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Friday, May 8, 2009

Wesak 2009 Special : Personality of the Buddha

Dhamma and some facets :

Personality of the Buddha

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The teachings of the Buddha, like everything else in this world underwent a gradual process of evolution during the past 2600 years. New Schools of Buddhist thought or different sects arose, at first, on the interpretation of Rules of Discipline or code of conduct for the Buddhist Monks and later, on the interpretation of doctrinal matters

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With the spread of Buddhism to different countries in the world during this long period of time, much of the local beliefs and rituals was allowed to persist and even permeate into the Buddhist way of life, due to the spirit of tolerance in Buddhism.


Ascetic Gothama’s last meal before achieving Enlightenment.

What is known as Buddhism during this long period has developed its special features. Three major divisions are recognisable:

* Theravada - the Southern School of Buddhism.

* Mahayana (The Great Vehicle) - Northern School of Buddhism and

* Vajrayana or Tantrayana, the form of Buddhism which evolved in Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia.

What is important to note is the fundamental doctrines to which the different schools subscribe remain faithful to the original teachings of the Buddha.

Two eminent Buddhist scholars from the West, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott of USA in 1891 and Christmas Humphrey of UK in 1945 have attempted to get a consensus of different Buddhist Schools on the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism.

The 14 points of Olcott and 12 principles of Humphrey serve as a convenient as well as authentic (These have been approved by representative Buddhist leaders and dignitaries of practically all Buddhist countries) means of summarising the teachings of the Buddha as are current today.

Fundamental Buddhist beliefs

A common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree (Olcott, 1891):

* Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom.

* The Universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law not according to the caprice of any god.

* The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural.

They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or aeons, by certain illuminated beings called Buddhas - the name Buddha meaning ‘enlightened’.

* The fourth teacher in the present aeon was Sakya Muni or Gautama Buddha who was born in a royal family of India about 2,000 years ago. He is a historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.

* Sakya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth and rebirth the cause of sorrow.

To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.

* Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed, the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.

7. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasure.

* The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished, rebirth cease, and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.

* Sakya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, viz:

a. The miseries of existence.

b. The cause productive of misery, which is the desire, ever renewed, of satisfying oneself without ever being able to secure that end.

c. The destruction of that desire or the estranging of oneself from it.

d. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire, which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path; viz. right belief; right thought, right speech, right action, right means of livelihood, right exertion, right remembrance, right meditation.

* Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.

* The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagata (Buddha) himself is; ‘to cease from all sins, to get virtue.’

* The universe is subject to a natural causation known as ‘Karma’. The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.

* The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhist:

Kill not, Steal not, Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasures, Lie not, Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor.

Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by monks and all those who would attain, more quickly than the average laymen, the release from misery and rebirth.

* Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature.

He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage written in any book or affirm by tradition, unless it accords with reason.

Personality of a sage

A peep into the Pali Canon tells us some interesting facets of the personality of the Buddha. Primarily he was a great lover of nature. During his missionary activities he chose beautiful sites as stopover for rest. He once pointed to a well-laid paddy field and ordered the monks to sew their robes in a similar design.

The Buddha’s appreciation of artistic beauty is to view reality as it is. At the beginning of the Buddha’s mission, he and his disciples lived under trees and in caves, cemeteries and public buildings; but later on, the Buddha agreed to accept donations of monasteries and houses.

In the Vinaya Pitaka it is said, “The Buddha has extolled as noble gifts the donation of monasteries to monks as they enable the monks to practise meditation etc. without being disturbed by heat or cold, rain or wind, wild animals or insects.

The use of art in decorating the buildings of a monastery is also referred to in the Pali Canon.

At the beginning the walls were bare and was mud coloured. Later on he permitted the monks to colourwash and then allowed to paint pictures. However, when some monks drew pictures of men and women, at this stage the Buddha had to intervene and check the abuse of his permission.

Hence, the Buddha limited the number of motifs which monks could paint in a monastery to floral and other designs. The injunction reads as follows: “A monk who does or causes another to do a painting (or sculpture) of men, women and animals commit a minor ecclesiastical offence. But it is proper for him to do a floral motifs by himself and to get others to do paintings of Jataka and similar stories.” This shows that the paintings of murals did commence with the Buddha’s approval.

Buddhist literature ascribes to Arhath Moggollana one of the earliest recorded incidents where diagrammatic representation was made to reinforce and illustrate a lesson. According to Divyavadana, Venerable Ananda reports how Arhath Maha Moggallana illustrated a talk on Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada) with the diagram of a wheel in which the twelve causal factors were symbolically depicted.

Not only does the Buddha express his admiration for Moggallana as a teacher but suggest that the Diagram be displayed over the gateway in the monastery of Veluvana in Rajagaha.

This illustration is reputed to be the origin of the Wheel of Becoming, seen in a 7th century cave painting in Ajanta in a fragmentary condition. It is a popular theme in the Tibetan and Nepali Tangka paintings. More than for aesthetic reasons, the Buddhists employed sculpture and paintings as a means of communication. The temple wall evolved to be another medium of informal education.

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