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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who is the Buddha?


Who is the Buddha?

The philosophy and the history of the spiritual leader:

In general, ‘Buddha’ means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. A Buddha is a person completely free from all faults and mental obstructions.

There are many people who have become Buddhas in the past, and many people will become Buddhas in the future. There is nothing that Buddha does not know.

Because he has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and has removed all obstructions from his mind, he knows everything of the past, present, and future, directly and simultaneously. Moreover, Buddha has great compassion which is completely impartial, embracing all living beings without discrimination.

He benefits all living beings without exception by emanating various forms throughout the universe, and by bestowing his blessings on their minds. Through receiving Buddha’s blessings, all being, even the lowliest animals, sometimes develop peaceful and virtuous states of mind.

Eventually, through meeting an emanation of Buddha in the form of a Spiritual Guide, everyone will have the opportunity to enter the path to liberation and enlightenment. As the great Indian Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna said, there is no one who has not received help from the Buddha.

Buddha’s Good Qualities

It is impossible to describe all the good qualities of a Buddha. A Buddha’s compassion, wisdom, and power are completely beyond conception. With nothing left to obscure his mind, he sees all phenomena throughout the universe as clearly as he sees a jewel held in the palm of his hand.

Through the force of his or her compassion, a Buddha spontaneously does whatever is appropriate to benefit others. He has no need to think about what is the best way to help living beings - he naturally and effortlessly acts in the most beneficial way.

Just as the sun does not need to motivate itself to radiate light and heat but does so simply because light and heat are its very nature, so a Buddha does not need to motivate himself to benefit others but does so simply because being beneficial is his very nature.

Emanations of Buddha

Like the reflections of the moon that effortlessly appear in any body of still water, a Buddha’s emanations spontaneously appear wherever living beings’ minds are capable of perceiving them. Buddhas can emanate in any form whatsoever to help living beings. Sometimes they manifest as Buddhists and sometimes as non-Buddhists.

They can manifest as women or men, monarchs or tramps, law-abiding citizens or criminals. They can even manifest as animals, as wind or rain, or as mountains or islands. Unless you are a Buddha, we cannot possibly say who or what is an emanation of a Buddha.

The Supreme Emanation

Of all the ways in which a Buddha helps living beings, the supreme way is by emanation as a Spiritual Guide. Through his or her teachings and immaculate example, an authentic Spiritual Guide leads his or her disciples along the spiritual path to liberation and enlightenment.

If we meet a qualified Mahayana Spiritual Guide and put into practice everything he or she teaches, we shall definitely attain full enlightenment and become a Conqueror Buddha. We shall then be in a position to repay the kindness of all living beings by liberating them from the sufferings of samsara and leading them to the supreme bliss of Buddhahood.

The history of the Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama is the last Buddha’s lay name. He is generally recognised as the Supreme Buddha (Sammasambuddha) of our age.

The time of his birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th century historians date his lifetime from about 563 BCE; more recently, however, at a specialist symposium on this question, the majority of those scholars who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha’s death, with others supporting earlier or later dates.

Gautama, also known as Sakyamuni or Shakyamuni (“sage of the Shakyas”), is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules were said to have been summarised after his death and memorised by the monk community.

Passed down by oral tradition, the Tripitaka, the collection of teachings attributed to Gautama by the Theravada, was committed to writing about 400 years later. “Scholars are increasingly reluctant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha’s life and teachings.”


The Buddhist way:

Celibacy is deliberate refraining from sexual activity usually in connection with a religious role or practice. It has existed in some form in most religious and may indicate a person’s ritual purity or may be adopted to facilitate spiritual advancement. In Hinduism, “holy men” (or women) who have left ordinary secular life to seek final liberation are celibate.

Islam has no institutional celibacy, though individuals can embrace it for personal spiritual advancement. Judaism has prescribed periods of abstinence, but long-term celibacy has not played a large role.

The early Christian Church regarded celibacy superior to marriage. It has been the role for Roman Catholic Clergy, though clerical celibacy was never adopted by Protestantism since 12th century .

Did Buddha advocate celibacy?

Buddhism is not against sex; it is natural sensual pleasure and very much a part of the worldly life. Why then did the Buddha advocate celibacy as a precept? Is it not unfair and against Nature?

Observance of celibacy for spiritual development was not a new religious precept at the Buddha’s time. All the other existing religions in India during the time of the Buddha also had introduced this practice. Even today some Hindus and Catholics do observe this as a vow.

Buddhists who have renounced the worldly life voluntarily as in case of Bhikkus and Bhikkunis and some “Upasikas” observe this precept because they are fully aware of the commitments and disturbances which come along if one commits oneself to the life of a family person.

It is common knowledge that married life can affect or curtail spiritual development when craving for sex and attachment occupies the mind and temptation eclipses peace and purity of the mind.

Significance of celibacy in Buddhism

People tend to ask, “If the Buddha did not preach against married life, why then did He advocate celibacy as one of the important precepts to be observed and why did He advise people to avoid sex and renounce worldly life?”

Quite notedly renunciation is not compulsory in Buddhism. It is not obligatory to renounce the worldly life totally to practise Buddhism. You can develop your religions principles according to the needs of a laylife.

However, when you have progressed and attained greater wisdom and realise that the layman’s way of life is not conducive for the ultimate development of the purification of the Mind, you may choose to renounce the wordly life and concentrate more on spiritual development.

The Buddha recommended celibacy because sex and marriage are not conductive to ultimate peace and purity of the mind and renunciation is necessary if one wishes to gain spiritual development and perfection at the highest level. But this renunciation should come naturally and must never be forced.

Celibacy and responsibility

The Buddha experienced his worldly life as a prince, husband and a father before his renunciation and he knew what married life entailed. Some non-Buddhists sometimes say that Prince Siddhartha was selfish and cruel and that it was not fair for him to desert his wife and child. In actual fact, Prince Siddhartha did not desert his family without a sense of responsibility.

He never had any misunderstanding with his wife. He had same love and attachment towards his wife and child as any normal person would have, perhaps even greater.

The difference was that his love was not mere physical and selfish love, he had the courage and understanding to detach that emotional and selfish love for a good cause. His sacrifice is considered more noble because he set aside his personal needs and desires to serve the mankind for all time.

The main aim of his renunciation was not only for his own happiness, peace or salvation but for the sake of mankind.

Had he remained in the royal palace, his service would have been confined to only his family or his kingdom and that is why he decided to renounce everything to gain enlightenment and then to enlighten others who were suffering in ignorance.

Thus one of Buddha’s earliest tasks after achieving Enlightenment was to return to his palace to enlighten the members of his family including his wife and son. Buddha served his family and paved the way for their salvation, peace and happiness.

Therefore no one can say that Buddha was a cruel or selfish father. With his high degree of spiritual development, the Buddha knew that marriage was a temporary phase while Enlightenment was eternal and for the good of all mankind.

The Buddha knew that his wife and son would not starve in his absence and that other members of his family would willingly look after his dependents. When He gained Enlightenment he was able to give them something no other father could give - the freedom from slavery to attachment.

Get to know Abhidhamama :

Introduction to Abhidhamma

Mind is a phenomenon highly explored in Buddhism. Mano phubban gama dhamma, which means “mind is the forerunner”, is a highly heard verse from “Dhamma Padaya”.

The ultimate objective in Buddhism is attained by purifying and improving mind. However, understanding what mind is a quite complicated act for any person. This is a barrier for someone interested in learning Buddhism deep.

One of the teachings in Buddhism that provides a comprehensive analysis on mind is Abhidhamma.

The Buddhist philosophy is categorised into three - which is known to anyone - as Thripitaka: Sutra Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Vinaya Pitaka consists of rules of conduct for Sangha and Sutra Pitaka consists of Suttas containing the central teaching of Buddhism. Sutra Pitaka is mostly on “Conventional Teachings” (Sammuthi Dheshana) of Buddhism.

Abhidhamma Pitaka provides a theoretical framework for the doctrine principles in Suthra Pitaka which could be used to describe “Mind and Matter”. Hence, Abhidhamma embraces the “Ultimate Teachings” (Paramaththa Dheshana) in Buddhism.

Abhidhamma Pitaka consists of seven treatises;

1. Dhammasangani

2. Vibhanga

3. Dhatukatha

4. Puggalapannatti

5. Kathavatthu

6. Yamaka

7. Pattthana

The term “Abhidhamma” simply means “Higher Doctrine”. It is an in-depth investigation to mind and matter. It answers many intricate points of Dhamma. It analyses complex machinery of human, world, mind, thoughts, thought-process, mental formations and so on.

Therefore it is indeed a complex doctrine to understand. However, there are many interested in learning this beautiful branch of doctrine. Among them there are plenty of non-Buddhists as well. This effort is to present this doctrine in an “Easy to Understand” manner.

Apparent Reality and Ultimate Reality

To elaborate, conventional teaching (sammuthi dheshana) consists of “Apparent Reality” (Sammuthi Sachcha) of things. The “Ultimate Reality” (Paramaththa Sachcha) is the abstract truth of apparent reality focused in Abhidhamma.

Consider a human for example. Every human is given a name and is equipped with a head, arms, legs, eyes, ears and so on. In conventional terms we call that entity “a human” and that is the apparent reality.

But if this entity called human is dismantled into arms, legs, eyes and so on, could it be called as a human? If those parts are further divided then it would end up with bones and flesh.

This division could proceed until such that nothing could be seen remaining, where one is not given any clue to be called it as “a human”. This is how the ultimate reality is explained. In ultimate reality a human is described in terms of “Five Aggregates” (Panchakkhandha).

What is visible and described above is just one out of them called “Materiality” (Rupakkandha) and the rest are “Sensation/Feeling, Perception, Mental formations/states & Consciousness” (Vedhanakkhandha, Sannakkhandha, Sankharakkhandha and Vinnanakkhandha). Likewise in paramaththa sachcha or in ultimate reality in Abhidhamma, things would be expressed in a more analytical method.

Four Paramarththas

Falling under abstract or ultimate reality, Abhidhamma consists of paramaththas. “paramo uththamo aviparitho aththa paramaththa” which means “the most noble and immutable thing is paramaththa”. There are four paramaththas, namely the reality of:

1. Consciousness - Chittha Paramaththa

2. Mental States - Chetasika Paramaththa

3. Matter - Rupa Paramaththa

4. Nibbana - Nirwana Paramaththa

It is important to understand what it really means to be immutable of paramaththa. The equipments we call as table or chair subject to change in various ways and means.

A table could be dismantled and made a chair or any other furniture. With time this furniture would perish to dust.

Therefore they are not paramatththa. But analysis of matter (rupa paramaththa) would identify the fundamental materials of both table and chair are same and how they are subject to change. This particular truth doesn’t change and in that sense reality of matter or rupa paramaththa is said to be immutable. So do the other paramaththas.

First two realities together denote “Nama”. The third reality that is “Rupa” denotes fundamental units of matter and material changes. The realities of consciousness, mental states, and matter (with few exceptions to be dealt with later) are “Mundane” (Lokiya). The reality of Nibbana is “Supramundane” (Lokuttara) which is the absolute reality of all realities.


A Manual of Abhidhamma by Ven. Narada Maha Thera

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