The sixth to the fourth centuries B.C.E. marked a time of worldwide intellectual ferment. It was an age of great thinkers, such as Socrates and Plato, Confucius and Laozi. In India, the period of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. was the age of the Buddha, who inspired a religion that eventually spread far beyond his homeland.
The chieftain Siddhartha, born into the ruling family of a small republic bordering present-day India and Nepal, abandoned the pleasures of the palace to seek the true meaning of life. Sitting in yogic meditation beneath a banyan tree, he achieved enlightenment and was known thenceforth as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. He spent the remaining forty years of his life preaching his faith and converting vast numbers to his Middle Path, which rejected the extremes of both luxury and asceticism and advocated a life of good intentions with the ultimate goal of achieving nirvana, or a release from the cycle of rebirth. Buddhism, like other faiths born in India, espouses the belief in repeated lives on earth with the opportunity to improve the conditions of the next birth by performing good deeds in this life. After the Buddha's death, his cremated remains were placed in relic caskets within funerary mounds known as stupas, which constitute the focus of Buddhist monastic establishments and attract pilgrims from across the globe.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art|
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