On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, all over the world devotees of Lord Buddha will be celebrating his birthday. It is a time to remember his life and teachings.
Kathopanishad says, “The Creator has made all senses extrovert. Therefore all being look outside for happiness. Few wise people turn their senses introvert and look within to realize their own True Identity (Atman) whose nature is Infinite Consciousness, Knowledge, and Bliss.”
Lord Buddha is one of those few wise people who turned their senses introvert and realized their True Identity which he called Nirvana.
The life and teachings of Lord Buddha are very well known. They had appealed to people all over the world for more than 2500 years and still are appealing.
Why Lord Buddha’s life and teachings were appealing for all these years?
(1) Sense-pleasures Vs Self-realization: Because, his life is a glowing example to the world that wealth and sense-pleasures are not enough to get the highest happiness, true peace of mind, satisfaction, and fulfilment of life. Lord Buddha realized that wealth and sense-pleasures, not only cannot avoid the sufferings of life, but rather add more sufferings in life. Wealth and sense-pleasures cannot avoid the mental threat and agony created by old age, disease, and death. As a prince Siddhartha he had all the sense-pleasures available to him, had a beautiful wife and a son, and he could have ruled as a powerful king over a large kingdom. But, he thought all these as useless to solve the fundamental problems of life, and to find true peace for him and for others. One thing appealed to me most is that he had not seen any misery in his own life and still he could think of the miseries of life in general and miseries of all humanity. He wanted to find a permanent solution to remove his own future miseries and miseries of all people.
(2) Exemplary Struggle to Realize the Truth: Lord Buddha as a Siddhartha went to all the great teachers available at that time to find the permanent solution of the miseries of life and he practiced what they said with full heart and mind. Teachers said that by fasting one can control one’s senses and then can focus one’s mind on the Truth. By fasting he reduced himself to bones. He was eating only two beans a day. But, during all his practices he kept his mind open, he reasoned and watched himself whether he is progressing towards the Truth he was searching. Finally, he was not satisfied with what he was doing. He decided to live by himself and follow his inner conscience. He was determined either to realize the truth or die. He sat under the famous Bodhy Tree with a resolve not get up until he realizes the Truth. At that time all the temptations and questions came to his mind. He thought of returning home and have all pleasures of the world. His mind questioned what he gained by following all these practices prescribed by the teachers. But, his inner mind and urge for the Truth was immovable like a huge mountain. He disregarded all these thoughts and touched the Mother Earth and said, ‘O Mother Earth! You are my witness. Did not I do everything possible to realize the Truth? Do I not deserve to realize the Truth?‘ His faith in the Truth was firm. He had reached the stage to realize the Truth and he did.
(3) Love for Humanity: After attaining Nirvana, the highest Truth or a Highest State of a Human Mind, and with it the infinite bliss, his mind was debating whether to go and teach people the path to Nirvana or a state of absence of all miseries or to remain alone and enjoy the bliss himself. On one side his heart told him to go and help people who are searching this Truth to remove their miseries of life. But, on the other hand he had experience of people who are so engrossed in their sense-pleasures, who do not want to give them up and do not care for Truth or anything else. The inner struggle went on. Finally, his heart and love for humanity won the battle. He decided to share his experience and knowledge with all people. He thought there might be sincere people who are struggling to attain this state. He will be helpful to them.
Swami Vivekananda said about Lord Buddha’s love for all: “This great philosopher (Buddha) preached the highest philosophy, and yet had the deepest sympathy for the lowest of animals and never put forth any claims for himself.”
(4) Simple and Direct Teachings: Lord Buddha’s teachings are simple, direct and logical. During his time, people were either involved in intellectual entertainment of interpreting the scriptures or performing useless rituals which were deteriorated up to doing animal sacrifices in Yajna to go to heaven or torturing body to realize the Truth. Buddha saw people missing the goal of spiritual practices to remove the miseries of life and to attain peace and happiness in the present life. He was very practical. He avoided all the complexes of scriptures and taught people in simple terms what to do in life and what to attain.
Swami Vivekananda said, “He (Buddha) was the first who dared to say: “Believe not because some old manuscripts are quoted; believe not because it is your national belief, because you have been made to believe it from your childhood; but reason it all out, and after you have analyzed it and found out that it will do good to one and all, then believe it, live up to it, and help others to live up to it.”
(5) The Ideal Karma Yogi: Swami Vivekananda gave a series of lectures on Karma Yoga in New York during…… He concluded this series with a lecture “The Ideal of Karma Yoga.” In that lecture he said the following about Lord Buddha:
“Let me tell you in conclusion a few words about one man who actually carried this teachings of Karma Yoga into practice. That man is Buddha. He is the one who carried it into perfect practice. ….Buddha is the only prophet who said: “I do not care to know your various theories about God. What is the use of discussing all the subtle doctrines about the soul? Do good and be good, and all this will take you to freedom and to whatever truth there is.” He was, in the conduct of his life, absolutely without personal motives; and what man worked more than he?
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Every teaching of Lord Buddha is great. Here I have selected a few of his teachings from the book “The Dhammapad” translated from Pali by Mr. P. Lal to celebrate his birthday.
(1) “Consider, Malunkyaputta, this story of a man wounded by a poisoned arrow. His friends, relatives, and well-wishers gather around him and a surgeon is called. But the wounded man says, ‘Before he takes out this arrow, I want to know if the man who shot me was a Kshatriya, a Brahmin, a merchant, or an untouchable.’
Or, he says, ‘I won’t let this arrow be removed until I know the name and tribe of the man who shot me.’
Or: ‘Was he tall, short, or of medium height?’
Or: ‘Was he black, brown, or yellow-skinned?’
What do you think would happen to such a man, Malunkyaputta? Let me tell you. He will die.
And that is what happens when a man comes to me and says, ‘I will not follow Dhamma until the Buddha tells me whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or infinite, whether the soul and the body are the same or different, whether the liberated person exists or does not exist after death, or both exists and does not exist after death, whether he neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ He will die, Malunkyaputta, before I get a chance to make everything clear to him.
Being religious and following Dhamma has nothing to do with the dogma that the world is eternal; and it has nothing to do with the other dogma that the world is not eternal. For whether the world is eternal or otherwise, birth, old age, death, sorrow, pain, misery, grief, and despair exist. I am concerned with the extinction of these.
Therefore, consider carefully, Malunkyaputta, the things that I have taught and the things I have not taught. What are the things I have not taught?
– I have not taught that the world is eternal.
– I have not taught that the world is not eternal.
– I have not taught that the world is finite.
– I have not taught that the world is infinite.
– I have not taught that the soul and the body are the same.
– I have not taught that the soul and the body are different.
– I have not taught that the liberated person exists after death.
– I have not taught that he does not exist after death.
– I have not taught that he both exists and does not exist after death; that he neither exists nor does not exist after death.
Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not taught all this? Because all this is useless, it has nothing to do with real Dhamma, it does not lead to cessation of passion, to peace, to supreme wisdom, and the holy life, to Nirvana. That is why I have not taught all this.
And what have I taught, Malunkyaputta?
I have taught that
– Suffering exists.
– Suffering has an origin.
– Suffering can be ended, and
– There is a way to end suffering.
Why, Malunkyaputta, have I taught this? Because this is useful, it has to do with real Dhamma, it leads to the cessation of passion, it brings peace, supreme wisdom, the holy life, and Nirvana. That is why I have taught all this.
Therefore, Malunkyaputta, consider carefully what I have taught and what I have not taught.”
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(2) Four Noble Truths & Eight-fold Noble Path:
Lord Buddha said,
(1) “There is suffering.
And this is the noble truth of suffering – birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful; lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with the unpleasant is painful, not getting what you want is painful.
(2) Suffering has an origin.
And this is the noble truth of the origin of suffering – desire creates sorrow, desire mixed with pleasure and lust, quick pleasure, desire for life, and desire even for non-life.
(3) Suffering has an end.
And this is the noble truth of the end of suffering – nothing remains of desire, Nirvana is attained, all is given up, renounced, detached, and abandoned.
(4) Eight-fold Path to Nirvana.
And this is the noble truth that leads to Nirvana – it is the Eight-fold Path of
– Right views
– Right intentions
– Right speech
– Right action
– Right profession
– Right watchfulness and
– Right concentration.
* * *
(3) “I am now eighty years old, Ananda. The end of my journey has come. I drag my body along like a worn-out bullock cart, with great hardship.
It is only when my thoughts are completely concentrated on the inner vision that has no bodily object that my body is at peace.
Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp to yourself. Be an island. Learn to look after yourself; do not wait for outside help.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Be an island. Only truth can save you. Do not look for any help besides yourself.”
No, Ananda, no weeping. How often have I told you that it is in the very nature of life that what we love most must be taken from us? How can it be otherwise? What is born is doomed at the moment of its birth to die. There is no other way.
Some of you will say, ‘The Teacher is no more, we have no one left to lead us.’ But is not the Dhamma with you, and the Sangha? Have I not left these behind? Let them be your teachers.”
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(4) “We are what we think,
Having become what we thought.
Like the wheel that follows the cart-pulling ox,
Sorrow follows evil thought.
And joy follows a pure thought,
Like a shadow faithfully tailing a man.
We are what we think,
Having become what we thought.”
* * *
(5) “Clear thinking leads to Nirvana,
A confused mind is a place of death.
Clear thinkers do not die,
The confused ones have never lived.
The wise man appreciates clear thinking,
Delights in its purity, and
Selects it as the means of Nirvana.”
* * *
(6) Words do not matter; what matters is Dhamma.
What matters is action rightly performed,
After lust, hate, and folly abandoned,
With true knowledge and serene mind,
And complete detachment from the fruit of action.”
* * *
(1) Lord Buddha had been labeled as Nihilist, Atheist, Non-believer, anti-Vedas etc. Personally I do not see Buddha as any of this. I think these are the labels reflect the minds of the people who labeled Buddha. To me, he was very practical. He found the essence of the scriptures and gave a very practical advice based upon his own realization of the Ultimate Truth. I do not see how his teachings contradict with the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, the essence of Vedanta. He simply did not go into the details of the philosophy. He wanted to remove miseries of his life and lives of all. For forty years he served humanity to bring peace and happiness in their lives.
(2) One of the things I liked in Lord Buddha’s teachings is that he wanted us to think, to reason and then accept if we are convinced. I think his life and teachings tell us: Think, Practice, Realize, and Serve.