Buddhism-Religion, Philosophy and Scripture


Religion and philosophy based on the teachings of Buddha is known as Buddhism. Siddharth Gautam, also known as Buddha (The Awakened One or The Enlightened One), Tathagata and Shakya Muni is the founder of Buddhism.

Life History of Buddha

Siddhartha was born in 563 B.C. at Lumbini (Also known as Rummindei). His father was Shuddhodhan, Chieftan of Shakya Clan of Kapilvastu and mother was Mahamaya, Koliya Princess of Devdaha. According to Buddhist Traditions,on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side and ten months later Siddhartha was born. Mahamaya was visiting her father’s Kingdom and Siddhartha was born on the way in Lumbini, beneath a Sal Tree.

                Vaishaka Purnima (Vesakha in Pali) is celebrated as Buddha’s Birthday, His Enlightenment Day (Mahabodhi) and Parinirvana Divas in Thervada (Southern Traditions). Mahamaya’s Son got the name ‘Siddhartha’ (He who achieves his aim).

                  Mahamaya died 7 days after the birth of Siddhartha. His stepmother and Mahamaya’s sister Mahaprajapati Gautami brought him up. Therefore, got the name Gautama.

Marriage and Fatherhood

According to legend, at his birth a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from the temporal life). To prevent this, his father provided him with many luxuries and pleasures. When he reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yashodhara.  Yaśodhara was the daughter of King Suppabuddha and Pamitā, sister of the Buddha’s father, King Śuddhodana.  She was born on same day in the month of “Vaishaka” as Siddaratha. She is also known as Bimbadevi, Bhaddakaccana, Gopa and Rahulamata (mother of Rahula).In the Pali Canon, the name Yaśodharā is not found.

According to the traditions, she gave birth to a son, named Rahula.

Towards Asceticim

Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything, he could want or need, Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal. As a young man, he once went on a series of four chariot rides where he first saw the more severe forms of human suffering: old age, illness, and death (a corpse), as well as an ascetic renouncer.

The contrast between his life and this human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth where in fact transitory, and could only mask human suffering.


At the age of 29 Siddhartha left his palace in search of knowledge. Accompanied by his charioteer Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant.  It’s said that, “the horse’s hooves were muffled by the gods to prevent guards from knowing of his departure”.

Alar Kalam & Udraka Ramputta

He met Alar Kalam first, who was a master of Samkhya Philosophy, but Kalam could not satisfy Siddhartha. He moved on to meet his second mentor Udraka Ramputta , a practitioner of Yoga. Dissatisfied, he moved further and met five monks.

Five Fortunate Ones

These five monks were: Kaundinya, Vappa , Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assajji .He began practicing self-mortification along with five monks at Uruvela. These involved self-deprivation of food and water, and exposing themselves to the elements to near-death for six years, at which point Siddhartha rejected self-mortification. Kaundinya and other monks became disillusioned and moved away to Sarnath near Varanasi to continue their practices.

Madhyama Pratipada

It is said that a village girl named Sujata gave him some payasam (a pudding made from milk and jaggery) after which Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. He realized that dhyana was the right path to awakening not the extreme asceticism .This is known as Middle Path (Madhyama Pratipada) in Buddhism- a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification


He sat under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Uruvela(Now Bodhgaya), when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment and became known as the Buddha.

First Sermon

After awakening, the Buddha met Taphussa and Bhallika — two merchant brothers from Balkh (Afghanistan) — who became his first lay disciples. It is said that each was given hairs from his head, which are now claimed to be enshrined as relics in the Shwe Dagon Temple in Rangoon, Burma. The Buddha intended to visit his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, to explain his findings, but they had already died.

                      He then travelled to the Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma (Dhamma Chakka Pravartana) by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with them, he formed the first saṅgha.

Spread of Buddhism

For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in what is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern Nepal, teaching people. This continued throughout the year, except during the four months of the Vassa (rainy season). At this time of year, Buddha would retreat to monasteries, public parks or forests, where people would come to him. The first vassana was spent at Varanasi when the sangha was formed.

After this, the Buddha kept a promise to travel to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, to visit King Bimbisara.  During this visit, Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were converted by Assaji, one of the first five disciples, after which they were to become the Buddha’s two foremost followers. The Buddha spent the next three seasons at Veluvana monastery in Rajagriha, then capital of Magadha.


Of the Buddha’s disciples, Sariputta, Maudgalyayana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda, Anuruddha, Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna are believed to have been the ten closest to him. Five years after the formation of the sangha, Buddha agreed to the ordination of women as nuns. First woman to enter in sangha was his stepmother Mahaprajapati Gautami.

Mahaparinirvana: 483 BC

According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha died in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra (present-day Kushinagar, UP),   of the Malla kingdom. Mahaparinibbana Sutta states that at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or and abandon his earthly body.  After this, the Buddha ate his last meal as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda .

                 The Theravada tradition believes that the Buddha was offered some kind of pork, while the Mahayana tradition believes that the Buddha consumed some sort of truffle or other mushroom.



Four Noble Truths

  1. Dukha-Satya (Truth of suffering)- Life is suffering.
  2. Samudaya-Satya (Truth of the cause)- Suffering is caused by desire (Trishna) and ignorance (Avidya).
  3. Marga-Satya (Truth of path)- The eight fold path.
  4. Nirodha-Satya (Truth of cessation)- Suffering can be ended if its causes, desire and ignorance are removed.

The Eight-Fold Path

  1. Right Livelihood
  2. Right Mindfulness
  3. Right Effort
  4. Right Conduct
  5. Right Speech
  6. Right Meditation
  7. Right Knowledge
  8. Right Resolve

Three marks of existence- Trilakshana

  1. Anicca (Anitya) – anitya means “inconstancy” or “impermanence”. All things are in a constant state of flux. All physical and mental events come into being and dissolve. Human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of repeated birth and death (Samsara), nothing lasts and everything decays. This is in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is Nicca(Nitya), or knows no change, decay or death.
  2. Dukkha – Dukkha means “unsatisfactoriness, suffering, and pain”. The dukkha includes the physical and mental sufferings that follows each rebirth, aging, illness, dying;  Dissatisfaction from getting what a being wishes to avoid or not getting the desired, or because all forms of life are impermanent and without any essence.
  3. Anatta(anatman)- Anatman refers to the doctrine of “non-self”, that there is no unchanging, permanent Self or soul in living beings and no abiding essence in anything or phenomena.Thus, nirvana too is a state of “without Self” or anatta. The Anattā doctrine of Buddhism denies that there is anything called a ‘Self’ in any person or anything else, and that a belief in ‘Self’ is a source of Dukkha. This doctrine is also known as Anatmvad or Niratmavad.

Five Aggregates- Panchskandha

  1. Rupa: matter, body or “material form” of a being or any existence. Buddhist texts state rupa of any person, sentient being and object to be composed of four basic elements or forces, that is earth (solidity), water (cohesion), fire (heat) and wind (motion).
  2. Vedana: sensory experience of an object. It is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  3. Samjna: sensory and mental process that registers, recognizes and labels (for instance, the shape of a tree, color green, emotion of fear).
  4. Saṃskara: ‘”constructing activities”, “conditioned things”, “volition”, “karmic activities”; all types of mental imprints and conditioning triggered by an object. This skandha includes any process that makes a person initiate action or act.
  5. Vijnana: “discrimination” or “discernment”. This includes awareness of an object and discrimination of its components and aspects, and is of six types.

Pratityasamutpada-Dependent arising

Pratityasamutpada is a theory to explain the nature and relations of being, becoming, existence and ultimate reality. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing independent, except the state of nirvana. All physical and mental states depend on and arise from other pre-existing states, and in turn from them arise other dependent states while they cease.

            The ‘dependent arisings’ have a causal conditioning, and thus Pratityasamutpada is the Buddhist belief that causality is the basis of ontology, not a creator God nor the ontological Vedic concept called universal Self (Brahman) nor any other ‘transcendent creative principle’. The Pratītyasamutpāda principle asserts that the dependent origination is necessary and sufficient condition in both directions. This is expressed in Majjhima Nikaya as “When this is, that is; this arising, that arises; When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.

The Twelve Nidanas-Dvadash Nidana of Buddhism

The Twelve Nidanas are a series of causal links that describe the process of samsaric rebirth and the arising of dukkha.  In reverse order, they also describe the way to liberation from samsara.  Each of the twelve links illustrate “dependent origination”, and they explain the process of rebirth and the arising of dukkha. When certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions. These ‘conditioned arising’ result in the cyclical nature of rebirths and redeaths in Samsara. The attainment of nirvana, in Buddhist belief, ends the process of rebirth and associated dukkha.  It is achieved by breaking a link in the twelve nidanas (links) of conditioned co-arising.

The Twelve-fold Chain

  1. Avidya – Ignorance
  2. Samskara – Mental formations/volitions
  3. Vijnanana- Status consciousness
  4. Namarupa – “Name” and “Form”
  5. Shadayatana- The six senses
  6. Sparsh- Contact
  7. Vedana- Feelings
  8. Trishna- Cravings
  9. Upadana- Clinging to
  10. Bhava-  Generation of factors for rebirth
  11. Jati- Birth
  12. jaramarana -All the sufferings


Nirvana is the earliest and most common term used to describe the goal of the Buddhist path.The literal meaning is “blowing out” or “quenching.” It is the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism and marks the release from rebirths in saṃsāra.

Nirvana is part of the Third Truth on “cessation of dukkha” in the Four Noble Truths. Within the Buddhist tradition, this term has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the “three fires”or “three poisons”- passion, (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidyā).

Scriptures and Schools

Budhist Scriptures are called the Tripitaka or the “Three Baskets”

  • Suttapitaka – Budha’s sermons
  • Vinayapitaka – Monastic rules
  • Abhidhammapitaka – Early philosophical treatises

Suttapitaka – Budha’s sermons

  • Compiled by Anand
  • Compiled in First Council (Sangiti)-483 BC
  • Original Language : Pali
  • Divided in Five Nikayas

Five Nikayas (collections) of suttas

Digha Nikaya– the “long” discourses. This includes The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness .The Fruits of the Contemplative Life. Buddha’s Last Days.

There are 34 long suttas in this nikaya.

Majjhima Nikaya –Shorter Exposition of Kamma. Mindfulness of Breathing. Mindfulness of the Body.  There are 152 medium-length suttas in this nikaya.

Samyutta Nikaya- Contains 2,889 suttas grouped into five sections (vaggas).  Each vagga is further divided into samyuttas, each of which in turn contains a group of suttas on related topics. The samyuttas are named according to the topics of the suttas they contain. For example, the Kosala Samyutta (in the Sagatha Vagga) contains suttas concerning King Pasenadi of Kosala; the Vedana Samyutta (in the Salayatana Vagga) contains suttas concerning feeling (vedana).

Anguttara Nikaya- These teachings are arranged numerically. It includes, according to the commentary’s reckoning, 9,565 short suttas grouped by number from ones to elevens.

The nipatas in this nikaya are: Ekakanipāto (The Book of Ones), Dukanipāto (The Book of Twos), Tikanipāto (The Book of Threes), Catukkanipāto (The Book of Fours), Pañcakanipāto (The Book of Fives), Chakkanipāto (The Book of Sixes), Sattakanipāto (The Book of Sevens), Aṭṭhakanipāto (The Book of Eights), Navakanipāto (The Book of Nines), Dasakanipāto (The Book of Tens), Ekādasako nipāto (The Book of Elevens)

Khuddaka Nikaya

This is a heterogeneous mix of sermons, doctrines, and poetry attributed to the Buddha and his disciples.  Khuddakapatha, Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Suttanipata, Vimanavatthu, Petavatthu, Theragatha, Therigatha, Jataka, Niddesa, Patisambhidamagga, Apadana, Buddhavamsa, Cariyapitaka, Nettipakarana or Netti, Petakopadesa, Milinda Panha

Vinaya Pitaka

  • Compiled by Upali
  • Compiled in First Council (Sangiti) -483 BC
  • Vinay Means: Discipline
  • Monastic rules for monks and nuns
  • Divided in three parts- Suttavibhanga, Khandaka and Parivara

Suttavibhanga: commentary on the Patimokkha

Mahavibhanga: dealing with monks

Bhikkhunivibhanga : dealing with nuns

Khandhaka: 22 chapters on various topics

Parivara: analyses the rules from various points of view

Abhidhamma Pitaka

  • Compiled by Mogaliputta Tissa
  • Compiled in 3rd Council – 252 BC
  • Philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics of Buddhism.
  • Traditionally, Buddha thought out the Abhidhamma immediately after his enlightenment. Later Buddha repeated it to Sariputta who then handed it on to his disciples.

The Abhidhamma Piṭaka consists of seven books:Dhammasaṅganī, Vibhaṅga, Dhātukathā, Puggalapaññatti, Kathāvatthu, Paṭṭhāna

Dhammasaṅganī(Summary of Dharma): Manual of ethics for monks

Vibhanga (Division or Classification): Consists of 18 chapters, each dealing with a different topic.

Dhatukatha (Discussion of Elements): Covers various topics, mostly from the Vibhanga, relating them to the 5 aggregates, 12 bases and 18 elements.

The Puggalapannatti (Designation of Person): Lists of persons grouped numerically from ones to tens.

The Kathavatthu (Points of Controversy): Consists of more than two hundred debates on questions of doctrine.

The Yamaka (Pairs): Consists of ten chapters, each dealing with a different topic.

Patthan (Activations or Causes): Deals with 24 conditions

Three Main Schools of Buddhism

  • Theravada or Hinayana – Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia
  • Mahayana – China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea
  • Vajrayana – Tibet, Mongolia, Japan

The first known split in the sangha resulted in the Mahasanghika and Sthavira schools. The Theravada teachings are based on the Sthavira School.

Some believe, Mahayana has its roots in the Mahasanghika, though there is no clear historical link.

Theravada (Hinayana)

Theravada means “teaching of the elders”,

Considered as Original Buddhism.

Evolved in Sri Lanka into its modern form in the 12th century, and spread throughout Southeast Asia. Its main texts are written down in the Pali language. The key doctrinal text is the Visuddhimagga or “Path of Purification”, and the key figure is Buddhaghosa.


Started emerging a century or two after the time of the Buddha, certainly emerged by the 1st Century CE.  It is mostly northern India in origin Texts were written in Sanskirt, Ghandaran, and a few other languages. The following concepts are considered Mahayana: the Bodhisattva path, Madhyamika Philosophy, Yogachara School and the idea of Buddha-nature.

East Asian (Chinese, Japan, Korean, Vietnam) and Tibetan traditions consider themselves Mahayana.


Vajrayana emerged a few centuries later, mostly out of northern India, out of tantric practices. Vajrayana has changed some core Buddhist ideas, such as adding reincarnation, which the Buddha was agnostic about.

Buddhist Councils

 First Buddhist Council

Took place 3 months after the Buddha’s passing (c. 483 BCE). Held at Rajagaha (the modern city of Rajgir), in the Sattapanni cave. Patronized by King Ajatasattu, son of King Bimbisara.Presided over by Venerable Maha Kassapa with 500 monks.

Compilation of Vinaya Pitaka by Upali

Compilation of Sutta Pitaka by Ananda.

There was no written record of the teachings yet and the monks had to memorize and then teach the next generation of monks in the same way. Groups of people crosschecking with each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made recited them.

Second Buddhist Council

Took place 100 years after the Buddha’s passing (c. 383 BCE). Held at Vaishali. Patronage of King Kalasoka. Presided over by Venerable Sabbakami with 700 monks.

First Split: Theravadi and Mahasanghika

Third Buddhist Council

Took place about 200 years after the Buddha’s passing (c. 252 BCE). Held at Asokarama in Pataliputta. Patronage of King Asoka. Presided over by Ven. Moggaliputta Tissa and 1,000 monks. Compilation of Abhidhamma Pitaka by Mogaliputta.

Possibly the most significant achievement of this Council was the sending of missionary monks to nine different regions around India

Fourth Buddhist Council

Two separate Buddhist council meetings.  The first one was held in the 1st century BC, in Sri Lanka.  In this fourth Buddhist council the Theravadin Pali Canon was for the first time committed to writing, on palm leaves.  The second one was held by the Sarvastivadin school, in Kashmir around the 1st century AD.

4th Council-Theravadin

Held at the Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya in Sri Lanka. Patronage of Valagamba of Anuradhapura in 25 BCE. The monks who had previously remembered the Tipitaka and its commentary orally now wrote them down on Palm Leaves. After the Council, palm-leaf manuscripts containing the completed Canon were taken to other countries such as Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

4th Council-Sarvastivadin

Convened by the Kushan emperor Kanishka perhaps between 78 AD to 95 AD at Peshawar, Jalandhar or in Kashmir.  Not recognized as authoritative for the Theravadins Reports of this council can be found in The Mahayana tradition only. Headed by Vasumitra , Co Chairman : Ashvaghosha  The main fruit of this Council was the vast commentary known as the Mahavibhasa (“Great Exegesis”), an extensive compendium and reference work on a portion of the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma.