Legends of King Aśoka, the first Buddhist emperor (3rd century BCE), have long guided and inspired Buddhists, particularly rulers. In this second episode of two, I continue the story of Aśoka’s exploits: sending missionaries to spread the Dhamma, building a large number of stupas, and sponsoring the Third Buddhist Council. I also discuss the debate about whether Aśoka championed and spread Buddhism as a religion, or kept his public life non-sectarian and used the term “Dhamma” to refer to general principles of morality and righteousness.
King Aśoka was an Indian emperor in the 3rd century BCE. According to legend, he was a devout Buddhist who explicitly and publicly governed in accord with the Dhamma, or Buddhist teachings. Aśoka has been important to Buddhists – particularly Buddhist rulers – ever since his reign. In this episode I tell you the story of Aśoka according to legend, and then contrast that with what we know from his extant rock edicts (deciphered in the 19th century). In the next episode I’ll continue with the stories of Aśoka’s exploits.
This episode, the 7th in my sequential Buddhist History series, covers the first 200 years or so of Buddhism, beginning with the traditional account of events immediately after the Buddha’s passing. Then I describe how the ordained Sangha met to compile and codify his teachings and their code of discipline, and eventually began dividing into different sects and schools. This is a fascinating story that reflects what really mattered to early Buddhists.
This episode finishes up my story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life. It continues with the development of the early Sangha, including the ordination of women and the establishment of a code of discipline for monastics. It also covers teachings given by the Buddha not already mentioned in earlier episodes, and some of the more dramatic and colorful stories about the Buddha and the early Buddhist community.
In this episode, I continue with the story of the Theravadin precepts (see Part 1 for the first part of the story) – particularly how the Vinaya has affected the ordination of monks and nuns, and how lay people participate in precept practice. Then we move on to China, and I talk about how the Chinese dealt with the question of how to establish an authentic Buddhist lineage while adapting the Vinaya to China, and avoiding the trap of “hinayana” practice that Mahayana sutras warned about (was the Vinaya “hinayana” practice?). They responded by creating additional Mahayana precepts, and elaborate sets of monastic regulations.
This is the first episode of two on the Buddha’s 45-year teaching career and the establishment of the Buddhist community. I’ll talk about the Buddha’s first sermons, the enlightenment of the first disciples, the first lay students of the Buddha and how lay practice figures into early Buddhism, and the initial formation of the ordained Sangha and how they practiced on a daily basis.
In this second episode on the Buddha’s life, I tell the story of his spiritual struggle and search, and the circumstances around his enlightenment. Then I summarize his teaching career, and tell the story of his passing, in order to give you a sense of the arc of his entire life. In Episode 9: Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize? I go into more detail about the content of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and in Episode 17: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 3: Buddha’s First Sermons and Students, and the Early Sangha I return to the subject of the Buddha’s teaching career, which requires 1-2 episodes on its own.
Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama experienced a spiritual awakening over 2,500 years ago in India, and became an “awakened one,” or Buddha. In this first episode on his life, I first explain in detail the sources of biographical information we have on the Buddha – their historicity and significance. Then I tell the story of the Buddha’s life from just before his birth until he decides to leave home as a spiritual mendicant.
At the time of the Buddha around 500 BCE, social and economic changes had paved the way for new schools of religious thought and practice. In this episode, I talk about these new religious movements, including Buddhism – particularly, their major spiritual questions and how they answered them. This gives you a sense of how Buddhism compared to the other new religions of its time, and how the Buddha’s approach differed from those of his contemporary spiritual teachers.
The first episode in my “Buddhist History and Seminal Texts” series, about the historical and religious context for the beginnings of Buddhism in India around 500 BCE. I give you a brief overview of the history of civilization in India, and a sense of the dominant religious traditions of northern India from around 2000 BCE through the time of the Buddha. Then I describe the period of social and economic changes starting around 800 BCE that apparently paved the way for new schools of religious thought and practice, including Buddhism.