English News

Gautama Buddha: the Epitome of Humanity and Knowledge Sharing

Dr. Rajendra K. Shrestha

प्रकाशित |

Founding President and Trustee, Nepalese Association of Houston (NAH)

Director, Fellow and Past President, American Society of Nepalese Engineers (ASNEngr)

Advisor, International Nepali Literary Society (INLS) Houston Chapter

Introduction:

The word “Buddha” originates from “Bodhi” in Sanskrit and Pali languages which means “to awaken and comprehend.” Buddha is also represented as “the awakened consciousness of our innermost being” that has to do with the spiritual awakening of our mind. Gautama Buddha, born as a prince in the Shakya clan in Tilaurakot, Kapilavastu, in the Lumbini region of Nepal is considered as the seventh Buddha, among “Seven Buddhas of Antiquity,” according to the Pali Buddhist scriptures. Buddhas, rather than being objects of worship, represent our innermost being, that has accomplished the journey from ignorance to illumination.

The life of Gautama Buddha gives us hope and inspires and uplifts us all, as he was like one of us. His teachings to understand the root cause of human suffering and ways to alleviate them by attaining enlightenment and Nirvana has taken the attributes of a religion known as Buddhism over the past two and a half centuries and is followed globally. Most importantly, instead of keeping it to himself, he took the time to open-heartedly shared treasure-trove of knowledge obtained through his awakening with everybody he knew, regardless of gender, caste, creed and social status. In his mind, all sentient beings are created equal and have an equal right to wisdom and knowledge. He also taught to treat all creatures with altruism, empathy, and compassion. Gautama Buddha had humbly made it clear to his disciples and followers, “You don’t have to follow me blindly; analyze and reason yourself what I teach and pursue it only if you can believe in it.”  

Gautama Buddha did not want people to revere him, but the possibility to awaken and understand, to which he said, "Don't look to me, but the enlightened state.” Thus he continually provided us the possibility to achieve enlightenment in our lifetime. One could transform the negative emotions such as anger, desire, fear, and anxiety into the positive energy of love, peace, and happiness by training the mind through practicing righteous conduct highlighted in Gautama Buddha’s “Eightfold Path.” He also taught us to renounce earthly desires, that is, cravings, attachments, illusions, and impulses, to free up our minds and bodies for a state of enlightenment. He provided us knowledge about the value of self-awareness and self-illumination. Needless to say, an understanding of Gautama Buddha’s enduring struggles to realize enlightenment and his invaluable teachings helps to make us a better person with the ability to make a difference and change the world.

Gautama Buddha – my Role Model:

When I was growing up in Nepal in middle school, I came across a story about an act of kindness by Prince Siddhartha Gautama in Kapilvastu, Nepal. The story goes like this.  Prince Siddhartha’s cousin Devadatta, a skilled archer, and a hunter, hit a beautiful flying swan with his arrow. The bird fell into Prince Siddhartha’s garden. The kind-hearted Siddhartha then carefully held the bird in his hands and gently removed the arrow from the swan’s chest.  He also nursed the bird and made it comfortable. Meanwhile, Devadutta came running to fetch his prey, but Siddhartha won’t hand the bird over to his cousin, because the swan fell into his garden and it needed to be nurtured for the wound to heal. They got into an argument about who was the real owner of the wounded swan and proceeded to King Suddhodana for justice. Both of them presented their case to the king. The king, after careful thought gave the verdict, “Siddhartha, who saved the bird has the right to keep it, rather than Devadutta, who tried to kill it.” After reading that touching story, I became an ardent fan of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later known as “Gautama Buddha,” and made him my role model.

Life of Gautama Buddha:

 Gautama Buddha, also known as Buddha “the enlightened or awakened one,” was born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya Devi in the Sakya Clan in the ancient city of Tilaurakot in Kapilavastu, Nepal, circa 563 B.C. He was married to Yasodhara and they had a son Rahul. King Suddhodana provided him with all the luxuries for his pleasures and kept him within the confines of the palace, away from the sorrows and sufferings of the real world. However, he pursued to learn and obtain knowledge about the realities of human life. So eventually, one night he sneaked out of the palace with his charioteer and witnessed an old person, a sick person, and a dead body being carried to cremation. The discovery of old age, disease, and death in human beings made a lasting impact on his life. He instantly made it his life's mission to understand the root cause of human suffering and find a solution to alleviate them. His journey to spiritual transformation started that very day.

Gautama Buddha realized enlightenment:

At the age of 29, Gautama Buddha left behind his family and the luxurious life in the palace and set out in the quest of realities of life and Nirvana: A state of freedom from suffering, desire and the cycle of rebirth. Gautama Buddha wandered deep into the forests and performed rigorous penance relentlessly, practiced austerity through fasting to the extent he turned into a living skeleton. That was the only way to acquire knowledge and wisdom of life, he thought. Nevertheless, he was getting nowhere close to his goal. This ritual went on for about six years. It, subsequently, occurred to him that starvation and self-denial would not bring him the knowledge he was relentlessly seeking. He walked into a village where the cowherd chief’s kind-hearted daughter Sujata provided him some pudding prepared from rice and milk (kheer), which he consumed there. After food, it dawned on him that enlightenment could only be attained by adopting the Middle Way; somewhere between extreme austerity and the riches. He then went to Bodh Gaya and sat under a Bodhi (Ficus Religiosa), also known as a Pipal tree, and began to meditate with the resolution “I shall not leave without knowing the ultimate realities of life, even if my body perishes.” Eventually, his divine eyes opened and he attained enlightenment (awakening) by discovering the truth of life on a full moon night in the month of Baisakh of Bikram Sambat calendar in Nepal, which falls in April or May in the Gregorian Calendar. He also realized the root cause of human suffering and the ways to relieve them and reach Nirvana or release from the cycle of rebirth. Since then he was known as “Buddha” - “the enlightened or the awakened one.” He was 35 years old at that time.  Gautama Buddha invoked the earth as a witness to his enlightenment. This is observed in the gesture of his right hand touching the earth in the "Bhumisparshana Mudra.” Gautama Buddha is commonly seen as seated on a lotus throne, the lotus symbolizing the transcendental nature of mind. As the pristine lotus blooms in the mud, our mind also can rise through our experience to blossom to boundless awareness.

His first dictum to his disciples after attaining awakening was, “Act ye, monks, for the good of many and the happiness of many,” or, “Bahujana Hitaya, Bahujana Sukhaya” in Nepali. And his disciples followed this motto, propagating his tenets of righteous conduct, enlightenment, and Nirvana, which eventually emerged as Buddhism, across the globe. His teachings were meant for everybody, irrespective of gender, caste or creed, nationality or the social status of a person, thereby eliminating the sense of inequality in humankind. For people to realize enlightenment, he formulated the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path” that served as the foundation of his teachings.

Gautama Buddha’s Teachings:

Gautama Buddha spent the rest of his life sharing knowledge on what he had learned and attained through enlightenment. The focus of his teaching was to make his disciples and followers rid of negative emotions such as desires, cravings, mental anxiety, fear and worries caused by ignorance and to overcome human suffering, attain peace of mind and full healthy life filled with the positive energy of love peace and happiness through reasoning. Meditation and contemplation are integral parts of Buddhism. He also taught treating all living beings with kindness and compassion. He devoted his life to trying to resolve people's problems using his immense knowledge and wisdom. In one of the examples, he was even able to transform the dreaded robber and murderer known as “Angulimal.” Wearing the garland strung with fingers of the people he had assassinated, he confronted Gautama Buddha with a dagger in his hand to kill him and add one more finger to his garland. In return, Gautama Buddha turned him into his disciple, a monk, and a kind being, by sharing his divine knowledge with him.

Gautama Buddha’s teachings have been followed globally by his followers and believers as Buddhism for the last two and half centuries, although he might not have expected this to happen.

Buddhism is not a dogmatic religion in the sense its followers are not required to accept a fixed belief or idea. It does not even debate the existence of gods, nor forbid their worship. However, the worship of the gods may not lead to enlightenment.

The dictum of Gautama Buddha guides people to find a path that eventually leads them to enlightenment and Nirvana. The three main branches of Buddhism are Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, based on their type of practice.

Branches of Buddhism:

Hinayana, also called Theravada, is observed in Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar. It is a Buddhist doctrine that encourages individuals to work for their salvation or liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Its concept comprises four noble truths and the eightfold path. The Four Noble Truths of Hinayana Buddhism are: 1) Our lives are full of sufferings from disease, birth, and death; 2) The basic cause of these sufferings lies in our cravings for materialistic pleasures; 3) We need to detach from these desires to end the pain from sufferings and release ourselves from the cycle of rebirth, and 4) The eight-fold path makes this detachment possible. The Eight-fold Path can be achieved through 1) Right Views; 2) Right Thoughts; 3) Right Speech; 4) Right Conduct; 5) Right Livelihood; 6) Right Mindfulness; and 8) Right Meditation. The Eightfold Path of the practice of Buddhism can be achieved through three vehicles of learning: precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Thus Buddhism sounds more like a human philosophy rather than a religion. In Hinayana Buddhism, the worship of deities is of secondary importance.

Mahayana Buddhism (the Great Vehicle) believes that people from all walks of life, not just monks and ascetics, can attain Nirvana. It is practiced in China, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, and Korea. Bodhisattvas, the ones who have become enlightened, but delay attaining Nirvana to help all sentient beings attain awakening (Bodhi) and Nirvana.  The Bodhisattvas practice six Paramitas, or perfect virtues: generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. In Mahayana Buddhism, even a layperson can achieve awakening or enlightenment in a single lifetime by putting one's mind and body to it.  Mahayana Buddhists venerate celestial beings and Bodhisattvas, hold religious rituals and use icons and images of sacred objects.

The School of Vajrayana Buddhism, also called Tantric Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, started in the 6th century in India and spread to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. It probably emerged from Mahayana Buddhism. Vajrayana meaning Thunderbolt Vehicle or Diamond Vehicle in Sanskrit signifies the indestructibility of human beings and provides a quicker and more effective path to enlightenment. The role of celestial deities and Bodhisattvas are the inherent component of Vajrayana. Observance of Vajrayana involves mantras (esoteric verbal formulas), mandalas (paintings representing the universe), and other rituals. Gurus or teachers, also known as “Lamas” in Tibetan, e.g., Dalai Lama, play a key role in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Buddhism in Nepal:

Buddhism and Hinduism are intertwined in Nepal; it is hard to separate one from the other. A majority of Nepalese people embrace both Buddhism and Hinduism. After all, Gautama Buddha was born a Hindu Prince. Both Hindus and Buddhists share the same temples or temples placed next to each other for worshipping and conducting religious practices. One such example is the Muktinath temple (see the picture attached), surrounded by 108 sacred water spouts for purification, in Mustang, Nepal, perched high up in the mountains at an altitude of nearly 13,000 ft. I had traveled to the Muktinath Temple recently (November 2019). Both Hindus and Buddhists worship the Hindu God Vishnu in that temple. The temple has a Buddhist priest "Ani.". Two huge Buddhist Prayer wheels with inscriptions of “Om Mani Padme Hum” are placed next to this temple. A few hundred yards away is perched the gorgeous 32-foot tall stone carved statue of serene, contemplating Gautama Buddha (see the picture attached).

The Buddhist prayer or mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” is composed of six syllables and has a deep meaning. According to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, this mantra means that one can transform the impure body, speech and mind into the exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha, through the practice of a path of wisdom. Furthermore, all sentient beings can achieve Buddhahood using the seeds of purity within, hence, there is no need to seek Buddhahood outside of one's self.

The Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and houses many temples and more than 25 monasteries contributed by the Buddhist nations from all around the world. This Buddhist holy place is famous for these monasteries as well as Mayadevi (mother of Gautama Buddha) temple, the Ashoka (the Indian Emperor of Maurya dynasty) Pillar, the ancient bathing pond and Bodhi tree, the tree of enlightenment.

Believers of Buddhism spinning prayer wheels chanting mantras and circumambulating the rocks and walls engraved with Buddhist prayers like “Om Mani Padme Hum” is a common sight all over Nepal.

Gautama Buddha attained Nirvana:

Gautama Buddha got sick after taking food offered by a blacksmith. He told his disciple Ananda about it. When Ananda wanted to call the physician for him, Gautama Buddha said, "For the last forty-five years I have been teaching dharma to my followers and as a result, many of them have been able to attain enlightenment and many more will do so in the future. My life is near the end and I shall soon attain Nirvana. Therefore, there is no need to find a cure.” At the end of his life, Gautama Buddha said, “Be a light unto yourself.  Become a Buddha, an awakened being, but never a blind follower of tradition.”

Gautama Buddha died and achieved Nirvana at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India. An interesting fact to note is that Gautama Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and died on the full moon day in April (Baisakh Purnima).  He did not resurrect or came back to life, nevertheless, he will always be with us. Buddhists all across the globe celebrate his birthday on that day, and it is also marked as a holiday in the United Nations.

Conclusions:

Human minds have the power to reason. They also have the capability of realizing their ultimate potential to become a new or transformed person if they so desire. Gautama Buddha took ownership of his life, renounced the luxuries of his palace, and set out in quest of understanding the realities of human life. He eventually discovered it as part of his awakening under the Bodhi tree, at age 35. He was not as well known in his lifetime, as he is today. As time progressed, people started realizing the value of his teachings and practiced them to mitigate suffering arising from negative emotions such as greed, fear, anxiety, and desire due to ignorance, and then to replace them with the positive energy of love, peace, and happiness. His tenets showed people ways to get illuminated and achieve Buddhahood through raising self-awareness and self-consciousness by embracing conduct based on ethics, morals, and righteousness, known as “Dhamma.”

Gautama Buddha was like one of us; he did not expect any reverence from his disciples. He also did not expect to see his teachings and guidance taking the attributes of a religion known as Buddhism.

Gautama Buddha was an epitome of knowledge sharing and humanity who dedicated his life to understand and alleviate suffering in humankind and attain liberation from the cycle of rebirth. He took a pragmatic approach to interact with human beings to understand their problems and provided them an appropriate solution. He was able to impart firsthand knowledge about the right conduct and right path, including empathy, altruism, and compassion, to bring joy, peace and eternal bliss in the lives of his disciples and believers. Gautama Buddha’s invaluable teachings transcend time and place and provide us a possibility – the possibility to achieve an ultimate understanding of the innermost being in our lifetime and transform into beings of infinite awareness and compassion.

The world is a much better and more peaceful place thanks to the unsurpassed contributions and dedication of Gautama Buddha. No wonder, Gautama Buddha’s legacy still lives on - as glorious and illustrious as ever!

The 32-foot stone-carved serene, contemplating Gautama Buddha statue outside the Muktinath temple in Mustang, Nepal. Note that Buddha's left-hand palm is upright on his lap and his right hand in “Bhumisparshana Mudra,” the gesture of touching the earth, indicating the earth was the witness at the moment of his enlightenment.

References:

Khanna. Anita, 2002, Stories of the Buddha, Children’s Book Trust, New Delhi.

O’Brien, Barbara, 2018, The Enlightenment of the Buddha, Indian Arts and Culture Buddhism.

Sakya, Jnana Bahadur, 2000, Short Description of Gods and Goddesses and Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal, Handicraft Association of Nepal.

Shrestha, Romio and Baker, Ian, 2000, Celestial Gallery, Callaway, New York

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, 2013, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, edited by Jeffrey Hopkins and Elizabeth Napper, Snow Lion Publications.

हिमालय खबर

हिमालय खबर -

थप »

यो खबर पढेर तपाईलाई कस्तो महसुस भयो ?

प्रतिक्रिया