Though more widespread in East Asia, Buddhism was kindled to life in India.
Siddhartha, who was later known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One, was born a prince in the kingdom of Lumbini, in the foothills of the Himalayas. At his birth, the royal astrologer prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce everything in the search of wisdom that can overcome suffering and misery. There would be three turning points in his life - three sights of suffering - that would prompt him to renounce worldly pleasure.
In a bid to prevent this, Siddhartha's father, King Shuddodhana, brought him up in the lap of luxury without as much as a shadow of misery or real life touching him. But as prophesied, Siddhartha saw the three signs of suffering: sickness, old age and death. One night he stole away from the palace to seek out famous masters. He beseeched them to explain to him the cause of sorrow but could not find the answer. Next, he observed the austerities of ascetics but gained no insights. He became extremely weak in body and mind, and realized that wisdom could not be attained through self-mortification.
At last, meditating under a banyan tree (this is why the banyan tree is revered by Hindus) near Gaya, he attained Boddhi (illumination). Prince Siddhartha had finally become the Buddha, the fully awakened one. and the tree that sheltered him came to be known as the Boddhi tree.
After becoming enlightened, Gautama Buddha could have immediately released himself from the cycle of rebirths and attained moksha. But he first decided to share his wisdom with others.
Buddhism divides its faithful into two sects, Mahayana (Greater Ferry) and Hinayana (Lesser Ferry). Hinayana, the original Buddhist faith, endorses the actual preachings of the Buddha, emphasising that Buddha was not god but simply a mortal who attained moksha. Hinayana monastries and stupas do not have an image of the Lord ; instead the Buddha is represented by symbols like his footprints or an empty throne.
Mahayana is the more widely accepted faith, an offshoot of the original Buddhist teachings. Mahayana Buddhists worship the Buddha as god and put great emphasis on rituals. However, both sects incorporate teaching from Hinduism and places love and compassion at par with knowledge as the means to moksha. Some of the major Buddhist Sites are Bodhyaga, Nalanda, Ratagiri.
Most of the Buddha's teachings rest on the bedrock of Hindu principles and beliefs like samsara, karma, moksha and yoga. (See Hinduism for details).
The Law of Impermanence: Everything in the phenomenal world is subject to change, though some things are obviously more enduring than others.
The Law of Causation: Nothing happens by chance or at random. Apart from natural causes, we are subject to the operation of our karma. (See Hinduism for details).
The Four Noble Truths: Buddhism rests upon the foundation of four truths: suffering is universal; suffering is caused and sustained by trishna (thirst or craving); suffering can be prevented and overcome; and there is a way leading to the removal of suffering.
The Eightfold Path: Buddha clearly delineates the path to follow to live a good life. It has eight basic tenets consisting of right conduct, right motive, right resolve, right speech, right livelihood, right attention, right effort and right meditation. By pursuing this path of many-sided restraint and self-perfection, one can conquer craving. Then one is within sight of nirvana, the transcendental state of complete emancipation.
Buddha Jayanti:- The birth anniversary of the Buddha usually comes round on the full moon day of May. But nothing much happens on this day in terms of visual interest - Buddhists conduct their prayers and meditations in private.
Birth of Padmasambhava:- This festival celebrated at the Hemis Gompa in Ladakh and in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is a visual treat. Ritual mask dances are performed to the sound of huge drums, cymbals and hornpipes. The best thangkas depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha are taken out of the monasteries and displayed in the celebrations.
Drupka Teshi:- Held in July-August, the festival marks the first teaching given by the Buddha.
Major Buddhist Sites
Though more widespread in East Asia, Buddhism was born in India.
Siddhartha, who was later known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One, was born in Lumbini at the foothills of the Himalayas. Unable to countenance death and disease, the young prince, Siddhartha renounced the world. In order to attain the ultimate aim of Nirvana - the transcendental state of liberation, the Buddha advocated the Eight-Fold Path.
Important Buddhist Sites
Some of the most important Buddhist sites are situated in India. Among them, Bodhgaya is the most sacred of all. Many monasteries, stupas and rock edicts have been found at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and Rajgir in Bihar. While the sylvan surroundings of Lahaul, Kangra and Spiti valleys are home to various monasteries, McLeodganj is the abode of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Definitely worth a visit. It houses stupas, monasteries, pillars and temples - all masterpieces of Buddhist art.
The rallying point for Buddhists from all over the world. The chant 'May all beings be happy' rent the air of Bodhgaya, where the Four Noble Truths were gifted by the Buddha in the 5th century B.C.
An emerald in a bronze and silver setting', Lahaul is the land of abundance in an otherwise starved region. The local deity worshipped here is Kelang Wazir, a Tibetan God.
This capital city of the Katoch dynasty is a destination par excellence. The Kangra Valley has a rich history and the Tashijong Monastery, which has links with the Kham region in Tibet, is well worth a visit.
'World within a world ' and a 'place where the Gods live' - Spiti is a high-altitude cold desert dotted with numerous monasteries.
A much frequented pilgrim centre, not only for the Buddhists, but for the Jains and the Hindus as well. This site has some famous stupas and Buddhist monasteries.
McLeodganj a colourful little town is a perennial favourite with tourists. It is steeped in Buddhist culture and is best known as the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
The place where the Buddha's teachings were first penned down, Rajgir is also the birthplace of various traditions that form a part of our everyday lives.
Once an important Buddhist town, it has the distinction of being the place where the Buddha preached most of his sermons. Sravasti is also the place where the Buddha is said to have levitated and performed many other miracles.