Development of Buddhism under Siddhartha Gautama and Ashoka

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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The pioneer, innovator, and/or originator of Buddhism is said to be Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was born into a wealthy royal family in Nepal, India. He lived a secluded life away from the world’s sadness, poverty, and pain. Even though his life did not have these particular challenges, he left home at 29 to explore. At that time, India was in an intellectual decay of the old Brahmanic orthodoxy. There was a strong skepticism and moral vacuum which was being filled by new religious and philosophical views.

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Siddhartha Gautama realized that he, like anyone else, was subject to different forms of human suffering. This included disease, old age, and death. He was concerned with providing humanity with relief from suffering. He explored and studied the different teachings, religions, and philosophies of the time. He wanted to find the key to human happiness. He discarded the remedies proposed by the Vedic rites, especially the sacrifices. He considered these rites to be cruel. Siddhartha called his eastern version of heaven nirvana. To reach nirvana, a person must end, stop or terminate all passions, aggressions, and ignorance. Siddhartha believed that the struggle was just an extra complication that we add to our lives because we have lost our confidence in the way things are. We no longer need to manipulate things into what we would like them to be.

After six years of studying and meditating, he believed he had awakened and found the “middle path.” He called it enlightenment. He was now called The “Buddha.” He was considered a person who had awakened from the deep sleep of ignorance. His Buddhism teachings went beyond religion. It was more of his “philosophy” or a “way of life.” His path had three criteria. 1. To lead a moral life. 2. To be mindful and aware of all thoughts and actions. 3. To develop wisdom and experience. He placed a heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self-discipline, and individual striving. He taught the Dharma or Truth in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. He asked his followers to test the Four Noble Truths rather than accept his word as true. It is more dependent on understanding than faith. He said that Buddhism explains the purpose of life and life’s inequalities. It provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.

The Buddha taught and shared with others in India until his death at the age of 80. Modern scholarship agrees that the Buddha passed away at some point between 410 and 370 BC. For a few hundred years, no texts were written after the death of Buddha. His true words and accounts were merged with legendary additions from oral traditions. Unfortunately, the historical facts have been clouded by many editions and additions over the centuries. For hundreds of years, Buddha’s community slowly evolved into a religious-like movement.

The years between Buddha’s death and Buddhism becoming an Indian state religion were both a transformation and a metamorphosis of Siddhartha Guatama’s authentic teachings. Ashoka became the third ruler of the Maurya Dynasty in 273 BC ( He was one of the most powerful kings, and he had one of the most prosperous periods in the history of India. Ashoka’s empire consisted mostly of India and South Asia and stretched to

Afghanistan and Persia. He was known as a cruel and ruthless monarch. After he experienced the gruesome war of the Battle of Kalinga, he had a change of heart. Ashoka embraced Buddhism and dedicated his life. As a result of Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism spread throughout India and other countries. “He became a benevolent king, driving his administration to make a just and bountiful environment for his subjects” ( He even sent his two children as missionaries to Sri Lanka. During this time, authentic Buddhism was divided into two parts. Bodhisattva and Theravada. The first believed they could transfer their karmic merit to help others seek Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists were the teachings of the elders and believed there was only one Buddha. They had no permanent self or soul, and enlightenment came from their own efforts.

Buddhism is similar to all other religions. It, too, will change and continue to change. My Mom chose not to baptize my sister and me. She never made us feel we were restrained or controlled by our membership in a “church” or religion. My Mom taught us Sunday School (the Bible) and was a Summer Camp Counselor, all while not being manipulated by a church or religion. My sister and I know the difference between religion and spirituality. Religions are man-made, always changing, and some die off. Believing in the one and only God, Jesus, and the Bible will never change or die off.

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Development of Buddhism under Siddhartha Gautama and Ashoka. (2023, Mar 28). Retrieved from