When an agnostic appreciates religion

Yesterday I realized that I have a blog and I could use it to be productive during these trying times. The amusing thing, at least to me, is that whenever I write something I gain a sense of agency that surely people are reading it. Well nobody is and if you’re still here I suggest you stop as well. Or not 🙂 Anyways I was thinking what to write about because clearly this blog would no longer be thematic but all things random that come to my head.

I was recently reading up on Indian Civilization and had reached on Buddhism. Coincidentally, today is Buddha Purnima and voila! I know what I’ll talk about today.

In order to clearly understand the origins of Buddhism and why it really gained great acceptance among Indians at the time (if we may call them that), we need to have a look at history from the Indus Valley Civilization. It may have emerged around 3000 B.C. Settlements before this did exist but they were nowhere close to what the Harappans had created. It was an urban settlement with complex town planning. They had a proper sewage system for goodness’ sake. In today’s India, we find ourselves helpless during the slightest of rains in monsoon. Anyways that’s beside the point. Surprisingly, we did not even know about the existence of these sites around Indus up until the 1920s. The popular belief prior to this was that the earliest cities developed along the river Ganges-Varanasi, Patna and the likes. We could go into what the civilisation was like in detail maybe in a different post. By 1800 B.C. the civilisation disappeared. Many reasons have been attributed to this which include-Flooding, burning of the cities to the ground, gradual change in the course of the rivers which the people could not cope with because the region was already an arid one. Whatever may be the case, we know one thing for sure-This coincided with the coming of Aryans (from the far west, the Urals maybe)

The Aryans were nothing like the Harappans. They were illiterate, to begin with. We don’t even know what kind of hierarchies were present among them initially. They probably lived in tribes and had an oral culture of passing down knowledge. These were written down much later, over the course of centuries, into what is now known as the Vedas. The interesting thing is that society changed dramatically and everything was recorded in the Vedas. So we don’t exactly know how society evolved in a chronological manner. The teachings in the Vedas are very esoteric and do not really talk about reasoning. The transition takes place with the Upanishads which cover a host of ideas like the nature of discrimination, how does one achieve transcendence, what it means to give up ignorance etc. By now, the Varna system had evolved into something closer to today’s Jati system. I really don’t want to go into the particulars of what this means. If you don’t get it, you’re not really Indian.

This meant that an alternative thought must have developed which rejected the caste system and the esoteric nature of the Vedas. And its precisely what happened. Gautam Buddha was born around 480 B.C. in Lumbini (somewhere in present-day Nepal) and died after living a long life (an 80 years long life, pretty great because most of us are going to die in our 60s. Sorry for the heads up.) We all know the basic story of how he was a protected child, was horrified when he got to see the reality of life, that it’s basically suffering

Yeah that’s right dumdum…you will never be truly happy

-Anushka Singh, 2020

and went on to look for the real meaning of existence. He eventually came up with the Four Noble Truths-

1-All existence is suffering (All the teenagers agree!)

2-The cause of suffering is ignorance (It will happen to you too honey!)

3-There is an end to suffering (Just give up cravings…It’s not easy though)

4-The end to suffering is contained in the eight-fold path (Right belief, Right speech, Right conduct, Right mode of livelihood, Right effort, Right mindedness, Right meditation, Right aspiration)

Yeah, I know this is too much. One may wonder why it disappeared from the land of its origin. Buddhism is now majorly practised in the South East Asian countries. There’s hardly any presence of it now in India. Too many reasons I guess that can’t be contained and done full justice to in a single post.

One other reason why this religion gained popularity when it did was that it spread the teachings of Buddha through stories and parable. One famous story goes like this-

There were two monks who were going to cross a river when they saw a woman trying to do the same. She was trying hard that her clothes don’t get wet in the attempt. One of the monks, named Ananda, on seeing this went over to the woman and lifted her up. He carried the woman across the river while his companion walked along. He then put the woman down who then went her way and the monks went theirs. Half hour later, the other monk said- “Well, Ananda, you shouldn’t have carried that woman.” (Buddhist monks aren’t allowed to touch women)

to which Ananda replied, “I left her half hour ago but you’re still carrying her.”




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