Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life of the Buddha, military training and youth

The Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, to King Suddodhana and Queen Maya, over 2600 years ago in a Sakyan kingdom, in present day north east India. His caste was kshathriya and the social function of this caste was to be a warrior to fight in wars. In keeping with that social obligation, Prince Siddhartha exhibited his Military skills as a 16 year old youth before an audience of Sakyan elders in order to prove his Military skills, the art of warfare to win over the hand of Princess Yasodara, his own first cousin, in marriage.
After going through the physical characteristics of the new born Prince, the Royal court Astrologers predicted that either he will be a Universal Monarch or a Buddha. King Suddddhana wished and took all steps to make the young prince a universal Monarch. This implies that Prince Siddhartha would have further military training, to sharpen his skills in the Art of warfare, in order to achieve his father’s wish to be a Universal Monarch till the age of 29.

Being the intellectual he was, by that age Prince Siddhartha realised the futility of war as a means of perpetual suffering and As described in Attadanda sutta and opted to change course, and took to the path of Mendicancy, to put an end to suffering and seek the ultimate happiness.
As the Buddha he describes in a discourse Ariyapariyesana how he much against the wishes of this father and wife and relatives cut his hair, and became a mendicant and walked away to the forest in search of wisdom.
Thereafter having experimented with all types of religious practices prevalent then for 7 years and discontinued such extreme forms as he found them to be useless. Finally he discovered the Middle path unique to the Buddha which led him to Enlightenment, which is Buddha’s contribution to the conquest of ultimate happiness in this world.
When the Buddha began to preach the new found Dhamma, to the people in society he had to use a language and a method which would make the people easily understand. In this context it is very interesting to note so many similes from the military the Buddha uses to illustrate the new found Dhamma.
The Buddha was an empiricist. The Buddha spoke of things which he had personally experienced and verified them to be true or false. The Buddha did not subscribe to the then held view that the Vedas contained the ultimate knowledge. The Buddha was analytically critical about the contents of the Vedas when such teaching did not conform to reality.
He gave new meaning to those concepts which people were so conditioned to believing in as absolute truth. The Buddha gave a psychological interpretation to the Theological concepts in the three Vedas. In the process of so doing the Buddha made people to realize reality as it is, and to rely on oneself to improve and develop an ethical pathway to realize the ultimate happiness, Nirvana.
At the beginning the Buddhist Monks wore cloths collected from the cemeteries where the dead bodies were wrapped in. Then one day the Buddha having seen a beautifully laid out paddy field, instructed Ven Ananda to tell the monks to cut such cloths in to pieces in to the paddy field pattern and sew a Robe as a uniform dress of the Buddhist monk which had persisted for 2600 years to this day.
In Ambalattica Rahulovada Sutta, a discourse address to his son, then a novice monk gives a graphic account of how the elephant conducts himself in the theater of war. The Buddha says the elephant advances with its trunk bent inwards towards the chest, since a straight open trunk will invite poison arrows from the enemy to be shot through the trunk to reach its brain. Then goes on to advice Rahula to guard his mouth when speaking.
Elsewhere the Buddha says like the elephant who walks majestically withstanding the enemy arrows shot at its body in the battle field, so does he walk withstanding the insults hurled at him by others.
Then with Kesi the horse trainer the Buddha discusses about the training of horses used in chariots, carriages, carts and for riding and compares with how he handles the monks.
The Buddha says when a chariot is dismantled to its component parts like the wheel, axel, main frame etc it looses its identity as a chariot. Similarly when the human being is analyzed to its constituent parts the five aggregates, than the concept of a human being does not hold any more.
In response to the 10 questions of Malunkya putta a disciple of the Buddha, the Buddha says even if one knows the answers will not help him to put an end to suffering, and goes on to compare him with a man who had been shot with a poison arrow. Instead of trying to find out who shot, the direction in which it came, poison in the tip of arrow etc by which time you would be dead, instead the thing to do is to pull the arrow and seek prompt medical attention.
In the Dhajagga Sutta, the Buddha describes a full scale battle between the Suras and Asuras. The Royalty, good archers in their Chariots led from the front and how the high flying flags and banners helps to keep the fighting moral of the warriors who follow them from behind. In a symbolic representation of his inner and outer struggle against the defilements under the Bodhi tree the Buddha says better to die in the battle field, than living as a defeated fellow.
The naming of Ven Sariputta as ‘General of the Doctrine is a development of the idea of Buddha’s destiny as a Universal king. Just as Buddha by rejecting universal empire, becomes the king of the Doctrine, so Ven. Sariputta became his general and turns the wheel (of Dhamma) after him.
The Buddha is described as a sangamaji, the winner of the war. Prior to the Parinibbana or passing away of the Buddha, on being asked by Ven Ananda, how the burial was to be carried out, The Buddha said that believing laymen, Kshathriya, and others would see to it. It was to be like that of a Universal King, and the cairn or Stupa was to be at four cross roads.
As an Army Doctor doing medical examinations of the new entrants to the Sri Lanka Army and as a student of Buddha Dhamma, I saw the similarity between the enlistment of a soldier in the Army and Ordination of a novice monk in the Sangha. H S Olcott Colonel US Army Lawyer, Journalist and Co-founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophists are those who seek spiritual ecstasy.
After the American civil war, he came to Ceylon and landed in the port of Galle. There he met Ven Hikkaduwe Siri Sumangala Thera and took the five Buddhist precepts, thus becoming a Buddhist out of conviction. Col Olcott the disciplined legal luminary with a strong sense of spiritual values, now a Buddhist soon released that the Buddhist children had no proper schools for primary and secondary education, since at that time monopoly of education was with the Christian missionary schools in Ceylon.
On June 17, 1880 Buddhist Theosophical Society was formed to campaign for education of Buddhist children in the country.
Col Olcott went around the country in his legendary double decker bullock cart, collecting funds from the Buddhist public, from the rich and poor, for the establishment of Buddhist schools in the country. The first Buddhist school established was English Buddhist High School in Pettah. This eventually became Ananda College 125 years ago. Then Nalanda, Dharmaraja in Kandy, Mahinda in Gall, Rahula Matara, Maliyadeva in Kurunegala, Dharmapala in Pannipitiya etc. All these schools were managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society (B.T.S.).
The vision of Col Olcott made these schools impart Buddhist social ethics, and a strong sense of discipline. The result was the students developing a sense of patriotism to put the country before self. One thing common to all these schools was that they had junior and senior cadet platoons. This was junior military training which was very popular among the students. These platoons took part in training camps in Boossa and then Diyathalawa, and competed for de Soysa for juniors and Herman Loose challenge cups for the senior cadets.
As the platoon sergeant I was privileged to win the cup for the best all round cadet of the third cadet Battalion in 1959. In its long history Ananda won both de Soysa and Herman Loose many times in addition to other areas of cadetting like Physical training, Sports first aid, Hut inspection and concert etc. Ananda College has a fully equipped armory with .22 Rifles for shooting, 303 Rifles with bayonets for squad drill, ammunition for them and a Bren Gun.
Ananda College has a 50 yards firing range for .22 rifle shooting practice and competitions. Among the many photographs inside the Armory, there hangs the photo of the legendary shooting team of the senior cadets who won the cup for shooting in 1950.
Three members of this team who later joined the SL Army had the distinction of being promoted as Major Generals in the same day and one went to command the Army, thus bringing glory to the history of cadetting at Ananda. Among those who chose Discipline as a profession by joining the three forces and the Police, Ananda College as a single school has produced the most.
What does cadetting do to a youth in his formative years in life? It teaches you how to walk, talk, sit, develop respect for others, and develop a sense of duty and obey command to discharge one’s duties to society.
Formation of a healthy body and mind which is mandatory to develop analytical reasoning in the face of problems in life to make the correct decisions in order to be successful in life.
Prof S Radhakrishnan says: “Buddhism is a way of living and not a way of talking”. A discipline generation of youth will help achieve a way of life in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha.
Daily News By Dr Keerthi JAYASEKERA