Buddhism is one of the major world state religions. It is also one of the oldest in the world. It began over 2000 years ago in northeast India, with the teachings of Siddharta Gautama the founder, otherwise known as the Buddha.
Buddhism has spread all over India and through the Himalayan Mountain passes into China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Europe, USA, and even Australia.
The number of Buddhists in the world is estimated to be about 300 million. This is because Buddhism has always adapted well to other cultures and therefore it has developed several distinctive forms in different countries.
Buddhists believe that the best way of life is found in moderation. This is called The Middle Way. It is based on the Buddha’s discovery that happiness is found neither in self-indulgence nor in extreme self-denial. There is also a strong belief in Karma. The word Karma means deeds but the teaching of karma is a law of cause and effect. Karma influences the way people behave. However unfair life seems, nothing is wasted at any given moment. They say that the present is the fruit of the past and the seed of the future. Thoughts and actions bear fruit in our lives, according to the intentions behind them, though this is not always obvious to other people.
Siddharta Guatama lived in northern India over 2000 years ago. Most scholars think that he lived from 536 B.C. till 483 B.C.
The term Buddha means “The Enlightened One”. Another of Siddharta’s titles is Shakyamuni, which means “The wise man of the Shakya clan.”
When he was about 29, Guatama persuaded his chariot driver to take him outside the palace grounds and into the neighboring villages. There he saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse being carried in a funeral procession, and a holy man. Whatever their origin they had a big effect on Guatama. For the first time he was faced by the reality of old age, sickness and death. After seeing these signs Gautama became restless and they were the cause of his setting off to find Religious enlightenment.
One day in the middle of the night, the prince left his sleeping son and baby wife in the palace and crept out of the palace accompanied by Channa (the driver which had accompanied him on the previous trip). He cut off his long black hair, took off his fine clothes and put on the clothes of a wandering monk. Then he sent Channa back to the palace to tell his family what Siddharta had done and set off by himself into the forest.
One day, after a long time of sacrifice, he settled down under a sacred tree. After he accepted food from a village girl, he decided that he would stay under that tree and meditate in a lotus position until he had found the answer to his quest. This made him carry on meditating through the night in that place (which is now called by Buddhists by the name Bodh Gaya) until he overcame various obstacles that where obstructing his path to the enlightenment. It is said that he asked mother earth herself to bear witness to his worthiness to the enlightenment. This is why in Buddhist art the Buddha is sometimes shown touching the earth with his right hand. At the heart of this spiritual experience was an understanding of how everything changes all the time. Gautama believed that the root of all suffering caused by change is desire and ignorance. According to him, knowing this is what means to be enlightened. The place where he was “enlightened” is in Bihar, India, and it has become a center of Buddhist pilgrimage since Buddha’s death.
Gautama knew that other people would find it difficult to endure the search, which he himself had endured, and to experience the truths, which he had experienced. So he did not start preaching immediately. Finally he went into a deer park at Sarnath where he met five holy men whom he had known before his holy experiences. These immediately noticed that there was something different about Gautama and so they were prepared to listen to what he had to say. There he preached his first sermon, which Buddhists call “the turning of the wheel of the law”. The English word law translates into the word “dharma” which also means teaching the truth. The contents of the sermon were mainly the basis of the Buddhist Religion. They were called: “The Four Noble Truths” and “The Noble Eightfold Path.”
These five holy men became his first followers. Gautama was then 35. He then spent the next 45 years traveling round Northeast India, teaching all kinds of people, and debating with many other religious leaders. The Pali Canon are writings concerned with the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhists believe that these teachings are more important than the life story of Gautama. This is because he had always based his teachings on what people already understood and on what was good in their life. Many people became his followers but remained with their families, homes and lives. These provided food and shelter for others who decided to be like the Buddha and became wandering monks wearing saffron robes. This community of Buddhist monks and nuns became known as the Sangha.
At the age of 80, Siddharta Gautama, became ill and died. His death took place at Kusinara, and is called the pari or the final nirvana. Buddhists believe that Buddha attained eternal peace and happiness during his enlightenment, when all the greed, hatred and ignorance in his life were overcome. However he had to wait till his body’s natural death for this state of Nirvana to be fully recognized.
The Buddha told his followers not to be sad. He had taught them that he was only human, and would die like anyone else. His followers gave him a ceremonial cremation, and buried his bones as relics in burial mounds called stupas. These mounds are characteristic monuments of Buddhism all over the Buddhist world.
The place where Buddha died, as well as the places of his birth and enlightenment and the park where he made his first sermon have all become important places of pilgrimage for Buddhists. Such places generally have two kind of statues of the Buddha. One is generally in his lotus posiion and the other is of the Buddha lying on his right side peacefully during his death.
Islam was first brought to the world by the prophet Muhammad in the A.D. 600. Muhammad was an Arab born in the city of Makkah (Mecca) about 570 A.D. He believed that he had been sent to warn and guide people anf to show them the right way to worship God (Allah). He taught people that there was only one God and that he was his messenger. Those who believe his teachings are called muslims. Muslim is an arabic word for “one who submits to God” and Islam is an arabic word for “submission”.
Islam is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing religions. About one sixth of the world’s population today are muslims. The Muslim world is mainly central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the eastern parts of Europe.