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Even in his last moments he received a monk Subhadra, explained to him the Noble Eightfold Path, and converted him to the true faith. His last words to his disciples were: "Decay is inherent in all compound things. Dharmakaya alone is eternal. Seek wisdom and work out your salvation
The remains of the Blessed One were burnt by the Mallas of Kusinagara with all the honours and pomp worthy of a king of kings. After cremation the relics were carried to the town-hall, and guarded there for a week covered by a cupola of lances in an enclosure of bows and honoured with garlands, presumes, music and dances. When Ajātasatru, the king of Magada, heard of the death of the Lord at Kusinagara, he sent an ambassadaor to the Mallas of that place to demand of them a portion of the relics, as he desired to erect a tumulus (stupa) in honor of these relics. The same demand was also made by the Licchavis of Vaisāli, the Sākyas of Kapilavastu, the Bulis of Alahappa, the Koliyas of Ramagrāma and the Mallas of Pāvā. A Brahman of Vethadvipa also demanded a share on the plea of his being a Brahman. At first the Mallas of Kusinagara were not willing to satisfy these demands, as the Lord attained parinirvana in their territory. But on the advice of the Brahman Dropa, who pointed out to the Mallas the indecency of quarrelling over the relics of one who had preached universal brotherhood, the Mallas of Kusinagara changed their mind. Drona was then entrusted with the distribution, and he took for himself the urn, over which he desired to erect a stupa. After the division the Mauryas of Pippalavana sent an envoy for demanding some relics, but they had to content themselves with the charcoal from the funeral pyre. Those that received a share of the relics (dhātu) preserved them in dãgobas (dhathugarb has) erected in their respective countries. It is said that Emperor Asoka opened these ancient dagobas and distributed the relics contained in them all over his wide empire, and built more than eighty thousand stupas and dågobas for their preservation.
Such is, freed from the fanciful additions of a pious posterity, the life of the historic Buddha. How much of it is real history, is rather difficult to say. But as to the histor
icity of Gautama Sakyamuni himself there can be no doubt. As Minayeff remarks in his Recherches sur le Buddhisme, it is beyond doubt that grand historical personalities always appear specially at the commencement of great historic movements, and certainly it has been the case in the history of Buddhism, and we cannot doubt that its development also began with the work of a historical personality. There are, however, some orientalists like M. Emil Senart, who, while not altogether denying the existence of the historic Buddha, try to make out that the few historic elements are so much encrusted with mythical outgrowths that it is almost impossible to determine the former with certainty. "It is necessary," says M. E. Senart in his Essai sur la Legende du Buddha, "to recognise that, on the whole, excepting a few authentic souvenirs which easily slip through our fingers, the legend of Buddha represents not a real life, nor even a life coloured with fanciful inventions, but it is essentially the poetical glorification of a mythological and divine type that popular veneration has fixed as an aureole on the head of a perfectly human real founder of a sect."
Examining this view of M. Senart in his monograph on Māra und Buddha, Dr. Ernst Windisch writes: "When we consider how long he (Gautama Sakyamuni) lived, how far he travelled, how well-known he must have been to his contemporaries; when we further consider how old certain texts, at least parts of the Vinayapitaka, are, it is certainly not uncritical to regard as historical what seems to be a historical reality. This is more in accordance with the historic method than to regard the simple narrative of the life and events of the time as the transfiguration of a myth into ordinary life. Besides, this process must have been effected in a tolerably short time. For, against M. Senart's assertion that the mythical tendency can be traced back to the earliest days of Buddhism, I venture to point out that in the oldest Buddhist literature we meet with only such tendencies as are generally characteristic of ordinary life, persons and events in which no impartial observer can find any trace of a myth. To the historical events which, according to M. Senart, can have only a mythical meaning, belongs above all the tradition that the Buddha attained the highest wisdom under a
nyagrodha tree." The same scholar notices in passing the view put forward by Dr. H. Kern that the legend may be taken as perfectly true if we regard it as a mythical transformation of astronomical phenomena, and disposes of it with the remark that Dr. Kern's remarkable knowledge of astronomy enables him to see stars twinkling in regions where there is not the smallest ground for any such assumption.
Whatever may be the verdict of historic criticism on the details of the life of Gautama Sākyamuni, there can be no doubt that among the founders of religions he occupies a marked place. His dignified bearing, his high intellectual endowments, his penetrating glance, his oratorical power, the firmness of his convictions, his gentleness, kindness, and liberality, and the attractiveness of his character-all testify to his greatness. Among heathen precursors of the truth, writes Bishop Milman, "I feel more and more that Sakyamuni is the nearest in character and effect to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Similarly, says even Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire, who has no end of charges against Buddhism: "Than Buddha there is with the sole exception of the Christ no purer, no more touching figure among the founders of religions. His life is without blemish; he is the finished model of heroism, the self-renunciation, the love, the sweetness he commands." But the impartial philosophic critic finds that Gautama Sakyamuni towers above the founders of all other religions by his life, by his personal character, by the methods of propagandism he employed, and by his final success. Gautama Buddha, though born of an aristocratic and ruling class, lived the life of an ordinary man, discarding the narrow distinctions of caste, rank and wealth. He knew the world. He was son, husband, father, and devoted friend. He was not only a man, but never professed to be anything more than a man. He gave a trial to the creeds of his ancestors, but ultimately made for himself a nobler faith. His teaching was perfect, but never pretended to be a supernatural revelation. He did not doubt the capacity of man to understand the truth. He based all his reasoning on the fact of man's existence, and developed his practical philosophy by the observation and minute study of human nature. In an age innocent of
science he found for the problems of the Whence, the Whither and the Why solutions worthy of a scientific age. His aim was to rescue mankind from the fetters of passion and avarice and to convince them of an ideal higher than mere worldly good. He preached the gospel of renunciation attainable by meditation, a renunciation which did not lead one to the dreamy quietism of pantheistic or nihilistic philosophy but to the purification of one's activity by intellectual and ethical enlightenment so as to bring one to the love of all beings by faith in an eternal Dharmakaya.
Among the world's religious teachers Gautama Sakyamuni alone has the glory of having rightly judged the intrinsic greatness of man's capacity to work out his salvation without extraneous aid. If "the worth of a truly great man consists in his raising the worth of all mankind," who is better entitled to be called truly great than the Blessed One, who, instead of degrading man by placing another being over him, has exalted him to the highest pinnacle of wisdom and love? "It was the genius unequalled among the sons of men that inspired the Buddha's teaching. It was genius commanding in its dictatorial strength that held together his order. It was genius, the first and last that India saw, that in its lofty aims and universality, foreshadowed the possibility of uniting the people into one great nationality, if such had ever been possible." Indeed the Tathāgata is the Light of the World. No wonder that even those who first rejected his teaching had at last to include him in their pantheon by making him an avatar of one of the very gods whom he had himself discarded!
To the unbiassed thinker even the legends which enshroud the life of Sakyasimha are not without significance. They set before him a truly admirable figure: a man of quiet majesty, of wisdom and pleasant humour, consistent in thought, word and deed, of perfect equanimity and moral fervour, exempt from every prejudice, overcoming evil with good, and full of tenderness for all beings. When surrounded by all his retinue of followers, and glorified by the whole world, he never once thought that these privileges were his; but went on doing good, just as the shower brings gladness, yet reflects not on its work. The Burmese relate
that, hearing all people singing his praises, the Blessed One. called Ananda and said: "All this is unworthy of me. No such vain homage can accomplish the words of the Dharma. They who do righteously pay me most honour, and please me most." In some of the legends, the so-called birthstories, the Buddha is represented as having voluntarily endured infinite trials through numberless ages and births, that he might deliver mankind, foregoing the right to enter Nirvana and casting himself again and again into the stream of human life and destiny for the sole purpose of teaching the way of liberation from sorrow and suffering. The ideal of persistent energy thus held up before the disciple is intensely human. And even if the virtues of the Tathāgata are infinitely superior to those of ordinary men, still the ideal can serve as a pattern and guide. The disciple can always take the Buddha as his model so that the recollection of his heroic and saintly life may assist him to be a hero and a saint as well. In his unbounded love for all beings Sākyamuni stands unparalleled. And it is not a poetic fancy but a profound philosophic truth that makes him the best
"who loveth best
All things both great and small."