Pre-Buddha - The Vedic Culture had, for its Central Idea, Rita, the Cosmic Order. The fundamentals flowing from it were Satya, accord between thought, word & deed, Yajna, the complete dedication of one’s cherished things to the Higher powers to fulfill Rita and Tapas, the sublimation of passions and instincts through discipline which brought self-mastery. Sage Kanada says “Dharma is that which gives prosperity in this life and liberation in the next”. There is no higher Dharma than truth. Action without Yajna is bondage says the Bhagwad Gita. Tapas came to comprise, as the Bhagwad Geeta has it, truth and non-violence.

Long before the coming of Buddha, a central idea was becoming clear from the mass of incoherent urges, which went under the generic name of Dharma. Dharma is a way of life based on the eternal truths of life. Man was not a struggling worm but a self with a supraphysical destiny, which can be attained only by the mastery over the misery. This is possible by man being self-disciplined so as to raise the self above the flux of passing sense experience. Simply put, the mind must not be affected the joys and sorrows of life but carry on unaffected. The discipline implied relinquishment of the greed for life and broadening of the personal self into a universal self. The end of this discipline was variously aimed at self-realization (Siddhi), emancipation (Mukti), and freedom (Nirvana), enlightenment (Jnana), and bliss (Ananda) In short it meant absolute integration of the human personality freed from the limitations of attachment and fear.

For such a planned social life stability was essential. It implied protection without slavery. Power was therefore conceived as moving and having its being within the framework of Dharma. Kingship was to be a religious trust. Rajadharma, Smriti and tradition were to be interpreted from the time to time to regulate life. The ambition of kings was controlled by a fundamental law, the basis of which were Smriti, Parishad, the Assembly of the learned. And as the country grew bigger a military overlord was necessary, Rajadhiraja or Chakravartin as the Protector of Dharma.

The Mahabharata (about 1200 BC) that happened centuries before Buddha is all about the victory of Dharma over Adharma. Indian kings, all of whom accepted, the law of the Dharmasastras as unalienable, waged wars according to human rules. Whatever the provocation, the shrine, the Brahman, the cow were sacrosanct to them. Harassment of the civilian population was considered a serious lapse in the code of honor. The Kshatriyas had high regard for women ruled out their abduction as an incident of war.

Essential Features of Buddhism - Gautama alias Siddharta was born at Lumbinivana in 563 BC. His father was the chief of the Sakya clan. Gautama lived a life of easy and luxury, got married, had a son called Rahula. After seeing four persons in four different stages, the idea of renunciation entered his mind. Some say that Siddharta believed that home life was full of hindrances and impurities so he decided to retire from the world. At the age of 29 he left home.

At Vaisali he met Arada Kalama who espoused the Sankhya school of philosophy. Not satisfied with the teachings of this school he moved on to teacher Rudraka Ramaputra’s heritage. He went to Uruvela where he became Buddha, the Enlightened One. After this Buddha traveled to Kosala, Vaisali, Kapilavastu, Kausambhi, Veranja. (these areas are mainly in modern day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh).

Very briefly his teachings are. Buddha’s repeated instructions were to pursue practical methods to arrive at the truth and not to distract themselves with academic speculations about the Beyond and the Ultimate. He propounded four Noble Truths – 1). That worldly existence is full of misery.2) that thirst, attachment are its causes. 3) that worldly misery can be ended with destruction of thirst. 4) there is a Path for destruction of thirst, it is known as the Eight fold way i.e. right speech, action, means of livelihood, exertion, right-mindedness, meditation, resolution and point of view. The first three lead to physical control, the next three to mental control and the last two to intellectual development.

Nirvana is the final result of extinction of desires or thirst for rebirth. The Eightfold Path is said to be Buddha’s first discourse. The second discourse is that the five constituents, which make a being, are without a self, impermanent and are not desirable. There is nothing in this world to make one happy or sad and he, who is free, is perfect. There are reasons to believe that Buddhism like Jainism, was originally a moral code rather than a metaphysical or religious system in the western sense of the term. But a philosophical background became necessary for its propagation and existence. The first sign of this development was the sects of Hinayana and Mahayana. The first school looked at salvation of the individual as the goal whereas the other took the salvation of all beings as its goal. The first took to Prakrit while the second took to Sanskrit.

Without admitting the existence of the soul, the early Buddhists accepted the theory of Karma i.e. the inevitability of the effects of deeds in regulating future births. Sankya, Yoga and the Upanishads were the sources of his inspiration. He was a product of the Aryan order and represented the ascetic orders against the social ideals of those who took life as a whole. He proclaimed the supremacy of Dharma but stressed on universal compassion. It was a Protestant movement within the fold of Dharma with its empathy for the suffering as its biggest attraction.

Sangha – In the earlier stages, Buddha’s disciples led a wandering life, residing in caves and forests, living on alms. They assumed the tile of bhikkhu or beggar. Buddha was not in favor of extreme austerity, he permitted his disciples to live in monasteries esp. built for them, accept food/clothes from the faithful. He framed a set of rules for residents of these monasteries. Monastic institutions were the most remarkable contribution of Buddhism to Indian culture. Their original purpose was give suitable accommodation to the monks for studies and mediation. Later on they developed into academic centers for producing the right types of men, well grounded in religion and philosophy, to propagate the teachings of Buddhism.

Buddha, inspite of his heterodoxy, left a lasting influence on Dharma. First he was revered as an ascetic reformer, in the process of a general acceptance by the masses he became a divinity. On the other hand, Krishna was ‘Sasavata Dharmagopta’, the Protector of Eternal Dharma, Buddha also proclaimed Dharma and asked people to surrender themselves to it. Buddha died in 486 BC.