Buddhism originated in the life, teaching, and personality of a remarkable Indian sage, Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a petty king whose capital was at Kapilavasta in northern India. The life span of Gautama, who is called Buddha or “Enlightened One,” is usually reckoned as about 560–480 B.C.

According to traditional accounts, at the age of 29 Gautama saw in succession a decrepit old man, a dead body, a diseased person, and a calm recluse. Shocked by these “Four Passing Sights” and filled with a yearning to find release from the inevitable misery of existence, he forsook his sheltered life of luxury and left behind his beautiful wife and young son to become a recluse.

After trying various Hindu ways of salvation, Gautama adopted a rigorous asceticism involving such extreme fasting that his body wasted away to skin and bones. Rejecting this fanaticism for a “middle way” between self-mortification and self-indulgence, he began to eat again; and shortly thereafter, while seated in meditation, he attained “enlightenment”—he became a Buddha.

Soon Gautama had made the important decision to share his experience with others. He began to preach, and his first converts were five former disciples who had forsaken him when he had renounced extreme asceticism. Other conversions followed, and before long a brotherhood of 60 monks had resulted with Gautama at the head. Thus a new religion was born.

This Buddhist faith flourished for a few centuries in India until through certain circumstances it became practically extinct in the land of its birth. Meantime, however, it had divided into two main branches and had effected a missionary expansion which was to give it continued existence ...

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