The religion known as Buddhism originated about the beginning of the 6th century B.C., in the north of Hindustan.
According to the Buddhist books, the founder of the religion was a prince of the name of Siddartha. He is often called Sakya, which was the name of the family, and Gautama, the name of his clan. The name Sakya, often becomes Sakya-muni, in allusion to the solitary habits assumed by the prince. Buddha, or more properly the Buddha, is the title given to him in his state of perfection, and means the Enlightened One, or "he to whom truth is known." The history of this person is overlaid with a mass of extravagant and incredible legend. The story may be thus briefly outlined. The Prince Siddartha gives early indications of a contemplative disposition, and his father fearing lest he should desert his high station and take to a religious life, has him early married to a charming princess, and surrounded with all the splendors of a luxurious court. Twelve years spent in this environment only deepen the conviction that all that life can offer is vanity and vexation of spirit. He is constantly brooding over the thought that old age, withered and joyless, is fast approaching; that loathsome or racking sickness may at any moment seize him, that death will at all events soon cut off all source of present enjoyment, and usher in a new cycle of unknown trials and sufferings. He therefore resolves to try whether a life of austerity will lead to peace, and, although his father seeks to detain him by setting guards on every outlet of the palace, he escapes, and begins the life of a religious mendicant, being now about thirty years old. He cuts off his long locks that were a sign of his high caste; he studies all that the Brahmans can teach him, but finds their doctrine unsatisfa&ory. Six years of rigorous asceticism are equally vain; and then he undergoes a fierce temptation from the demon of wickedness. But no discouragement can divert Sakyamuni from the search after deliverance. He will conquer the secret by sheer force of thinking. He sits for weeks plunged in abstraction; revolving the causes of things. If we were not born, he reflects, we should not be subject to old age, misery and death; therefore the cause of these evils is birth. But whence comes birth or continued existence? Through a long series of intermediate causes, he arrives at the conclusion that ignorance is the ultimate cause of existence, and therefore, with the removal of ignorance, existence and all its anxieties and miseries would be cut off at their source. Passing through successive stages of contemplation, he realizes this in his own person, and attains the perfect wisdom of the Buddha. He was now ready to lead others on the road to salvation. He began to preach at Benares, and for forty years he traversed a great part of Northern India, combating the Brahmans, preaching his gospel, and everywhere making numerous converts. He died at Kusmagara, at the age of 80, in the year 543, B.C.
Buddhism is based on the same views of human existence that prevailed among the Brahmans. It accepts without questioning, and in its most exaggerated form, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. It believes that when a man dies, he is immediately born again, or appears in a new shape. This new life may be in an exalted or happy state on earth, or as a blessed spirit; or it may be in the form of a lower animal, an insert, a plant, or even an inanimate thing, according to the merit or demerit of him who has died. Buddhism also assumes that human existence is on the whole miserable, and a curse rather than a blessing. Death was no escape from this inevitable lot, for death was only a passage into some other existence. equally doomed. Brahman philosophers had sought escape from this endless cycle of unsatisfying changes, by making the individual soul be absorbed in the universal spirit, (Brahm.) Gautauma had the same object in view - viz., exemption from being born again; but he had not the means of reaching it. His philosophy was utterly atheistical, ignoring a supreme God or Creator; it did not leave even an impersonal spirit of the universe into which the soul could be absorbed. Gautama sees no escape but into what he calls Nirvana, the exact nature of which has been a matter of dispute. According to its etymology the word means "extinction," "blowing out," as of a candle; and most Orientalists are agreed that in the Buddhist scriptures generally it is equivalent to annihilation.
The key of the whole scheme of Buddhist salvation lies in what Gautauma called his Four Sublime Verities. The first asserts that pain exists; the second that the cause of pain is desire or attachment; the third that pain can be ended by Nirvana; and the fourth shows the way that leads to Nirvana. This way to Nirvana consists in eight things: righet faith, right judgment, right language, right purpose, right practice, right obedience, right memory and right meditation. These eight parts or particulars were developed by Gautauma into a set of precepts enjoining the various duties of common life and of religion. In delivering his precepts, the Buddha considers men as divided into two classes - those who have embraced a religious life, and those who continue in the world, or laymen. There are ten moral precepts, or "precepts of aversion." Five of these are of universal obligation - viz., not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie, not to be drunken. The other five are for those entering on the direct road to Nirvana, by embracing a religious life; to abstain from food after mid-day; to abstain from dances, theatrical representations, songs and music; to abstain from ornaments and perfumes; to abstain from a luxurious couch; to abstain from taking gold and silver. There are also certain virtues or perfections that tend directly to "conduct to the other shore," (Nirvana.) The most essential of these are almsgiving or charity, purity, patience, courage, contemplation and knowledge. Charity or benevolence may be said to be the characteristic virtue of Buddhism - a charity boundless in its self-abnegation, and extending to every sentient being. Such are the leading features of the intellectual theory and moral code of the Buddha.