Hinduism & Buddhism: A Shared Heritage
by Doranne Jacobson
Hinduism is an ancient faith dating back more than 5,000 years. Buddhism arose from Hinduism about 2,500 years ago as a reform movement, and has developed from a relatively simple faith to a more complex one. Each religion has influenced the other.
Hinduism includes many deities, ranging from minor spirits to great gods and goddesses. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi are the most widely worshiped. Hindus believe that all souls are reincarnated in a series of rebirths, and the ultimate goal of the faithful is release from this cycle by attaining eternal union with God.
Hinduism is complex in philosophy and practice. Priests guide worship in ornate temples, where the deities are believed to inhabit beautiful images. At home, Hindus usually perform their own worship services. Approximately 85 percent of India's one billion people — as well as many people outside of India — are Hindus.
Hinduism is linked with caste, an elaborate system of ranking groups of people by occupation and ritual purity. People born into a particular caste remain within that group throughout life. Many hope that through living righteously, they may achieve a higher birth in a future life. Today, an increasing number of Hindus do not agree with this system, and the Indian constitution outlaws caste discrimination.
The Buddha, a Hindu prince born about 563 b.c., taught that human life involves suffering, which can be escaped only through giving up selfish desires. Many of the Buddha's reformist teachings were based on Hindu ideas. However, Buddhism rejected caste, image worship, animal sacrifice, and priestly domination. A key Buddhist symbol, the Wheel of the Law (Dharmachakra), was derived from the ancient Hindu symbol of the sun and the cycle of life and death.
Through Ashoka's efforts, Buddhism became one of the chief religions in India (although never the faith of the majority) and in several other countries. After the decline of the Mauryan Empire, Buddhism gradually faded away in India, but remained the dominant faith in many other lands.
Initially, Buddhist temples and monuments included no images of the Buddha. As the faith spread, worship came to include lavish offerings to representations of the Buddha, who was treated like a deity. Today, Buddhist temples are often adorned with ornate statues of lesser deities, many drawn from Hinduism. Beliefs in reincarnation are strong, and the ideals of nonviolence, long present in Hinduism, were emphasized in Buddhism.
Hinduism was also affected by Buddhist ideas. Hindus began to show increased respect for life and kindness to animals. Many became vegetarians. Priestly power was played down, and worshipers sought to approach the deities independently. Today, many Hindus consider the Buddha a reincarnation of their god Vishnu — an idea resisted by Buddhists.
Buddhism is now expanding in India. Since 1951, the number of Indian Buddhists has grown from 180,000 to more than five million. This increase is largely due to the influence of the late Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a leader of low-caste Hindus who urged his followers to reject the caste system and embrace the ancient Indian faith of Buddhism, which emphasized equality, compassion, and personal spiritual achievement. These "New Buddhists" follow the teachings of the Buddha himself and discourage the worship of statues and deities.
Dr. Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution, adopted in 1949, and urged the use of Ashoka's lion capital on the national emblem and the dharmachakra wheel on the flag. These symbols emphasize the significance of the shared heritage of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Buddhism and Medieval Japan
By D. Max Moerman
Buddhism was a fundamental element in the culture of medieval Japan. It shaped the ideas and institutions of the political authority and the structure of the social order. It also shaped the categories of class and gender; the visual, literary, and performing arts; and the understanding of historical time itself.
The Buddhist tradition provided the terms, concepts, and practices by which the Japanese of the medieval period made sense of the world and their place in it. The teachings of Buddhism provided a code of moral behavior, a system of healing, a means to care for the dead, and a cosmology (a picture of the universe complete with heavens and hells). Buddhist ideas and imagery were used to interpret the Japanese landscape, and those who practiced the tradition of Buddhism that came to be known as Shugendô saw the mountains of Japan as sacred areas that offered the perfect environment for those seeking spiritual development. Buddhist divinities were prayed to for protection, prosperity, and longevity. Followers of Buddhism also looked to the divinities for health in the present life and rebirth in paradise in the life to come. Buddhist monks and nuns played a central role in society, the state, and the ritual activities that marked the daily lives of all individuals.
Buddhism in Japan, however, never existed in isolation from the cults of local deities known as kami. In medieval Japan, these local deities were seen as the native forms of Buddhist divinities, and kami shrines and Buddhist temples together formed integrated religious institutions.
There were many different schools of Buddhism in medieval Japan. Some had been established centuries earlier, while others arose in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The older schools represented the mainstream of medieval religious thought, and their temples and shrines were powerful economic institutions that owned extensive areas of land and had their own armed forces.
The schools of Buddhism that developed in the Kamakura period were based on the traditions of the older schools, but they also represented a radical departure from them. Kamakura Buddhism usually refers to six new schools whose founders lived during this period. These were the Pure Land schools of Jôdo founded by Hônen (1133–1212), Jôdo Shin founded by Shinran (1173–1263), and Ji founded by Ippen (1239–1289); the Zen schools of Rinzai founded by Eisai (1114–1215) and Sôtô founded by Dôgen (1200–1253); and the Nichiren or Lotus school founded by Nichiren (1222–1282). It would be misleading, however, to see these schools as representative of the Buddhism of the age. While their origins date from the Kamakura period, their movements remained small until later centuries.
Hônen, Shinran, Eisai, Dôgen, and Nichiren all began their careers as monks, but each went on to select one practice from the tradition of Tendai Buddhism (one of the older schools of Buddhism) as the most appropriate path to enlightenment. For Hônen, Shinran, and Ippen, that practice was reciting the name of Amida Buddha (nembutsu) based on faith in Amida’s vow that anyone who calls on him will be reborn in his heavenly Pure Land. For Eisai and Dôgen, it was the practice of seated meditation (zazen) and the study of the recorded sayings of Chinese masters (koan). For Nichiren, it was chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra, the principal scripture of the Tendai school. Devotion to Amida, Zen meditation, and venerating the Lotus Sutra were all essential elements of Tendai. Yet, it was the choosing of one object of faith or one form of ritual practice to the exclusion of all others that distinguished these new Buddhist movements. At the same time, it often brought them into conflict both with those who followed other religious beliefs and with those in government positions.
Enlightenment, according to the Buddhists, is a blessed state in which the individual transcends desire and suffering and attains Nirvana, a state of perfect blessedness attained through the elimination of all desires and passions.
D. Max Moerman teaches Japanese religious history in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College, Columbia University.
The Prince Who Had Everything
The Legend of the Buddha
retold by Aaron Shepard
Of all Buddhist tales, the best-known and best-loved is the story of the Buddha's own birth and youth. Buddha—"the Enlightened One" or "the Awakened One"—is the religious title given to Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakya clan, which ruled an area that today straddles the border between Nepal and the Indian state of Bihar. He is believed to have lived from around 563 b.c.e. to around 483 b.c.e.
No official account of the Buddha's life was left by either Buddha or his disciples. As has happened for most great religious leaders, the stories of his early life were gradually expanded and embellished by his followers. Still, the legend that follows probably represents in symbolic form the early spiritual life of the young man who became the Buddha.
In the royal city of Kapilavatthu, a son had come to the great King Suddhodana and his lovely Queen Maya. They named the boy Siddhartha, which means "He Who Reaches His Goal."
Soon after the birth, the king was visited by a great seer named Asita. The baby was brought for him to see. To the king's alarm, the holy man burst into tears.
"Sir, what is wrong?" asked the king. "Do you foresee some disaster for my son?"
"Not at all," said the seer. "His future is supreme. Your son shall become a Buddha, an Enlightened One, and free the world from its bonds of illusion. I weep only for myself, for I will not live to hear his teachings."
Now, the king was distressed that his only heir might turn to a life of religion. He called upon eight Brahmin priests, all skilled in interpreting signs, and asked them to prophesy for the prince.
When the priests had conferred, their spokesman addressed the king. "Your majesty, if your son follows in your footsteps, he will become a Universal King and rule the known world. But if he renounces home and family for the life of a seeker, he will become a Buddha and save the world from its ignorance and folly."
The king asked, "What would cause my son to renounce home and family?"
The priest answered, "Seeing the four signs."
"And what are the four?"
"An old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man."
"Then none of these shall he see," the king declared. And he placed guards around the palace to keep all such persons away.
As Siddhartha grew to manhood, the king sought ways to strengthen his son's ties to home. He married the prince to the lovely Princess Yasodhara, who in time bore a son. And he surrounded him with dancing girls to wile away the hours. The prince became a creature of pleasure and seldom left his palace.
But one day Siddhartha thought he would visit a park outside the city. The king arranged the outing, issuing strict orders to his guards to keep the road clear of the old, the sick, the dead, and the holy.
As the prince passed through the city in his royal carriage, people lined the road to admire him. The guards followed the king's orders as best they could. But even so, the prince spied in the crowd a man with gray hair, weak limbs, and a bent back.
"Driver," said Siddhartha, "what is wrong with that man?"
"He is old, my lord."
"And what is 'old'?" asked the prince.
" 'Old' is when you have lived many years."
"And will I too become 'old'?"
"Yes, my lord. To grow old is our common fate."
"If all must face old age," said the prince, "then how can we take joy in youth?"
Not long after, the prince spied a man yellow-faced and shaking, leaning on a companion for support. "Driver, what is wrong with that man?"
"He is sick, my lord."
"And what is 'sick'?"
" 'Sick' is when your health has left you."
"And will I too become 'sick'?"
"It is likely, my lord. To be sick is our common fate."
"If all must face sickness," said the prince, "then how can we take pride in health?"
Before long, the prince spied a stiff, motionless man being carried along by four others.
"Driver, what is wrong with that man?"
"He has died, my lord."
"And what is 'die'?"
" 'Die' is when your life is finished."
"And will I too 'die'?"
"You will, my lord, without a doubt. Of all our fates, death is the most certain."
"If all must face death," said the prince, "then how can we delight in life?"
At last the prince spied a man with shaved head and saffron robe.
"Driver, what is that man?"
"He is a seeker, my lord."
"And what is a 'seeker'?"
"A seeker is one who renounces home and family to wander about, living on what he begs. Avoiding pleasure, he subdues the passions; meditating, he controls his mind. And so he strives for freedom from this world of tears and the endless round of rebirths."
"Driver, return to the palace. No more do I care for parks or pleasure or anything that may pass away. Soon I too will become a seeker, renouncing this life that binds me."
That very night, Siddhartha slipped into the women's quarters for one last look at his sleeping wife and son. Then, quietly, he descended to the courtyard, mounted his royal steed, and set forth.
The city gate, too heavy for a single man to handle, swung open by itself at his approach. And as the prince passed through, he made this vow: "Never shall I enter this city again, until I have seen the farther shore of life and death."
(General hint: If an "h" follows a "d" or "t," pretend it is not there.)
- Buddha BOO-duh
- Siddhartha sid-DAR-tuh
- Gautama GAW-tuh-muh
- Kapilavatthu KAP-pil-luh-VAH-too
- Suddhodana soo-DO-duh-nuh
- Maya MAH-yuh
- Asita AH-see-tuh
- Yasodhara yuh-SO-duh-ruh
Dharma, Karma, and Nirvana
By Kathiann M. Kowalski
Buddhists believe that after Siddhartha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he did not immediately begin to teach the truth, dharma, because he thought it was too difficult for most people to understand. Dharma is a Sanskrit word meaning “teaching, doctrine, ethical behavior, law, and universal righteousness.” It was only after what Buddhist scriptures call the “pleading of Brahma” that the Buddha decided to share his insights and preach dharma.
Finding the Right Path
The Buddha began his teaching by seeking the five men with whom he had originally tried to find dharma. These five seekers had accused him of following the “easy life” after he decided that starvation was not the path to enlightenment.
When the Buddha found the five seekers again in Deer Park at what is now known as Sarnath, they were unfriendly. The Buddha, however, soon convinced them that it was a Middle Path between self-indulgence and self-denial that finally brought him to enlightenment. His first sermon at Deer Park is often called “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth” because it established the teachings of Buddha, a spiritual weapon to overcome ignorance and establish a kingdom of righteousness.
The Reason for Rebirth
So what teachings do Buddhists follow? They see the universe as consisting of many states of being, all of which include suffering and unhappiness and change constantly. Buddhists believe that a person born into this universe will be reborn again and again. They see this rebirth more as a causal connection between one life and another, like passing a flame from candle to candle.
Karma, actions, sow seeds that later produce consequences. Good deeds have good results, while bad actions produce bad effects. The results of karma can even go beyond death and affect other lives. Buddhism does not teach that a supreme being created the universe. Instead, they say, whatever occurs happens because something causes it, and everything exists within a giant, interconnected chain reaction.
Recognizing that suffering exists in every life, the Buddha taught that the ultimate cause of suffering is the desire for worldly things. Only by eliminating this desire can a person achieve nirvana, enlightenment. Enlightenment ends the cycle of death and rebirth, and the way to achieve it is to follow the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. The Path is a set of practical guidelines about wisdom, morals, and meditation. The steps along the path are not taken in order but developed together throughout a person’s life.
By following the Buddha’s teachings and the path he established, Buddhists hope to one day achieve parinirvana, the ultimate enlightenment of “the wise man freed from individuality.”
The Four Noble Truths state the Buddha’s philosophy on suffering and how to overcome it:
1. All lives are filled with suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by craving for worldly things.
3. Suffering will stop when people are free of their desires.
4. The way to eliminate desire and to achieve nirvana is to follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
1. Right View: Understand the Buddha’s teachings.
2. Right Thought: Act out of unselfishness.
3. Right Speech: Speak kindly and truthfully.
4. Right Action: Have good conduct. Avoid killing, stealing, lying, misusing the body, or doing anything that clouds the mind.
5. Right Work: One’s job should do good and avoid harm.
6. Right Effort: Work for self-improvement.
7. Right Mindfulness: Develop self-awareness.
8. Right Concentration: Focus in meditation.
The World of Buddhism
Thousands of followers from around the world travel to the four chief Buddhist pilgrimage sites each year: Lumbini Grove (the birthplace of the Buddha); Bodh Gaya (the site of the tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment); Deer Park, near the city of Sarnath (the site of the Buddha's first sermon); and Kushinagara (the place where the Buddha died). Each site is also host to an annual major religious festival.
- Hanamatsuri, or Flower Festival: Celebrated on April 8th by followers of the Mahayana tradition in Japan, this festival honors the birth of the Buddha. Worshipers surround a small statue of the infant Buddha with a shrine of flowers and place it before their temple's chief image of the Buddha. Followers of the Theravada tradition celebrate Vesaka, or Full Moon Day, in April/May. Vesaka commemorates not only the birth of the Buddha but also his Enlightenment and death.
- Bodhi Day: Observed on December 8th by followers of the Mahayana tradition, Bodhi Day celebrates the most significant event in the Buddha's life—his Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. According to the biography of the Buddha, Enlightenment came just as the first rays of the morning sun cast their rosy glow across the skies.
- Dharma-chakka Day: Celebrated by followers of the Theravada tradition on the day of the full moon in July, Dharma-chakka Day commemorates the Buddha's first sermon given to the five ascetics in Deer Park.
- Nirvana Day: Observed on February 15 by followers of the Mahayana tradition, this festival celebrates the death of the Buddha at Kushinagara.
The Life of a Buddhist Monk
By Harry Gardiner
One of the most important ways that a young Buddhist man can honor his parents and gain merit is by becoming a bhikkhu, or monk. Boys in Thailand traditionally enter sangha, monkhood, during the rainy season in early July. Their stay may last from a few days to a few months.
Arriving at the Temple To be ordained a full-fledged monk, a man must be at least 20 years old. Anyone younger becomes a samanera, or novice monk. Before those wishing to be ordained arrive at the temple, they don a white robe as a sign of purity and have their heads shaved to symbolize that they have given up the material world. Approaching the abbot (the head of the monastery), they bow three times before requesting to be allowed to become members of the community. The abbot covers each man’s left shoulder with a narrow cloth called an amsa, hands him a saffron-colored robe, and sends a bhikkhu with him to help him dress. The new monks are then instructed in the teachings of the Buddha and in the rules of behavior. With this ritual, the ordination of a novice monk is complete.
Those wishing to become a bhikkhu are questioned by the abbot and asked the name under which they wish to join the order. Following the examination and acceptance by the assembled monks, the monks-in-training are instructed regarding their duties.
The Daily Schedule
As a bhikkhu, each will rise at five a.m., put on his saffron robe, and chant a prayer of loyalty to the Buddha before joining other monks at six o’clock to walk through the nearby town and accept food and other offerings from the villagers. All then return to the temple, eat their first meal of the day, and spend the rest of the morning praying and studying Buddhist scriptures. At eleven, they eat their last meal of the day.
Except for liquids, they will not consume anything until the next morning. This is a way of learning moderation. The afternoon is for visiting family, cleaning their rooms, washing their robes, or attending funerals and housewarmings.
The evening is spent in more chanting and prayers, as well as instruction in meditation. Shortly after nine o’clock, the monks retire, each to his own straw mat.
Harry Gardiner is a freelance writer living in Winona, Minnesota. In 1985, he became a bhikkhu for a short period of time at the monastery temples Portaram and Paknam in Thailand.
From: Faces, 1998-09
A Day in the Life of a Novice Monk
Kimberly Baldwin Radford
Sok-sabai te, nyet nyom? How are you, everyone? My name is Tah and I am a fourteen-year-old novice Buddhist monk living in Phnom Penh. As a novice monk, I am learning to be a religious leader who follows the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha founded Buddhism—a religion brought to my country more than 1,000 years ago from India.
Monks are always male and must dress and act in certain ways. You can see that my head and eyebrows have been shaved. I also wear a bright orange robe like the other monks at my wat. "Wat" is the Khmer word for a Buddhist temple. When I became a monk a year ago, my life changed a great deal. Let me tell you about a typical day as a novice monk.
- 4:00 a.m. Long before sunrise, a gong sounds telling us to wake up and get dressed. Getting ready in the morning is not difficult because I never have to choose my clothing!
- Because a monk's lifestyle should be simple and humble, every monk has his head shaved twice a month. A shaved head reminds the monk that he is not to think about his personal beauty. It is also good for practical reasons. I never need to comb my hair, it is easy to wash, and it is also very cool—important in a hot, humid country like Cambodia.
- 4:30 a.m. We go to the worship hall to chant prayers. Monks use a special religious language called Pali. Since I did not know Pali before, I must study it every day.
- 5:00 a.m. Before eating, we spend time cleaning the wat. Sometimes we plant trees and flowers outside to make the area more beautiful.
5:30 a.m. My first meal of the day is usually rice porridge with fish. When I became a monk, I vowed to follow certain rules. One of the vows was, "No food after noon." Buddhist monks eat only two times a day: once in the early morning and again at 11 a.m.
We also make a vow not to eat the meat from certain animals, such as elephants, dogs, cats, horses, tigers, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, frogs, monkeys, or rabbits! Since these are not common foods for Cambodians, monks can easily avoid them.
- 6–8:00 a.m. An older monk teaches us Pali so that we can chant and read from the Buddhist holy books.
9:30–10:30 a.m. Midmorning, most monks go ben baat. During ben baat, we go to houses and shops collecting rice or money. People want to give these things to the monks to show that they are good Buddhists, and because they want the monks to bless them. After receiving food or money, a monk will wish the person five things: long life, good health, strength, wisdom, and a better life in the future.
All of the food that we have been given during ben baat is gathered together back at the wat. There are religious women at the wat called nuns who will cook extra food if the monks have not collected enough. Like monks, nuns have shaved heads, but their robes are all white. Most nuns are more than fifty-five years old. They may be widowed or divorced. Nuns do not go ben baat and must wait to eat after the monks.
- 11:00 a.m. We eat again—our last meal of the day. When I first became a monk, I sometimes felt hungry in the afternoon. Now I do not even think about it.
- 12–2:00 p.m. Like most Cambodian people, monks take a rest now, as this is the hottest part of the day.
- 2–5:00 p.m. Study Pali again.
- After 5:00 p.m. We have free time to do our personal chores, such as wash our robes or clean our sleeping area. We cannot watch television, dance, swim, run, or play games. Monks may listen to music, but only religious music. Even though we cannot eat in the afternoon, monks may drink water, tea, soda, milk, coffee, or coconut water. Monks of any age are never to drink alcoholic beverages.
- 7:00 p.m. Chant prayers.
- 10:00 p.m. Go to bed! In keeping with our simple lifestyle, monks sleep on plain wooden beds with no mattresses.
My family lives far away in Pursat province, so they visit me only twice a year. While becoming a monk is not required for all Buddhist boys, I chose to become a monk and am glad that I did. My parents are also happy for me even though we cannot see one another very often. I can continue to be a monk for as long as I wish or stop at any time. There are many more things that I want to learn. Right now I plan to stay at my wat for at least a few more years.
The Early Years of Buddhism
Carolyn J. Gard
What happened to the teachings of the Buddha after he died? The Buddha did not appoint a successor. Rather, he insisted that his teachings would be the only guide his disciples and followers would ever need. Up until this time, his disciples had orally passed on the teachings they had received from the Buddha, following traditional Indian practice.
Soon after the Buddha's death, his most senior disciple, Mahakassapa, worried that the Buddha's teachings might become distorted over time. He therefore called a meeting of all the advanced disciples so that they might collectively recall and set to memory the teachings of the Buddha for future generations. According to tradition, five hundred monks attended the First Council at the Cave of the Seven Leaves in Rajagaha.
One disciple of the Buddha, Ananda, had been with the Buddha throughout his life, and had heard and committed to memory each of his sermons. He recited all of these at the council and they became known as the Sutras. Another disciple, Upali, recited the rules of discipline for the monks as taught by the Buddha, and these became the Vinaya. The council members listened to each recitation, made corrections when necessary, and then committed the sermons to memory.
After the First Council, the Buddha's teachings spread throughout India. At this time, various groups of monks began to disagree in their interpretations of the Sutra and Vinaya. In successive Councils, the senior monks gathered together and tried to resolve their differences in interpretation.
At the Second Council, held about a hundred years after the death of the Buddha, in the town of Vesali, the major dispute concerned the rules of discipline. A number of the Vesali monks favored relaxing the rules of discipline. They wanted to allow the Buddhist monks to accept gifts of money, to store salt, and to eat after the noon hour, all of which had been prohibited during the Buddha's lifetime. The more traditionally oriented monks refused to go along with the "liberal" interpretation given by the Vesali monks. When the Vesali monks refused to change their position, the Buddhist monastic community split in two.
This was the first schism (division) in the community, and it gave rise to two schools of followers of Buddhism: the Mahasanghika (those who followed the Vesali reforms) and the Theravada (those who preferred the conservative path of the "elders"). In time, there were many more divisions of the community, giving rise to literally dozens of different Buddhist movements and schools.
One of the most important schools of Buddhism was the Mahayana (the "Great Vehicle"), which developed sometime around the early first century c.e. This school may have been influenced by the Mahasanghikas, as well as by other traditions that originated to the north and east of India. Today, Mahayana is the dominant form of Buddhism in North and East Asia (Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan), while Theravada is the major school in South and Southeast Asia (including Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand).
The followers of the Theravada school emphasize self-discipline and meditation as the means of attaining nirvana. They believe that followers of the Buddha should aspire to become Arhants—enlightened saints—who will not be subject to continued rebirth after death.
The followers of the Mahayana tradition believe it is better to work toward the enlightenment of others before seeking enlightenment for oneself. They therefore do not seek to become arhants, but rather Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is a Buddha-to-be; it refers to someone who freely decides to remain in the cycle of rebirth in order to guide others toward enlightenment.
The scriptures of the Theravada school were passed on in the Pali language, and thus are known collectively as the Pali Canon. This Canon is organized into three sections, or baskets, known as the Tripitaka, meaning "three baskets." The three parts are the Sutra (the sermons of the Buddha), the Vinaya (the rules of discipline for the monks), and the Abhidhamma (the philosophical interpretations of the Sutra). The Mahayana Buddhists accepted the Tripitaka teachings, but added many more scriptures to the earlier Canon.
One group of scriptures added by the Mahayanists is the "Perfection of Wisdom" (Prajnaparamita) texts. These texts range from a few paragraphs in length to versions that are tens of thousands of lines long. They teach the "emptiness" of all things; that is, that all things have no reality apart from the concepts and ideas that we have about them.
According to Mahayanan teachings, once we understand that things are empty, they will no longer serve as objects of longing or hatred. Thus, according to the Perfection of Wisdom texts, understanding the true nature of things is the ultimate path to liberation—to freedom from craving, attachment, and self-centeredness.
Ashoka, the ruler of India from 270 to 230 b.c.e., conquered other lands. After a brutal battle at Kalinga, he turned to peaceful ways and became a Buddhist. His authority helped expand Buddhism from a small sect into a worldwide religion.
Ashoka wrote his edicts on rocks and pillars throughout India, such as the one pictured here.
". . . I have done [my great deeds] in order to discharge my debt to all beings. . . . I work for their happiness in this life, that in the next they may gain heaven." —C.J.G.
2000 Abraham, one of the founding fathers of Judaism and a figure revered by Christians and Muslims, born c. 2000
1900 Zarathushtra, founder of Zoroastrianism, born sometime between the 18th and 14th centuries
1500 Hinduism’s Rig Veda composed, c. 1500–1200
1400 Moses, prophet and key figure in Jewish history, born c. 1400–1200
800 Early Upanishads of Hinduism composed, 800–500
604 Laozi, the first philosopher of Daoism, c. 604–c. 520
599 Mahavira, the historical founder of Jainism, c. 599–527
563 Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha and founder of Buddhism, c. 563–c. 483
551 Confucius, Chinese scholar, founder of Confucianism, c. 551–479
5 Jesus Christ, founder of Christianity, c. 5 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.
570 Muhammad, prophet of Islam, c. 570–632
800 Hinduism’s Vedas first written down, sometime after 800 1469 Nanak, founder of Sikhism, 1469–1539
1817 Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, founder of Baha’i, 1817–1892