Historical Basis of Buddhism
by Ron Kurtus (revised 11 December 2009)
Buddhism was started by Siddhartha Gautama, who had grown up in luxuries but denounced them after seeing how poor people suffered. He started a spiritual path and formulated a philosophy that became the Buddhist religion. It is primarily a belief in a method of achieving liberation from suffering. The philosophy spread to become a major religion in Asia.
Examining the historical basis of Buddhism is good for gaining a better perspective and understanding of the belief.
Questions you may have include:
- What is the background of the Buddha?
- How did the religion start?
- How did it spread?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Note: This is an educational website. We are not promoting any one religion.
Start of spiritual path
Siddhartha Gautama was born in the 6th century BC. He was son of a regional Chieftain in what is now Nepal. Gautama grew up with the luxuries of court life, but at the age of 29 he felt his life was shallow and meaningless. He renounced his wealth and all his worldly possessions in order to embark on a life dedicated to attaining spiritual insight.
Formulates spiritual philosophy
After formulating his spiritual philosophy in northern India and gaining followers, he became known as The Buddha, a title which means "The Awakened One" or one who has been awakened to the true nature of existence. The Buddha was a spiritual teacher (guru) who was a human being and not a deity as many today believe.
After Buddha's death in the 5th century BC, Buddhism thrived in India for about 1200 years. Then Hinduism became more prevalent in that country. Buddhism also spread south to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Southeast and Central Asia, and China. The teachings became established in Japan in the 9th century AD.
Recently Buddhism has gained some following in the West. It is one of the few major religions in history to spread peacefully without any military conquest or political aggression. There are over 600 million people who follow the Buddha's teachings, mostly in Asia.
Buddhism was started as a philosophy of easing suffering about 2600 years ago. Although the creator of the religion was a man, he is often treated as a deity. The religion has millions of followers, mainly in Asia.
Look and learn
Resources and references
Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide to the Middle Way of the Buddha by Paul Gerhards; Parami Press (2007) $15.95 - For people interested in learning the basics of Buddhism; easy to read and follow
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