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date: 14 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

South Asia around the mid-1st millennium bce was a politically and socially turbulent time. Siddhartha, a young man of the Shakya ganasanga, witnessed the cruelty of warfare and the rising social and economic disparity of his time. He realized that the world is full of suffering. This observation evolved into the foremost truth of his doctrine of the Four Noble Truths. This essay will attempt to vividly portray the world of Buddha. It was a world where Brahmans and rajas, merchants and bankers, scribes and artisans, servants and slaves, courtesans-cum-musicians and dancers, farmers and fishermen, and people from mountains and forests, all strived to further (or at least maintain) their place on the newly formed social hierarchy. Some of those from low castes and outside the social core managed to penetrate the mainstream, but some never made it. Others born from elite families were cast out. Meanwhile, the presence of Achaemenid Persian Empire in the northwest of the subcontinent during the Buddha’s time, followed by the establishment of Hellenistic states after Alexander’s invasion in the late 4th century bce, brought new waves of immigration—thus exchanges of goods and ideas—with west and central Asia. Buddhist sangha and other communities of dissidents were refuges for some of the more unfortunate men and women looking for sanctuary. Based on stories in early Buddhist texts, namely the Pali canon and contemporary Brahmana texts (along with inclusion of Buddhist artwork of his time and after, this article will attempt reconstruct the historical Buddha and the time in which he lived.

Keywords: Shakyamuni, Ganasangha, Buddhist sangha, Ashoka, Brahmanism, Jainism, Taxila

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