Buddhism: On the Footsteps of Lord Buddha
THE LIFE OF LORD BUDDHA
There was a small kingdom in Nepal whose capital was Kepilvastu. One night, the queen of this kingdom, Queen Maya, wife of King Sudodhana, had a dream. She dreamt that she saw a brilliant white light shining down to her from the sky, and in the rays of the light there was a magnificent, pure white elephant. This elephant had six tusks. It flew closer to her and melted into her body. After waking up, she went to the king who in turn asked the wise men the significance of this dream. They told the king that the queen was going to give birth to a great man. In the course of time the queen gave birth to a male child in Lumbini which was on her way to her father's house. The boy was named Siddharth.
He was very sensitive from the childhood. He was greatly touched by pain, sickness, old age, etc. that we see in our daily lives. His father was quite concerned at his son's views of life, so he got his son married to a princess of a neighbouring state. Her name was Yashodhara. In the course of time, they had a son who was named Rahula.
One night, Siddharth left the palace in search of truth.
He came to Vaishali and spent some time amongst the Jain monks. He found this life style to be of extreme penance and austerity, so he left the place and went to the Magadha capital called Rajgriha, where King Bimbisar was ruling. Then he continued on beyond the Hindu holy town of Gaya. He crossed the Niranjana (Phalagu) river and entered a forest. He found a group of five wise men in the forest. They practised penance to control suffering. Siddharth practised extreme penance for six years and grew very weak and thin. Nearby the forest, lived Sujata and her husband, a herdsman. She once took a delicious meal called `khir (a kind of pudding)' in the local language into the forest as an offering to the spirits. On seeing Siddharath in meditation, she thought he was the spirit. So she offered him the food which he took. Finally, after some time, he obtained enlightenment under a fig (Pipal) tree.
After his enlightenment, he travelled to Sarnath and gave his first sermon to the wise men who had left him in the forest. He also gave sermons on the Vulture Peak at Rajgriha to King Bimbisar . He went to Vaishali several times, and there he gave a sermon even to Amrapali who was the famous dancer. He accepted her invitation to come to her mango grove. It was not liked by the chiefs of Vaishali. It was here, he allowed women, his foster mother, his wife and Amrapali, etc., to join the Samgham ( Order ) as nuns at the request of his disciple Ananda. He died at Kushinagar close to his place of birth at the age of 80 in the year 483 B.C..
BUDDHA'S LAST WORDS TO HIS DISCIPLE ANANDA
These last words clearly show the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism and are quite famous. These are: "Be island to yourself, Ananda! Be a refuge to yourself; do not take to yourself any other refuge. See truth as an island, see truth as refuge. Do not seek refuge in anyone but yourselves. Have done, Ananda! Do not weep, do not distress yourself! Have I not often told you that it is in the very nature of things that we must eventually be parted from all that is near and dear to us ? For how, Ananda, can it be other wise ? Since everything born evolved, and organized contains within itself the germs of disintegration, how can it be otherwise then that a being should pass away ? No other condition is possible !
For long you, Ananda, have been very near to me by acts of devotion, faithfulness and affectionate, ever loyal beyond all reckoning."
As mentioned earlier, Lord Buddha went to Sarnath to give his first sermon to the wise men. Sarnath was near the holy city of Varanasi and within the Koshal Kingdom.
BUDDHA'S FIRST TEACHING
TURNING THE WHEEL OF DHARMA
Lord Buddha's teachings were simple and of practical nature unlike Vedantic philosophy. He spoke in the Pali language which was the language of the common masses. He did not concern himself with the problem of God or the Soul since he believed such discussions were of no use in the moral progress. He declared that everything was impermanent or transitory. He proclaimed Four Noble Truths: ( a) sorrow, ( b ) cause of sorrow, ( c ) cessation of sorrow, and ( d ) the path leading to the cessation of sorrow. These are discussed in slight details below:
1. Noble Truth of Suffering According to him, life is full of suffering, miseries, sickness, death, unhappiness, etc. People go after pleasure which is transitory and the end result is pain.
2. Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering When our mind is full of desire and greed, then suffering is bound to happen.
3. Noble Truth of the End of Suffering If we remove all cravings and desires from our mind, suffering will also end. We will experience peace and happiness as a result.
4. Noble Truth of the Path If we take the path of avoid harming all other living beings; if we sharpen and focus our mind; and if we gain wisdom then we will end all our misery. This noble path is also called the Eightfold Path, and it is:
1. Right Views - Seeing life as it is, i.e. realizing the three characteristics:
a. change or impermanence,
b. sorrow, and
c. unsubstantiality or non-egoism
2. Right Mindedness - Having friendly thoughts towards fellow human beings.
3. Right Speech - Speaking kindly, truthfully,and narrating incidents accurately.
4. Right Action - Acting skilfully and sympathetically, while avoiding vain or violent effort.
5. Right Livelihood - Practising a means of living that does not cause oneself nor others to infringe lawful morality (abstaining from killing, stealing, adultery and lying).
6. Right Endeavour - Self-perception by avoiding and rejecting lower qualities, while accepting noble qualities.
7. Right Mindfulness - The cultivation and practice of self-awareness and compassion, resulting in self-reliance and equanimity.
8. Right Concentration - Contemplation resulting in Samadhi.
Lord Buddha's idols were not used until 400 to 500 years after his death. There were only stupas (topes) built in his memory which was in practice in Jainism before Lord Buddha's time. Another symbol that was used by his followers was a wheel called `Dharma Chakra'. It has eight spokes out of which four are thick. The thick ones represent the noble truths whereas the eight of them combined represent the paths.
BUDDHISM AND GOD
Lord Buddha denied the existence of both the Dynamic God as well as the Atman as the Individualized Soul, which were respectively, the concepts of Truth in Hinduism and Jainism. This is also known as the Sunyavaada. His thinking is quite clear in his last words to Ananda where he mentions that the germs of disintegration are existent in our bodies and that Ananda should take refuge in `truth' only, knowing it is an island whereby completely contradicting the infinite nature of God in Hinduism.
He was against animal sacrifice and untouchability practised by the Hindus. He took the middle path between Hinduism and Jainism. The Jains saw life in practically everything, so they practised extreme form of non-violence, on the other hand the Hindus used animal sacrifice and were quite violent in relative terms. Lord Buddha did eat meat but only if the animal was not killed for him. He did emphasize non-violence, but not to the extent done in Jainism.
KING ASHOKA AND BUDDHISM
King Ashoka belonged to the Mauryan Dynasty of the rulers of Magadha. In the Buddhist literature, he is referred to as a very cruel king in the beginning and there is some truth to it because he acceded to the throne in the year 269 B.C., approximately three years after his father's death. It is quite possible that there might have been struggle between him and his brothers for the throne. He had inherited a vast empire and he attacked Kalinga (Orrisa) shortly after becoming the king. This event was a turning point in his life and one of the most important events in the World History. More than one hundred thousand people were killed in the battle and many hundreds of thousands were injured. There was blood and suffering everywhere. This bloodshed, changed his heart, and he adopted Buddhism. He sent monks including his son, Mahendra, and his daughter, Sanghmitra, to spread the message of peace preached by Lord Buddha, all over the known world at that time, which included Tibet, China, etc. in the north; Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia in the east; Sri Lanka in the south; and Iran, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Macedonia, etc. in the west. This message of peace was well received in all the countries and thus Buddhism, spread beyond the boundaries of India, unlike Jainism or Hinduism where such missions were never undertaken. It was his missionary zeal that Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world. Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam are mainly Buddhist countries. Even though there is communism in China, it is believed the people are still Buddhists. It was due to Ashoka's zeal for spreading the message of peace that made this religion much better organized than Hinduism or Jainism. After Lord Buddha's death, the first Buddhist Conference was held at Vaishali in year 383 B.C. and the second one took place at the Ashoka's capital, Pataliputra, in the year 247 B.C. He erected several pillars, with edits at several places within his kingdom. He built monasteries and stupas (topes) because idols of Lord Buddha were not worshipped during his time. He abolished animal sacrifices. He instituted medical treatment of two kinds - one for human beings and the other for the lower creations. He did these not only within his kingdom but also in the other countries such as Sri Lanka, Syria, Iran, Macedonia, Egypt etc..His system of medical treatment is famous in the history of the world and that too, for the animals.
BUDDHISM IN BIHAR IN POST-ASHOKA PERIOD
Buddhism was practised in India until the eighth century but was on the decline after the death of King Harshvardhana of Thaneshvar in the seventh century. Bihar was the last strong hold of Shankaracharya's and Kumarilla Bhatt's opposition to Buddhism. The Pala kings supported Buddhism by including their generous grants to Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities which were one of the most ancient universities in the world. The students and scholars from all over the world came to study there. The Nalanda University had its beginning from the time of Ashoka but the remains show its prominence starting from the Gupta period.
It is worth mentioning here that (a) the rise of Mahayana sect in this religion started in the second century B.C.. Before this, there was only Hinayana sect, and no image of Lord Buddha was used for worshipping during those years.
THE DALAI LAMA AND BUDDHISM OF TIBET
The Dalai Lama was the head of the state of Tibet and also its spiritual leader who practised Lord Buddha's teachings and can be considered as a symbol of Buddhism. He believes in extreme form of non-violence. His people have suffered immensely but he has never preached violence. He is the living symbol of Lord's Christ, Mahavira, and Buddha, in this sense. For his faith and courage, he
has been awarded the Nobel Peace prize. He belongs to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
HINDUISM, BUDDHISM AND JAINISM
If the mental qualities of the sthitaprajna of Gita and Arhat of Buddhism are compared, we would find a great deal of similarities between the two. The qualities of the two namely: (a) peaceful, (b) desireless, (c) mindless, (d) equal in pain or happiness etc., are the same. In fact, the 20 values mentioned in the Gita discussed earlier, are more or less same as the Eight Fold Path mentioned in Buddhism. There are statements in the Buddhistic religious treaties that Gautama Buddha had personal discussions and conversations with highly moral brahmins, and bearded ascetics who were well versed in the Vedas and other Vedic literature.
If we compare the Buddha's preachings and the Path of Renunciation where it believed that all the activities in this world produce `desire' which in turn leads to unhappiness as mentioned in the Second Chapter of the Gita, it is quite clear that both concepts are almost identical.
The only difference is that Buddha has clearly said that the Atman or the Brahman does not exist in reality, but is mere illusion; therefore, one should not waste time in thinking about the Atman.
However, he said that (a) as a result of casualty, the body which is defined by Name and Form, has to take birth again and again in this perishable world, and (2) this worldly life is full of unhappiness and it is necessary to acquire permanent peace.These two views are identical in the Vedic religion.
Long after Buddha, the Mahayana sect started worshipping him which was similar to the Vedic Path of Devotion. They even preached that attaining nirvana (anhilation) was only his pastime and that he (Buddha) is eternal or can never be destroyed. In some of the Buddhistic treaties, it was preached that the true Buddha was the father of the world and people are his children, a statement possibly derived from the Gita, where Lord Krishna says that he is the father and from his seeds in Hiranyagarha, all the creation (Shristi) has come about.
There are many other similarities. Practically, the Jainism and Vedic religions grew or evolved side by side for many centuries and people changed faiths or never knew the difference between the two on most of the occasions. However, Buddhism actually is an evolute of Jainism which can be clearly seen from the Lord Buddha's life itself.
HINDUISM, BUDDHISM & CHRISTIANITY
It was quite clear from discussions above that Buddhism evolved from Hinduism-Jainism. After Alexander's invasion of India, there were smaller Greek kingdoms in Iran, Syria, Egypt etc. The Buddhist monks frequently visited these places and exchanged ideas with the kings and other sages of these countries. It is believed in India that Christianity resembles very closely with the Mahayana sect of Buddhism where Buddha is almost treated as God. The system of monkhood and nuns (missionary system), and statements by Lord Christ are there, in a number of Buddhist literature and in the Gita. It is even believed that Lord Christ came to India during the `missing years' when he went to religious centres like Dwarka, Puri, and Laddakh. It was the Buddhist era in India during these years and the Mahayana sect had already taken its roots there. In the eyes of the Indians or Buddhists, the early descriptions of Christianity are almost similar to those of Buddhism.
In fact, an actual statement about Mahatma Gandhi was made by a professor in the eighties of this century, who came to visit India from France. He was a Christian and while visiting one of the places in India he said that he could not tell that Mahatma Gandhi was not a Christian. It was profound statement. The Hindus never thought that he (Gandhi) was anything but a Hindu. Therefore, the same person appears different to different people depending on their faiths. It shows that the Truth is the same, no matter which religion one follows.