Gautama Buddha – His Influence on Hindu Thought
The son of Mahamaya and Shudhodan…..
In 563 BC, a son was born to Mahamaya and Shudhodan, the ruler of a small kingdom on the Indo-Nepal border. Mahamaya was on the way to her father’s home when she delivered the baby boy. She passed away a week later, and the upbringing of the infant was entrusted to the second queen Prajapati. The child was named Siddhartha.
Astrologers during those time predicted that Siddhartha would one day be an emperor or he may renounce worldly pleasures and become a monk who would show the way to mankind. This prediction perturbed King Shudhodan and so he decided to provide a completely protected life of comfort and luxuries to his son. Siddhartha was educated within the palace. To involve him in the worldly affairs, he was even married young.
It is believed that Renunciation is born out of indifference and aversion to worldly things. And the King wanted to keep his son away from this in totality.
However destiny takes its own path and one day the Siddhartha wished to drive outside and see the world himself so the King arranged for him to visit the best places and ensure that Siddhartha brings back happy memories. Despite strict instructions to the charioteer, Siddhartha persuaded him to change the route. Along the way, for the time in his life Siddhartha saw a sick man, an old man, and a dead person being carried away in a funeral procession.
Life was never the same for Siddhartha as he was shaken to the core by the misery and suffering he witnessed. So he decided to renounce princely life and one day he left home when everyone was fast asleep.
Siddhartha was in search of truth and he visited the wise and the learned, going from one place to another seeking the answers to his many questions. He met saints, seers, and sages but his questions remain unanswered. Along with his five other friends he decided to undertake severe penance. This went on for six years without success. The physical hardships were so severe for Siddhartha that his body emaciated and he appeared a living skeleton. He swooned. The he realized that fasting and penance would not bear results.
A farmer’s daughter offered him rice which he gladly accepted thus causing offense to his friends who left him immediately. He took some rest and felt better. On the 29th day of meditation he experienced the presence of a divine light. And he suddenly understood the cause of all suffering and found answers to his many questions. He was the enlightened Siddhartha.
Siddhartha Gautama was now Gautama Buddha – the enlightened one.
He proclaimed that there were four eternal truths:
There is suffering in life.
Sufferings arise from attachment to desires.
Sufferings cease to exist the moment attachment to desires cease to exist.
There is a middle path to avoid suffering
He furthermore explained through his teachings that to move on the middle path, there were eight essentials:
Right Vision: One must be able to see the reality.
Right Resolve: One’s thoughts must be founded on truth alone.
Right Speech: One’s speech must be free from abuse, falsehood, blame, slander and gossip.
Right Deeds: One’s deeds should not harm or hurt others or oneself.
Right Livelihood: One’s vocation must be based on integrity, ethics and morals.
Right Exercise: One must maintain good physical and emotional health.
Right Memories: One’s happy memories promote happiness and lead to divinity.
Right Meditation: One must be able to concentrate and look inwards to find peace.
Gautama Buddha began preaching about human suffering and how it could be avoided. He preached the need for love, peace and non-violence. He never denied the existing religions or knowledge thereof.
He never spoke against the prevalent Hindu way of life. And he spoke only that which was revealed to him. He addressed his followers in Pali – the language they could understand. As he traveled far and wide his followers grew immensely.
Hindus acknowledged him as the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The influence of Buddhism grew particularly when Emperor Ashoka too adopted the message of love and non-violence. It spread to several countries in the south-east and east where Buddhism could easily be adopted along with existing local religious and cultural beliefs.
When Gautama Buddha left his mortal remains, his ashes were divided in 8 portions to establish 8 Stupas. All Buddhist temples have idols of Gautama Buddha.
Buddhism was founded in India but Buddhism did not capture the imagination of the majority of orthodox Hindus during that time.
With grace and peace,
Dr. Vickram Aadityaa