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Buddhism

by Swami Sivananda

Introduction

'Om Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma-Sambuddhasa!' 'Honour to the Blessed One, the Holy One, All-Wise!'

Buddham saranam gacchami:
Dhammam saranam gacchami:
Sangham saranam gacchami:

To the Buddha for Refuge I go:
To the Teaching for Refuge I go:
To the Order for Refuge I go:

Buddha was born on the border of Nepal about 620 B.C. and died about 543 B.C. at Kusinagara in Oudh.

Buddhism was founded by Gautama Sakya Muni, the rebel child of Hinduism. It sprang up directly from Hinduism. Buddha never thought of founding a new religion. He made no new discovery. He was proclaiming only the ancient and pure form of religion which had prevailed among the Hindus.

The pure and noble religion of the Vedas and the Upanishads had degenerated into dead forms, unmeaning rites and ceremonies. The Brahmins claimed honour merely by their birth. They neglected the study of the Vedas and the practice of virtue. The Brahmins were treated with undue leniency, and the Sudras (the servant class) with undue severity. In order that flesh-eating might have the sanction religion, animals were slaughtered and sacrificed in Yajnas (ceremony where sacrifice is offered). Such was the state of society at the time when Buddha appeared. His tender and loving heart could not bear the shedding of so much innocent blood in the sacred name religion. Buddha declared that merit, and not birth, determined the position of a man in society. The persecuted Sudras joined him in large numbers and he unconsciously became the founder of a new faith.

Buddhism is the religion of earnest, undaunted effort. Buddha demands from you faith in your own Self, in your own latent forces. Without this faith, nothing can be achieved. The first words of Buddha, after his Enlightenment, were: "Wide open are the gates of Immortality. Ye that ears to hear, release your faith."

Buddha, The Apostle of Ahimsa and Love

Buddha was the greatest benevolent man or humanitarian which the world has ever produced. He is one without a second. Benevolence and humanitarianism are the key-notes of all religious movements of the world; but, the benevolence and humanitarian spirit and work of Buddha stand unrivalled in the religious history of the world.

Buddha abandoned his kingdom and went about begging his bread through the streets of India, and preached for the good of men and animal. He had a heart as wide as the sky or the ocean. He did not want heaven. He did not want money or throne. What an exalted selfless Yogi he was!

Many Rishis and prophets have preached the doctrine of love and Ahimsa, but there has never been, in the entire history of the world's ethical thought, a greater affirmation of the principle of Ahimsa and love than has been done by Buddha. No one has possessed such a tender, kind and merciful heart as Buddha. Hence, he is enshrined even now in the hearts of millions of people. His heart throbbed severely and melted when he saw a little suffering in an ant or a worm or a dog. He gave up his body as food for a hungry ferocious animal in his previous birth. Several acts of kindness done in several births made him a Buddha in his last birth.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The gospel of Buddha is simple, and yet wonderfully profound. Buddha analyzed all experiences, and the world process as it appears to all of us, with a scientific frame of mind. He found out that everything is mutable, changing, and impermanent or transitory. There is suffering, disharmony, discord and discontent everywhere in life, on account of the impermanence or transitoriness of things around. This universal experience of sorrow or Dukka is the starting point in Buddha's thought. Buddha did not preach pessimism. He was wonderfully optimistic. He emphatically asserts that there is a way out of sorrow, and a heaven of eternal bliss, within the reach of every man.

The four cardinal truths or principles which Buddha preached are: that there is suffering in the world; that the cause of suffering is Tanha or craving; that the extinction of craving leads to cessation of suffering; and that this extinction of craving can be achieved by the Noble Eightfold Path.

Buddha lays great emphasis on the way of life. He avoids the two extremes of self-indulgence and self- mortification, and prescribes the Middle Way. He said: "There is a Middle Way, O recluses, avoiding these two extremes, discovered by the Tathagata (epithet for the Buddha)-a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana."

What is this Middle Way? It is the Noble Eightfold Path which constitute, so to say, the entire ethical code of Buddha.

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of the practice of:

Right belief or right understanding or right views;
Right aspiration;
Right speech;
Right conduct or right action;
Right living or right means of livelihood;
Right exertion;
Right mindfulness or attentiveness; and
Right concentration or meditation.
These are the eight steps in the Way of Life presented by Buddha which annihilates suffering of all kinds and leads to the attainment of Nirvana or emancipation. The Noble Eightfold Path destroys lust, anger, greed, malice and other evils, and purifies the heart. Then dawns Bodhi or Enlightenment which bestows perfect everlasting peace, eternal bliss and immortality.

The word 'Nirvana' literally means 'going out'. It signifies a spiritual experience full of peace and bliss, which is characterized by the 'going out' from the heart of the three fires of lust, ill-will and dullness.

Nirvana is not utter annihilation. Nirvana is total extinction of all that is base in us.

Buddha insisted upon the inexorable Law of Cause and Effect. He said to the people that they lived in a world in which causes always produce their natural and necessary effects and that the consequences of their conduct would, therefore, follow them wherever they went. He said that virtue has its own reward and vice its own punishment and that whatever is done inevitably reacts on the character and through the character affects for weal or woe the destiny of the Soul.

The religion of the Buddha is a pathway to the Nirvanic beatitude. It is a way, and not a creed. It is a scheme of spiritual development, and not a set of doctrines.

Buddha-the Preacher of Practical Religion

Buddha came to the world to show the path of righteousness, to destroy the path of error, and to break down sorrow. Buddhism is not agnosticism or atheism. Buddha did not deny God. He only said: "Do not bother about questions like 'Is there God?', 'Do I exist?', 'Is the world real or not?'. Do not waste your time and energy in useless discussions. Become a practical religious man. Purify your heart. Control the mind. Lead a virtuous life. You will attain Nirvana or emancipation or eternal bliss."

To accuse Buddha as an atheist or agnostic is simply foolish. Buddha found no use in metaphysical wrangling. He declined to enter into metaphysics. Is there God or no God? Is life eternal or non-eternal? These questions were set aside as not requiring an answer for the attainment of Nirvana. The immediate great problem for Buddha was suffering and annihilation of suffering. He asked his followers not to bother about transcendental questions. He set aside all those things which did not help towards the attainment of the goal. He thought it wise to give his followers a way, and not a creed. He thought that speculation about the nature of the ultimate reality was an unnecessary drag on the path of truth and spiritual attainment. The vital and fundamental thing is not to discuss about the ultimate, but to tread the path which takes man out of the world of pain and suffering into supreme abode of eternal bliss and immortality. The nature of the ultimate truth is beyond the reach of mind and speech. If Buddha refused to define the nature of the Absolute, or if he contended himself with negative definitions, it is only to show that the Absolute or the Ultimate is above all definitions.

Conclusion

The present-day world needs very badly the teachings of Lord Buddha. Everywhere we see preparations for destruction of the human race and its culture. Fear of the atomic bomb is causing restlessness everywhere. Scientists and dictators have neither rest nor peace. There is mistrust amongst the leaders of the nations. Malice, hatred and prejudice have grown to such a large extent that the very structure of human civilization seems to be crumbling. Scientists are working day and night in the laboratories to release as much atomic energy as possible to destroy people. What a horrible state of affairs! It is really shocking. The only way by which the world can be saved lies in a return to the great principles of Ahimsa and Maitri (friendliness) inculcated by Lord Buddha and Maharishi Patanjali. Hatred can never be cured by hatred. It can only be cured by love. This is a lesson which the world has to learn again and again. Take a solemn vow now to meet hatred with love, and malice with goodwill. This is the best way to pay homage to the great sage Lord Buddha, the apostle of love and Ahimsa, the saviour of the world, the Avatara (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu.


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