The history of Buddhism can be traced back to the fifth century BC when the first Buddha was born. Siddhartha Gautama was born in the region of Nepal, India in 623 BC; he was a prince of Brahmin lineage. Brahmin is a class of people in India who are known as priests. These priests were the teachers of the Hindu religion. The Brahmin were known in their language as teachers, priest and the “twice born”. The Brahmin line still exists today in both the Buddhist and Hindu religions.
There are many myths that surround his life and beliefs. One states that as a prince he was unaware of the sufferings afflicting the people of his land until the day he escaped the palace and went exploring. He was horrified to see people suffering from starvation and sickness when inside the palace walls there were no such events. He began to meditate and during these meditations he was given, by divine intervention, the path to the Middle Way.
The path to Enlightenment was widely received and the teachings of the Buddha spread quickly throughout the Asian areas. The Dharma (teachings) of Buddha were observed and followed through oral tradition in the beginning. No original writings of the Buddha remain today.
After the death of Buddha the followers of Dharma were spread across the subcontinent and into Asia. A council was ordered because some of the monks had questions to the original teachings. This first council established and wrote down all the teachings of Buddha and the Buddhist Cannon was established.
A second council, one hundred years later, reestablished all these teachings. In the years preceding this council meeting Buddhist monks had seem to sway from the path of moderation and this council intended to realign their beliefs.
A third council was convened about a hundred years after the second when the Emperor of Indiamade the Dharma a national religion. The third council was established to create missionaries to spread the word of Buddha.
Buddhists believe that the Path to Enlightenment is a path that everyone should take. While missionaries may be sent to spread Dharma, they are not encouraged to force conversion on anyone. The Path must be chosen of ones free will or the road cannot be traveled.
For the next thousand years Buddhism flourished in and around India and the Asian areas. It began to spread into the Middle East and had man followers in what are now the Afghan, Iraq and Iran regions. When this area was considered Persia, Buddhism was the main religion. Today, many archeological digs find Buddhist relics located in the area. However, there are no standing Buddhist temples left from the past in the Middle East.
Each area that practiced Buddhism had their own specific teachings. While the main thoughts of the Buddha were always the mainstay of the religion, different sects had different teachings. Buddhists in China, for example, had different icons representing Buddha than those in India. As another example, in Japan in the 17th century a form of Zen teachings came forth from the Buddhist monks of the area. A whole new subculture of Buddhism has since developed from the Zen followers.
The representations of Buddha are very different in each region. Some show pictures of Buddha as being a round and happy figure, while others have him looking slender. Each representation coincides with a myth about Buddha and not used as a form of worship. While it is believed that Buddha actually obtained enlightenment, they do not believe that he was a god.
When the Crusades reached the Middle East in the 1200’s, Buddhism was eventually pushed out of the area. Christians and Muslims alike did not want Buddhists in their Holy Land. Buddhism retreated back to the Asian lands for a short period of time.
Buddhism continued to gain popularity in Europe and the United States in the late 1800’s. By the time World War I commenced, there were already established schools of Buddhist teachings in Englandand the United States. After World War II, Buddhist leader Mahatma Ghandi led peaceful protests against England for the freedom of India. He was very successful and recreated an interest of the religion.
The popularity of Buddhism continues today. Many people admire the teachings of Buddha and the quest for personal enlightenment. With a majority of its followers still in India and Asia, the religionhas had a world wide appeal. Perhaps, in the current day, the most famous Buddhist is the 14th Dali Lama. The Dali Lama currently lives in India where he is in exile from his home in Tibet. The Dali lama has had tremendous effect on people world wide and is considered more than a religious leader. Buddhism is one of the longest surviving religions that is still practiced today.