The river Ganges and the river Sindu were the cradle of civilisation in India. In the third millennium B.C. a highly developed civilisation became established, contemporary with the civilisations of Egypt and Babylon. This was the dominant civilisation in India from 2,800 B.C. until at least 1,800 B.C. There is evidence of trading connections with Babylon, Egypt, Iraq and Iran. Excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa have revealed well-developed cities, with evidence of careful town planning with streets laid out on a grid system, brick-built buildings, drains, wells, watchtowers and street-lighting. Some houses had up to 30 rooms. Much pottery has been found, well-decorated. Stealite seals show importance of the bull. They were a literate people but up till now their script cannot be read. They had an agrarian economy with cotton being grown in addition to subsistence crops. This predates the growing of cotton in Egypt. Their rulers may have been clergy and there was a highly developed spiritual culture. There is evidence of the worship of natural phenomena such as fire, trees and streams. There is a stone scuplture of what appears to be a man seated in meditation. The presence of burial objects indicates a belief in the hereafter, and all bodies were placed in a north/south direction with the head facing north.
The civilisation collapsed between 1,800 and 1,500 B.C. We are not sure of the reasons for this. Certainly there were invasions by people known as Aryans who came from the area of what is now Syria and Iran, but it seems that the Indus valley civilisation may already have been in decline before the arrival of the Aryans. There is some evidence that the city of Mohenjodaro was destroyed by repeated flooding. However, the literature of the Aryans does refer to frequent conflict and destruction of cities, so we may suppose there was fighting between them and the Indus valley dwellers and some of their cities may have been destroyed in this way. The indigenous people were forced to move south; they are known as Dravidians or Tamils.
The Aryans came from the West and during a period of 1,000 years spread steadily Eastwards. They had been nomads but they settled in the Indus Valley. They consisted of many, independent tribes, ruled by kings, but they were united by a common language which was an early form of Sanskrit, known as the Vedic language. They also had a common way of life and religion. In terms of urban development the Aryans were inferior to the Indus valley people. They lacked the technology and perhaps the will to keep their large cities in operation, preferring to live in small villages with houses made of wood, not brick. The cities of the Indus valley civilisation were left abandoned.
The economy of the Aryans was a mixture of pastoralism and agriculture, with a position of prominence being given to the cow. Their society organised into villages and tribes, ruled by kings with the assistance of assemblies. There was a division of labour: rulers, priests, and sudras who may represent non-Aryans (i.e. conquered people from the Indus valley civilisation) being integrated into the Ariyan scheme of things. There was a reverence for natural phenomena and a gradual development of both political and religious culture. About 800-600 B.C. city life began again in a small way, and the state replaced the tribe as the political unit.
There were two distinct religious and cultural traditions. The tradition of the Munis and Sramanas going back to pre-Aryan times: wandering ascetics, yogis, sanctity attached to water. They had the doctrine of samsara, the idea that there is something basically unsatisfactory with the world and ultimate happiness can only be found in renunciation. Their doctrines also includedKarma (= action), an eternal soul, and mukti (= release).
Then there was the orthodox, Ariyan tradition, called Brahmanism, which was led by priests called Brahmins. Their ideas and philosophy can be understood from their writings which are known as the Vedas and the Upanisads. The Vedas are the first literary scriptures of the Aryans and they are four in number. The word Veda means "knowledge". The first one is the Rg Veda, consisting mainly of hymns and songs praising various deities. This was composed about 1300-1100 B.C. The second one is Yajur Veda, which deals with sacrificial formulas. The third one is Sama Veda and refers to melodies. The fourth one is Atharva Veda which has a large number of magic formulas. Taken together, these four Vedas are known as samhita. The literature of the next period, after the Vedas, is called brahmanas, which are prose treaties discussing the significance of sacrificial rites and ceremonies.
In general, the Aryan society seems to have been expanding and optimistic. In the Vedic religion there were as many as 33 gods; they and other natural phenomena, e.g.. earth, fire, water, sunrise, rain, were worshipped - often by sacrifice - as a means of securing secular, mundane welfare in this world and a happy future existence. There was a trend whereby all the deities were assimilated, all were seen to be performing similar functions, representing different aspects and names of the same god. There was no doctrine of rebirth or of mukti, seeking to obtain release from the world, but there was a belief in ATMAN and an afterlife in which heaven was seen pretty much as a continuation of life on earth. The main concepts were that of Atman, which is an individual, permanent self within us, and that of Brahman the universal, cosmic Self, the substance underlying the whole cosmos. The Atman was said to be like a grain of barley or rice, living in the heart; later it was said to be the size of the thumb. Certain forms of disease were said to be caused by the escaping of the soul from the body. Mantras existed for enticing the soul back into the body. In dreams the soul is away from the body, therefore, a man should not be woken suddenly. The hope was that when we die, the Atman will be reunited with Brahman, i.e. the individual self is joined with the universal Self. A class of priests emerged who were responsible for the performance of many complicated rites and sacrifices which were made as offerings to the gods. Great importance was attached to the correct carrying out of sacrifice but not much attention to morality or ethical behaviour. As the sacrifices became more and more complex, so the priests assumed positions of more and more importance. Sacrifices could involve the offering of animals, even in groups of 100. There were the beginnings of the caste system - Kshatriya, vaisyas, sudras.
The next period is called aranyakas, that is forest texts, which is concerned with the life of people who have retreated from normal secular life into the forest.
Towards the end of the Vedic period 8-600 B.C. there is evidence that the two religious traditions began to mingle. This is the fourth period, about 700 B.C., when the Upanishads were written. Upanishad means literally "sitting closely"; another term for this period is rahasyam which means "secret". This was characterised by an objection to the atrocities of the sacrifices; also they were not always effective. There are 108 Upanishads, but the most important ones are only 10 in number. Some Upanishads were written before the time of the Buddha and some afterwards. In the Upanishads there are signs of interaction between Vedic and non-Vedic thought. Only clear knowledge of reality can emancipate the soul; ultimate reality is inexpressible but may be experienced. Growing belief in the law of Karma and ethical behaviour, so man was seen as the controller of his destiny, which meant that there was less need for a priest to perform sacrifices. This also altered the position of the gods, and produced a time of great religious ferment.
There were also economic and political changes. The age of migrations was over, but there was a trial of strength between the monarchies, and between the monarchical and non-monarchical forms of government. This led to a decline of the republics, and the rise of absolutism, Magadhan imperialism. The emergence of money, towns and commerce further weakened the position of the traditional gods whose place had been conceived in a rural, agricultural society. In town life much of the symbolism of the older religions would have been weakened. The ritual of the Vedic religion was seen as empty; increasing spread of ideas such as ascetic renunciation, life of virtue. This was in contrast with mainstream society - ritual, wealth, dominion - and wandering mendicant ascetics. This was the atmosphere in which Buddhism originated.
What we now call India did not exist at that time. There were 16 independent kingdoms and states, and we are particularly concerned with four of these. They are called Magadha, Kosala, Avanti and Vatsa. Magadha had a capital called Rajagaha and was ruled by King Bimbisara and then King Ajattasatu. Ultimately Magadha became the centre of a powerful empire. The first king who met the Buddha was Bimbisara. The second kingdom, Kosala, had a capital called Savatthi and it was ruled by King Kosala. The kingdom of Avanti had a capital called Ujani, and its king was Pajotta. The fourth kingdom, Vatsa, had a capital called Kosambi and was ruled by King Udena. All of these kingdoms were agricultural economies and there were small villages and towns scattered throughout the area.
The Vedic literature shows a considerable interest in religious and philosophical matters, and there is much evidence to show that by the time of the 6th century B.C. many religious beliefs were already established.
There was a large number of religious teachers who were men of considerable learning and piety and who attracted bands of genuine and serious followers. We are told that altogether there were 62 different religious views. In particular, there were six teachers who were well known.
1. Purana Kassapa. According to him, acts of will do not bear any fruit. Good actions do not give rise to good results; neither do bad actions give rise to bad results.
2. Makkhali Gosala. His doctrine turned out to be one of predestination; there is no cause or condition leading to the purification or defilement of beings, they are purified or defiled without cause or condition.
3. Ajita Kesakambala. His teaching was one of materialism, which maintained that the person is identical with his body. The breaking up of the body after death means the utter annihilation of the person, without any principle of conscious continuity or moral effects of one's deeds.
4. Pakudha Kaccayana. He preached what we call an atomic theory. He recognised the existence of an individual, permanent soul, but since that soul cannot be injured or destroyed, there is no basis for morality and we need not be responsible for our actions.
5. Nigantha Nataputta, the founder of Jainism. He was the only teacher to accept the principle of kamma, but his methods involved extremes of self-mortification as a means of attaining happiness.
6. Sañjaya Belatthaputta. He turned out to be a sceptic, who refused to give a direct answer to any question or make a definite statement about anything. He was said to be as slippery as an eel, an "eel-wriggler". He refused to give a commitment to any particular point of view in order to preserve peace of mind; knowledge was impossible. There was a king called Ajatasattu who questioned all these men about their teachings, but did not find their views were satisfactory. He observed that none of these six teachers had given him a satisfactory answer to the question he had put to them. In all cases they had spoken about their views, but had failed to give him a direct reply to the question he had raised. It was, he said, "just as if one asked about a mango would speak about a breadfruit, or as if one asked about a breadfruit would speak about a mango."
So it should be understood that the Buddha was born into a society which was already greatly interested in matters of religion and philosophy.
The Life of the Buddha
Now we can turn to the life of the historical Buddha. The man who was to become the Buddha was born in Lumbini in the kingdom of Kosala in what is now called Nepal. A widely accepted date for his birth is 623 B.C., although there is some doubt about this. The English archaeologist Cunningham discovered a pillar erected two hundred years later by the Emperor Asoka, marking the site of the birthplace which is now known by the name Rumindei. The pillar bears an edict testifying that the birth took place at that spot.
His father was King Suddhodana whose kingdom formed part of the larger kingdom of Kosala. His mother was Queen Maya, who was from the Koliyan royal family. The child was called Prince Siddhartha, meaning "Wish fulfilled". Queen Maya died seven days after the birth of the child and he was given to her sister, Prajapati, to be looked after. As a prince, he had a very luxurious lifestyle and all his material needs were looked after. He wore the finest clothes, and had three different palaces to live in according to the time of the year. Servants looked after all this needs. "I was delicate...."
8 wise men were present at his naming ceremony; 7 predicted he would be either a universal monarch or a Buddha, but Kondanna predicted he would definitely become a Buddha - he had seen the hair in centre of the child's forehead, one of the 32 marks. If it curled anti-clockwise, the child would become a universal monarch, but if it curled clockwise he would become a Buddha. This prediction, that the prince would eventually renounce his kingdom and lead the life of a homeless ascetic, worried his father so much that he planned his son's upbringing so that he would be shielded from all the unpleasant or unhappy things of life. So only happy people were allowed to be in the prince's company and he was never allowed to become aware of suffering in any form.
But even from his earliest days, it was clear that he was already a highly developed spiritual being. There is the story of the ploughing festival which took place when the prince was three years old. The women who had been told to look after him left him unattended for a while when they went to observe the ploughing. When they returned, they were surprised to find the child in deep meditation which is a state he had developed all by himself. This incident shows us that he was well developed spiritually.
There is also a story concerning an incident with his cousin, Devadatta, who had shot a swan with his bow and arrow. Prince Siddhartha went to the injured bird, withdrew the arrow and nursed the bird. This led to an argument between Devadatta and the prince. Devadatta claimed that the bird belonged to him, but the prince said that it should belong to the one who had preserved, not to the one who had destroyed it. This is an example of his youthful compassion for other creatures. In later life there was to be more conflict with Devadatta.
The prince was married at the young age of 16 to a princess called Yasodhara and they lived a happy married life. In spite of all his father's plans to shield his son from all the problems of life, it so happened that the prince went for a drive one day in his chariot and he saw four different things which made a very powerful impression on him. First, he saw a sick person, which was something his father had always managed to keep from him until that time. Secondly, he saw a very old person and this too was a new experience for him. Thirdly, he saw a corpse for the first time in his life. Then, fourthly he came across a religious ascetic who had renounced the world and who was pursuing a life of spiritual development.
We can take these incidents literally, as having happened during the course of one day, or we can take them as a metaphor for the confrontation which we should all face with the realities of old age, sickness and death. It is a process of awakening which we must all go through if the teachings are to come to life within ourselves. There is a parallel between the sheltered, luxurious lifestyle of Prince Siddhartha and our own lives. True we may not enjoy the extreme wealth of a royal family, we do tend to shield ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, from the harsh realities of life. The Buddha said that there are few people who are stirred by things that are truly stirring, compared to those people, far more numerous, who are not so stirred. Old age, sickness and death can bring home to us the fragile and precarious nature of our lives, making us think about our priorities, what is truly important and give us a sense of urgency to tread the spiritual path. Normally we devote ourselves to the pursuit of sensual pleasures, the accumulation of riches, the achievement of status, power and fame. We tend to think of ourselves as immortal and do not contemplate the reality of our own death. But we should be prepared to think about death - not in a morbid way, to fill ourselves with fear and dread, but in a realistic way so that we can live our lives in a sensible fashion, with true appreciation of its importance.
Some process like this must have taken place in the mind of Prince Siddhartha. When he returned to the palace, he thought very seriously about the sights which he had seen. He wondered about the impermanence of the body and how this kind of suffering could take place. He also saw the example of the ascetic as a person who had devoted his life to finding an explanation for these problems. It was already accepted that someone who wished to live a life of spiritual development could renounce the world, give up all his material possessions and live the life a homeless wanderer or ascetic. He began to think in his own mind about the possibility that he too could renounce the world in order to search for a solution to the question of human suffering. At the age of 29 he made the decision to leave his sheltered and secure life in the palace and become a wandering ascetic. Before doing so, his wife Yasohdara gave birth to a son so the succession in the kingdom would be secure. Prince Siddhartha called him Rahula, which means literally "fetter".
His quest had two aspects: to seek the extinction of the passions and desires for the world which is impermanent and unsatisfactory, and to attain eternal peace. "... to seek the incomparable security of nibbana, free from birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow and corruption." (Ariyapariyesana sutta, MN) "Cramped is this household life, the home of dust. Free as the air is going forth." (SN)
This renunciation was quite a dramatic event. It was not the renunciation of a poor person, but that of a young man in the full strength of his youth. He gave up his wife and family, his luxurious home, jewellery and other ornaments, and he surrendered the power he enjoyed as a royal prince. It was not the renunciation of a low status person who had nothing to lose. He gave up all this in order to follow a life of extreme poverty without any fixed home and any reliable source of food or other material wants. It is sometimes asked how could he leave his wife and child behind. He knew that materially they were well taken care of - the royal status would ensure that they lacked nothing from the material point of view. The young prince felt that in order to be of real benefit to his family, and indeed to the rest of mankind, it would be best if he could become an enlightened being and discover a solution to the problems of human suffering. So it was not that he did not love his wife and child, but that he had supreme compassion for the sufferings of all mankind.
First he approached Alara Kalama as his teacher. Alara Kalama taught him everything that he knew and Gotama reached the highest state that Alara Kalama could teach, what is known as the third Jhana, the withdrawal of the mind from the world of objects, till it rests in emptiness - the state of nothingness, (akincannayatana); the mind goes beyond any apparent object and dwells on the thought of nothingness, but he found this unsatisfactory as it did not lead to the stilling of desires and higher knowledge (abhinna). So then he approached Uddaka Ramaputta and by applying himself to his teachings, Gotama realised the 4th jhana, when consciousness becomes so subtle that, although its existence continues, it cannot be discerned, state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (n'eva sanna n'asannayatana), but this too he found to be unsatisfactory as it did not lead to realisation of the highest truth. For a while he lived in the company of 5 ascetics. There was a belief at that time, which still persists to this day, that spiritual progress can be made by torturing the body. The more the body is made to suffer, the greater will be the degree of spiritual attainment. This can be seen even today - not lying down to sleep, bed of nails, holding one arm aloft, baking the body in the sun surrounded by 4 fires.
First he attempted what may be called a direct, frontal assault - "I clenched my teeth, pressed my tongue against the palate and strove to hold down, subdue, destroy my [immoral] thoughts with [moral] thoughts. As I struggled thus, perspiration streamed forth from my armpits. Like unto a strong man who might seize a weaker man by head or shoulders and hold him down, force him down, and bring into subjection, even so did I struggle. Strenuous and indomitable was my energy. My mindfulness was established and unperturbed. My body was, however, fatigued and was not calmed as a result of that painful endeavour - being overpowered by exertion. Even though such painful sensations arose in me, they did not at all affect my mind."
Then he tried holding his breath, "I thought thus: how if a were to cultivate the non-breathing ecstasy? Accordingly, I checked inhalation and exhalation from my mouth and nostrils. As I checked inhalation and exhalation from mouth and nostrils, the air issuing from my ears created an exceedingly great noise. Just as a blacksmith's bellows being blown make an exceedingly great noise, even so was the noise created by the air issuing from my ears when I stopped breathing....... A tremendous burning pervaded my body. Just as if two strong men were each to seize a weaker man by his arms and scorch and thoroughly burn him in a pit of glowing charcoal, even so did a severe burning pervade my body... Such painful sensations did not affect my mind." (Mahasaccaka sutta)
Then the prince tried the extremes of fasting, he restricted his intake of food to only one grain of rice per day. "I, intending to touch my belly's skin, would instead seize my backbone. When I intended to touch my backbone, I would seize my belly's skin." His skin turned black and his hair started to fall out. These efforts lasted for a period of six years. Yet in spite of all this extreme physical suffering, he found that he was making no further spiritual progress. So he came to the conclusion that the path of self-mortification was not helpful, and he decided to start taking some food in order to strengthen the body and so be able to meditate better.
This caused much disgust to his fellow ascetics who thought he had given up the spiritual path and had betrayed their principles. Nevertheless, ascetic Gotama decided to continue his spiritual quest by himself. Eventually he sat down under a Bodhi tree by the side of the river Neranjara and resolved to remain there until he had finally attained Enlightenment. The Bodhisatta would not be deterred by Mara's temptations, the Evil One. The Nidanakata of the Jataka Commentary contains a very lively and detailed description of the temptation of the Buddha by Mara as the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree immediately before his Enlightenment. These accounts describe how Mara the Devaputta saw the Buddha seated, with the firm resolve of becoming a Buddha, and how Mara summoned up all his forces and advanced against him. Mara's army is described as being tenfold:-
1. Sense desires (Kama). 2. Aversion to the holy life (Arathi). 3. Hunger and thirst (Kuppi-pasa). 4. Craving (Tanha) 5. Sloth and torpor (Thina middha) 6. Fear (Bhiru) 7. Doubt (Vicikicca). 8. Distraction and obstinacy (Makka thamba). 9. Gain (Labha), praise (siloka), honour (sakkara), ill-gotten fame(Yasa). 10. Extolling oneself and contempt for others (Attukamsana-paravambana). Gotama declared, "Better for me is death in the battle than that one should live on, vanquished".
He began to practise mindfulness of breathing and, now that his body had become strengthened by the food he had eaten, he attained all the jhanic states and perfect one-pointedness of mind. This led to the development of pubbenivasanussati nana (knowledge of his past lives). He recalled all his previous lives, where he had been born, how he had lived and how he had died. This knowledge was acquired during the first watch of the night. The Bodhisatta continued with his meditations and next he developed cutupapata nana (knowledge of the disappearance and reappearance of beings). This was the power of clairvoyant vision, by which he could see the arising and passing away of all beings, how they are born in different states, how they pass away and how they are born again in the endless cycle of existence. This knowledge was acquired during the second watch of the night.
Then the Bodhisatta developed asavakkhaya nana (the knowledge of the eradication of the corruptions). There are four asavas, the defilement of sense desires (kama), becoming (bhava), wrong view (ditthi) and ignorance (avijja). This led to the realisation of the Four Noble Truths - This is dukkha, this is the origin of dukkha, this is the cessation of dukkha, this is the path leading to the cessation of dukkha. This was the knowledge which was acquired during the third watch of the night. Ignorance had been overcome. Enlightenment had been attained. We can now see that this whole process was not the result of just one night's efforts. It was the culmination of tremendous dedication and perseverance continuing throughout countless lifetimes. Although we think of the awakening as occurring during the course of one night, it was in fact the result of much effort and struggle which had taken place not only for many years in the Buddha's present life, but also during his countless previous lives when he was a bodhisatta, which means one who aspires to become a Buddha.
There are have been a total of 28 previous Buddhas. In our era there are said to be five Buddhas: Kakusanda, Konagama, Kassapa, Gotama, and Maitreya (who is the Buddha to come).
Throughout this inconceivably long period of time the Bodhisatta was practising what we call the Ten Perfections (Parami). These ten perfections are generosity (dana), morality (sila), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (panna), energy (viriya), patience (khanti), truthfulness (sacca), determination (adhitthana), loving-kindness (metta), and equanimity (upekkha). The cultivation of these perfections is a completely unselfish act, performed solely out of compassion for other beings. The motivation is absolutely pure and without the wish for personal gain, dedicated completely to the service of other beings. There is no thought of material gain or the exercise of power or influence. In Pali there is the term Buddha karaka dhamma, which means the qualities or factors which are necessary to make someone a Buddha.
The first perfection is dana, which is practised in order to eliminate selfish attachment and to develop unselfish generosity. This kind of giving is not the kind which we associate with alleviating a need, there is no judgement passed on the recipient. This kind of giving is purely for the elimination of attachment and craving which exist in the mind of the giver. So the Bodhisatta does not discriminate between different recipients according to their needs, he just gives whatever he can, wherever he can, without any thought of personal gain or reward. He does not expect to gain any reputation or to put the recipient under a debt of gratitude. We are not talking here only about the giving of material things; giving can also mean giving one's kindness, love, patience, encouragement, one's time and one's gentle speech. An illustration of this kind of selfless generosity is found in the Vyaghri Jataka. The Bodhisatta was travelling through a forest when he came upon a tigress with three cubs. The tigress was so weak from lack of food that she could not provide any milk to feed her cubs and it was likely that the entire family would die soon. Motivated by a feeling of great compassion for the suffering of these creatures, the Bodhisatta decided to sacrifice himself for the good of the tigress. So he jumped down a precipice and killed himself so as to offer meat to the hungry mother which then gained strength from the meal and was able to feed her cubs.
The second perfection is sila, which means the discipline of practising virtuous conduct, living a harmless life dedicated to wholesome acts.
The third perfection is renunciation (nekkhamma). There are two aspects to this. The first is renunciation of sensual pleasures and living an ascetic life. He understands the impermanence of all material possessions and he lives a simple life with few needs. He neither repents the past, nor worries about the future. The second aspect of nekkhamma is the development of the jhanas which lead to the temporary inhibition of the five hindrances (nivarana). These are sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and sceptical doubt.
The fourth perfection is wisdom (panna). This is not knowledge in the conventional sense, but understanding of the three characteristics of existence (anicca, dukkha, anatta). Knowledge can be of three kinds:-
1. Sutamaya panna, which means knowledge acquired second-hand, by listening to the teachings of others. A wise man used to be called bahussutta, which means literally "One who has heard much".
2. Cintamaya panna, which means knowledge acquired by thought and study.
3. Bhavanamaya panna is the highest kind of knowledge and means knowledge acquired through meditation.
The fifth perfection is energy (viriya). Viriya means energy and is closely allied with panna (wisdom). Here viriya does not mean physical strength, although this is also regarded as an asset. Rather, it means mental vigour or strength of character, which is far superior. Viriya appears in the Noble Eightfold Path as samma vayama, that is right effort.
The sixth perfection is forbearance (khanti). This means the patience to endure calmly any sufferings which may be inflicted by others and still maintain a peaceful, loving mind towards the wrongdoer. This means seeing the best in the people and not picking on their faults.
The seventh perfection is truth (sacca). We cannot expect to see the Truth unless we practise it at all times. The Buddha said that during all the countless lives leading up to his attainment of Enlightenment he performed every kind of unwholesome act, except one. He never told a lie. The Buddha called himself Tathagata; one meaning of this word is one who does as he says and says as he does.
The eighth perfection is strong determination (adhitthana). Strong will-power is necessary to help the Bodhisatta to persevere in the practice of the other perfections in spite of the many difficulties and problems he will suffer as he strives to attain his goal. Nothing can persuade him to abandon his principles and give up his quest.
The ninth perfection is loving-kindness (metta). This is one of the most important qualities which all Buddhists should try to develop. Metta means the sincere wish for the welfare and happiness of all living beings without exception. Metta is unconditional love.
The tenth and last perfection is equanimity (upekkha). Upekkha means complete evenness of mind in perceiving one's own or other's happiness or suffering. It is a balanced state of mind, free from both attachment and aversion, a state of neutrality, rooted in insight. It is equanimity amidst all the vicissitudes of life. The eight vicissitudes of life are fame/ill-fame, praise/blame, gain/loss, happiness/unhappiness.
These are the ten parami which the Buddha had to perfect. He said his search for Enlightenment and the path he had to travel was like going on an ancient path, heavily overgrown, leading to a city which was obscured from view. "Bhikkhus, it is just as if a person wandering through the jungle, the great forest, should see an ancient path, an ancient road, travelled along by men of former times. And as if he should go along it and going along it should see an ancient town, an ancient royal city, inhabited by men of former times, having parks, groves, ponds and walls, - delightful place. And then that person should inform the King or the King's chief minister, saying, 'My lord, you should know that when wandering through the jungle, the great forest, I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, travelled along by men of former times. I went along it and saw an ancient town, an ancient royal city inhabited by men of former times, having parks, groves, ponds and walls - a delightful place. Sire, rebuild that city.' And then the king or the king's chief minister were to rebuild that city, so that in time it became rich, prosperous and well populated, expanded and developed. So also, bhikkhus, have I seen an ancient path, an ancient road, travelled along by fully Enlightened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road, travelled along by fully Enlightened Ones of former times? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path." (A.XII.65) The city was there the whole time, it did not need to be invented, but it did need to be discovered. That is the achievement of the Buddha. On the full moon of the month of Vesak. We shall look later at exactly what it was that the ascetic Gotama discovered which meant that he became an Enlightened being, whom we can now call the Buddha.
After the night of his Enlightenment, the Buddha observed a fast for 49 days, during which period his spiritual powers developed. For the first week we experienced vimutti sukha (the happiness of liberation). At the end of this week, the Buddha reflected on the doctrine of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada) which is such an important part of his teaching. He spent the entire second week in silent contemplation of the Bodhi tree. Gratitude is a very important quality in Buddhism and that his why the Buddha spent all of this week in silent gratitude towards the tree which had given him shelter. The Bodhi tree is an object of great veneration for Buddhists; the only tree in that area at that season to have leaves.
During the third week the Buddha was visited by Devas who doubted if he had really attained enlightenment. Using his psychic powers, he read their thoughts and created a special place decorated with jewels where he walked up and down. The fourth week was spent contemplating the Abhidhamma or higher knowledge concerning the subtle and intricate details of the mind. During the fifth week the Buddha continued to enjoy the happiness of liberation, although it is said that this was also the time when he was tempted by the three daughters of Mara - Tanha, Arati and Raga. During the sixth week the Buddha was exposed to the wind and the rain, but he received protection from a cobra which curled itself round his body and extended its hood over the Buddha's head to keep off the elements. The seventh week was again spent enjoying the bliss of liberation.
At first he wondered whether he should teach the dhamma as it was difficult to understand. Then he resolved to teach it to his first two teachers, but they had died one week and one day respectively beforehand. So went back to the 5 ascetics who had previously been his companions. It was to them that he preached his first sermon at Isipatana, nr.Benares, 2 months after his enlightenment.
He attained this state at the age of 35, and he spent the remaining 45 years of his life travelling throughout that part of India, preaching tirelessly the Truth which he had discovered. He founded an order of monks and nuns in order to spread his teachings. His first 60 monks were sent forth with these words,
"Go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Let not two of you proceed in the same direction. Proclaim the Dhamma that is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle and excellent in the end, possessed of meaning and the letter and utterly perfect. Proclaim the life of purity, the holy life consummate and pure. There are beings with little dust in their eyes who will be lost through not hearing the Dhamma, there are beings who will understand the Dhamma." (Mahavagga)
He eventually passed away on the full moon of Vesak during the year 543 B.C. The Buddhist era is reckoned not from the date of his birth, but the date of his death. It is important to realise that the Buddha was born as a man, he lived as a man and he died as a man. He never claimed to be anything other than a human being or that he had any divine power or connection with any divine being. He also said that each of us has the potential to become also an Enlightened being, a Buddha. That is why his teaching is relevant to us today.
It is a sign of how far his teachings had spread that eight countries claimed a portion of his ashes.
The teachings were preserved entirely by oral tradition for nearly 500 years. Writing was used only for commerce. He established no official successor - only the Dhamma. Subbada, monk, welcomed his passing away as they would now be free from from the ascetic's restrictions. Councils were held to rehearse and agree all the Buddha's teachings - 3 months, 100, 200, 300 years after death. 3rd cent.B.C. Asoka's son Mahinda brought the teachings to Sri Lanka. 1st cent.B.C. they were committed to writing for the first time due to famine.
First council could not be held until Ananda had become enlightened. "Thus Have I Heard" marks the start of all the suttas recited by Ananda. Meaning of the term: Theravada - after theras of first council, their views/opinions/teachings. 1st council lasted 7 months. Theravada is the most orthodox, closest to original teachings.
For the next 100 years the teachings continued to be handed down by oral tradition, but gradually social and political changes started taking place in society. Six kings followed the death of King Ajattasatu and in the time of King Kalasoka a disagreement arose concerning several thousand monks who were living in Vaisali. These monks were seeking greater independence and were known by the term Vajjiputtaka. They had come to believe it was all right for them to receive gifts of gold and silver and they placed a water pot at the entrance to their monastery into which people could put money.
When a monk called Yasa visited Vaisali from his own monastery at Kosambi, he was surprised to be offered a share of the money which had been donated to the monastery. When he refused to accept it, the other monks passed a sentence of temporary excommunication (ukkhapaniya) on Yasa. Yasa also found that these same monks had relaxed ten vinaya rules. 1.Carrying salt in a horn for use when needed. 2.Eating food a little later than noon. 3.Having food in one village, then going to another. 4.For fortnightly recitation of the patimokkha, all monks must be present in same place, not several places. 5.Not necessary to get monk's consent in advance if one is unable to attend the patimokkha recitation; obtaining consent afterwards is all right. 6.Teacher's authority is sufficient for acceptance, even if practice is wrong. 7.Drinking whey after noon. 8.Drinking of fermenting palm juice. 9.Proper to use bordered, embroidered sheet or rug to sit on. 10.Accepting gold and silver.
Venerable Yasa went to seek support from other monks in order to persuade the Vajjiputtakas to follow the proper path. Support came from the monks at Kosambi, Madhura and some other places and eventually nearly one thousand monks went to Vaisali. The Vajjiputtakas also rallied their supporters and a lengthy debate started between the two groups.
The most senior monk present suggested that a committee be set up in order to examine the matters in dispute. There were a total of eight members - four from each side. The Vajjiputtakas went to King Kalasoka and told him that the monks had come from outside in order to take possession of their vihara. King Kalasoka believed them and took their side against the intruders, even though he was advised not to do so by his sister, who was an Arahant.
The Western monks on the committee managed to convince the Easterners that the ten rules had been relaxed in contravention of the Vinaya, and the committee reported their decision to the assembled monks with careful reference to the Vinaya. Then a monk called Revata suggested that a council be called to rehearse the Vinaya rules, but this suggestion did not meet with universal acceptance. A group of 700 monks agreed to hold what became known as The Second Council. These monks were all Arahants, but they did not include any members of the Eastern group, the Vajjiputtakas. For their part, the Vajjiputtakas decided to hold their own council which would be open to all monks, whether Arahants or not. As many as ten thousand monks attended this meeting which was called a Mahasanghika (a great assembly) and this marked the beginning of the Mahayana. This council altered many items in the Tipitaka in order to suit their own views, and even added some new texts. There was no possibility of compromise between the two groups. This is the origin of the split into Mahayana, the first schism, involving the second council and these 10 points of difference.
By the second century A.D. Mahayana was widely known. Eventually Buddhism declined in India - mainly due to the opposition from the Brahmins, and the Muslim invasions. It reached China as early as 65 A.D, but it was not until 6th century that Bodhidhamma founded the Cha'an school, when it got mixed up with Confucianism and Taoism - Zen in Japan. Also Tien-tai school - Tendai in Japan. 7th century to Tibet, king of Tibet married a lady from China who was a Buddhist. In 14th century Tsong-khapa founded Ge-luk-pa tradition (yellow hat); their leader is the Dalai Lama, who represents Avalokitesvara (Buddha to come). One quarter of male population used to live in monasteries.
The growth of the Mahayana was a gradual process, and not the result of any violent discussions or conflicts. No parallel with Roman Catholicism/Protestantism. A Chinese visitor to India in 7th century records 115,000 theravada, 120,000 mahayana monks living and working together in full harmony; half of the latter also studied the theravada scriptures. Theravada and Mahayana are in full agreement on all important matters of doctrine. It is, however, to be expected that as the teachings of the Buddha spread over a wider and wider area, some differences of interpretation would develop and various items of local culture would be absorbed.
One of the differences concerned the nature of the Buddha himself. He was originally conceived to be a historical personage who was born as a man, lived as a man and died as a man. In the Mahayana, however, the idea developed that he was a being of quite a different nature. He was not regarded as a historical person who visited the earth in person, but perhaps was not even a human being at all. These ideas form what is known as the trikaya doctrine. Kaya means "body" and, according to this doctrine, there are three kayas. The Buddha lives in Sukhavati, which can be translated as Western Paradise. From there he sends his incarnation to the world.
This incarnation is known as Nirmana kaya, which means the visible body, created in order to be seen. This is the historical Buddha. The second kaya is the Dharma kaya, which means the Embodiment of the Teaching; this is not the same as the Tipitaka Dhamma. Thirdly, there is the Sambhoga kaya, which is a spiritual experience, the enjoyment of bliss which cannot be seen; it is a blissful feeling, the Buddha nature. With the introduction of beliefs of this sort, the humanism of the tipitaka suttas changed to the supernaturalism of the Mahayana sutras. Further differences later developed - such as the deification of the Buddha, and acceptance of a soul theory.
There has also been much discussion concerning the aims of the different schools. People often say that the goal of the Theravadin is to attain Arahantship, whereas the Mahayanist aims to be become a Bodhisattva and attain the state of a Buddha. There has been considerable misunderstanding on this point.
Both the Theravada and the Mahayana schools accept the Bodhisatta ideal as the highest.
There are three yanas or "vehicles" to enlightenment.Savakayana, Paccekabuddhayana and Bodhisattvayana. A Savaka is someone who attains enlightenment as a disciple, depending on the teaching of others. Another name is Arahant. There are four stages leading to this attainment:- 1. Sotapanna - Stream-enterer 2. Sakadagami - Once-returner 3. Anagami - Non-returner 4. Arahant - Sainthood
A Paccekabuddha is a person who discovers enlightenment for himself, but who is unable to teach it to others. A pacceka (private) Buddha lacks the power to purify and serve others by teaching the dhamma which he himself has discovered. Pacceka Buddhas arise only during those periods when the teaching of a samma sambuddha does not exist.
A Bodhisattva also discovers enlightenment for himself, i.e. becomes a Sammasambuddha, but in addition he is able to teach others. In his book Yogacarabhumisastra Asanga, a Mahayanist, devotes one section to each of the three yanas. All three are equal in terms of their enlightenment, i.e. their liberation from defilements, which means that there are not three different classes of Nibbana. However, the Savaka and the Pacceka are regarded as inferior to the Bodhisatta in terms of other, special qualities. Only the Bodhisatta achieves liberation from all obstructions to knowledge. Asanga says that when a Bodhisatta attains enlightenment (Bodhi), he becomes an Arahant, a Tathagata (i.e. a Buddha). Not only a Savaka, but also a Bodhisatta becomes an Arahant when he finally attains Buddhahood. Both Theravada and Mahayana are in agreement on this point.
A Bodhisatta is a person who is in a position to attain Nibbana as a Savaka or as a Paccekabuddha, but out of great compassion for the world, he renounces it, goes on suffering in samsara for the sake of others, perfects himself during an incalculable period of time, and finally realises Nibbana, becomes an Arahant, a fully enlightened being, a Sammasambuddha. So anyone who aspires to become a Buddha is a Bodhisatta, a Mahayanist, regardless of which country he may happen to live in.
Just like the Mahayana, the Theravada places the Bodhisatta in the highest position. It states that although anyone may aspire to become a Bodhisatta, it does not insist that everyone must strive for this end. The decision is left to the individual whether to take the path of the Savaka, Paccekabuddha or Sammasambuddha.
There is, however, a difference in emphasis and how this ideal is presented. The Theravada does not have a separate literature devoted specially to the Bodhisatta ideal - references are scattered throughout the Tipitaka. The Mahayana, by contrast, has produced much literature describing the Bodhisatta path in great detail. It has also created a class of mythical beings who are regarded as Bodhisattas.
It is necessary to say a few words about the term Hinayana, which has given rise to a certain amount of confusion. Literally the term Hinayana means "small or lesser vehicle", in contrast to Mahayana which means "greater vehicle". The term Hinayana has been used to refer to a number of sects which arose in India after the time of the Second Council, but which subsequently became extinct. This term is not the same as Theravada and should not be confused with it. The form of Buddhism which Arahant Mahinda took to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. was pure Theravada. There is no mention in any of the Theravada texts of the terms Hinayana and Mahayana. It is generally agreed that they were a later invention which took place after the establishment of Theravada in Sri Lanka. Without Mahayana there cannot be Hinayana, but Theravada already existed before these other two terms came into existence. It is therefore incorrect to include Theravada in either of the categories Hinayana or Mahayana; it was always entirely separate from them. The term Hinayana, with its connotation "lesser", came to be associated with the idea of inferiority and was used in a derogatory way. It is no longer in use in informed circles to describe any form of Buddhism currently being practised.
The Theravada school has continued in Sri Lanka right up to the present day. Although Buddhism died out in India, it continued to spread and flourish throughout Asia. The Theravada school became established in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos. The Mahayana spread to China, Japan and Tibet.
Ordination of Monks There are two steps:-
1. The period of probation, called samanera (novice), during which time he practices ten precepts. The teacher gets to understand his pupil and the pupil receives his training. Then he can make a decision whether to stay permanently or to go back to lay life. Anybody can enter the samanera (novice) life. Many monks attain this stage between 15-20 years of age.
2. Higher ordination (upasampada), or permanent monkhood. There are some pre-conditions which must be fulfilled. The person who is to be ordained as a bhikkhu must be:- (i) a male. (ii) not under the age of 20. (iii) a complete person, i.e. not a castrated one. (iv) someone who has not committed any capital crime, such as patricide or matricide. (v) someone who has not committed any Buddhist mortal sin in a previous ordination, and who has not fallen into heresy before previously disrobing. Even when a person meets all these qualifications, it is strongly advisable that he should fulfil these further conditions:-
(i) He should not have a notorious record of bad behaviour, or have a contemptuous appearance, such as -
- being a well-known gangster or robber.
- bearing an indelible mark, received as punishment for a serious crime previously committed.
- being crippled or maimed.
- be suffering from an incurable disease which would prevent him from fulfilling his duties as a bhikkhu.
- be suffering from an infectious disease.
(ii) He should not be under some social obligations or prohibitions, such as:-
- being still dependent upon his parents.
- being in the government army.
- being in debt.
- being in slavery.
Provided he satisfies these conditions a person can receive the higher ordination.
His purpose is solely:- (i) the cessation of dukkha and the attainment of nibbana. (ii) to spread the knowledge of the dhamma. (iii) to serve humanity.
Reasons for successful spread: Lack of dogmatism The Buddha was a man of great compassion, a love of silence, practical not speculative, opposed dogmatism.
There is the famous case of Upali the millionaire, who was a well-known and prominent supporter of Nigantha Nataputta (Jaina Mahavira). Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion, differed with the Buddha in his teachings on the subject of Kamma and he dispatched his disciple to the Buddha in order that Upali might defeat the Buddha in argument on this subject. Now it so happened that during the course of their discussion, Upali became convinced that the Buddha's point of view was right and he asked the Buddha to accept him as one of his lay followers. Far from hastening to accept him as one, the Buddha counselled Upali to think again, saying, "Now, householder, make a proper investigation. Proper investigation is right in the case of well-known men like yourself." This surprised and pleased Upali, who remarked that other religious sects would have marked the arrival of a prominent, new convert by hoisting flags and beating drums. When he reconfirmed his wishes to follow the Buddha, the Buddha then asked him to continue to respect and give alms to his former teachers, the Jains.
The Buddha did not teach simply in order to increase the numbers of his own followers. People may continue to follow the teacher of their own choice. Speaking to Nigrodha the wandering ascetic, he said,
"Maybe, Nigrodha, you will think: the Samana Gotama has said this from a desire to get pupils; but you are not thus to explain my words. Let him who is your teacher be your teacher still. Maybe, Nigrodha, you will think: the Samana Gotama has said this from a desire to make us secede from our rule; but you are not thus to explain my words. Let that which is your rule be your rule still. Maybe, Nigrodha, you will think: the Samana Gotama has said this from a desire to make us secede from our mode of livelihood; but you are not thus to explain my words. Let that which is your mode of livelihood be so still. Maybe, Nigrodha, you will think: the Samana Gotama has said this from a desire to confirm us as to such points of our doctrines which are wrong, and reckoned as wrong by those in our community; but you are not thus to explain my words. Let those points in your doctrines which are wrong and reckoned as wrong by those in your community, remain so still for you. Maybe, Nigrodha, you will think: the Samana Gotama has said this from a desire to detach us from such points in our doctrines as are good, reckoned as good by those in our community; you are not thus to explain my words. Let those points in your doctrines which are good, reckoned to be good by those in your community, remain so still.
"Wherefore, Nigrodha, I speak thus, neither because I wish to gain pupils, nor because I wish to cause seceding from rule, nor because I wish to cause seceding from mode of livelihood, nor because I wish to confirm you in bad doctrines, or detach you from good doctrines. But, O Nigrodha, there are bad things not put away, corrupting, entailing birth renewal, bringing suffering, resulting in ill, making for birth, decay and death in the future. And it is for the putting away of these that I teach the Dhamma, according to which if ye do walk, the things that corrupt shall be put away, the things that make for purity shall grow and flourish, and ye shall attain to and abide in, each one for himself even here and now, the understanding and the realisation of full and abounding insight." (D.N.vol.II p.56)
Other features:- - universal application, open to all. - importance of individual authority and personal experience. The Buddha himself was a man of independent nature, e.g. decision to abandon asceticism and previous teachers, critical attitude to existing beliefs. - exhortation to self-reliance, realisation of truth by one's own self; especially appealing to people who had recently moved to cities where attainment was a result of personal effort, not birth. - flexible and adaptable - did not destroy existing beliefs. Able to exist happily with other religions and pre-existing folk traditions, e.g. Vishnu regarded in Sri Lanka as a protector of Buddhism, in China co-existed with Confucianism and Taoism, and Tibet with Bon. - democratic ideas, e.g. constitution of Sangha, emancipation of women. - Sangha well organised, set example. - attracted support of kings, eg. Asoka, Sri Lankans. - combination of wisdom & love. Both practical and intellectual. Taught at different levels, according to the understanding of his audience. Gradual path, like the sea deepens slowly from the shore. For laypeople, danakatha, silakatha, saggakatha (heaven), kamanam adinava (danger of sense pleasures), nekkhama anisansa; for monks joys of renunciation, 227 rules, meditation.