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Why we should take the Buddha as our Example and Guide

by Anagarika Dharmapala

(The Anniversary Address delivered at the Waisakha Festival, Calcutta, 25 May 1918.)

TWO thousand four hundred and sixty-two years ago the Blessed One, the Lord of Compassion, the Buddha Sakya muni, that brought Happiness and Peace to the world of gods and men passed away to the unconditioned infinite state of Nirvana, leaving behind the unfading perfume of the sublimely noble idea of the blessedness of a glorious life of compassionate activity after forty-five years of aesthetic disinterested service, of love all-embracing, of sweet and unruffled repose amid the turmoil of passions, lusts, anger, hatred - a life that will for all time to come, when properly studied, influence the thoughtful portion of humanity for nobler deeds of loving kindness, for greater and larger love than what is found in the pursuit of transitory pleasures based on an incorrect understanding of the divine potentialities of the human mind.

The Buddha appeared in Middle India at a spiritual crisis to lead man from the slough of ignorance and ignoble sensualism to the loftier heights where love and infinite happiness reign supreme.

Just a thousand years ago the march of peaceful progress was arrested by a cataclysm of destructive vandalism caused by the cohorts of rapine and plunder that emerged from the barren wastes of Western Asia. Like a raging tornado the uncultured hordes appeared, and the pleasure garden of aesthetic romance, of cultured beauty, of purified Aryanism, uncontaminated with the putrefactions of a debased sensualism born of immorality, was completely destroyed from its foundations leaving only the debris, whose vestiges, after a thousand years, are being explored by the enlightened archaeologists of Europe bringing into light remnants of culture, which the civilized world today would like to possess in abundance.

From Middle India went two streams meandering in opposite directions, one westward as far as the confines of West Asia, and the other eastwards, where today we see the clear waters of the limpid stream in the Land of the Rising Sun. The stream that went westwards went dry, and the drybed is only visible where once the great Sanskrit grammarian, Panini, lived, and the cultured Graeco-Bactrian Buddhist kings reigned. Had not the raging tornado caused the utter destruction of the ancient civilization of Gandhara and Graeco-Bactria, we should be witnessing today an aesthetic people just as is seen in Japan today, the home of activity, and refined etiquette and aesthetic art. The parasitic growth destroyed the western branch of the majestic Nyagrodha tree of Buddhism, and attacked the main stem that grew in Middle India ; fortunately for the world's welfare, the Eastern Branch still flourishes giving us an idea of what the main tree had been when it was in full growth in its native soil. The vandal has ceased to exhibit his fury, and destructiveness has ceased, and it is our hope that with the help of the enlightened British people we might again see the revitalising of the main stem which will again grow under their loving care into a mighty Tree to give spiritual shade to a materialistic world.

The tree is judged by its fruits, and the fruits we see in the living branch of Buddhism from Burma to Japan.

It is, at this crisis of the world it seems, opportune to study the life and teachings of the Great Teacher Sakyamuni, whose unparalleled example of loving service has given comfort and consolation for 2,500 years for countless millions of human beings who follow more or less His teachings.

The world's great religious Promulgators had their birth in the continent of Asia. In the western confines of Asia are situated the countries which gave birth to Moses, Jesus and Mahamad. In Persia was born Zoroaster; China gave birth to Laotsze, Confucius and Mencius; and India gave birth to Rama, Krishna and Buddha and to the great emperor Asoka. Greece and Rome produced Empedocles, Socrates, Democritus, Heraclitus, Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictitus, and the great warrior Alexander the great. Europe has yet failed to produce a Promulgator of religion. “Harmswarth Popular Science", a very useful work in seven volumes, does not mention the names of Confucious, Laotsze, Mahamad, Rama and Krishna, and the name of Zoroaster is given to an oil-driven ship! But it speaks of Buddha as follows :-

"The range of those whom we shall here call the pioneers of Evolution is from Heraclitus of Ephesus, Thales of Miletus and Gautama the Buddha who all lived about the sixth century before Christ to the Frenchman Jean Baptiste de Lamarck. The beginners were very vague indeed. Heraclitus was called the "dark" because his utterings were so obscure; Thales thought everything evolved from water. Buddha's teaching was, in one aspect, more definite, and as the basis of a great system of ethics it is worthy of our comprehension. In Buddha's view, as in ours today, all the forms of life are essentially one. The highest forms which are human find the reward of goodness in Nirvana . . . . in the teaching of Buddhism.

In Buddha the East and West meet on common ground of scientific evolution divested of anthropomorphic superstitions. Europe will in the future have a better conception of the spiritual aspect of the cosmic process when her philosophers and scientists study more of the psychological teachings contained in the Abhidhamma Pitaka. For a thousand years, from generation to generation, India's children have forgotten the ethics, philosophy and psychology taught by her own great Saviour; and this period of Indian history is all a blank. India in the days of her glory was the beacon light of Asia. The Bhikkhus wearing the yellow robe of purity in the spirit of love went to distant lands to spread the ethics of Aryan culture. They Aryanized the un-Aryan races, and created a Greater India. The great block of literature that is to be found today in Japan, China, Cambodia, Mongolia, Tibet, Siam, Ceylon, Burma was the legacy of Buddhist India. Compassion to save the world from the nightmare of Ignorance prompted the Bhikkhus to preach the Dhamma, after they had realized the full Wisdom and the ineffable peace of Nirvana.

After the attainment of perfect Buddhahood, when the Buddha was sitting at the foot of the Ajapala Nygrodha tree, in the seventh week, near to the Bodhi Tree, enjoying the bliss of Nirvana the chief god of the celestial regions, Namuchi Mara, approached the Enlightened One and said, "Honoured One, thou art fully enlightened, thy quest has been gained, enjoy in solitude the bliss of that peace, and abstain from proclaiming the Dhamma to the world of man." The answer of the Tathagata was "Evil One, I know thee. I shall not enjoy the bliss of Nirvana in solitude; I shall proclaim the Doctrine glorious and make disciples, Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, Upasakas and Upasikas, and they shall proclaim the Dharma." Greater than the bliss of peace was the salvation of the world. At the end of the seventh week the Blessed One proceeded on foot to Benares, to the Deer Park to preach the Dhamma to the five Bhikkhus, His former companions, who were with him during the period of his austerities in the forests of Uruvela. He found them at the Deer Park, but at first they declined to listen to the Dhamma and later on yielded, and He preached the Middle doctrine to them, beginning with the words: "There are two extremes 0 Bhikkhus, which the man of religion, who has forsaken his home should not associate with, viz., the path of sensual enjoyment which is low, vulgar, earthly, ignoble and unbeneficial, and the path of austerities, which is painful, ignoble and unbeneficial. Avoiding the two Extremes the Tathagata proclaims the path of Moderation, which leads to wisdom, passionlessness, peace and Nirvana, to wit, the Noble Eightfold Path, viz., Right views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Exertion, Right Mindfulness, Right Illumination.

The Path to Holiness which He enunciated is for the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, lay disciples, male and female. The terrific austerities which He had experienced are detailed in the Maha Sihanada sutra in the Majjhima nikaya. No other human being has equalled Him in the practise of austerities, and therefore did He emphasise that outside the Noble Eightfold Path, other Paths are barren of the fruit of perfect Brahmacharism.

The Prince Siddhartha belonged to the pure Solar race of Kshatriyas, whose ancestor was Ikshvaku. Till his sixteenth year the Prince lived the Student life, and in that year at a Svayarnvara Contest He selected the Princess Yasodhara of the same age as himself to be his wife. His father, the Rajah Suddhodana, had built for the Prince's use three palaces for the three seasons, and in these palaces surrounded by heavenly pleasures, He lived with his beautiful young wife till his 29th year. In a Sutra in the Anguttara Nikaya, section 3, is found the description of the three palaces, and He told the Bhikkhus that His father had brought Him up in extreme tenderness equal to that of a God, and in the Magandiya sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, speaking to the Brahman Magandi, He said that no other prince, has renounced the pleasures that He had renounced.

Realizing that happiness could not be found amidst sense pleasures, the prince made the Great Renunciation in his 29th year.

Wearing the yellow robe He walked from the outskirts of the Sakyan territory to the Kingdom of Bimbisara. Entering the capital city of Rajgriha the prince ascetic with the begging bowl in hand went in search of food. The King's spies, seeing the Ascetic, went and informed King Bimbisara that a personage having beauty is in the city. The king ordered them to follow Him and to return and inform him so that he will visit Him. The Ascetic having begged the food proceeded to the Pandava hill close to the city, and there he sat to eat the food: and when He saw the mixed food, disgust came over Him. He who had taken the best of delicacies in a perfumed hall surrounded by enchanting beauties amidst song and sweet music, for the first time sees the mixture of every variety of food thrown in doles into the bowl, and his aesthetic sense revolts in disgust: and then He began to reflect that truth does not come into perfumed chambers but that it must be won at great sacrifice: and He ate the food. King Bimbisara came in state on a visit to the Prince Ascetic, and inquired who He was, and the Bodhisatva answered that He is of the Sakya clan of the Solar race, and that His territory is adjoining the Kosala kingdom, and He having found no enjoyment in the pleasures of the five senses had left them to find rest in Truth. The young king Bimbisara impressed with the divine features of the Prince Ascetic requested Him to stay and rule half the kingdom with him: but the Ascetic declined, and Bimbisara there upon requested Him to visit his kingdom first after the enlightenment. The Bodhisatva bade farewell to the King, and wandered in search of teachers, and He first went to the great Alarakalama, who gladly welcomed Him and showed the way to the peace of akincannayatana samadhi: but the Bodhisatva was not satisfied and left Kalama and went to Udraka Ramaputra, and stayed with him, from whom He learnt the way to the bliss of nevasannanasanna of the arupabrahma, where the liberated consciousness enjoys the bliss of vimukti for a period Of 84,000 kalpas. The Bodhisatva still unsatisfied left Kalama and wandered alone to the sylvan retreats of Uruvela close by the river Neranjara and began to practise rigid austerities, and for six long years, day and night, He made the great exertion, unprecedented in the history of asceticism in the hope of finding the great Peace. It was here that the five Brahman recluses joined Him, and they remained watching Him steadfastly. The painful austerities, the methods adopted to keep himself alive, the deadening of the senses under deep hunger are all fully described in the Bhayabherava, Mahaseeaka, Mahasihanada and the Kandaraka suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya. After six years the Bodhisatva was no nearer the goal, unconscious, so that when the lesser devas saw him they thought He was dead, and informed the Raja Suddhodana. When consciousness returned He thought of the utter uselessness of asceticism which was then in vogue and which Himself had practised. The Kassapasihanada sutta of the Dighanikaya, translated into English by Dr. Rhys Davids, gives nearly fifty kinds of austerities. For the student of religion the study of this Sutta is recommended in order to understand how the religious student in search of Truth exerted to reach the goal of spiritual happiness by means of rigid austerities. The Buddha abandoned the exotic path as one of pain, unaryan and unprofitable and was unfit to be followed by the devotee for psychological happiness. The two paths the Buddha rejected, and He gave to the world His own discovery the Noble Eightfold Path (arya marga). This path is called the Middle Path and is recommended by the Blessed One as one leading to perfection in the very life, here on this earth.

The life of pleasure is impossible without giving pain to others. Killing Of innocent animals for pleasure or for food, or to give their blood to the sensual gods was prohibited by the Buddha being a violation of the law of mercy. Sensual sights, attending nautch dances, theatres, although they give pleasure to the eye and the ear, yet retard spiritual growth. Intoxicating drinks, narcotic drugs, are all injurious to spiritual growth. They might give a little temporary pleasure, which the foolish consider as happiness. Committing adultery was prohibited. Falsehood, slanderous speech, harsh language, idle talk were prohibited. Ignoble professions and trades were prohibited, such as selling animals for flesh, slave dealing, selling intoxicants, selling poisons and murderous weapons. They produce evil Karma, and eventual suffering.

Metaphysical speculations, wranglings, argumentations, dialectics, dogmatic utterances had no place in the religion of the Buddha. Everything was subject to analysis. Monotheistic beliefs, fatalistic beliefs, were rejected as unscientific. The agnostic view was for the muddle-headed and the foolish who had no clear idea of Truth. It is the faith of compromise. The theory that a permanent individual jiva, unchanging, eternal was living inside the body, which sees without the eye, hears without the use of the ear, was rejected, in that it constitutes a fetter for the realization of Truth. The lesson that the Blessed One wished to formulate was that one should be free to accept truth after analysis, and to reject the untruth, not to accept anything on mere hearsay, or on the authority of elders or because it is written in a book, or because it is revealed by a holy man, or because it is in accordance with logic or because it has a miraculous origin. Accept it, He said, because it is true, because it is based on mercy, on charity, on purity, and beneficial to all alike. Anything that gives pain to others by blood-letting and depriving of life should be rejected. This is what the Blessed One taught to the Kshatriyas of Kalama township.

The whole of the Majjhima. Nikaya consisting of 152 suttas, is an exposition and analysis of religious beliefs of ancient India, which the student of religion should not miss to study.

At the time of the Blessed One there were a kind of water-baptising Brahmans who promised people to send the souls of the departed to Heaven by means of prayer. They said they had the power to open the doors of heaven. They went under the names of Paccthabhumaka, Kamandulaka, Sevalamalika, Udakarohaka, Aggiparicarika.

The six famous teachers, contemporaries of the Blessed One, were Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala,. Ajita Kesakambala, Pakuda Katyana, and Nigantha Nataputta.

The first proclaimed that there is no sin in killing, stealing, committing adultery, telling lies or causing others to do these acts. He said: there is no use of giving charity, and no need to control ones senses. Do what you like.

Makkhali Gosala taught that human beings come into existence without any cause, and go wrong without any cause. To make any kind of effort is useless. They come here without their own will and the foolish and the wise go through transmigration 84,000 times and then cease to exist. Everything is preordained and we can by our own effort do nothing.

Ajita Kesakambala taught that the human being is a compound of four elements. When he dies the earth portion goes to the earth, the watery portion goes to water, the heat of his body goes to the fire, and the air of his body goes to join the wind element, and his indriyas pass into space. To offer gifts is foolish. There is no merit in what you do. Foolish and the wise after death are both annihilated.

Pakuda Katyayana taught that there are seven principles uncreated viz., earth, water, fire, air, the feelings of happiness and pain, and
the soul. There is neither slayer nor causer of slaying neither hearer, speaker, explainer nor knower. When one with a sharp sword cleaves a head in twain no one thereby deprives any one of life: the sword has only entered the space between the seven substances.

Nigantha Nataputta taught that a man is restrained with a fourfold restraint. He taught that man should abstain from drinking cold water and avoid evil. For a fuller elucidation of the cult of the Nirgranthas one may read the Upali Sutta and the commentary.

Sanjaya Bellatthiputla said that by going to answer questions one has to tell lies, and the best thing is therefore to avoid answering questions. Say I do not know whenever any question is asked. Is there a soul ? I do not know. Is there no soul ? I do not know. Is the soul finite ? I do not know. Is the soul infinite ? I do not know. Does the soul exist after death of the body ? I do not know. Does it not exist ? I do not know. You do not know ? I do not know. Are you sure that you do not know ? I do not know.

Only one class of ascetics called Jatilas accepted the law of Karma, and they were engaged in keeping the sacred fire.

Animal sacrifices in a very large scale were conducted and large sacrificial halls were built called yajnasalas for the purpose. During the time of the Blessed One the offering of oblations and animal sacrifices were of [such] frequent occurrence as to make Him speak of it in the Balapandita sutta, that the experienced purohits merely by the inhalation of the zephyres wafted from the direction which the yajna was held could locate the spot, and the purohits were running hither and thither to be present at the sacrificial feasts. The social distinctions of caste were emphasised and the Brahmans asserted that they were superior to the Kshatriyas. The Buddha spiritualized the idea of Brahmanhood by saying that it is the karma that makes the Brahmans not the social distinction of caste. He who does good deeds is the Brahman; he who does evil is the low man. He upheld the social policy of caste differentiations among the laity; but in the Bhikkhu Order all caste distinctions were ignored and the spirit of Brotherhood prevailed. The low caste man had always a refuge in the Sangha.

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Dhamma Essay:
The Quest for Meaning by Bhikkhu Bodhi


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