and Teachings of Buddha: Some Gleanings
Satish K. Kapoor
historical founder of Buddhism is also known as Gotama, Siddhartha
Gautama, Sakyamuni ('sage of the Sakya clan') or Bhagavan
Buddhadeva. The six Buddhas ('enlightened ones') traditionally
believed by the Theravadins to have preceded him are: Vipassin,
Sikhin, Vessabhu, Kakusandha, Konagamana and Kassapa. The
Buddha who is still to come to redeem mankind is Metteyya
not seek to know Buddha by his form or attributes; for neither
the form nor the attributes are the real Buddha. The true
Buddha is enlightenment itself. The true way to know Buddha
is to realize enlightenment,' so goes the Avatamsaka Sutra.
(1) Traditionally, Buddha's body is said to have three aspects:
dharma-kaya, or aspect of essence; sambhoga-kaya,
or aspect of potentiality; and nirmana-kaya, or aspect
of manifestation. Dharma-kaya forms the substratum
of dharma, virtue and truth, and permeates the entire universe.
Sambhoga-kaya denotes the nature of Buddha characterized
by wisdom and compassion. It manifests through the 'symbols
of birth and death'. Nirmana-kaya signifies the physical
birth of Buddha for the redemption of humanity. (2)
society in the sixth century BCE was riddled with rituals,
superstitions and caste distinctions. Religion had become
expensive and complicated, and the common man resented the
dominance by the priestly classes, the performance of sacrificial
rites, self-torture, and expensive yajnas. 'Monotheism of
the crudest type - fetishism, from anthropomorphic deism to
transcendental dualism - was rampant. So was materialism,
from sensualism to transcendental nihilism.' (3) In this milieu,
Buddha appeared in order to free Indian society from the metaphysical
jargon of intellectuals, the religious dogmas of priests and
the authority of the upper castes. The Mahaparinibbana
Sutta says in this context: 'The fact that Buddha appears
and disappears can be explained by causality: namely, when
causes and conditions are not propitious, Buddha seems to
disappear from the world.'
was born as Siddattha Gotama to King Suddhodana, chief of
the Sakya clan, and Queen Mahamaya of the Koliya clan, on
the full-moon day of Visakha in the Lumbini grove (Kapilavatthu;
modern Rumindei, Nepal Terai) in about 566 BCE. Much before
his birth, the queen had had a dream that she would have a
son having divine traits. Court astrologers predicted the
same. When the child was born, thirty-two auspicious marks
(mahavyanjanas) were found on his body which included,
among others, long ears and arms, webbed hands, pendant earlobes,
a tuft of hair between the eyebrows, a mole on the right side
of the breast and signs of the wheel (cakka) and lotus
(kamala) on the palms and soles. The sacred tree, udumbara
(ficus glomerata), which, it is believed, puts
forth a unique blossom when a Buddha is born, flowered again.
This confirmed that he was no ordinary child and would bring
deliverance to the whole world. A brahmin priest who visited
the palace to see the child predicted that he might renounce
family life. Alarmed by this, the king tried to ensure that
his son remained engrossed in the pleasures of the world.
child Buddha was brought up by Pajapati Gotami, the second
wife of Suddhodana, as his mother had died within a few days
of his birth. He was a prodigy and impressed everyone in the
palace with his insightful queries. Buddhist biographies (second
century CE) like the Buddhacarita and Lalitavistara
mention that even though the prince grew up in an atmosphere
of luxury, he remained impervious to worldly things. He was
married to Yasodhara, a beautiful Sakya princess, at the young
age of sixteen or seventeen (according to Pali canonical texts)
and had a son named Rahula. But nothing could tie him down
to mundane pursuits.
chroniclers refer to the Four Great Signs which influenced
him greatly. While accompanying his charioteer Canna, he came
across some heart-rending scenes of misery, agony, disease
and death, and realized that the world was full of sorrow
and suffering, and that he would one day meet the same fate
as others. (4) In order to explore the misery of human life
and find a lasting solution to it, he decided to leave home
at the age of twenty-nine. One night, when his wife and son
were fast asleep, he slipped out of the palace and reached
Vesali, where he became a disciple of Aoara Kaoama (also known
as Arada Kalama), a scholar of the Sankhya school of philosophy.
Aoara introduced him to the philosophy of the Upanishads and
also taught him the techniques of meditation. But his quest
for the ultimate Reality could not be fulfilled, and he left
him with five brahmin ascetics. Thereafter he proceeded towards
Rajagaha (Rajgir) and studied more scriptures under the guidance
of Uddaka Ramaputta. For about six years he practised the
severest austerity and penance in the Uruvela forest (near
modern Bodh Gaya, Bihar, on the banks of the Neranjara River),
but did not find peace. Ultimately, abandoning the path of
self-mortification he sat under a banyan tree in Gaya in deep
meditation and gained enlightenment (sambodhi). Hereafter
he became known as Buddha, or 'the Enlightened One'; the banyan
tree came to be called the Bodhi tree and the place, Gaya,
became famous as Bodh Gaya.
order to share his divine Knowledge with people, Buddha went
to Migadaya or Jetavana (Deer Park) at Isipatana (Sarnath)
near Varanasi. His first sermon, which is popularly called
the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta, or the ideological
thread which sets in motion the wheel of dharma (dhamma),
was given to the five ascetics - Assaji, Upali, Moggallana,
Sariputta and Ananda - who had left him when he finally realized
the futility of harsh austerities. They now became his disciples.
Buddha preached most of his sermons at Savatthi and won many
adherents to his new faith including the rich trader Anathapindika,
who provided financial backing to the Buddhist order (sanggha).
He also visited Mathura, Rajagaha, Pataliputta (Patna) and
other places to deliver his message. Kings like Bimbisara
and Ajatasattu (of Magadha), Udena (of Kosambi) and Pasenadi
(of Kosala) found solace in the Middle Path preached by him.
His son and foster-mother accepted him as guru when he visited
passed away on a Visakha Punnama (full moon) day after a brief
illness around 483 BCE. He was cremated by the Mallas and
his mortal remains came to be divided among eight claimants,
namely the Mallas of Kusinara and Pava, Sakyas of Kapilavatthu,
Koliyas of Ramagama, Licchavis of Vesali, Bulis of Allakappa,
two brahmins of Vethadipaka, Ajatasattu of Magadha and Moriyas
of Pipphilivana. Reliquary monuments called stupas were raised
over them to denote his eternal presence.
discourses show that he possessed penetrating intelligence,
which often manifested in the Socratic form of questions,
parables and sutras. He taught in accordance with the capacity
of his listeners (upaya-kaushalya). Once he was rebuked
by a householder when he approached him for alms. Without
getting angry he asked: 'Friend, if a householder gives food
to a beggar but the beggar refuses to accept it, to whom does
the food belong?' 'To the householder, of course,' came the
reply. Buddha then remarked: 'If I refuse to accept your abuse
and ill will, it returns to you, does it not?'
taught his disciples to be free from the bondage of desire,
the lusts of the flesh, the shackles of selfishness and the
urges of the lower self. He decried the shallowness of intellectuals
and admonished his disciples to stay away from the pedagogy
of theorists which did not lead one anywhere.
Four Noble Truths
teachings were based on the Fourfold Noble Truths. First,
the Truth of Suffering (dukkha), which manifests through
events of birth and death, sickness and separation, and vain
struggles to find peace in worldly objects. 'Old age is suffering,
illness is suffering, being in contact with that which one
dislikes is suffering, being separated from that which one
likes is suffering, failure to realize one's desires is suffering.'
(5) Second, the Truth of the Cause of Suffering (dukkha
samudaya), which lies in the urges of the human body and
the delusions of human passions. 'It is the thirst for being
that leads from birth to birth Е the thirst for pleasure,
the thirst for power Е.' (1.6.20) Third, the Truth of the
Cessation of Suffering (dukkha nirodha), which is possible
if one can annihilate desire. 'The extinction of this thirst
(should be made) by complete annihilation of desire, letting
it go, expelling it, separating oneself from it, giving it
no room.' (1.6.21) And finally, the Truth of the Eightfold
Noble Path (atthangga magga) to the cessation of the
Cause of Suffering (dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada).
This consists of samma ditthi (right view), samma
sangkappa (right intention), samma vaca (right
speech), samma kammanto (right action), samma ajivo
(right livelihood), samma vayamo (right effort), samma
sati (right mindfulness) and samma samadhi (right
concentration). 'There is no suffering for him who has finished
his journey and abandoned grief, who has freed himself on
all sides, and thrown off all fetters.' (6)
Origination (Paticca Samuppada)
about the Four Noble Truths leads to avijja, which
is the cause of one's entanglement in worldly activities.
Buddha explained it thus: Avijja gives rise to predispositions
(sangkhara), which result in consciousness (vinnana).
From vinnana springs separate being as name and form (nama-rupa),
which give rise to the six seats of the senses (saoayatana).
This is followed by contact (phassa), which generates
sensation (vedana). From vedana springs craving (tangha)
giving rise to grasping (upadana). From upadana emerges
becoming (bhava). From bhava rises birth (jati),
which leads to disease, depression, old age and death (jara-marana).
The Dhammapada says in this context: 'Laziness is the
ruin of homes; idleness is the ruin of beauty; negligence
is the ruin of the watchful; unchastity is a stain on a woman;
miserliness is a stain on the donor; to do evil is a stain
in this and other worlds. But greater than all these stains,
ignorance is the worst of all.' (241.3)
doctrine of karma is an essential part of the gospel of Buddha.
The present is determined by past actions and the future by
the present. Each individual can make or mar his destiny depending
on his actions. All karmas are rooted in will and can be destroyed
only through will. Karmas are of two types, sasava
and anasava; the former, associated with passion, produce
effects, both good and bad, and the latter, undefiled by passions,
are implied in the Four Noble Truths. Karmas relate to body
(kaya kamma), speech (vaci kamma) and mind (mano
kamma). The quality of the karmas determines their disposition.
A popular verse often ascribed to Buddha says: 'Na pranashyanti
karmani kalpa-koti-shatairapi; Samagrim prapya kalam
ca phalanti khalu dehinam. Karmas do not perish even after
the lapse of a million years. They fructify without fail when
time and environment are suitable.'
likened the world to 'a bubble of water', to 'the gossamer
web of a spider', to 'the defilement in a dirty jar', and
so on. The Vajrachhedika Sutra says: 'Stars, darkness,
a lamp, a phantom, dew, a bubble, a dream, a flash of lightning
and a cloud - thus should we look upon the world.' Given the
conditions, the human mind should be disciplined in a manner
that it can be tuned to spiritual development. But the mind,
like an ape, is 'forever jumping about, not ceasing even for
a moment'. To contain it and gain enlightenment, one needs
to open the sluice gates of one's being to 'the fragrant incense
Middle Path (Majjhima Patipada)
asked people to shun the two extremes of self-indulgence and
self-torture and follow the Middle Path. He laid emphasis
on such human virtues as dana (charity or benevolence),
sila (moral goodness), khanti (patience or forbearance),
viriya (fortitude) and panna (knowledge). He
regarded ahimsa (non-violence), metta (loving
friendship), karuna (compassion), mudita (cheerfulness)
and upekha (non-attachment) as the means to righteous
living. Hatred must be conquered by love, evil by goodness
and greed by liberality. The real treasure of man is laid
up through piety, temperance and self-control. The ten ethical
precepts of Buddha are: be merciful, do not kill; do not steal;
do not commit adultery; do not tell lies; do not slander;
do not speak harshly to anyone; do not engage in idle talk;
do not keep an eye on others' wealth; do not hate; and think
preached nibbana (perfect tranquillity) as the summum
bonum of the life of man. Salvation was not a matter of 'a
shaven crown' or ritualistic acts. One could attain it not
by propitiating deities but by righteous deeds marked by restraint.
'Restraint in the eye is good, good is restraint in the ear;
in the nose restraint is good, good is restraint in the tongue.
In the body restraint is good, good is restraint in speech;
in thought restraint is good, good is restraint in all things.'
(360-1) Nibbana is the perfect state in which all human
defilements, passions and cravings are completely extinguished.
By strictly following the various Buddhistic disciplines one
can move from the ephemeral world to the world of permanence,
of enlightenment. This is called paramita, or 'crossing
over to the other shore'. None can otherwise accomplish the
five following things: to cease growing old, to cease being
sick, to cease dying, to deny extinction and to deny exhaustion.
The four eternal truths, an understanding of which prepares
the stage for nibbana, are: All living beings rise
from ignorance; All objects of desire are impermanent; all
phenomena are transitory; Nothing in the world is 'mine'.
denounced the religious basis of caste, ridiculed the claims
of members of the priestly class as mediators between God
and man, and maintained silence over the existence of God.
But he believed in rebirth. In his philosophy there was no
place for heaven or hell, worship or ritual, dry theology
and metaphysics. He exhorted his disciples to attain the supreme
state through self-purification. 'Better than sovereignty
over the earth, better than going to heaven, better than lordship
over all worlds is the reward of the first step in holiness.'
(178) Besides, he wanted people to keep an unprejudiced mind
and weigh everything on the scales of reason. 'Do not believe
in what you have heard, do not believe in doctrines because
they have been handed down to you through generations; do
not believe in anything because it is followed blindly by
many; Е Have deliberation and analyse, and when the result
agrees with reason and conduces to the good of one and all,
accept it and live up to it,' he said. (7)
founded the sanggha ('religious order') of his disciples
to propagate his faith. Initially he was not inclined to admit
women but gradually changed his mind due to the insistence
of his chief disciple Ananda and his foster-mother. The sanggha
comprised of monks (bhikkhus), nuns (bhikkhunis),
male householders (upasakas) and female householders
(upasikas). Run on democratic lines, the sanggha had
a strict code of conduct for monks and nuns. The criterion
for joining the sanggha was a threefold declaration: 'Buddham
saranam gacchami; Sanggham saranam gacchami; Dhammam saranam
gacchami. I take refuge in Buddha; I take refuge in the
sanggha; I take refuge in the dhamma.' Among the first to
join the order of bhikkhunis was his wife Yasodhara.
his last words to his disciples, Buddha advised them to have
faith in themselves (attasarano), to be their own lamps
(attadipo), and to work out their own salvation. 'The
true Buddha is not a human body - it is Enlightenment. A human
body must vanish, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist
forever in the truth of the Dharma, and in the practice of
the Dharma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see
me. Only he who accepts my teaching truly sees me. After my
death, the Dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the Dharma
and you will be true to me.' (8)
spread at a rapid speed because of the simplicity of its teachings
and the magnetic personality of its founder. The gospel was
preached in Pali, the language of the common people, rather
than in Sanskrit. Efforts of the Buddhist sanggha coupled
with royal patronage under Ashoka, Kanishka and Harsha contributed
to its phenomenal growth.
penetrated into the Greek world long before the advent of
Jesus Christ. Ashoka's edicts and inscriptions show that the
message of Sakyamuni was carried to Burma, Nepal, Ceylon,
Egypt, Syria, Macedonia and many other countries. Some scholars
have even argued that Christianity is an offshoot of Buddhism.
exercised a reformatory influence on Hinduism. By breaking
down social barriers and clearing the spiritual atmosphere
of superstition and obscurantism, it did useful service to
humanity as a whole. Its contribution to Hinduism includes
image worship, the monastic system, vegetarianism and the
theory of ahimsa. Buddhist writings on logic, epistemology,
psychology and metaphysics have come to form an invaluable
treasure of Indian literature. Buddhism has sometimes been
described as a child of Hinduism, 'a daughter in many respects
more beautiful than the mother'. Buddha is regarded as the
ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and worshipped in temples.
decline of the Buddhist sanggha, the revival of brahminical
Hinduism, the division of the Buddhist church into Hinayana
and Mahayana, the loss of royal patronage, and the invasion
of the Huns and Muslims struck a deadly blow to the religion
of Buddha in the land of its birth. The legacy, however, continues
to live and a Buddhist renaissance seems to be in the offing.
Avatamsaka Sutra, 5.
H Dharmapala's address at the Chicago Parliament of Religions,
Angguttara Nikaya, 1.145.
Vinaya Mahavagga, 1.6.19.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 4.216-7.
The Teaching of Buddha (Tokyo: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai,