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Buddhism UPSC | Notes on Buddhism | Ancient Indian History UPSC

Table of Contents: 

  • About Buddha 
  • Events related to Buddha's life and its symbol
  • Four Noble (great) Truths of Buddhism Philosophy 
  • Buddhist Councils 
  • Sects in Buddhism 
  • About Bodhisattvas 
  • Important Mudra of Buddha 
  • Tripitaka of Buddhism 
  • Summary of Buddhism Philosophy 
  • Some important Buddhist texts and their author 
  • UPSC and State PSC questions Solutions 
    • Describe the role of Buddhist literature in the creation of world peace 

Notes on Buddhism:  

About Buddha:

Gautam Buddha was the founder of the Buddhism Sect.

Birth: 563 B.C.

Birth Place: Lumbini, Kapilvastu (Nepal); Rummindei pillar of Ashoka provides us information about the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. 

Childhood name: Siddharth

Father name: Suddodhana ( Head of Sakya Gan in Vajii Mahajanpada).

Mother Name: Maya Devi ( Princess of Kosal ( Koliya) king)

Caretaker mother: Prajapati Gautami ( Maternal Aunt)

Wife: Yashodhara

Son: Rahul

Cousin name: Devadatt

Other names for Gautam Buddha were Tathagat and Shakya Muni.

Four Scenes that affect the Gautam Buddha were the Old man, the Sick man, the dead body, and Happy Saint.

The two main teachers of Gautma Buddha were Alara Kalama ( Philospher of Samkhya philosophy ) and Uddaka Ramaputta. 

The following are important events related to Buddha's life and its symbol:

Buddha's Birth is symbolized by Lotus and Bull.

He left home at 29 years of age. This event was known as "Mahabhinishkramana" or Great Renunciation or Great Departure. The horse is the symbol of  "Mahabhinishkramana". 

He got enlightenment under the Bodhi tree ( Peepal tree) in Bodhgaya after 6 years of penance ( Tapasya) at the age of 35 years. Bodhgaya was one place of Magadha Mahajanpad, and now it is in Bihar. He got enlightenment on the bank of the Niranjana River ( Falgu River) in Purnima ( full moon). Enlightenment is also known as Nirvana which means the extinction of the flame of desire, it is symbolized by Bodhi Tree.

Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon in Sarnath, the place in Kashi Mahajanpad. Now, it is Varanasi. The First Sermon of Gautam Buddha was known as Dharma Chakra Parivartan, it is symbolized by a Wheel.

Gautam Buddha died in Kushinagar, which was the capital of Malla Mahajanpad. This event is also known as Parinirvana or Mahanirvana pronounce, it is symbolized by Stupa.

The first women's name was Prajapati Gautmi who become part of Baudh Monk.

Most sermons of Gautam Budha were in Kosal Mahajanpad (mother's home). He spent 21 years in the Koshal Kingdom.

The last sermon was given to Subhdad in Kushinagar.

The name of Mahajanpada where Gautam Buddha spent his life was Vajji, Magadha, Kashi, Kosal, and Malla.

The four Noble (great) truths of Buddhism Philosophy:

The following are four noble truths:

The truth of Suffering (Dukha): the world is full of sorrow and misery.

The truth of the cause of suffering ( Samudaya): The cause of all pain and misery is desire and attachment.

The truth of the cessation of suffering ( Nirodha): Pain and misery can be ended by killing or controlling the desire.

The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering ( Magga): Desire can be controlled by following the eight-fold paths or Astanamarg.

Life is full of suffering and unhappiness. And the cause of suffering is desire. For controlling desire, there are eight-fold paths ( Astangamarga ). The following are the eight-fold paths of Magga;

  • Right View/faith
  • Right Intention /Resolve
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right concentration
  • Right mindfulness

Eightfold Path is also classified into three groups mainly Wisdom, Morality, and Meditation.  Right View and Right Intention come under the wisdom group. Right speech, Right Action, and Right livelihood come under the Morality group of the eightfold path whereas Right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness come under the meditation group.

Tri Ratna of Buddhism :

  • Buddha( highest spiritual potential)
  • Dhamma( teaching of Buddha)
  • Sangha( Monk and association)

Viharas: The living room of Monks is called Viharas.

Chaitya: The worship room of Monks is called Chaitya.

Buddhist Councils:

There were a total of six Buddhist councils, and the description of the same is mentioned below-

1st Buddhist Council: ( 400 BC)

Place: Sattaparni caves in Rajgriha

Under the patronize of King Ajatashatru.

Chairman: Monk mahakasyapa

Tripitaka complied in the first Buddhist council.

2nd Buddhist Council:( 383 BC)

Place: Vaishali.

King: Kalashoka

Chairman: Monk Sabakami

Two sects emerged;

First: Theravada ( conservative thinkers) later become Hinayana. It is also called Hinasanghic 

Second: Mahasamghikas later become Mahayana

3rd Buddhist Councils( 250 BC)

Place: Pataliputra

king: Ashoka

Chairman: Monk Moggaliputta Tisaa

4th Buddhist Council( 72 AD)

Place: Kashmir

King: Kanishka

Chairman: Vasumitra and Ashaghosha

Hinayana ( small vehicle) and Mahayana ( great vehicle )sects emerged.

5th Buddhist council( 1871)

Place: Burma

6th Buddhist Council:( 1954)

Place: Burma

Sects in Buddhism:

There are three major sects of Buddhism:

  • Hinayana
  • Mahayana
  • Vajrayana

The Hinayana sect of Buddhism:

The meaning of Hinayana is Lesser Vehicle. They believe in Buddha as an ordinary person and focus on individual salvation ( through self-discipline and meditation) by following the original teaching of Buddha. 

Hinayana believes that the future Buddha (Maitreya) is yet to come to save the world. 

This sect believed Gautam Buddha was a great person, not God. This sect does not believe in idol worship.

Pali language is the main language used by Hinayana.

The follower of the Hinayana sect is mainly found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Sub-sects of Hinayana Buddhism are Sthaviravadins, Theryavad, Vaibhasika, and Sautantrika. 

The Mahayana sect of Buddhism:

The meaning of Mahayana is the greater vehicle. 

Followers of the Mahayana sect believe Gautma Buddha is God. They believe that the salvation of individuals can be possible through grace, Bodhisattva, and the help of Buddha.

Bodhisatta is a central part of the Mahayana sect. Bodhisatta means living beings who aspire to enlightenment.

This sect believes in Idol worship.

Kalachakra ( the wheel of Time) is practiced by the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, mostly in the Gelug lineage.  The main tantric practice of Kalachakra is the Jonang school.

Sanskrit is the main language of literature of the Mahayana sect.

Mahayana spread in the northern part of India comprises Ladakh, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan.

The sub-sects of Mahayana are Shunyavad/ Madhyamika, Yogachar, Vijnanavada, and Vigyanvaad.


Vajrayana believes in salvation through magical power ( Vajra). 

Taras is the chief divinity.

Followers of Vajratana are in Tibet,  Bhutan, Bengal, and Bihar.

About Bodhisattvas:

Bodhisattva is the person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings.

Important Bodhisattvas are Avalokitesvars ( Padmapani), Manjuri, Samantabhadra, Kshitigarbha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Sadaparibhuta, Akasagarbha.

Avalokitesvars ( Padmapani) is said to incarnate in Dalai Lama. The cave wall painting of Avalokitesvars ( Padmapani) is devoted to Ajanta Cave. It is depicted as a Female.

Majusri is the manifestation of great wisdom and meditation. Manjuri is depicted as a male bodhisattva with a flaming sword in his right hand.

Kshitigarbha means Earth Womb.

Maitreya is future Budhha, he is also known as Ajita Bodhisattva.

Important Mudra of Buddha:

1. Dharmachakra Mudra:

Left hand inward and right hand outward.

Used in the first sermon at Sarnath.

2. Bhumisparsa Mudra

Touching the earth with the right hand.

Claiming enlightenment with the witness of earth.

3. Dhyan Mudra or Yog Mudra;

right-hand placed on the left hand and both hands place on the lap.

4. Karana Mudra

Raising the Index and little finger and folding the other finger.

5. Varada Mudra;

Used in the offering, welcome, compassion, etc.

6. Anjali Mudra or Namaskar Mudra

7. Abhay Mudra

8. Vajra Mudra

Symbolizing the five elements namely air, water, earth, metal,

Tripitaka of Buddhism:

"Tripitaka" scripture is associated with the Buddhism religion. It is comprised of three Buddhist literatures namely Sutpitaka, Vinayapitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Pali language is used in Tripitaka literature.

Sutpitaka contains a collection of Buddha teaching; In Sutta Pitaka, the name of sixteen (16) Mahajanpada was mentioned.

Vinayapitaka contains the conduct of Buddhist monks.

Abhidhamma Pitaka contains the Buddhist philosophy. 

Summary of Buddhism Philosophy:

  • Buddhism does not believe in the Atma ( Soul), the Caste System, and the authority of Veda.
  • Buddhist philosophy promotes the avoidance of extremities of penance and enjoyment. They promote the middle path.
  • Buddhism does not believe in the Atma ( Soul), however strongly believes in Rebirth, Ahimsa, and the middle path to living a healthy life.

Some important Buddhist texts and its author:

  • Milindyanho's text is written by Nagsen.
  • Budhcharit, Saudaranand, Conversation between Minandar and Nagsen, and Shatsutraprakaran are written by Ashvaghos.
  • Madhyamkarika's text is written by Nagarjuna.
  • Vishudhmard text is written by Budhghos.
  • Abhdhamkosh is written by Vasubandhu.
Descriptive Question on Buddhism:

Describe the role of Buddhist literature in the creation of world peace. ( UPPSC, General Studies -I 2018)

Buddhist literature plays a significant role in fostering the creation of world peace by providing concepts of non-violence, interconnectedness, mindfulness, ethical guidance, and a framework for personal and societal transformation. 

The following is the role of Buddhist literature in the creation of world peace:

It promotes a Non-Materialistic approach to Life: 
Buddhist literature focuses on self-awareness and promotes the middle path of living, not too much joy and not too much pain. Therefore, it reduces the conflict in society.

One of the fundamental teachings in Buddhist literature is the concept of non-violence and the inherent value of all sentient living beings. Buddhist literature encourages individuals to develop empathy and compassion towards all living beings, promoting a mindset of non-harming and respect for life. By internalizing these teachings, individuals can transcend their own selfish desires and work toward the well-being of others, leading to a reduction in conflict and violence.

Sustainable way of living:
Buddhist texts, such as the Tripitaka (Sutpitaka, Vinayapitaka, and Abhidhamma) and Mahayana sutras, contain teachings that emphasize compassion, wisdom, mindfulness, and interconnectedness. These teachings have the potential to inspire individuals and societies to cultivate inner peace, harmony, and a compassionate approach to life. This teaching promotes environmental conservation and promotes the co-existence of living being.

The concept of mindfulness:
Buddhist literature also emphasizes the practice of mindfulness, which involves being fully present at the moment and cultivating an awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, and actions. This practice helps individuals to develop a greater sense of self-awareness, emotional stability, and empathy. By incorporating mindfulness into their daily lives, people can enhance their ability to respond to challenging situations with clarity, compassion, and non-reactivity, reducing the likelihood of conflicts and promoting peaceful resolutions.

It promotes meditation and avoids negative emotions:
Moreover, Buddhist literature provides guidance on overcoming negative emotions and cultivating positive qualities such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. These qualities are considered essential for establishing harmonious relationships and promoting peace at both individual and societal levels. Buddhist literature offers practical methods, such as meditation practices, to develop these qualities and transform destructive emotions into positive, constructive states of mind.

Concept of the interconnectedness of living being:
Buddhist literature also highlights the interconnectedness of all phenomena, teaching that our actions have consequences not only for ourselves but also for others and the environment. This understanding fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages individuals to consider the wider implications of their choices and behaviors. By recognizing our interdependence, Buddhist teachings motivate us to act in ways that promote the well-being and happiness of all beings, ultimately contributing to a more peaceful and sustainable world.

In summary, Buddhist literature provides profound teachings and practices that can help individuals and societies cultivate inner peace, compassion, mindfulness, and a sense of interconnectedness. By internalizing these teachings and putting them into practice, individuals can contribute to the creation of world peace by fostering harmonious relationships, resolving conflicts peacefully, and promoting the well-being of all beings.

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