How Did Buddhism Start ?
Buddhism actually started with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in 580 BC. His birth took place in the city of Lumbini located in southern part of Nepal. He was born in a royal family, and when he could not get satisfactory answers about life and death, he decided to leave home looking for enlightenment. He was married at that time.
After meditating for years and sacrificing worldly life, Buddha finally attained enlightenment. This allowed him to forgo suffering and pain. As a result, he decided that it was time to educate the people how they can attain enlightenment and free themselves from the continuous cycle of life and death.
As Buddha moved from one part to another, His words spread and soon this led to the start of a religion what we now call Buddhism. Initially, Buddhism was restricted to the Indian subcontinent. However, later with the arrival of the Greeks and other people from East Asia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, the religion imbibed cultural practices of these people and also spread to those parts of the world.
After Buddha passed away, 500 monks had a meeting. The meeting was headed by a monk named Kashyapa. It was in this meeting that Anand, Buddha’s favorite disciple and cousin, recited the teachings of Buddha and after discussions the final version was agreed upon. The monks were made to memorize the teachings, so that they could spread the word of Lord Buddha across India. The teachings were also translated into other Indian languages. Lord Buddha’s teachings thus were spread orally for the next 200 years.
However, this unity of the monks did not stay. The monks had another council and meeting a hundred years later and during that meeting the group divided, as there was disagreement between the liberals and traditionalists. The liberals broke and named their group Mahasangha. It was this group of liberals that led to the formation of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism that was seen across northern part of Asia.
The traditionalists called themselves Sthaviravada, which meant the way of the elders. In Pali, this group is also known as Theravada. The group was responsible for imbibing more philosophical beliefs and concepts that were not part of Lord Buddha’s teachings. These teachings were collectively known as Abhidharma, which translates to higher teachings. However, the Theravada was known to stimulate disagreements which resulted in the group being splintered. Finally, the teachings of Lord Buddha were taught with the help of 18 schools of thought that spread their interpretations across India and Southeast Asia. Out of the all the splinter groups, just one remains. This group is found in Sri Lanka.
However, the religion was truly spread when Ashoka became the king of Magadhan Empire. Initially, he wanted to expand his empire and went on several wars. However, during one such war, he saw how much killing was done. This war was the famous Battle of Kalinga. He was repentant about his ways and began following Buddhism. He encouraged his subjects to embrace Buddhism, leading to the first Buddhist Empire in the world. Ashoka constructed many Buddhist temples in his kingdom and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha far and wide.
Today, there are Buddhist followers all over the world. It is believed that there are around 350 million Buddhists in the world and half of them follow the Mahayana school of thought. This largest number of Buddhist live in China, butthe religion is gaining popularity in Australia, America and the UK. Buddhism is also one of the main religions in Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand. Even in India, the land where Buddhism took birth, there are followers of this religion. In fact, one of the holiest Buddhist shrine is located in India which attracts Buddhists from all four corners of the world.
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