A). Outline the social, political and religious background from which Buddhism emerged. (10)
Buddhism is one of the major religious traditions of the human race today. Buddhism was influenced by many different cultures over the thousands of years. This essay will outline the social, political and religious issues surrounding the background and the emergence of Buddhism in Indian Society.
“In the 1920’s archaeological excavations of the ancient cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in North West India revealed the existence of an urban civilisation. This is called the Indus Valley Civilisation.” (Buddhism Dominique Side) The background from which the Buddha emerged from stretched as far back as C2700 in a place called the Indus Valley. This was the first sign of civilisation to live on the Indian subcontinent. People were attracted to the Indus Valley because of the of the River Indus. The River provided a good source of vegetation; there was also flat land, stones and trees.
The Indus Valley was an Egalitarian society, which meant that everybody living inside the society were all equal and they worshipped both Gods and Goddesses. They believed and worshiped in Brahman, who they believed was the most looked up to and modest God. Archaeologists found statues with engraved scriptures of Gods and Goddesses on; the finding of these pots is where it is believed that the Religion began, although there were never any findings of temples to prove this. “Artefacts show it’s Religion to be related to the forces of nature… the worship of a mother Goddess, sacred trees and fertility symbols.” (Buddhism Dominique Side)
The valley was believed to have been a strong central government and to have two main political centres, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. The Indus Valley civilisation began to move out, many people today still believe this was because of a natural migration. After the civilisation of the Indus Valley had left, Aryans then began to set up home on their land.
Aryans were nomadic; they travelled around a lot, never staying in one place for very long. They brought animals with them and built up a strong military. They were thought to be good at building and carpentry. The official religion of the Aryan conquerors of India is referred to as the Vedic religion after their holy books or Vedas (knowledge). The priests of this religion were known as Brahmans or Brahmins and are often mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures.
The Aryans were unquestionably tough people, military strong, and they were fierce and war like. Their culture was oriented around warfare, and they were very good at it. The Aryans were a new start in the Indian culture; they adopted almost nothing of Harappan culture. They built no cities, no states, no granaries, and used no writing. “…They worshipped a pantheon of gods and were mostly connected with forces of the natural world, especially those powers on which humans were dependent.” (Buddhism Denise Cush)
The Indian caste system began to develop and the civilisations were placed into the category that they belonged too. “Each mans duty was to follow the profession suitable for his social class.” (Buddhism Dominique Side) Even today the values of the caste system are held strongly, it has kept a sense of order and peace among the people. The caste consists of six different levels, and as a pyramid starting from the highest and working down. The highest being the Brahman, then Kshatriya, Valishya, Shudra, Harijans and the Untouchables. Within each of these levels are the actual “castes” within which people are born, married and die into. They all have their own place among each other and accept that it is the way to keep society from disintegrating to chaos. The system has worked well for Indian people and still has a major role in modern India.
The Aryan society was patrocol, which means it was all male. It was now no longer an egalitarian society.
Indus Valley people and Aryans began to mix, which is how the Indo-Aryans were formed, this was the beginning of Hinduism, which was a mixture of Indo and Aryan beliefs and practices. From these two religions they made a relationship and formed the Indo- Aryan people. “Like a mighty river, created from mainly tributaries that fed it, Hinduism is an amalgamation of the beliefs of the many people who settled in India in ancient times.” (A beginners guide to Buddhism, Gillian Strokes) People now did not sacrifice animals for their religion but would now give gifts to their God called offerings; these would consist of flowers and vegetables.
The Indo Aryans did not have or worship a holy scripture, however they did have Vedic hymns that were sang and collected, and which were later written down in the “Veda”. This means they have a cultural importance. They also worshipped a pantheon of gods. They believed in the highest form of God, the Brahman who was the highest level of the caste system. There was an amalgamation of Indo and Aryans that became the religion Hinduism. Women now did not have any power; men now did everything, women were now considered inferior to men. As a belief in the caste system, you were only allowed to marry within your level of the caste system.
The political organisation was hierarchical and centralised. Kingdoms varied in size and kings were no more than village leaders. Some people believe that Hinduism began with the Indo-Aryans, while others believe that it began with the Indus population. Hinduism has no founder and no single moment of beginning.
The emergence of Buddhism was now falling into place. Hinduism is the largest religion of India. The religion is based on prayers and believes in many gods and goddesses. However, one God named Brahman was more significant than the others. There were special priests known as Brahmin who were used to help you worship this special God, they helped to channel people’s faith. Asceticism defined as the practice of self-disciple, voluntary undertaken, in order to achieve a higher or spiritual ideal began. People didn’t agree with Brahman priests, they wanted to live a simple life in the forest.
Hinduism also believes in reincarnation, this is rebirth – the cycle of life. It consists of Birth, Life, Death and Rebirth; you undergo the cycle over and over again. It is thought that if you live a good life you will be born into a better caste in your next life. You will achieve good karma if you do your duty well which is determined by the caste you are born into. Good karma means a good next life and bad karma means a bad next life. The only way to get out of the cycle is to have continuous good rebirths, which means you will enter Nirvana.
All these backgrounds lead to the emergence of Buddhism in some way. Ascetics would move away to the forests and leave all their family and objects behind, even the idea of the caste system. They wanted peace of mind and to achieve enlightenment. The best way to do this was to meditate. They also wanted to get out of the life cycle and achieve Nirvana.
Siddhartha Gautama was an ascetic, he was born a Hindu but wanted to escape the life cycle. He emerged as the Buddha after achieving enlightenment and people began to follow his way of life. Political aspects were that people did not use the caste system and also rejected social and political values. They wanted an egalitarian society where everyone was equal and treated with the same amount of respect. “One of the effects of these changes was the creation of new professions, such as state officials and traders, which had no place in ancient caste system.” (Buddhism Dominique Side)
Therefore in conclusion I can see how Buddhism has emerged over thousands of years and that Buddhism now does not have any thing in common with the earliest religion found. Buddhism needed the other religions to be in place in order for it to exist and without the other religions; it might not have existed today. I think Buddhism has become the fairest religion, as it believes in equality. Therefore it has adapted out of the many religions that came before it.
B). “The Buddha turned his back on all the Religious teaching of his age.” Assess this view (10)
Buddhism is an Eastern Religion that is over two thousand years old. Buddhism as a religion was influenced by this historical context. The origins of Buddhism are closely connected with the origins of Hinduism. Buddhists don’t believe in a God they just worship the highest in the caste system, the Brahmin. The Buddha is a highly respected person in the Buddhists Society. Buddhism is an amalgamation, an adaptation of Religions over time.
This part of the essay requires assessing the view of how the Buddha turned or didn’t turn his back on the religious teachings of his age. The Buddha lived and taught in the Northeast India about 2,500 years ago and the development of the Religion was influenced by this historical context. He lived for around eighty years, somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE. Siddhartha Gautama developed most of his ideas for Buddhism from Hinduism. He changed and developed them to suit his new religion. He took some but changed them. He was born a Hindu and born into the Kshatriya Caste. He became an ascetic.
I believe that the Buddha turned his back on his religious teachings for an important reason; therefore I believe this is because he wanted to get himself out of the life cycle. The Buddha wanted to go to the forests to meditate and reach Nirvana. The Buddha did not want his teachings to be taken as something sacred in itself, but as a means to an end. He made it clear that any teachings, including his own were not to be accepted without noticing but with faith and reverence, but should not be tested out in experience.
The Buddhism religion was not just something to believe in or discuss, but something to try out to see if it worked. When you have tried it out it could make you a better person or takes you nearer to your spiritual goal. Siddhartha Gautama did turn his back on the previous teachings are the Caste system; the Caste system was a very important part of the social and religious life within India and Hinduism. When Prince Siddhartha went to find enlightenment he forgot all about the ideas of the caste system even though he was born into a good Varna.
The Buddha’s invitation was to come and see for yourself, join him in his meditation to reach Nirvana. The Buddha wanted to get out of the cycle of; life, death and rebirth and be enlightened to discover a new life. He didn’t completely want to get rid of rebirth; he wanted to incorporate it into Buddhism. He believed in renunciation, which is what the ascetics believed in. They renounced with the Buddha to the forest. They gave up there existence. The Buddha did not want to pray to Brahman anymore, he wanted to break away from the priestly religion and become personal.
Men and women both did this. Personal is being spiritual instead of Religious. The Buddha also incorporated Karma into Buddhism because it’s still the action needed for rebirth. He couldn’t change that. He did turn his back on the caste system though as it was seen as a social class factor and not needed for the religion, as everyone was equal for him. The economic developments destabilised the Brahminical order. Prince Siddhartha still believed in the ideas of rebirth and the cycle of life, but came up with a way of escaping the circle.