Navayana: Who is the Buddha?
Indian history starts with the Buddha.
Buddha – the enlightened one, the perfect human being , one who discovered the truth for the first time and showed the way for freedom from suffering, a person who for first time gave the model of a casteless society based on equality, fraternity and liberty….
‘Buddha has revealed the truth, all compound things shall be dissolved again, world will break to pieces and our individualities will be scattered; but the word of Buddha will remain for ever…’
It was on a full moon day of Vesakha in c563BC in Lumbini Park (in Nepal) under a Sal tree that Siddhartha was born. His father, Suddhodhana was King of the Sakya clan. Siddhartha’s mother Queen Mahamaya died seven days after his birth and Mahaprajapati Gotami adopted the child. At the age of eight when Siddhartha began his lessons in civil and military arts, his mind lay elsewhere, seeking clues to the complexities of life. The young prince mastered all the philosophic systems prevalent in his time. He also learnt the mediation from a disciple of Alarakalam, who had a monastery at Kapilavastu. Throughout his youth he was immersed in the luxurious life, but his thoughts always returned to the problems of suffering. “All the comforts I have, this healthy body, rejoice youth! What do they, mean to me?” he thought.
This mental struggle went on in the mind of Siddhartha until his 29th year. One night he quietly left the palace, his home, to seek the solution to the questions that troubled him. He first visited ascetic Bhagava and watched his practices. Unsatisfied with what he saw, he went from one ascetic to another in search of a path to the truth. Finally he went to Magadha and practiced extreme ascetism in the forest of Uruvilva on the banks of the Niranjana. This too proved to be a dead end. He became very weak but he attempted another period of mediation, on the grounds that “Blood may exhaust, flesh may decay, bones may fall apart, but I will never leave this place until I find the way out from all suffering and attain enlightenment.”
It was a great struggle, there was much suffering. It took him four weeks of mediation to attain enlightenment. It was a full moon day when while sitting under the pepal tree at Bodhgaya, he realized the universality of suffering: He attained Enlightenment. Dr Ambedkar has beautifully explained the phenomena of his enlightenment in his book Buddha and his Dhamma. According to him, Siddhartha reached final enlightenment in four stages
1) this stage he called reason and investigation
2) in this stage Buddha added concentration
3) in third stage Buddha brought to his aid equanimity and mindfulness.
4) In the fourth and final stage he added purity to equanimity and equanimity to mindfulness.
It was December 8th when he was 35 of years of age that Siddhartha became the Buddha.
He died at the age of 80 in Kushinagara (483 B.C.) His last words to Anand, his favorite disciple were: “It may be, Anand that you will say ‘gone is the word of master, we have no longer any master now’. But do not think like this. Be your own light. Rely upon yourself do not depend on anyone else. Make Dhamma the light and guide, death is only the vanishing of the physical body. The body was born and nourished by food, and just as inevitable are sickness and death. The true Buddha does not have a human body, the body may vanish, but the wisdom and Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth and Dhamma and in the practice and Dhamma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me. He who sees Dhamma truly sees me. After me, Dhamma shall be your teacher. Decay is the inherent in all component things, but the truth (Dhamma) will remain forever, work out your nirvana (enlightenment) with diligence, these are my last words. My dear disciples, this is the end, in a moment, I shall be passing into Nirvana. This is my instruction”.
Never had the Buddha claimed that he was the son or a messenger of God. The Buddha was a unique and perfect human being who was self-enlightened (Samyak Sambuddha). He had no one whom he could regard as his master. His own hard efforts took him to enlightenment. Through his enlightened mind he opened the door of all knowledge. He knew all things to be known, cultivated all qualities to be cultivated. He himself denied the existence of miraculous God. In the Aguttara Nikaya, he said, ‘I am not indeed a deva, not a gandharva, not ayaksha, not a manusya. Know that I am the Buddha’. Buddha always guides the world from time to time, but some people have mistaken the idea that it is the same Buddha who reincarnated or appears in the world over and over again. As Ven. K. Dhammananda says, ‘They are not the same person; otherwise there is no scope for others to attain to Buddha hood. Buddhists believe that any one irrespective of caste, creed, sex, race, religion can become the Buddha, if he able to remove his ignorance completely through his own efforts’.
After achieving the nirvana, all Buddhas are similar in their experience.
Buddha truly revolutionized the then Indian Society. Many orthodox religious groups tried to condemn the concept and Buddha because of his liberal teaching and they misunderstood and misappropriate the teachings of the Buddha for their own interest. Many regarded him as an enemy when the numbers of his followers increased. Intellectuals and orthodox believers dislike the concept because his doctrine attacked the stratification of society and propagated equality and liberty. When they failed in their attempt they adopted the reverse strategy of merging Buddha into their pantheon.
We are still living within the dispensation of Gautama the Buddha. The perfect evidence of this is that of turning the Dhamma-wheel by modern Bodhisattva Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on Asoka Vijaya Dasami 14th Oct. 1956 at Nagpur.
Just after the Diksha ceremony, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar gave vows-popularly known as Twenty two vows. In these vows he clearly mentioned in 4th and 5th vow that, don’t believe in God: I believe that Buddha is not an incarnation of Vishnu, such propaganda is mere foolishness in my view’.
Although the moral conduct of the people has, with few exceptions deteriorated, the future Buddha would only appear at some incalculable period when the path to Nirvana is completely lost to mankind and people will be ready to receive him.
[Santosh I. Raut is pursuing his M. Phil in the Centre for Philosophy, JNU, New Delhi]