SWAMI DAYATMANANDA recently retired head of Vedanta Centre UK Bourne End
We are passing through troubled and turbulent times; no day goes by without our hearing news of wars, murders, strife and disasters, natural or man-made. Many suffer from stress, worry and anxiety. All long for peace, joy and happiness. Is there anyone who can help inspire us to lead a better life, whose teachings can restore us to a state of peace, love, joy and friendship?
Indeed there is such a one, the Buddha. Gautama Buddha is peace, serenity, love and wisdom personified. Even a look at his image or picture brings us thoughts of peace, joy and tranquillity. Once more Buddhism is on the resurge and inspiring millions of people to live a life of peace, meditation and compassion. His teachings are bringing peace and blessedness wherever they have spread. Buddha shines in the hearts of millions all over the world as the harbinger of peace and compassion.
There are three reasons why Buddhism is attracting so many:
1.One may not believe in any God or religion, but still become spiritual.
2. The idea of loving compassion and service appeals strongly to the modern man.
3. Buddhism encourages meditation and rational thought.
Swami Vivekananda had the deepest reverence for Lord Buddha. It is said that while meditating in his youth he had a vision of Buddha. Many believe that since then Swami Vivekananda’s heart was possessed by Buddha’s compassion.
Speaking of Buddha, Swami Vivekananda says: “Let me tell you . . . about one man ....All the prophets of the world, except Buddha, had external motives to move them to unselfish action. . . But Buddha is the only prophet who said, ‘I do not care to know your various theories about God. Do good and be good and this will take you to freedom and to whatever truth there is.’ Buddha brought the Vedanta to light, gave it to the people, and saved India.”
Buddha was given the title ‘Supreme Physician for the ills of the world.’ Here is an invocation of the Buddha found in the Lalita Vistara:
“O Buddha! The human world has long been sick and it has suffered from the disease of passions and torments, but you have appeared (on earth) as the supreme physician to heal all these diseases.”
Gautama Buddha was born to King Shuddhodana and queen Mayavati about 2600 years ago. At his birth the court astrologers predicted that this royal infant would either become the greatest of emperors or the greatest of monks. As the boy was growing into maturity, his father’s determination to guard against this latter eventuality began to grow. So he arranged to keep the son attached to worldly pleasures and strove his utmost to ward off all sights from his son’s eyes, that might turn his son’s mind away from the world. But destiny has its own purpose.
When Gautama attained sixteen years of age his father arranged for his son to marry a beautiful royal princess, Yashodhara. Soon Gautama had a son whom he named Rahula. These many years Shuddhodana did not allow Gautama to go outside the palace lest he might encounter some distressing sights and his mind may turn toward renunciation. When, in his twenty- ninth year, the young Gautama wanted to see the world, his father at first tried to prevent him, but eventually had to yield to his son’s request. But he ordered his ministers to see that his son could came across no unpleasant sight. But, again, destiny had its way.
It was said that when the young prince Gautama was driving around the city he beheld four visions. He saw an old man, a sick man, a dead man,and a shaven-headed monk with a peaceful countenance. Through these visions Gautama saw the existential problems of life and the only remedy for the ills of the world. That very night he renounced the world and went into in search of illumination.
Another version of this event goes thus:
His Father Shuddhodana, on hearing of his son’s resolve, hurried to request him to defer renunciation at least during his (father’s) lifetime. Then came the son’s reply that he would accede to this request of his father and postpone his renunciation if he (the father) could stand surety for four things. These four things have been mentioned in a famous gatha-verse in the Mahavastu- Avadana which reads as follows: “Gautama wanted assurance from his father that no decrepitude or old age would attack him, but perpetual youth would prevail instead; that no disease would befall him, but permanent good health would remain; that death would not occur to him, but this life would proceed continuously and that no adversity would disturb him, but he would have a life only of happiness. His father’s reply was that no man was or ever can be immune from the assaults of decrepitude, disease, death and adversity in life.”
So Gautama resolved to renounce home and strive for nirvana. Meanwhile the three visions of an old man, a sick man, and a dead man touched his heart very sorrowfully. He used to sit in his garden and plunge into the depths of meditation. Girish Ghosh, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, in his drama on the life of Buddha, depicted the agony of Buddha so poignantly:
“We moan for rest, alas! but rest can never find; We know not whence we come, nor where we float away. Time and again we tread this round of smiles and tears; In vain we pine to know whither our pathway leads, and why we play this empty play....”
But the fourth vision of a serene and tranquil-minded holy ascetic, clad in his yellow garment, impressed him with the idea that it was such a person alone who could rise superior to all the ills of the world and become worthy of attainment of the highest beatitude.
He gave up his home on the very day his father wanted him to be anointed as the crown prince. When his father brought to Gautama the happy news of the birth of a son to his wife, Yashodhara, he exclaimed, “Rahula is born - the chain of bondage is strengthened.”
After having left home at the age of twenty-nine, he wandered in many a place and performed the severest kinds of penances. But having passed such a hard life for six years, he could not attain the enlightenment which he was seeking so ardently. He felt that extreme self-mortification was not the way to perfection.
Then he proceeded to the bank of the Nairanjana river under the pipal tree at Bodh-Gaya, took his seat there, firmly declaring that “he should not leave it before he succeeded in attaining perfect knowledge, although his skin, bones, and flesh wasted away and his body dried up.” He remained absolutely immovable in that position, and became sambuddha (perfectly enlightened) during that very night. It is said in Pali works that in the first watch of that particular night he obtained the knowledge of his own previous existences; in the second, of all the present states of beings; in the third, of the chain of causes and effects; and at the dawn of day, he came to know of all things, i.e. he became Buddha, the Enlightened. After attaining illumination he proceeded to Varanasi to give his first sermon.
(to be continued)
Editorial from Vedanta Magazine
July - Aug 2010