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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan ( XVIII )


The Life of Gautama Buddha
In the seventh century before the Christian era, there was a small kingdom of the Sakya located in the North – eastern part of India along the southern edge of Nepal. The Sakyas were of the Ksatriya solar race. Their king at that time was Suddhodana and the chief queen was Mahamaya devi. The capital of Sakya kingdom was Kapilavastu.

One night Mahamaya dreamt that a great white elephant holding a lotus blossom in his trunk entered her womb. This dream was interpreted by wise men to mean that she would give birth to a son who would either be a Universal Emperor or a Buddha.

While Mahamaya devi was traveling from Kapilavastu to her parent’s home in Devadaha for her confinement, she gave birth to her child, a son, in the Lumbani grove between two tall sal trees. At birth the baby was supposed to have stood upright, to have taken seven steps and have spoken: “This is my last birth – henceforth there is no more birth for me”. This happened on the full moon day of Vaisakha (May,) 623 B.C. This is the First Principal incident of the Master’s life.

The boy was named Siddhattha, or one whose purpose has been fulfilled. His family name was Gautama by which he was referred to in Buddhist literature.

An old sage, named Asita, visited the new— born child and predicted that a savior had come to the earth for the salvation of the people. The other sooth sayers prophesied that he would become a Universal Emperor.

Maya devi passed away seven days after the birth of her child and the child was nursed by his mother’s sister Mahaprajapati Gautimi.

To prevent the prophecy of his becoming a Universal Teacher from coming true, his father reared him in delightful palaces and took great precautions not to let him know the sorrows of the world. He thus grew up in luxury and led a sheltered life from which the world’s miseries were hidden.

As a student he learned all the arts that a prince should learn. When he grew into a young man, he married his cousin Yasodhara after winning her in a contest of arms.

In spite of all the efforts of his father, he saw the “four signs,” an old man, a sick man, a dead body and an ascetic. At the sight of each he asked his charioteer the meaning of what he saw. These sights and the answers he obtained from the charioteer made him ponder deeply. He realized that all men must grow old, fall sick and die. These were the miseries of existence. The ascetic, peaceful and calm, showed him a way of escaping from them. He could never forget the four signs.

One morning he learnt that Princess Yasodhara had given birth to a son. That night there were great festivities. The dancing girls after performing their dances fell asleep on the floor of the dancing hall in unbecoming postures. Prince Siddhattha sat up in bed and saw his women lying around like corpses. He sat meditating for a while and then made up his mind to leave the palace that night. He went to the chamber where Yasodhara was fast asleep with the baby in her arms. After having caught a glimpse of them he turned away. He woke up Chhandaka, his charioteer, and asked him to saddle his favorite horse Kanthaka. He then rode away towards the forest unknown to any body else. The rejoicing demigods cushioned the fall of this horse’s hooves so that no one should hear his departure.

When he reached a place far from the city he discarded his royal robes and cut off his long hair and sent them back to his father through Chhandaka. He put on a hermit’s robe provided by an attendant demigod and became an ascetic. He was twenty nine years old at that time. This was the Great Renunciation.

He left his home, wife and child to meditate on human suffering, it’s causes and the means by which it could be over come. He first went to a teacher Alara Kalama and then to another named Udraka Ramaputra He learned from them the technique of meditation and all else that they had to teach him. But his quest for Truth was not attained. He moved on and reached a place near Bodh Gaya.

He was not convinced that men could obtain liberation from the miseries of the world by mental discipline alone. He found five ascetics who were practicing the most rigorous self-mortification in the hope of wearing away their craving and he joined with them. For six years he practiced rigid austerities and resorted to different kinds of self-torture and was reduced to a skeleton. See Picture. Go

He aimed at a spiritual experience in which all selfish craving is extinct and with it every fear and passion. He wanted to reach a stage in which there is neither old age, nor disease, nor birth, nor death, nor anxieties and no continue renewal of activity.

His self-tortures became so severe that one day, being too weak, he fainted. After a while he recovered consciousness, and realized that his fasts and penances were useless, and this was not the way to achieve enlightenment. He decided to take food again and his body regained its strength. The five ascetics who recognized him as their leader left him in disgust.

One morning, while he sat beneath a large Bodhi tree on the outskirts of the town of Gaya, Sujata, the daughter of a rich merchant, brought him a bowl of rice boiled in milk. After accepting the food, he bathed in the Niranjana river. Then he ate the food and spent his midday in a grove of sal trees on the river bank. In the evening he went back to the Bodhi tree. On his way he met a grass cutter who gave him a bundle of grass. He spread the grass at the foot of the Bodhi tree and sat in meditation. He made a solemn even that he would not leave his seat without attaining enlightenment, even though his skin and bones should waste away and flesh and blood dry up.

For forty-nine days he sat beneath the tree meditating ardently. During this period, Mara, the Buddhist devil approached and tried to shake Gautama’s resolve by temptations of all kinds. He attacked Gautama with whirlwind, tempest, flood and earthquake. He attacked using his demon army, shooting arrow, throwing stones, and using all sorts of weapons. He then challenged Gautama to produce evidence of his goodness and benevolence. At this, Gautama touched the ground with his hand, and called on the mother earth as a witness. The great Earth roared and sound with a deep and terrible sound: “I am his witness”. Mara then used his three beautiful daughters, Desire. Pleasure and Passion, who tried every means of seduction. But Gautama sat firm and meditated more vigorously. At last Mara gave up the struggle leaving Gautama alone.

At the dawn of the forty-ninth day he attained enlightenment. He had found the Law of Causation, a cycle of twelve causes and effects conditioning the universe. That is, he had found out that the world is full of suffering and unhappiness of all kinds, and also what man must do to overcome them. Thus his understanding opened and he attained enlightenment. This is also called Illumination or Sambodhi. He was thirty five years old then. This is the Second Principal incident of the Master’s life. This again took place on the full moon day of Vaisakha (May).

As the attained bodhi or supreme knowledge, he became a Buddha and he referred to himself as Tathagata.

The newly awakened Buddha met two merchant brothers Taphussa and Bhallika, who offered the Blessed One some food. Buddha broke his fast by eating the food and gave the two brothers some strands of his Hair for them to worship when they reached their home land.

For a while he was in doubt whether he should preach the Dharma to the people of the world. The god Brahma himself descended from heaven and persuaded him to do so. He then searched for someone who could understand his Dharma. His teachers Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra, who could have understood, were dead. He set out for the Deer Part (Mrigadava) near Varanasi (Sarnath) where his five former disciples had settled to continue their penances. He preached his First Sermon to them, thereby setting in motion the wheel of the Law (Dharmacakra – Pravartana). This is the Third Principal incident of the Master’s life.

Buddha collected a large number of disciples among who were Sariputra and Moggalana who were revered in the circles of the Buddhist, order as second only to the Master himself. Buddha and his disciples traveled far and wide and taught his Dharma to the people of those places. The Blessed – One’s arguments were most of the time persuasive but sometimes he had to perform miracles such as the miracles at Sravasti. In course of time he became wellknown throughout North – East India. He had many followers whom he gathered together into a disciplined body of monks or Sangha (called biksus in Sangha (called biksus in Sanskrit and bhikkhus in Pali). They had a common discipline. Many stories are told of his long years of preaching. The Sangha continued to increase in strength. He allowed the formation of a community of nuns at the request of his foster mother Gautimi.

Buddha’s cousin Devadatta tried to kill Buddha on many occasions on account of his jealousy and hatred.

For about forty five years Buddha and his sangha traveled from place to place, preaching to people of all walks of life. The greatest kings of the time favored him and his Sangha.

He was in a place near Vaisali during the last rainy season of his life. After the rains he and his followers journeyed northwards. On the way he arrived at the town of Pava where he was invited by Cunda, the blacksmith, to a meal. He ate “sukaramaddava” which may have meant boar’s tender flesh and was taken ill with dysentery. Despite his illness he moved on to the nearby town of kusinagara. Here on the outskirts of the town he laid down between two sal trees.

He asked the weeping Ananda, the devoted disciple and constant companion of the Buddha, not to weep, telling him that from all that. One loves One must part. He told Ananda that the doctrine he preached will be Ananda’s master after he himself has passed away. According to Digha – nikaya of Mahaparinibbhanasutta, Buddha’s last words were quoted as follows: “Then the Blessed – One addressed the brethren, and said: ‘Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, “Decay is inherent in all component things; Work out your salvation with diligence! “This was the last word of the Tathagata!”

After uttering the last words, his spirit sank into the depths of mystic absorption. When he had attained to that degree where all thoughts, all conceptions had disappeared, when the consciousness of individuality had ceased, he entered into the mahaparinirvana. This is the Fourth Principal incident of the Master’s life. This end came at the age of eighty in 544 B.C. This incident also took place on the full moon day of Vaisakha (May) as did his birth and enlightenment.

His body was cremated and the ashes were divided between various groups of his disciples. Eight Stupas were built over those divided ashes by the various recipients in different parts of India

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