Buddha life presented in the subsequent ten acts is neither
history nor a myth. It is a pious report of the founder of Buddhism
as the Buddhist tradition tells it. The whole story or life
of the Buddha takes on a mythic and legendary character. A wealth
of detail is to modern sensibilities of a decidedly "miraculous"
and "supernatural" nature so that readers who want
to see it from a historians perspective might be puzzled
over its authenticity. Of course, modern scholars have attempted
to find out who was the historical Buddha and have agreed upon
a few bare facts of the life of a man who, some 2,500 years
ago, left home to become a wandering ascetic and attained perfect
enlightenment. But then they have faced another problem of missing
the storys own sense of truth, which has made a great
impact on the mentality of Buddhist followers throughout Asia.
In other words, that legendary account of the Buddha in turn
constituted another reality on which Buddhist thoughts and practices
have prevailed. Thus, the upcoming account of the life of the
Buddha is no more than a pious story faithful to the earliest
literary and iconographic sources available. Now, let us the
story speak for itself.
of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) started from royal family and
was descended from the noble family of the Shakyas who shared
in governing the small state of Kapilavastu near the powerful
principality of Kosala, In Nepal. He grew up beneath the snowy
summits of the Himalayas, which could be seen glittering in
the distance throughout the year. As a boy and young man Gautama
experienced the worldly happiness of his wealthy aristocratic
world. His son Rahula was the fruit of an early marriage.
father carefully sheltered him from all misery. However, his happiness
was shattered when he became conscious of the basic facts of existence.
During four excursions away from the palace he encountered four
signs: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a monk. The first
three symbolized humankind's suffering; the fourth, Siddhartha's
destiny. Horror and disgust at the wretchedness of the flesh are
ill becoming of me, he said to himself, for I too shall grow old,
sicken and die. "As I thought these thoughts, all my courage
failed me." The consequence was his decision (which took
traditional Indian forms) to leave his home, his country, his
family, and his wealth, to seek salvation in asceticism. He was
twenty-nine years old. One narrative runs: "As a young man
in the bloom of his youth, in the first flush of life, the ascetic
Gautama left his home and went into homelessness. Though his parents
did not wish it, though they shed tears and wept, the ascetic
Gautama had his hair and beard shorn off and put on yellow garments."
in the ascetic exercises of Yoga, he practiced mortification of
the flesh for many years in the woods. "When I saw a cowherd
or one who was gathering wood, I fled from forest to forest, from
valley to valley, from peak to peak. And why? In order that I
should not see them and that they should not see me." For
meditation demands solitude. "Verily, this is a lovely bit
of earth, a beautiful wood; clear flows the river and there are
delightful places in which to bathe; round about there are villages.
This is a good place for a noble man striving for salvation."
Here sits Gautama, waiting for the moment of Enlightenment, his
"tongue cleaving to his palate," "clutching, squeezing,
tormenting" his thoughts.
all in vain. His mortification brings no awakening. He comes to
understand that the truth remains veiled in asceticism which is
nothing more than asceticism, that empty constraint accomplishes
nothing. Then he does something monstrous in the eyes of his Hindu
faith; he begins to eat plentifully in order to restore his strength.
Regarding him as a renegade, the ascetics with whom he has made
friends break with him. He is alone, practicing pure meditation
night as he meditated beneath a fig tree, the Great Awakening
came to him. All at once a vision made everything clear to him:
what is; why it is; how beings are caught up in blind lust for
life; how they stray from body to body in a never-ending chain
of rebirths; what suffering is, whence it comes, how it can be
insight is uttered as a doctrine: neither worldly pleasure nor
ascetic mortification of the flesh is the right way of life. The
former is ignoble, the latter is rich in suffering, and neither
leads to the goal. Buddha's discovery is the Middle Path. It is
the path of salvation. It starts from the belief, not yet illumined
by understanding, that all existence is suffering, and that the
essential is redemption from suffering. Then, by way of the decision
to live righteously in word and deed, the Path leads to immersion
in various degrees of meditation and through meditation to the
knowledge of what was already present in the initial faith: the
truth of suffering. It is only at the end that one attains clear
knowledge of the Path one has traveled, Enlightenment. The circle
closes, fulfillment is achieved. This Enlightenment is the step
from endless coming-into-being and passing-away to eternity, from
worldly existence to Nirvana.
seven days Gautama, now the Buddha (the Enlightened One), squats
at the Fig tree, tasting the joy of redemption. And then what?
In the certainty of his Enlightenment, he resolves to keep silent.
His knowledge is foreign to the world. How can the world be expected
to understand him? Why put himself to "vain trouble"?
The world will take its inevitable periodic course through eras
of destruction and eras of re-creation; the blind, unknowing creatures
will be carried along forever by the wheel of rebirths, in the
rise and fall of their form of existence. The actions performed
in any present existence are the karma that determines the form
of the next rebirth, just as the existence was itself determined
by a preceding one. The world does not change, but in it salvation
is possible for the Knowing One. Liberated from further rebirths,
he enters into Nirvana. Buddha acquired this knowledge in solitude.
"No man is my friend." He knows of his redemption. "Enough,
I will not reveal it to others; from those who live in love and
hate, the doctrine remains hidden."
Buddha cannot preserve in his self-sufficiency, keeping his redemption
to himself. After an inner struggle he decides to divulge his
doctrine. He does not expect much, and later, when his preaching
attracts throngs of people, he predicts that the true doctrine
will not long endure. But he continues on his helping way. "In
a world gone dark I will beat the deathless drum."
preaching begins in the Deer Park in Benares, where he attracts
his first disciples. He was to live for another forty years, wandering,
teaching in the vast territories of northern India. Spiritually,
nothing new happened to him. The core of his sermons was a finished
doctrine; he varied an identical theme. Consequently, one can
speak of this period only as a whole. Buddha taught in lectures,
stories, parables, maxims; we hear dialogues, of countless scenes
and situations, of conversations. He preached not in Sanskrit,
but in the vernacular. He thought in concrete images, but he made
use of concepts taken from Hindu philosophy.
immense historical influence rests very largely on the monastic
communities he founded. The disciples left home and occupation
and family. They wandered far and wide, in poverty and chastity,
tonsured and clad in yellow monks' robes. Having attained the
redemption of Enlightenment, they desired nothing more in this
world. They lived by begging, carrying bowls into which people
put food as they passed through villages. From the very start
the communities had their rules and regulations, their leaders
and discipline. They were joined for periods of time by lay companions,
including kings, wealthy merchants, nobles, and famous courtesans.
All were generous with their gifts. The monastic communities came
into possession of parks and houses where large throngs who wished
to receive the doctrine could be lodged during the rainy season.
it spread, this monasticism met with resistance. "The people
grew restive: The ascetic Gautama has come to bring childlessness,
to bring widowhood, the end of generations. Many noble youths
are turning to the ascetic Gautama to live in holiness."
When the throngs of monks appeared, the people mocked them: "Here
they come, the baldheads. Here they come, mawkishly hanging their
heads in meditativeness; yes indeed, they are as meditative as
a cat lying in wait for a mouse." But for Buddha it was a
matter of principle to offer no resistance. "I fight not
with the world, ye monks. The world fights with me. He who proclaims
the truth, ye monks, fights with no one in the world." The
struggle was carried on with spiritual weapons. Buddha did not
confront a united spiritual power. The Vedic religion had many
tendencies; there were already ascetic communities, there were
numerous philosophies and even a sophist technique of confusing
an adversary with many questions, each of the possible answers
to which involved him in contradictions. But since Buddha rejected
the sacrifices of the Vedic religion, and the authority of the
Vedas themselves, his preaching was a radical break with the whole
texts give us a colorful picture of the life and activity of Buddha
and his monks. The rainy season obliged them to spend three months
in the house with its vast halls and storerooms, or by the lotus
ponds in the adjoining park. The rest of the year was spent in
wandering. On their wanderings the monks were lodged by the faithful
or slept in the open. When groups of monks met, an immense hubbub
arose. When Buddha was about to appear, someone hushed them, for
he was a lover of peace and quiet. In carriages or on elephants
came kings and merchants and nobles to speak with Buddha and the
monks. Each day Buddha himself took up his beggar's bowl and passed
from house to house. Throngs of disciples followed him everywhere,
and lay companions accompanied the procession, some in wagons
memory of Buddha's death and the period preceding it has been
preserved. The date of his death, 480 B.C., is regarded as certain.
His last wandering is described in detail. At first he tried to
get the better of his painful illness and cling to his life. But
then he put his will behind him: "three months hence the
Perfect One will enter into Nirvana." Journeying onward,
he casts a last glance back at the beloved city of Vesali. As
they enter a little wood, he gives his last instructions: "Make
me a bed between two twin trees, my head to the north. I am tired,
Ananda." And he lay down as a lion lying down to rest.
one of his disciples wept, he said: "Not so, Ananda. Do not
mourn, do not lament. Have I not taught you that it is in the
very nature of all things near and dear to us to pass away? How
then, Ananda, since whatever is brought into being contains within
itself the inherent necessity of dissolution, how can it be that
such a being should not be dissolved?"
disciples believe that with Buddha's death the word would have
lost its master. "Think not so. The doctrine and the order
that I have taught you, they will be your master when I am gone.
The Perfect One thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood...I
am now grown old, my journey is drawing to its close, I am turning
eighty years of age. Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves.
Rely on yourselves. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation
alone in the truth."
lasts words were:"All accomplishment is transient. Strive
unremittingly." Then, rising from one stage of contemplation
to the next, Buddha entered into Nirvana.
Buddha, Confucius, Jesus: From The Great Philosophers,Volume 1",
Jaspers, Karl. pgs.41-63. Copyright 1957 by R. Piper and Co. Verlag,
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