Buddhism is believed to have been in existence, way before Siddhartha existed (United Press International, 2007, p. 1). Most scholars observe that the roots of Buddhism are very deep, and though Siddhartha contributed a lot to the development of the religion, many Buddhists believe that he was just one of the people awakened to attain buddahood (United Press International, 2007, p. 1).
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Many Buddhists followers therefore believe that there will be many more Buddha to come and one of the recently identified Buddha is Maitreya (United Press International, 2007, p. 1). Buddhism does not have an unrealistic connotation, as most people would like to believe (because of the worship of gods) since it is largely an accessible way of life as evidenced by most Buddha teachings (United Press International, 2007, p. 1).
Buddhas are classified as exceptional individuals who cut a mark above the rest in developing positive values that would normally elevate him or her to be a mentor to a number of followers. The accessibility of being a Buddha is not unrealistic as previously noted. In fact, United Press International (2007) affirms that:
“Anyone, by knowing the reality of life, through self-control, restraint and discipline, and by following the Middle Way, can get through the journey of life. By continuously doing good acts, he develops virtues, escapes the bond of sorrows, and attains the stage of being a Buddha” (p. 4).
With the above understanding of who a Buddha is, we can evidently analyze Siddhartha Gautama who is one of the most celebrated Buddha in the Buddhist faith. He lived a rather conventional life with many of his years on earth spent on being a teacher (a platform he used to influence other noticeable Buddhist personalities like King Harishchandra and Lord Rama) (Duiker, 2006).
Siddhartha’s time on earth was not as smooth as most people believe because he was born at a time when there were significant political and social instabilities (Duiker, 2006). Many people were constantly being subjected to atrocious acts and a good number were also being exploited in one way or the other.
Religion which was also expected to be peoples’ sole savior was also never free from controversy, with many people perceiving it as serving private interests (Duiker, 2006). It is at this time that Siddhartha excelled as a Buddha. During his time, he was able to instill some of the rarest human attributes of his time. They included sympathy and love. These values were generally summed up as Ahimsa (Duiker, 2006).
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Though Siddhartha’s early life was largely luxurious and blind to human suffering, during his life as an adult, Siddhartha dedicated much of his life eliminating human suffering.
This is the reason why he left his home to travel far and wide to help his people. Siddhartha largely preached his own personal view of life and human relationships. This infamously gave him the influence he now commands in Buddhism (with many of his philosophies assumed to constitute Buddhism itself) (Hooker, 1996, p. 4).
However, the degree to which Buddhist principles reflect his philosophies is in contention (because Siddhartha’s death happened a long time ago and there may be lacking materials to bridge his philosophies and currently practiced Buddhist doctrines) (Hooker, 1996).
These factors withstanding, this study seeks to identify Siddhartha’s teachings and how he influenced Buddhism as a religion, but more importantly, this study establishes that Siddhartha had a lot of influence on current Buddhist philosophies and India’s socio-political processes evidenced today.
The Teaching of Four Noble Truths
Siddhartha had previously been raised in a life of luxury and much wealth because his parents did not want to subject their son to human suffering.
However, after Siddhartha saw how sickness, death and suffering affected humanity, he decided to abandon his family (including his wife and children) to pursue his own course of seeking ways to alleviate human suffering (Hooker, 1996, p. 6).
In this quest, Siddhartha subjected himself to a lot of human suffering, thereby causing his life to take an absolute turn from luxury to poverty. However, little did he know that this turn would be the background to one of his most powerful teachings in the Buddhist religion (The Teaching of Four Noble Truths).
It is observed that at one point of his life in misery, he heard a musician playing a musical instrument made with strings (Hooker, 1996, p. 6).
On one hand, he observed that when the strings were tight enough, he could not hear the harmonious tone of the music, but on the other hand, if the musical instrument was played with loose strings, he could not hear the music at all (Hooker, 1996, p. 6). This realization was the apparent root of his four noble truth philosophy.
In other words, he observed that extremes in life were not the best. The best fit in life was therefore a compromise between both extremes, where people were not supposed to deny themselves worldly pleasures (in entirety) but at the same time, they were not supposed to get lost in worldly ways all the same. Through this assertion, Siddhartha came up with the theory that life was supposed to be lived in middle way.
He further observed that the only way people could alleviate their human suffering was through concentration, and there was no way concentration could be achieved when there was an environment of extremes.
He illustrated this by noting that concentration was basically centered in the mind and the mind was connected to the body. If the body was therefore deprived, there was no way concentration could be achieved; in the same manner, if a person overindulged in bodily satisfaction, concentration could not be achieved.
Siddhartha later went out to preach this philosophy to the people. He started in Benares where he packaged his teachings in form of yogic mediation, after which his preaching spread far and wide (Hooker, 1996, p. 6). It is said that through his teachings, Siddhartha was able to make sense of his past and present life, and in an interesting twist of events; he assured himself that through his new realizations, he could easily break the cycle of infinite sorrow.
It is also important to note that it is at this point in life that Siddhartha was referred to as a Buddha (Hooker, 1996, p. 8). Among his principles of four noble thoughts, Siddhartha taught that all human life was characterized by suffering (this was his first noble thought).
Secondly, he explained that all human suffering emanated from the misguided belief that temporary things could be permanent. He blamed this feeling to man’s wild desires. Thirdly, he explained that not all human suffering could be solved by simply eliminating human desire.
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Fourthly, he concluded by preaching that desire could be eternally halted; but the procedure to do so is best explained through the “Eighthfold Noble path” which is summarized by Hooker (1996) as encompassing “right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration” (p. 9).
These teachings have been proved to form part of the framework through which Buddhism thrives on. Siddhartha’s teachings have also been classified by many researchers as a sort of therapy to the notion of human suffering and the purpose of the soul and body in human relationships (Hooker, 1996, p. 8).
In fact, some scholars note that Siddhartha’s philosophies cannot be easily conceptualized in western philosophies, or in a religious text, because evidently, he was not interested in the theological aspects of his teachings, but rather on devising a way for human beings to alleviate suffering (Hooker, 1996, p. 8).
Nonetheless, his teachings slowly turned into a religious movement. From Siddhartha’s teachings, we can easily see the link between his philosophies and Buddhism because Buddhism is among one of the most liberal religions in the word where followers are not forced to believe in something, unless they want to (Hooker, 1996, p. 8).
In other words, Buddhism is more a way of life than a religion. The relationship between Siddhartha’s teachings and Buddhism can be evidenced from the fact that Siddhartha’s philosophies were not based on theological doctrines but rather on basic life principles.
Spread of Buddhism and Upheaval of Democracy
During the peak of Siddhartha’s life, Buddhism saw one of the greatest growths of its time. In fact, it is said that at Siddhartha’s peak, his philosophies reached some of the highest points of spiritual, moral and religious peaks (Bhikku, 1996).
It is even established that during his time, a lot of change was evidenced in social India. Such sentiments are shared by Bhikku (1996) who notes that: “Buddhism flourished, affecting millions of Indians and becoming the basis for the lives of many around the world. It touched the heights of the spiritual world in his lifetime. The simple and practical teachings of Buddha saved man” (p. 46).
Repeated calls for equality and people’s overwhelming response to it also propelled the wheels of change in India but one of Siddhartha’s least recognized contributions to social and political development could be seen from his call for democracy.
This does not however mean that democracy was absent in India before his death (because it was); rather, it implied that he called for the strengthening of democratic principles to uphold the good of the general public. In this regard, Siddhartha is accredited for his call for democracy as a phenomenal contribution of his time because, at the time, India was going through a lot of political and social unrests (Bhikku, 1996).
Some of his most vibrant philosophies like according women respect, cooperation among individuals, upholding the advice of elders and protecting dharma are some of the most closely protected beliefs in the Buddhist religion. These kinds of philosophies are known to bear a lot of significance to India today, as it did in the past.
Siddhartha greatly contributed to the field of Buddhist metaphysics in the sense that he objected to the metaphysics theory that events are usually predetermined, or occur at random (Bhikku, 1996, p. 45). His philosophy greatly underpins the Buddhist objections to the theory of direct causation as underlined by the metaphysics approach. In place of such a theory, he notes that things often happen in the presence of certain conditions.
He further went on to explain that issues are often dependent on a number of preceding factors. For instance, the craving to do something is often a result of certain emotions or feelings, and our emotions and feelings are often a reflection of our surroundings.
In this manner, Siddhartha explains that some of the most notable fixtures in life, such as death, decay or suffering are normally caused by a chain reaction of events and processes instigated by human craving.
Siddhartha’s teachings were reiterated by another Buddha by the name Nagarjuna who proposed that the occurrence of an independent causation is a matter that develops from the emptiness human beings feel inside (Bhikku, 1996, p. 46).
Siddhartha explains that through dependent origination, human beings are normally faced with much emptiness and suffering that forces them to keep on chasing elusive happiness (which is often temporary). In affirmation of this statement, Bodhi (1999) points out that:
“Sometimes this dissatisfaction manifests in the form of grief, despair and disappointment, but usually it hovers at the edge of our awareness as a vague unlocalized sense that things are never quite perfect, never fully adequate to our expectations of what they should be” (p. 6).
This sort of situation can be perceived as a trajectory whereby human actions are facilitated by dreams and desires which are often abandoned at the point of ones death.
Interestingly, it was affirmed by Siddhartha that the pursuit for happiness did not ultimately end at death since there was life after death (in a different form; but it is not yet known how this eventually plays out) (Bhikku, 1996, p. 45). This philosophy is engraved in the Buddhism philosophy of faith as samsara and rebirth.
The samsara is not essentially described as a physical location where human beings reside, but rather a process that humans eventually undertake, in pursuit of happiness and pleasure.
Again, Siddhartha’s main motivation was not to develop religious principles (which were meant to guide human beings through their journey in life) but rather to solve the problem of human suffering, brought about by the pursuit of unsatisfactory passions and pleasures.
Siddhartha’s analogy has been hailed by many religious and Western scholars such as Pali Canon who equated him to a skilled doctor who correctly diagnosed a problem, established the root cause of the problem and provided an ultimate remedy to the problem (Bhikku, 1999, p. 2).
Such an analogy (like Pali Canon proposes) can be seen from Siddhartha’s identification of Dukka (the spiritual problem) and how it is essentially sustained in human life (through the four Noble truths) and eventually, he proposes a way through which the problem of Dukka can be solved (through the third noble truth).
Siddhartha does not only stop there, he goes ahead to establish the path that his followers can use to reach such heights of success, and from this platform, he establishes the noble eightfold path. This kind of analysis follows Pali canon medical-like analysis.
When comprehensively analyzed, the dependent origination teaching is a detailed exposition of the second noble truth which essentially notes that spiritual deficiency happens for a reason. We can also deduce the fact that due to the ignorance of human beings to the cause of Dukka, many human beings go round and round trying to look for happiness which in the words of Siddhartha is temporary and unsatisfactory (Bhikku, 1999, p. 2).
Siddhartha equates this situation to roaming in Samsara. He further says that adopting factors which are in contrary to the principles that sustain Dukka; one can be able to alleviate human suffering (Bhikku, 1996, p. 45).
Many religious and secular scholars have established that Siddhartha’s teachings, with regards to dependent origination, have contributed a great part to the development of Buddhist metaphysics (Bhikku, 1996, p. 45).
However, this point of view has been isolated, in the sense that, it has no relation to Buddhist principles of origin of the earth, absolute and relativistic philosophies which also contributed a great part to the formation of Buddhist’s block of philosophy.
Siddhartha has greatly contributed to the philosophies of Buddhism through his life teachings. He has been able to do so through the teachings of the four noble truths which have been able to dissect the problem of human suffering and propose remedies to alleviate the problem. In the same manner, he has been able to contribute to Buddhist metaphysics through his teachings on dependent origination.
This study however proposes that Siddhartha has been able not only to contribute to Buddhist philosophies but also to the socio-political process of India, as can be demonstrated through his contribution to India’s democratic processes. Comprehensively, these factors define Siddhartha’s contribution to Buddhism and the socio-political process of India.
Bhikku, T. (1999). Beyond Coping. Los Angeles, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.
Bhikku, T. (1996). Wings to Awakening: Part I. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.
Bodhi, B. (1999). The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.
Duiker, W. J. (2006). The Essential World History. London: Cengage Learning.
Hooker, R. (1996). Siddhartha Gautama.
United Press International. (2007). The Contributions Of The Buddha And Buddhism.