The 6th Century B.C was a time when men’s minds in several parts of the world were deeply stirred by the problem of religion and salvation. In India, this movement was active in the kingdom of Magadha. The ruling class, considered themselves better than their spiritual guides. Even the Brahmans were arrogant considering themselves superior to others.
This rebellion against the Brahmans caused many sects to be born, each advocating different opinions of the nature of God and and relation of God to Man. All of them died in time except two, Jainism and Buddhism. Both at one time pervaded almost every corner of India and enjoyed royal patronage. Buddhism unfortunately died out in India and is now confined to countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet, China and Japan. Judged by the posthumous effects on the world at large, The Buddha was the greatest man to be born ever in the Indian Sub Continent.
The story of Buddha and his life appears only in the later Buddhist scriptures but some of the references are totally unreliable. Certain details are very certain. He was the son of a Sakya chieftain and was named Siddhartha Gautama, became an ascetic at the age of 35 years, became a Buddha (The Enlightened) under a peepal tree, and died at the age of Eighty at Kushinagara. It is believed that he was seriously affected with dysentery after eating a meal of pork, served by a blacksmith. This could be true as it is said that Buddha advised his followers that eating meat is fine as long as the living beings have not been killed to serve the monks. His followers cremated him and his ashes were distributed among the rulers and elders of the local tribes.
Now the question comes, when and why sub-sects started in such a simple religion. At the second General Council at Vaisali, a hundred years after Gautama Buddha’s death, there was a big divide on monastic discipline and the Order split into Orthodox “Sthaviravadins” and “Mahasanghika”. These minor points of discipline were soon to follow by doctrinal differences of a very major importance, which in centuries to follow were the cause of a further more divide.
The Mahasanghika later was divided into Mahayana (The Great Vehicle) and Hinayana (The lesser one). The Mahayana was considered to be a path for Bodhisatvas to attain Buddhahood. In the early school of Buddhism, there was no idol worship. It was more of a symbol worship; the Bodhi Tree, an empty throne, foot marks which depicted Buddha, lotus flower, the wheel of Dharma etc. which depict various aspects of Siddhartha Gautama’s life. There was a time where the existence of Buddhism was in question. The Mahayana sect which were great in number had to pave way for Idol Worship. The idol worship was started by Acharya Nagarjuna, during the years 167 and 196 A.D when King Yajnasri was ruling the Satavahana Kingdom.
With an introduction to Buddhism, we talk more about the scriptures, sects and Buddhist art.