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An Introduction to Buddhism

by Anagarika Dharmapala (1907)

WE are here assembled to celebrate the thrice sacred festival of the Birth, Buddhahood and Parinirvana of the Tathagata, who was born on the full moon day of May 2531 years ago in the city of the Royal Sakyas, Kapilavastu. His mother was the immaculate Queen Maya and His father was the Raja Suddhodana of the solar dynasty of Ikshvaku. A thousand years before His birth there was a prophecy that a Buddha shall be born to save the world and when the time came the future Buddha, who was then in the Tusita Heaven as the god Svetaketu, was approached by the [other] gods who announced that the time had come for Him to be born to save the world. Leaving the divine pleasures the Bodhisatva took birth as a human being. Our Lord Himself in the scriptures has taught us the nature of the exalted condition of the Buddhahood. To become a Buddha the aspirant has to practise for four asankheyya and a hundred thousand Kalpas the ten great perfections called Paramitas. Countless millions of Kalpas ago when Buddha Dipankara had appeared to save the world, our Buddha was born in a Brahman family of immense wealth. Reflecting on the vanity of pleasures he, having given in charity everything that he had received from his parents - the accumulated inheritance of seven generations, left home and taking the garb of the ascetic, went to a Himalayan retreat and practised the Dhyanas and Samapattis. Having attained the five transcendentally phenomenal powers he was in a position to work wonders. One day having heard that the Buddha Dipankara was visiting the city of Rammanagar where he happened to be, he was greatly delighted and decided to see the Buddha. Having seen Him the future Buddha resolved to attain to the supremely glorious height of Buddhahood to save living beings.

The Buddha Dipankara looking into future declared that this great ascetic after many millions of ages shall become a Buddha and be known as Gautama, and that his mother will be known as Maya, his father as the Raja Suddhodhana, that as a Prince he would be married to the Princess Yasodhara, that he shall have a son and that he shall renounce all to save the world. That day the great ascetic, who was known as Sumedha Tapasa could have attained Nirvana ; but his great compassion overcame the desire to pass silently away to enjoy the supreme bliss of Nirvana. The 'Patisambhida' accentuates the absolute compassion of a Buddha, who seeing the manifold miseries of the suffering world plunges into the ocean of Samsara and exerts life after life, practising absolute charity, observing the highest virtues of a perfect life, renouncing all sensual pleasures, acquiring wisdom, exerting strenuously, never uttering a falsehood, ever forgiving and patient, developing a determined will, showing absolute love and equalmindedness to all. The 550 Jatakas give biographical accounts of his previous births, each showing an individual paramita which he had practised for the sake of attaining the Anuttara Sammasambodhi state, Whatever the Bodhisatta accomplished, and the name is applied to one who aspires to attain Buddhahood, it was with unswerving will of saving the world. No being that has appeared on this earth, except a Buddha, has made such absolute sacrifices for the salvation of the world. Hence the great love that one begets in his heart after he has read the ' nine portions' of the Buddhist scriptures.

In as much as the Brahman astrologers had foretold that the Prince, who was named Siddhartha, would one day, if he did not become a great world conqueror - a Chakravarti, - become a Buddha, the King ordered that three palaces, one for each Indian season, should be built for his residence. In the sixteenth year, the Prince was married to his own cousin the Princess Yasodhara, known for her exceeding beauty as Bimba Devi. Amidst the luxuries that royalty could command the Prince lived a life of exceeding sweetness till his twentyninth year. Beyond his pleasure gardens and the experience of his own palatial surroundings, the Prince Siddhartha knew nothing of the world. The day the Princess Yasodhara was to give birth to a child, the Prince Siddhartha attended by his Royal charioteer drove to see the decorated city. It is said that the gods knowing that the day of the Great Renunciation had come, created four scenes to make the Prince reflect on the miseries of human existence and the escape therefrom. The sight of an old man, a diseased man and a dead man which the Prince had seen for the first time made him question his charioteer, who, explained to him that man was born fated to grow old, get ill and die. The fourth scene he had witnessed was pleasant to look at, it was the dignified figure of a yellow robed monk walking majestically. Having reflected on the blessings that attend the life of absolute renunciation the Prince resolved to leave the palace that very day. Returning home on the way the Prince met Royal messengers who had. been sent by the King to announce the birth of a son to the Princess Yasodhara. On hearing the message the Prince uttered 'Rahula' - a tie, which was subsequently used as a name to the infant Prince. That night, 2502 years ago, the Prince made the greatest Renunciation, unparalleled in the history of the world. A young wife, a baby just born, father, kingdom, comforts, all these the Prince renounced for the sake of all living beings. The Renunciation that the Prince made for the sake of the suffering world is accentuated by the larger Renunciation that was made by him when he first made the resolution to give up Nirvana, countless ages ago, under the Buddha Dipankara. For our sake the Bodhisatta gave up Nirvana and died many million times, and eventually came down from heaven to save all beings - animal, human and divine.

Renunciation and an active life of absolute compassion and Nirvanic wisdom are the essential characteristics of the Buddha's life. Leaving Kapilavastu and the Sakya territory, walking on foot, the Prince ascetic came to the city of Rajagriha to beg for food. His majestic mien, his more than divine countenance, attracted the attention of the citizens, and Royal messengers went to King Bimbisara and announced the arrival of the unknown personage. Having obtained food the ascetic Prince went to the Pandava Rock in the outskirts of the city, and there sat to eat the food. The King with his ministers came and inquired of him who he was. The Prince ascetic then announced himself as a Sakya Prince of the race of 'Adityabandhu ' and said that having seen the vanity of human pleasures he had become an ascetic to obtain the highest peace. The King who was five years younger than the the Prince thereupon asked him to accept half of his Kingdom ; but Bodhisat declined. From Rajagriha he went to the Brahmanical teachers Alarakalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, who had attained to the two Lokas. The Prince was not satisfied with their conceptions of happiness. Where perceptions and sensations were in operation there could be no permanent bliss ; and he found that after the expiration of 84,000 Kalpas of existence in the Nevasanna nasanna realm the individual being has to be reborn again on this earth. The conception of an absolute Nirvana was as yet undiscovered, and religious aspirants, cutting off their domestic ties took to the homeless-Anagarika Brahmachari-life. Having failed to obtain the highest peace of Nirvana according to the philosophic methods of the Aranyakas, the Sakya hermit practised the most terrific forms of physical asceticism for six years with five Brahman Bhikkhus, who were his associates. Penance and fasting were carried to their extreme limits, and the Prince became so emaciated that life was despaired of even by the celestial witnesses who were watching him. One day he fell down in a state of unconsciousness and when he woke up he experienced such pain that he abandoned the torturous life.

Neither the exciting sensation of a life of pleasure, nor the contemplative life of semiperceptive bliss of solitude, nor the painful tortures leading to unconsciousness gave peace to the analytical mind of the Sakya Prince. Then he looked back to the infant life he had spent in the palace and found that it was appropriate, in as much as it was neither ascetic nor sensual. It is interesting to the student of child psychology to note the basis of the great discovery, which resulted in the promulgation of the Universal Religion, was laid by the Sakya Prince on the child experience which he had as an infant. Can an infant live without food ? Can he bear the exciting sensations of a pleasure loving youth ? Food taken in moderate quantity was necessary to live, and a sober consciousness was necessary to experience the bliss of peace. Dwelling on such thoughts the Bodhisat abandoned the life of mortifying asceticism ; and when he began to take food in moderate quantity, the five companions became dissatisfied and left him. The Bodhisat thereupon came to the sylvan solitude and lived the life of the middle path, not far off the silvery stream of Neranjara, the modem Lilajan. The Sakyan Hermit on the full moon day of Vesak was sitting under the shade of the Ajapala Nigrodha tree when the attendant maid of the village chief Sujata, seeing the majestic figure of the Sakyan Hermit, and taking him to be the tree god, hastened home and told Sujata, who had made a vow to present a bowl of milk rice to the tree god on that full moon day which she had prepared. Sujata with the bowl of milk rice came to the tree and offered the food to the Hermit. He received it, gave her his blessings, and when she had gone, arose and went into the river, to bathe his body, ate the food and having rested in the afternoon went to the hallowed spot where stood the Bodhi tree. Facing the East the Bodhisat sat under the tree with a resolute will never to get up from the adamantine seat till he had become the Omniscient Buddha. In the middle watch of the full moon night the Blessed One received Divine Insight, and at dawn He became the Omniscient Buddha. Ten thousand worlds were bathed in a flood of radiating light, the earth trembled, nature rejoiced, the lame walked, the blind received sight, the dumb spoke. This glorious event occurred 2496 years ago. From that moment the powers of darkness felt that a new power had arisen to save all beings. The Lord Buddha spent seven weeks at and nearby the Bodhi tree enjoying the bliss of Nirvanic Emancipation. Buddha-Gaya is on this account sacred to thousand millions of Buddhists.

In the seventh week while sitting under the shade of the Ajapala tree, the Brahma Sahampati beseeched the Lord to preach the Dhamma and The Blessed One saw by his Divine Eye that people were ready to receive the Truth of the Nirvana Dharma. Thence He proceeded on to Isipatana in Benares to meet the five Brahman Bhikkhus who were prepared to receive the Eye of Truth. On the fullmoon day of Asalha 2496 years ago He preached to them the Doctrine of the Middle Path, which avoiding the extremes of painful asceticism and sensualism, enunciated the Four Noble Truths and and Noble Eightfold Path. The extreme asceticism of the Yogis and the hedonistic pleasures of Vama Marga or Kama Yoga the Lord condemned as ignoble, un-Aryan and profitless. For forty-five years the Lord taught the Doctrine which may be summed up in four lines :

"Sabba papassa akaranam,
Kusalassa upasampada,
Sachitta pariy odapanam,
Etam Buddhanasasanam." -
(Avoid all evil,
Cultivate the good and the true,
Purify your heart,
This is the Teaching of the Buddhas)

The Noble Eightfold Path has in it the essentials of scientific analysis, exalted and benevolent aspirations, truthful and gentle speech avoiding slander and falsehood, righteous actions avoiding the destruction of life, stealing and taking intoxicants, righteous livelihood avoiding all sinful professions, righteous exertion, a continuous determined struggle to avoid all that is evil and to develop all that is good., purifying the heart by destroying the errors of egoism by a process of continuous watchfulness operating in the four planes of objective and subjective metabolism ; right concentration ending in saintliness and in the realization of Nirvana. These Eight Principles of Absolute Truth have been classified under other categories called the 37 Bodhi Pakkhiya Dhamma.

The Tathagata appeared at a time when India was in the zenith of prosperity and progress. It was then the centre of the spiritualistic world. Speculations on the ‘whence, whither and what am I’ formed the basis of different philosophical schools. Animal sacrifice and priestly ritualism were rampant. Heaven was to be obtained by propitiating the gods. Caste was a subject then under discussion. It was not then fully established. Opinion was divided. The priests asserted that it was the 'Creator's work' and therefore it should be upheld. The selfishness of the originators of the caste system was condemned by the Buddha in several of the important Suttas in the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas. The Blessed Lord came indeed as a Saviour breathing loving kindness to all that lives. The meanest worm to the highest man was the object of His divine compassion By His gentleness and wisdom He won all hearts. His sweetly vibrant voice was like that of the Kurawika bird. He made men and gods abandon their erratic and heretical ideas. He taught the supreme importance of individual exertion. He proclaimed the Doctrine of Scientific Analysis. Before accepting traditions, revelations, dogmas backed up by logic and analogy, the utterances of saints and magicians they should be tested in the crucible of Scientific Causality. Only when the effects are productive of happiness should a doctrine be accepted.

For the first time the Karma doctrine which remained a secret confined only to the Aranayaka philosophers was made the basis principle of individual evolution. The karma doctrine in its fullness was enunciated by the Blessed One and the errors of sixty-two beliefs were emphasised. Instead of metaphysics, materialistic theology and fatalistic teachings, the Lord promulgated the Law of Dependent Origination. Life cannot be annihilated nor can it be created. In the cosmic process nothing is permanent. Annihilation and a permanency of things are both ridiculed in the Dharma of our Lord. Everything is changing. In the plane, both of matter and spirit everything is subject to change and decay. A constructive and a destructive metabolism is subject to change and decay. A constructive and a destructive metabolism is the natural cosmic process. There is no known beginning of individualised life. The theory of absorption and emanation which is a cardinal doctrine of certain pantheistic philosophies is explained in the cosmology of Buddhism. At the beginning of each Mahakalpa beings descended into this earth from the Abliassara Brahmaloka. These in their primitive state are ethereal. With the evolution of their desires they became material and evil began. At the destruction of the Universe human beings and animals that were on this earth are all reborn in the Abliassara. At the grand dissolution even the hells are destroyed. In Buddhism there is no eternal hell nor an eternal heaven. After long ages they appear and after long ages they disappear. To be within the cosmic process, to be reborn in any finite conditioned existence is not the aim of the follower of the Buddha. He aspires to realise (Ajatam, Abhutam, Akatam and Asankhatam) the unborn, non-material, uncreated and the unconditioned state of Nirvana. To realise this is not given to those who believe in a creator, who are still under the law of ignorance and change, those who are fatalistic and those who are nihilistic in their ideas. He who has false perceptions of the permanency of his own individual Ego and who confounds the Ego with his own sensations, perceptions and sankharas is bound by the fetters of ahamkara. Nirvana is not within his grasp. Those who are suffering from some form of insanity cling to their own phantom Ego, and those who have an exaggerated idea of their own Egos are partially insane. Nirvana is for the sober scientific analytical student, who discarding all forms of theological metaphysics, priestly ceremonies and nihilistic ideas, exerts strenuously to lead an active life avoiding evil, doing good and purifying the heart.

(Maha Bodhi Journal, Vol. 15, June 1907)

Dhamma Essay:
Giving Dignity to Life by Bhikkhu Bodhi


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