Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Spreading the Dharma Triumph of Reason

By Upali Salgado - The Island

O great hero, your teachings brought trembling to sectarians.

Misery to Namuci (Mara), but rejoicing to both devas and men.

- Matrcetas Hym to the Buddha

Walk into any Library, or a reputed bookshop, and you will surely find several books on the life and teaching of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha, who held centre stage prominence, in an age of intellectual ferment. In that age, there were in India, 63 other known religious leaders of vedic upanisadic faith, each having his own interpretation and emphasis on an age old dharma, associated with Athman and the cosmic laws. There were some others, too, professing the Jain teaching. This historical figure of the Buddha has been well researched on for over a century by Scholars and Archaeologists. Today, there are about three billion Buddhists of different schools, all of them believing in the fundamental teachings of the Great Master, who has been accepted not as a God-head, but as an extra-ordinary human being, whose mission (Theravada school) was to "show the Path" to human liberation from suffering, as seen in many faceted forms. Whilst he had generally spoken Magadhi, a language similar to Pali, to communicate with others, He did not use persuasive methods, nor the power of the sword to convert people to accept his dharma. He also did not require of his followers to blindly accept or follow His Teachings (see Kalama Sutra), nor did He rely on the performance of miracles frequently, to win over people towards accepting his religious dharma, although He did once perform a miracle before the Jain leader Udakku Ramaputra, by creating fire and water to come out of his body.

After attaining Enlightenment at Buddha Gaya on a Poya day (in May), the Buddha thought for himself whether there were no people alive, who could comprehend his profound and priceless dharma, which he said was deep, difficult to see and difficult to understand, tranquil, excellent beyond dialectic, subtle and intelligible only to the learned. Deva, Brahma Sampathi in Heaven had then addressed the All Knowing Perfect One and said, there were a few on earth ‘with little dust in their eyes". He said.

"Rise O" conqueror of war of miseries, leader of men, free from all impurities; wander forth in this world,

O Bhagavan, preach your teaching, there will be persons who will comprehend," Gotama Buddha then surveyed with dairvoyancy (His Divine Sight) where the virtuous - and intelligent lived, and thought of his five fellow ascetics, who then resided at the deer park, in Isipathana (modern Saranath, close to Bewares). He said "In the language of Angels, of Serpents or even fairies if there be, in the speech of Demons, the talk of humans, in them I shall expound my dharma, deep as it be, and in the tongue they may grasp. So saying, He went to lsipathana and met the five ascetic friends, Kondania, Baddya, Assail, Mahanama and Vappa, to deliver, without reservation his historic first Sermon, the DHAMMA CHAKKUPAVATVANA SUTTA. On that historic Esela Poya Day, in July, the Buddha set in motion "the RIGHTEOUS WHEEL OF BUDDHISM’ as opposed to the known wheel of a chariot used by a warrior to go to war, with greed for power and land, and have blood stained hands. This then was an important communication of the Buddha, as was seen at Saranath.

Within a span of three centuries; Buddhism had spread to distant Syria, Albania, Balukhistan, Afghanistan, modern Pakistan, the whole of India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar) Siam (Thailand), Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea, Java and several other States. Three months after Esala Poya, the Buddha sent forth, 60 trained Dharmadutha monks on a Poya Day, in all directions to spread his dharma. He said "Go ye forth in all directions, and no two of you who go out, for the good, for the benefit of the many should move in the same direction." The Buddha then became the world’s first known Missionary. In that background, when Vedic and Upanisadic thinking was present based on Priestly power; with Priests performing rituals and having an inane belief in occult sciences, adopting a rigid caste system which chastised women to live in the backyard of society, the Buddha became a revolutionary. He gave society a new vision, not by divine revelation, to adopt and free themselves from the grips of priest craft and unquestionable tradition, and blind faith. He communicated something new, which had ethical values and reason as basis of all thinking.

The Axels of Buddha’s Dharma

The four noble truths relating to dukka; its presence, the cause, and the way (or path) that leads to the cessation of Dhukka (unsatisfaction in all its many facets forms); the practice of Sila (Morality), Samadhi (mental culture) and Panna (Wisdom), the law of Causation (or dependent origination) and the theory of good or bad karma were the axels of his teaching, which he communicated by using different methods of delivery, when preaching,

As a skillful Teacher and possessor of clairvoyancy (Divine Sight) He often used similes, parables or allegories and the psychological approach, knowing well the intellectual capacity and behaviour of his flock.

People often cling to comfort, prestige, wealth, for their convenience. Life to them is a chain of ‘grasping’ or attachments. The Master once said, "There was a man travelling on foot. He had to cross a swollen river. Therefore, he made for himself a raft to cross the river. Having crossed the river, the man had an attachment for the raft, and did not wish to abandon it. He thereafter, carried the heavy raft which was an unnecessary burden to himself. The Buddha questioned, "Can we call him a wise man?" This parable he related to drive home the point that, even a good thing when it becomes an unnecessary burden should be sold or discarded.

The Psychological Approach

In at least three known instances, the Buddha used the psychological approach to instill in the minds of those who came to Him for advise and solace, that life is impermanent and the human frame holds together much that is repulsive to look at. The human body he said, consists of phlegm, smelly odours, excreta, urine, pus, sweat and several unhealthy discharges. He dealt with grief stricken Kisa Gotami who had lost her only child, and kept on weeping without control of her senses. In the case of Palachara, who appeared to be insane, after realising the sudden loss of her husband and child who were dear to her, He brought her to her senses to realise that everything is impermanent. Once more, He played the role of an Auctioneer. The beautiful courtesan Sirima had, after listening to the Buddha, turned a new leaf in life, and gained much merit by continuously offering lavish dhane to the Maha Sangha. But, when the Buddha auctioned her corpse, there were no bids at all. In that instance, His mission was to drive home the point that, inside this body of ours, there is much that is foul smelling and repulsive that is rejected by man.

When expounding His Sharma, did He ever smile ?

It has often been asked, "Did the compassionate Buddha who was an experienced communicator, ever smile?" Aggha Maha Panditha Walpole Rahula Maha Thera has said in his publication "Humour in Pali literature" that there is a short sutta in the ANGUTTARA NIKAYE which indicates that the Buddha did not appreciate moderate laughter, gaffing and showing one’s teeth. That, He considered childish (Komara Karu) in the discipline of the Arya (Arya Vinaya) but, He had remarked, that it was proper and also sufficient, if His Sangha Order just smiled.

In curio shops and in some homes, many would have seen porcelain figures of a man with his huge stomach or "belly exposed, sporting a laughing relaxed smile, with a robe closely hanging down over his arms. It is referred to as ‘THE LAUGHING BUDDHA, which some say brings "Good luck"! Gotama Buddha, as a communicator, never behaved in that animated manner. This odd looking figure is in marked contrast to the serene compassionate looks of the Buddha seen in other works of art. The odd looking figure is of a Chinese origin, is said to be associated with Taoism, where it is believed people should lead a happy existence, a life of naturalness.

Many years ago, the late Ven. Bhikkhu Kassyapa (Vairaramaya Temple, Colombo) wrote a few sentences:

"The Buddha smiles my son because he knows,

the end of toilsome round, and of all life’s woes,

What’s won is won, and never lost again;

It’s fruit is sure - beyond this life’s pain;

The goal is sure for you, that’s won by me,

It is that lends to Buddha’s serenity.

As the Enlightened Perfect One, Gotama Buddha, though a king who donned a beggar’s clothing for 45 long years, moved on foot throughout India, spreading his glorious dharma, adopting numerous methods. He was a philosophic genius. He had an attractive, composed personality, which was admired by his disciples and people who chanced to meet him. As an experienced communicator, He went out in search of people. The methods of communication He adopted suited the audience and the situation. As His message was eternal (Akalika), it was a great success, prompting historians to recognise Him, as the greatest Religious Leader: and a skillful communicator of that time. Amidst age old, hard religious obstacles, He triumphed. It was the triumph of reason.