda-savakas, Parivrajakas, Magandikas, Gotamakas, Tedandikas, etc. The most prominent teachers of the time, besides the Buddha, were: Purana-Kassapa, Makkhali-Goiala, N igantha-N ataputta, Ajita-KeSakambalin, Pakuddha-Kacchayana, Sanjaya-Belatthaputta.

Doctrines of Jainism and Its Relations with Buddhism

The Jains repudiate the authority or infallibility of the Vedas, and do not attach any importance to the performance of sacrifices. They believe that every object, even the smallest particle, possesses a soul (Jiva), endowed with consciousness. A natural corollary of this principle was their scrupulous observance of Ahimsa or non-injury to any sentient being. Sometimes, however, its strict enforcement led to strange contradictions, for history records instances of Jain kings ordering the execution of persons guilty of killing animals. The Jains reject the conception of a Universal Soul ora Supreme Power as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. According to them, “God is only the highest, noblest, and fullest manifestation of the powers which lie latent in the soul of man.” The Jain goal of life is to attain deliverance from the fetters of mundane existence. The cause of the soul’s embodiment being the presence of karmic matter, Moksa can be achieved, if and when a Jain gets rid of all Karma inherited from past lives, and acquires no new one. The way to this lies through the Three Jewels (Triratna) of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. The Jains greatly emphasise the practice of penances, such as yogic exercises and fasting, even to the point of death. The idea is that rigorous discipline gives strength to the soul, and keeps the lower matter subdued. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

For a long time it was commonly believed that Jainism was only an offshoot of Buddhism or vice versa. It is, of course, now too late in the day to hold this opinion, although the similarities between the two -systems are remarkable indeed. Both are indifferent to the authority of the Vedas, and deny the efficacy of rituals. Both ignored God, and decried distinctions based on birth. Both emphasised the principle of Ahimsa and the effect of Karma upon an individual’s future life. Both tolerated popular superstitions and beliefs. These are no doubt striking resemblances, but their approach towards certain fundamental problems is widely different. For example. Buddhism propounds that everything lacks an ego (Andtmavddd), whereas according to Jainism every object or particle in this world is tenanted by a soul (Jiva). jainism glorifies self-mortification. The Buddha, on the other hand, recommended the Middle Path, avoiding the extremes of sensualism and asceticism. Their conceptions about deliverance and salvation also are not quite similar. Being products of the same age and land, it was inevitable that Jainism and Buddhism should have some common features, but at the same time their differences were so marked that often there was a good deal of rivalry between them.

Development of Buddhism after Buddha's Death

According to tradition, the first Buddhist texts were collected a few weeks after the Buddha’s death, when 500 arhants gathered at Rajagaha in the Indian state of Bihar for what was effectively the First Council of the Buddhist faith. During the period that followed there a great deal of scholarly debate on philosophical and religious issues, many of which were not addressed or purposely avoided by the Buddha. This debate resulted in the schism of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

About four centuries passed between the time of Buddha’s death and when his Sayings, Utterances and Discourses were written down. One of the main reasons for this is that there were no materials used for writing or even engraving in India until that time.

Buddha never claimed to be anything more than a human being who had found a path to truth and enlightenment. By the 1st century B.C. he had essentially been deified. Power struggles took place in Buddhism while The Buddha alive and after his death. His scheming cousin Devadetta tried to rest leadership from him. There were also many power struggles, divisions and rebellions among monks after his death.

Early Buddhists are thought to have practiced their faith by making visits to places the Buddha had been or see relics such as teeth or bones. Perhaps because he put so much emphasis on self-denial no images were made him for some time and when they were made they were not true likenesses.

In the early era of Buddhism there were three primary paths for the devotee. He or she could become 1) an arahat , a worthy person who has achieved the goal of a Buddhist life by gaining insight into the true nature of things: 2) a paccekabuddha , one who reaches enlightenment by living alone as an “isolated Buddha”; and 3) a fully awakened Buddha

Development of Buddhist Cannon

Buddha appears to have written little or nothing himself. The earliest Buddhist writing that we have today date back to a period 150 years after Buddha's death. Early Buddhist literature consisted mostly of records of sermons and conversations involving The Buddha that were recorded in Sanskrit or the ancient Pali language.

According to tradition, the first texts were collected between the Council of Rajaharha, which took place after Buddha’s cremation, and the first Buddhist schism in the 4th century B.C. These texts consist primarily of orthodox doctrines and discourses and rules recited by the highly respected monks Ananda and Upali. They became the Vinaya Piataka and the Sutra Pitaka .

Concerns about different interpretations of Buddha’s teachings emerged early. The main goal of the council at Rajagaha was to recite out loud the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) and the Vinaya (a code of conduct for monks) and come to some agreement on what were the true teachings and what should be preserved, studied and followed. Their guiding belief was that “Dharma is well taught by the Bhagavan (“the Blessed One”)” and that it is self-realized “immediately,” and is a “a come-and-see thing” and it leads “the doer of it to the complete destruction of anguish.”

The Vinaya-Pijtaka (the rules for monastic life) was developed at the First Council from a question and answer session between the Upali and the Elder Kassapa. The Sutra-Pijtaka (“Teaching Basket”) is a collection of teachings and sayings from Buddha, often called the sutras . It came about from the dialogue between young Anada an the Elder Kassapa about Dharma. A third basket, the Abhidhamma Pitaka (Metaphysical Basket) was also produced. It contains detailed descriptions of Buddhist doctrines and philosophy. Its origin is disputed. Together these made up the Tipitaki (Three Baskets of Wisdom), the foundation of Buddhism, and sometimes called the Pali Cannon because it was originally written in the ancient Pali language.

Religion During the Time of Buddha

Buddhism originated in northeast India in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. at a time when the local religion was Brahmanism, the predecessor of Hinduism. Brahmanism was dominated by Brahman priests who presided over rituals and sometimes practiced asceticism. Many of the ascetic Brahmin believed in a concept of the universe known as brahman and a similar concept of the human mind, known as atman . and thought it was possible to achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by achieving oneness with the atman. These concepts became cornerstones of Buddhism

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In the sixth century B.C., Buddhism was founded by the Buddha (born Siddhartha Gautama, ca. 563–483 B.C.) and Jainism by Mahavira (ca. 540–468 B.C.). These religions emerged at a time of great ferment, when philosophers and mystics advanced ideas about correcting the ills of Indian society, including the Brahmins’ exclusive access to the Vedic gods and the strictures of the caste system. Caste is first mentioned in the Upanishads. Indian society was divided into three strata: a high caste of priests, or Brahmins, who performed all religious rituals; an intermediate caste of warriors ( kshatriyas); and a lower caste of merchants (vaishyas). A fourth caste, defined in the early first millenniumA.D., consisted of servants (shudras). [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

The 6th and 5th centuries B.C. in India was also a time of curiosity, tolerance, and experimentation. Religious scholars and intellectuals speculated about things like the existence of other worlds, the finiteness or the infinity of the universe and whether existence was dominated by is or is not. The conditions were ripe for people to throw out traditional beliefs and accept new ones. A number of movements and leaders appeared. Their success often seemed based on their political skill, and their ability to organize and consolidate their followers with a simple, easy-to-embrace message.

There were a great many holy men and women wandering about. Some were hermits who lived in the forest or jungle. Others were ascetics who practiced various forms of austerities and offered sacrifices to things like fire and the moon. There were also charismatic leaders and sects of movements of various kinds and sizes. Early Buddhist texts counted 62 “heretical” sects. Among these were the Jains, the Naked Ascetics, the Eel-Wrigglers, and the Hair-Blanket sect. The Buddha’s greatest rivals were Nataputa, leader the Jains, and Makkhali Godla, the leader of the Naked Ascetics.

Buddhism was influenced a great deal by Hinduism and the other sects. It adopted Hindu beliefs about karma and reincarnation; followed Jain and traditional Indian views about not destroying life forms; and copied forms of organization for other sects for monks communities. The Buddha himself was like an ascetic Brahmin but was regarded as a heretic among Hindus because he emphasized the impermanent and transitory nature of things, which contradicted the Hindu belief in Paramatman (the eternal, blissful self).

Nalanda University

Nalanda University in India is regarded as the world's oldest university by far. Describing by the Xuan Zang's 7th century record of his journey to the West, it flourishing for centuries before it was destroyed by Afghan invaders in the 12th century. For over 700 years, it was a center of learning for a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, science, mathematics and public health. In 2011, the Indian Parliament passed a bill reestablishing Nalanda University as an international university.[Source: George Yeo, Global Viewpoint, April 12, 2011]

Jeffrey E. Garten, dean of the Yale School of Managment, wrote in the New York Times: “Founded in 427 in northeastern India, not far from what is today the southern border of Nepal, and surviving until 1197, Nalanda was one of the first great universities in recorded history. It was devoted to Buddhist studies, but it also trained students in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of war. [Source: Jeffrey E. Garten, New York Times, December 9, 2006 ==]


Nalanda University classrooms


“The university was an architectural and environmental masterpiece. It had eight separate compounds, 10 temples, meditation halls, classrooms, lakes and parks. It had a nine-story library where monks meticulously copied books and documents so that individual scholars could have their own collections. It had dormitories for students, perhaps a first for an educational institution, housing 10,000 students in the university’s heyday and providing accommodations for 2,000 professors. Nalanda was also the most global university of its time, attracting pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. ==

“The university died a slow death about the time that some of the great European universities, including those in Oxford, England, and Bologna, Italy, were just getting started, and more than half a millennium before Harvard or Yale were established. Its demise was a result of waning enthusiasm for Buddhism in India, declining financial support from successive Indian monarchs and corruption among university officials. The final straw was the burning of the buildings by Muslim invaders from what is now Afghanistan.” ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015


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