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Saturday, May 31, 2008

He who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors’

The thrice blessed Vesak Poya Day falls on 19 ,Monday in May:

‘He who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors’


The birth of Prince Siddartha at the Lumbini Sal grove

Through out history human beings have gone on yielding to their worldly passions undergoing immense suffering, not knowing a way out of it. Only a Buddha can explain to the world the truth related to the world phenomenon-the causes for suffering and the way to get out of it.

A Buddha is born to dispel the darkness of ignorance and to show the world how to be free from suffering. It is only a Buddha who could give human beings the power to think for themselves and show that man can attain supreme enlightenment through his own efforts. “Sukho Buddhanan Uppado” The birth of a Buddha is a bliss)

The Gauthama Bodisatta dwelled in Thusitha heaven prior to his final birth until the appropriate time arrived for him to descend to the earth in attainment of the initiation to become a Buddha. In fact it is believed that the birth of a Buddha which is an extremely rare incident, takes place when the Gods invite the Bodisatta to be born on the earth.


A mission that lasted forty-five years

It is said that Bodisattas are reborn in Thusitha heaven, before their last birth on earth. When the gods invited the Bodisatta to be born as a human being, the Bodisatta told them that the five factors-time, country, continent, family and mother being considered, he will descend to the earth.

As the appropriate period arrived the Bodisatta decided to be born in India. He chose the Middle country as the best country. The best family was the Sakyas and the best mother was Queen Mahamaya.

The Buddhist literature finely describes the birth of Prince Siddartha which took place in Lumbini Sal grove about 2610 years ago on a Vesak Full Moon poya day. Amidst the thunderous ovation of millions of people and the gods the newly born prince walked seven steps to the North and uttered thus;

“Aggo Hamasmi Lokassa,
Jetto hamasmi lokassa,
Setto hamasmi lokassa,
Ayamanthi Maathi Naththi dhani Punabbavo”

(I am the great, I am the senior, This is my last birth.)

It was on the same Vesak day that ascetic Asitha, an advisor to King Suddhodana who was well known for his supernormal vision, came to see the prince.

The king who held him in high esteem carried the baby up to the old ascetic in order to make the baby pay him due veneration. But to the utter amazement of everyone present, the baby’s legs turned and rested on the matted hair of the ascetic.

The ascetic who foresaw that the child would definitely attain Buddhahood, soon got up and worshipped the prince. Both amazed and thrilled at the sight, the King Suddhodana too followed his advisor thus marking his first worship on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.

On the fifth day after his birth 108 hermits were invited to the palace and was asked to give him a proper name. He was named as “Siddartha” as the hermits knew for sure that this birth would bring immense relief to entire mankind (In Sanskrit books the name is given as Sarvasidda.)


The Sal grove of Mallas at Kusinara where the Buddha passed away

As Queen Mahamaya passed away on the seventh day after his birth, it was Queen Prajapathi, (queen Maya’s sister who became the chief queen after her death), who looked after the prince.

The prince spent an extremely luxurious life surrounded by peers like Prince Nanda and Kaludai and aides to look into his each and every need. As he reached the proper age, Sarvamiththa was invited to the palace to give him the necessary education.

The king took every possible measure to stop the young prince coming across any incident that would disrupt his mental stability. Three palaces were constructed for three seasons - summer, winter and rainy season.

At the age of sixteen he entered into matrimony with Princess Yasodara (also known as Badra Kanchana), the daughter of King Suppabuddha. But no one could prevent him from seeing the stark realities of life.

During his tours outside the palace, the young prince came across four sights-an old man, a sick man, a dead body and an ascetic on four different days. The prince was deeply moved by the first three sights, but the sight of the ascetic gave him immense relief. Determined to find the way out of suffering, the young prince decided to leave the palace at the age of twenty nine.

Once Channa, his favourite charioteer saddled the horse Kanthaka, the prince renounced the palace bidding a silent farewell to his sleeping wife, and the baby who was born on the same day.

He crossed the River Anoma and became an ascetic commencing his extremely difficult mission- the quest for the truth.

Having followed the teaching patterns of many teachers of the era like Alara Kalama and Uddaka Rama Putta, and also the methods practised by the ascetics like Kondangna, Vappa, Baddiya, Assaji and Mahanama, Siddartha Gauthama understood that he had been groping in the dark.

He finally understood that either practising extreme austerity or engaging in extreme comforts would not let him find out what the truth is.

So he switched over to the Middle path. He too would not have certainly died, had he not realized the futility of self mortification.

Analysing the five dreams that he saw on the day prior to the Vesak Full Moon poya day (Usually known as Vesak Pura Thuduswaka day), the Bodisatta came to the conclusion that he would surely attain enlightenment on the following day.

As he was meditating under the Banyan tree the following morning (Vesak Full Moon Poya day), a rich land lady called Sujatha offered him a bowl of milk rice. Having had a bath on the bank of the river Neranjana, the Bodisatta consumed the milk rice after making 49 pellets. As he finished his meal he let the golden bowl float on the river making a solemn wish.

“If I were to become a Buddha today, let the bowl go upstream.”
As he wished it did go upstream for a considerable distance!

Thus on the Vesak Full Moon Poya day, the Bodisatta spent the day at the Sal grove near by. In the evening as he headed his way towards the Bo tree in Gaya (which is known as Buddha Gaya today) a grass cutter named Swasthika gave him eight handfuls of grass. After laying the grass under the tree, the Bodisatta had sat down under the tree facing East of course with a solemn promise.

“Never will I get up from the place till I attain the supreme enlightenment.”

The Buddhist literature finely describes how much the Maras have tried to disturb the Bodisatta’s concentration, conjuring up many fearful apparitions. (It is also believed that Devaputhra Mara symbolises the remaining desires in the mind of the Bodisatta that were struggling to come to the fore despite his attempt to silence them.) As he was deeply engaged in meditation, his mind ‘burst the bubble of the Universe and he could realize the true nature of everything.’

It was an extremely difficult achievement which was gradually fulfilled step by step. In the early part of the morning he achieved “Pubbe Niwasanussathi Gnana” (The reminiscence of past births.) Next as he could gain “Dibba Chakkurabhi Gnana” (“The perception of the disappearing and reappearing of beings”), he perceived beings disappearing from one state of existence and reappearing in another. Towards dawn the Bodisatta could achieve “Asawakkaya Gnana”. His effort was a success as he could understand the truth he so fervently sought - the Four Noble Truths.

More than 2598 years ago, the Bodisatta could attain the supreme enlightenment conquering all the desires and defilement on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. That is why the Buddha is normally referred to as the greatest of all the conquerors. As the Buddha has said ‘even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who conquers but himself is the greatest of conquerors.”

It was not only the Buddha who ‘won’, but entire man kind.

This is how the Buddha explained to the world the battle he had won.

“Through out the Sansara, I ran through not finding the builder of the house, searching for (him). It is a suffering to be born again and again.

O! builder of the house, you art seen (now).

You cannot not make a house, all the ribes are broken, the ridge ofthe pole is destroyed, the mind is divested of all material things, the extinction of craving is attained.”

After spending seven weeks, paying his gratitude to the Bo tree in Gaya that sheltered him, responding to the invitation of Sahampathi Brahma the Buddha headed his way towards Isipathana in Benares to preach the Dhamma to the five ascetics.

He preached to them pattichcha samuppada - the essentials of his teachings. (Four Noble Truths - Suffering, causes for suffering, the way out of suffering, cessation of suffering). His sublime mission which thus started continued for 45 years till his demise.

He walked on the paths of India, many a thousand years ago to preach to them, so that they could be ennobled and free from suffering. In fact his tours were of two types namely Thuritha Charikha and Athuritha charika.

After rendering a great service and leaving behind a noble doctrine and a set of disciples, the Buddha passed away in the Sal grove of Mallas at Kusinara at the age of eighty , about 2552 years ago again on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. Even a few minutes before his demise, he displayed extreme benevolence and was ready to dispel the doubts of those who sought clarification.

As mentioned in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, when a hermit called Subadda, (his last disciple) approached him to criticise other teachers (Shat Sastruwaru), the Buddha explained to him that what is more important is to listen to the Dhamma. The Buddha’s advice benefitted him.

Channa, the charioteer who was with Prince Siddartha on the day of his Renunciation, could not attain even one stage of the path to Nibbana (Marga Pala). Though he entered the Order, he tried to stay aloof from the others out of sheer arrogance.

The Buddha who knew that his life would be wasted if he did not shed his arrogance, told Ananda thera to impose “Brahma Danda” on Channa after his demise. As a result Channa could enter the first stage of the path to Nibbana

“Handadani Bikkawe amanthayami,
Vaya dhamma sankara,
appamadena sammadetha.”

(I address you, all components are subject to decay, engage in meritorious deeds. These are the last words of the Thathagatha.) To celebrate this thrice blessed Vesak day even the ancient kings of Sri Lanka had conducted festivals. Also it was on a Vesak day that the Buddha preached the Dhamma to his father, King Suddhodana in Kimbulwathpura.

The Buddha’s third visit to Kelaniya too took place on Vesak poya day. His foot print was marked on the Samanala mountain on a Vesak day. According to the Chronicles the coronation of Devanampiyatissa too had taken place on a Vesak day. It was also on a Vesak day that King Dutugemunu had commenced on constructing Ruwanveli Seya.


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