Buddhism disappeared from India around the 12th century, but, present in the north of the subcontinent (Gandhara, corresponding to present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the first centuries of our era, it has spread throughout Asia in various forms, and represents the fourth largest religion in the world in terms of the number of its followers. It is the official religion in some Asian countries (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma). In today's India, it is represented by the neo-Buddhists, mainly untouchables converted under the impetus of the leader Ambedkar in 1956.

Born into a princely family, the young Gotama is confronted with the sight of illness, old age and death, which lead him to renounce worldly life and to set out in search of the truth, which he discovers himself: this is enlightenment (bodhi). During the first sermon at the Deer Park, near Benares, he set out the four noble truths that form the basis of his teaching: the existence of suffering, the origin of suffering, caused by desire, the cessation of suffering and the eightfold path that enables it to be overcome. The latter is broken down into: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. The observance of Buddhist ethics, ascetic or meditative practices have as their ultimate object the deliverance from the cycle of rebirths and the destruction of karma, i.e. nirvāṇa or final extinction. Among the fundamental concepts benevolence (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) have a prominent place. Like Jainism, with which it shares many similarities, Buddhism attaches great importance to the teaching of the doctrine, the dharma. Initially oral, the teaching gave rise to a multilingual and multiform manuscript tradition that nourishes preaching for various audiences. The so-called canonical texts are divided into rules of monastic life (Vinaya), teachings of the Buddha confronted with interlocutors whom he converts (sūtra) and philosophical analysis of the concepts of the doctrine (abhidharma).  Buddhist society is organised into a community of religious (saṅgha) and lay followers. Buddha, dharma and saṅgha form the 'three jewels' that define Buddhist identity.

After the Buddha's death, discussions emerged particularly on points of monastic discipline. They lead to the formation of different schools or trends, among which one distinguishes mainly the Small Vehicle (Hīnayāna), the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna) and the Diamond Vehicle (Vajrayāna).

While the Buddha is respected for his teachings, he has, from time immemorial, also been ardently venerated by the faithful both through hymns of praise (stotra) and through numerous monuments (temples, stūpa) and statues to which they pay worship.

 

Published in january 2022