Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Art of India and Southeast Asia

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism developed in India during the Mauryan Period (322–185 B.C.E.) and became the official religion of Emperor Ashoka, who ruled between 273 and 232 B.C.E. Buddhism is founded upon the teachings of Buddha, the “Enlightened One.” Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, a wealthy prince. It was foretold that Siddhartha would become either a great military leader or a fully awakened being. After he reached Enlightenment, the Buddha held his first teachings in which he explained the Four Noble Truths. The Noble Truths make up the foundation of Buddhist philosophy. They are as follows:

  1. Life is dukkha (translated as suffering, stress, or dissatisfaction)
  2. The cause of dukkha is tanha (translated as craving or clinging)
  3. Dukkha can be extinguished
  4. The way to extinguish dukkha is by following the Eightfold Path

In the Buddhist tradition, the Eightfold Path is a set of principles for achieving nirvana, a state in which one escapes from the recurring cycle of death and rebirth and is free from dukkha. The Buddha’s teaching is often symbolized as a wheel, known as the Wheel of Law.


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