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Buddhism: India's spiritual gift to the world!

india Updated: Jun 30, 2006 17:47 IST
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Some time during the sixth century BC, a wandering ascetic sat to meditate under a tree in the vast plains of northern India, resolving not to rise until he had attained the ultimate knowledge of spiritual enlightenment. Thus began Buddhism, one of the world's great religions that originated in India and still exerts a magnetic pull for devotees the world over.

The religion that preaches peace, tolerance and non-violence has found many takers in an increasingly anarchic world and thousands of pilgrims from Japan, Sri Lanka and increasingly from countries like the US wing their way to India to see for themselves where the Buddha started life from.

Buddhism today has made deep impact in places like the US. One consequence of Hollywood attention from people like Richard Gere -who found peace in Buddhism and whose emotional explorations took him from Zen to Tibetan Buddhism as enunciated by the Dalai Lama - is that Buddhism, especially the Tibetan strain, has entered mainstream America.

Madison Avenue uses Buddhist lingo to sell goods, and Buddhist terminology crops up on The Simpsons and other high-profile television shows.

In fact, Buddhism is sometimes referred to as one of India's better-known exports to the world. The stream of people from across the world to the Buddhist centres in India continues.

In February this year, the spiritual head of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, inaugurated a three-day international conference to mark the2550th death anniversary of the Buddha near the site of the ancient university of Nalanda in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. Hundreds of delegates from 25 countries attended.

They also visited other Buddhist pilgrim sites like Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Buddhism, to participate in the Maha Nirvan, or death anniversary commemorations.

It's a story that started an age ago.

Buddhism began with the life of Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.),a prince from the small Shakya kingdom located in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal.

Brought up in luxury, the prince abandoned his home and wandered forth as a religious beggar, searching for the meaning of existence. The stories of his search presuppose the Jain tradition - the religion of 'ahimsa' or non- violence started by Lord Mahavira - as Gautama was for a time a practitioner of intense austerity, at one point starving himself almost to death.

He decided, however, that self-torture weakened his mind while failing to advance him to enlightenment and therefore turned to a milder style of renunciation and concentrated on advanced meditation techniques -the famous middle path of Buddhism.

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