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THE ESSENCE OF BUDDHISM.
THE HISTORIC BUDDHA.
BUDDHISM, or, as it is known among its followers, the
Dharma, is the religion preached by the Buddhas. A Buddha is one who has attained bodhi. By bodhi is meant an ideal state of intellectual and ethical perfection, which can be attained by man by purely human means. Of the many that have attained bodhi the one best known to history is Gautama Sakyamuni.
Gautama Sakyamuni is generally spoken of as the founder of the Dharma. But Sakyamuni himself refers in his discourses to Buddhas who had preached the same doctrine before him. Nor can we speak of the Buddha as the founder of Buddhism in the same sense as we speak of the founder of Christianity or Mahomedanism The founder of the former religion is essentially a supernatural being; he is the incarnation of the son of God, who is no other than God himself. No one can call himself a true Christian, who does not accept the divinity of Jesus, and who does not believe that Christ rose from the dead after dying on the cross to take upon himself the sins of all those who believe in him. Mahomed, the founder of the latter religion, though not an incarnation of God or any of his relations or servants, is yet a privileged human being, who was chosen as the special vehicle for the communication of a supernatural revelation to mankind, and no man can call himself a Mahomedan, who does not believe that Mahomed is the prophet of God. But the Buddha nowhere claims to be anything more than a human being. No doubt we find him a full and perfect man. All the same he is a man among men. He does not profess to bring a revelation from a supernatural source. He does not proclaim himself a saviour who will take upon himself the sins of those that follow him. He distinctly tells us that every one must bear the burden of his own sins, that
not even a God can do for man what self-help in the form of self-conquest and self-emancipation can accomplish. We read in the Dhammapāda, a collection of verses attributed to the Blessed Sakyamuni :
"All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts "By oneself evil is done; by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone; by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself; no one can purify another."
"You yourself must make an effort; the Buddhas are only preachers The thoughtful who enter the way are freed from the bondage of sin."
"He who does not rouse himself when it is time to rise, who, though young and strong, is full of sloth, whose will and thoughts are weak, that lazy and idle man will never find the way to enlightenment."
"Strenuousness is the path of immortality, sloth the path of death. Those who are strenuous do not die; those who are slothful are as if dead already."
Again in the Mahāparinibbāņa Sutta the Buddha gives the following admonition to Ananda, one of his beloved disciples:
"Ö Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye refuges to yourselves. Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp. Hold fast to the Dharma as a refuge. Look not for refuge to any one beside yourselves."
"And whosoever, Ananda, either now or after I am dead, shall be a lamp unto themselves and a refuge unto themselves......it is they, Ananda, among the seekers after Bodhi who shall reach the very topmost height."
Not only did the Buddha offer no support to favourable interference from supernatural agencies on behalf of man, not only did he offer no promise of exemption from suffering and sorrow as a reward of simple belief in him, but he went further in admonishing his disciples not to attach importance to his individual personality but to remember always the ideal. It is said in the Vajracchedika: "He who looks for me, i.e., the true Tathāgata, through any material form, or seeks me through any audible sound, that man has entered on an erroneous course, and shall never behold
Tathāgata." Similarly in another place we read: "Who say you see me and yet have transgressed the Dharma, are not seen by me, but as though you were distant by ten thousand miles, whereas the man who keeps the Dharma dwells ever in my sight." The same truth is much more impressively brought out in a conversation between the Blessed One and the Brahman Drona. Once upon a time the latter seeing the Blessed One sitting at the foot of a tree, asked him: "Are you a deva?" And the Exalted One answered: "I am not." "Are you a gandharva ?”—“ I am not”"Are you a yaksha ?"—"I am not." "Are you a man?"—"I am not a man." On the Brahman asking what he might be, the Blessed One replied: "Those evil influences, those lusts, whose non-destruction would have indivi dualised me as a deva, a gandharva, a yaksha, or a man I have completely annihilated. Know, therefore, O Brahman, that I am a Buddha." Now the practical lesson of this anecdote is obvious. According to Hindu ideas a deva, a gandharva, a yaksha could assume a human form. It was therefore natural for the Brahman to ask if the being in human form before him was a deva, a gandharva, or a yaksha. But what perplexed the Brahman was that he received a negative answer to each one of his questions, and this led him to his general question. Buddha's answer to it was unequivocal. What was of importance in his eyes was not his form (rupa) but his character (nāma), the embodiment in practical life of the ideas of compassion and wisdom summed up in the word bodhi. He was not only
Sākyamuni, but he was also Tathāgata. The eternal truths he taught were nothing but what he himself was in the quintessence of his personality. No wonder therefore that the personality that dominates Buddhism is not Sakyamuni but the Buddha.
Though what is of primary importance is the life in accordance with the Dharma, yet the personality of the Great Teacher is not without value. In so far as that personality is the practical embodiment of his teachings, it serves as a model for the disciple to imitate and follow. As the Amitayur-dhyāna Sutra says: "Since they have meditated on Buddha's body, they will also see Buddha's mind. The
Buddha's mind is his absolutely great compassion for all beings." But it must at the same time be remen bered that the teaching of the Blessed One does not rest for its validity on any miracle or any special event in his life as is the case in many another religion. Should the events in the life of Gautama Sākyamuni turn out to be unhistorical, that would not in the least detract from the merit of his teachings. As the Blessed One himself has said, the teaching carries with it its own demonstration.
Stripped of mythical embellishments, the principal events in the life of Gautama Buddha are easily told. He was born about the middle of the sixth century before the Christian era in Lumbini Park in the neighbourhood of Kapilavastu, now known as Padeira, in the north of the district of Gorakpur. To mark this spot as the birth of the greatest teacher of mankind and as a token of his reverence for him, Emperor Asoka erected in 329 B.C. a pillar bearing the inscription: "Here was the Enlightened One born."*
At Kapilavastu resided the chiefs of the Sakya cian, of whom little would have been remembered, had not Siddartha been born among them. Gautama's father, Suddhodana, and his mother, Maya, the daughter of Suprabuddha, belonged to this clan. The mother of Siddartha died seven days after his birth. Under the kind care of his maternal aunt, Prajapati Gautāmi, Siddartha spent his early years in ease, luxury and culture. No pains were spared to make the course of his life smooth. At the age of sixteen he was married to his cousin, Yasodhara, the daughter of the chief of Koli, and they had a son named Rahula. For twenty-five years Siddartha saw only the beautiful and pleasant. About this time the sorrows and sufferings of mankind affected him deeply, and made him reflect on the problem of life. Impelled by a strong desire to find the origin of suffering and sorrow and the means of extirpating them, he renounced at the age of twenty-nine all family ties and retired to the forest, as was the wont in his day.
After this great renunciation (abhinishkramaņa) the Bodhisattva, the seeker after bodhi, placed himself under the
* Hida bhagavam jāteti.
spiritual guidance of two renowned Brahman teachers, Ārāda Kālāma and Udraka Rāmaputra. The former lived at Vaisālī and was the head of a large number of followers. He was evidently a follower of Kapila, the reputed founder of the Sankhya system of philosophy, and laid great stress on the belief in an ātmun. He regarded the disbelief in the existence of a soul as not tending towards religion. Without the belief in an eternal immaterial soul he could not see any way of salvation. Like the munja grass when freed from its horny case, or like the wild bird when liberated from its trap, the soul, when freed from its material limitations (upādhi), would attain perfect release. When the ego discerned its immaterial nature, it would attain true deliverance. This teaching did not satisfy the Bodhisattva, and he quitted Ārāda Kālāma, and placed himself under the tuition of Udraka Ramaputra. The latter also expatiated on the question of "I," but laid greater stress on the effects of Karma and the transmigration of souls. The Bodhisattva saw the truth in the doctrine of Karma, but he could not bring himself to believe in the existence of a soul or its transmigration. He therefore quitted Udraka also, and went to the priests officiating in temples to see if he could learn from them the way of escape from suffering and sorrow. But to the gentle nature of Gautama the unnecessarily cruel sacritices performed on the altars of the gods were revolting, and he preached to the priests on the futility of atoning for evil deeds by the destruction of life and the impossibility of practising religion by the neglect of the moral life.
Wandering from Vaisālī in search of a better system he came to a settlement of five pupils of Udraka, headed by Kaundinya, in the jungle of Uruvilva near Gaya in Magadha. There he saw these five keeping their senses in check, subduing their passions and practising austere penance. He admired their zeal and earnestness, and to give a trial to the means employed by them he applied himself to mortification. For six years he practised the most severe ascetic penances, till his body became shrunken like a withered branch. One day after bathing in the river Nairañjanā (modern Phålgu) he strove to leave the water, but could not rise on account of his weakness. However with the aid