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The Social and Religious Conditions of India When Gautama The Buddha Was Teaching Essay

Siddharta Gautama was born in North East India around the 6th century BCE. This was a time of great prosperity. The area was very fertile and much of the land remained forested ready for cultivation. There was a great trade in agriculture and there were many merchants. This prosperity brought peacefulness. There was a very structured civilisation with a caste system. Due to the prosperity there was a much more complex society. People had time to discuss life and religion without upsetting anyone.

Unlike England and America in the past when people could be tried as ‘witches’ for the most minor of incidents. Especially in the main towns there was a much wider range of people; merchants, businessmen, nobles, teachers, intellectuals, musicians, actors dancers, and even prostitutes. There were quite a few religions around at the time of the Buddha’s teaching. The oldest was the Vedic tradition; this was the main religion, It came with the Aryans when they moved into India around 1500 BCE. The Aryans influenced Indian society a lot, and it is believed the caste system came from the Aryans.

The caste system had four levels; The Brahmins who were the priests and considered closest to God, the Vaishyas who were usually soldiers and civil servants, the Shudras who were the servants and manual labourers, and finally the untouchables who were considered to be the lowest of the low. The people on the other levels of the caste avoided contact with the untouchables and they were given the most menial and degrading jobs. The unfair thing about the caste system was that whatever level you were born into you stayed in for the rest of your life. whatever caste your parents were in that would be your caste. You could never move up a caste.

There were few inter-caste relationships it was believed the caste you were born into reflected how you had behaved in your previous life. The people of the time of the Buddah were very interested in rebirth and the soul. It was a main topic of discussion between scholars and philosophers. They devoted a lot of time to discussion of such issues, and this reflects the affluent society of the time – people could afford to spend time thinking about these issues. People began to question the old values they had been taught and were looking to find new meaning in life. It was common for people to give up everything in order to find enlightenment.

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There were many wandering teachers of different beliefs known as Shramanas. They would go from place to place and try to teach and convert people. They usually had their own set of ideas and beliefs and were supported with gifts of food or by their followers. Two opposite types of Shramanas were the ascetics and the materialists. The ascetics lived a life of minimum luxury. They often used self-punishment as a way to find enlightenment and learn more about the world. They would keep the body in fixed positions for long periods of time, wear little clothing in harsh climates, give themselves lashes or deprive the body of food.

They believed that things that affected the body would not affect the soul and that the soul lived on. The Shramanas used techniques such as yoga and meditation to help them get closer to Brahman and enlightenment. On the other end of the scale the materialists believed that life was for the living. There was no afterlife all they had was here and now. They tried to live life to the full and take as much enjoyment as they could. In this way these people were slightly greedy and self obsessed. Another religion of the time was the folk religion. This was based on traditions and old stories that had been passed down through the ages.

The folk religion contained practices such as sacrifice, chants and spells. The people believed in spirits, and usually came from the lower castes. There were quite a few religions at the time and there was an air of freedom, especially religious freedom. The wealth, peace and prosperity, and the many people who were exploring new ideas about religion, life and the soul brought this about. “The Buddha Found Nothing of Value in The Religions of His Time. ” Discuss. (17) The Buddha was born into a very powerful and wealthy family and led a sheltered life in his earlier years.

But when he decided to leave the luxury and find his own path in life he ended up experiencing first hand many of the religions and ways of life of the time. He lived as an ascetic for a time and a materialist so he was at both ends of the spectrum. When The Buddha became enlightened he began to wander and teach what he had learnt to followers and people he saw on his travels. The philosophy that he taught was that you should always find the middle way. He used meditation and yoga as a powerful tool for sharpening the body and mind. Both of these practices came from the early Vedic tradition.

He shunned the use of mind-altering drugs such as ‘soma’ saying that it merely confused the mind rather that helped you get closer to Brahman. The Buddah did not altogether condemn the folk religion but he did decrease its value and found nothing of value in it. The folk religion was too primal to be of any use to the Buddha. The Buddha borrowed parts of other religions and used his own knowledge and understanding in his teachings. What the Buddha taught was not a strict absolute religion like the Moslem religion, but more of a philosophy and way of life.

To say that the Buddah found nothing of value in the religions of his time is not true as he was a great believer in the good yoga and meditation could do the soul, and both these practices came from existing religions. His teachings were not extreme like the ascetics or materialists, but tried to find the middle way the way that would help the soul most. Although he did use a lot of his own understanding and knowledge in his teachings, The Buddha was not to above himself that he could not see the good parts of other religions and was not afraid to adopt them.

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