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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Face of compassion that inspires billions

Face of compassion that inspires billions

By Upali Salgado

The central figure in the story of Buddhism is Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha (also known as Gauthama Buddha). Gotama Buddha was born 2,552 years ago at Lumbini, in Nepal. He belonged to the Sakya clan, and Gotama was the family name. He was a prince, having at birth 32 unusual signs on his body, which, according to the royal court seers, indicated he would be either a Chakravarthi (Universal Monarch) or a religious leader.

The Buddha’s noble philosophy, or dharma, is followed by more than three billion people across Asia. The Buddha was an extraordinary man, a “Maha Purisha”. As a human being, he had no connections with the creator God or any other supernatural being. An extraordinary man (“Accariya Manussa”), he was beyond the human state inwardly, though living an admirable life outwardly.

What exactly those 32 principal marks represented remains uncertain, but scholars agree they are marks of royalty and great leadership, something the Buddha acquired from previous lives in samsara. Buddhists of the Mahayana school believe he was of divine character and was superhuman. The Maha Purisha concept originated with Vedantic thought in North India, and was later applied to heroes in Indian epics.

Gotama Buddha said human suffering in its many forms could end without an external agency. He said that only through self-realisation and an awakening to truth can one achieve personal liberation. The ills of life that haunt man can be conquered by following the dharma. The path to achieving that goal is by understanding and accepting the Four Noble Truths (relating to suffering or dukkha) and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha’s teachings are better appreciated when one understands the concept of dependent origination and the doctrines of kamma and rebirth. Annata (no-soul concept) and anicca (impermanence of life) are two other fundamental aspects of Buddha doctrine. These teachings are fundamentally different from those of theistic religions, which believe in a powerful creator or God who guides the destiny of man.

The Buddha said:

“One thing only do I teach, the cause of suffering, the way to end suffering. Just as the sea water has one taste, so is my teaching, which deals with suffering and its cessation.” (Majjima Nikaya)
Again, it is said:
“By oneself indeed is evil done,
By oneself is one defined,
By oneself is evil avoided,
By oneself is indeed one purified,
Purity and impurity depend on oneself,
No one can purify another.”
(Dhiga Nikaya)

This question is often asked: What is the difference between a Buddha and an Arahant (one who is pure and free of passion and has shed the fetters of renewed existence). It is said that after the Buddha preached his first sermon, his ascetic friends Assaji, Kondanja, Baddiya, Vappa and Mahanama met the Buddha on a Poson Full Moon day at Saranath, and that all became Arahants, including the Buddha. The only difference was that the Buddha was the “Path Finder”, showing the Arahants the way. Consequently, the Buddha came to be variously described as The Enlightened One, The Perfect One, The Exalted One, Shanthi Raja, Bodhi Raja and Tatagata (he who has seen things as they are). The Mahayana scholars referred to him as The Caravan Leader. He is often referred to as The Great Master.

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