The Great Gotama gave to the world a complete Teaching of the perfect construction of life. Each attempt to make a God of the great revolutionist, leads to absurdity.
Previous to Gotama there was, of course, a whole succession of those who bore the common welfare, but their teachings crumbled to dust in the course of millenniums. Therefore the Teaching of Gotama should be accepted as the first Teaching of the laws of matter and the evolution of the world. Contemporary understanding of the community permits a wondrous bridge from Buddha Gotama up to the present time. We pronounce this formula neither for extolling nor for demeaning, but as an evident and immutable fact.
The law of fearlessness, the law of the renunciation of property, the law of the valuation of labor, the law of the dignity of human personality, beyond castes and outer distinctions, the law of true knowledge, the law of love based upon self-knowledge, make of the covenants of the Teachers a continuous rainbow of humanity.
Let us construct the foundations of Buddhism, in its manifested covenants. The simple Teaching, equal in beauty to the Cosmos, will dispel every suggestion of idolatry, unworthy of the great Teacher of men.
Knowledge was the leading path of all great Teachers. Knowledge will permit a free and vital approach to the great Teaching, as vitally real as is great Matter itself.
We shall not introduce the latest complexities; we shall speak briefly about those foundations that cannot be denied.
Joy to all peoples! Joy to all those who labor!
FOUNDATIONS OF BUDDHISM
In the foundations of Buddhism, one cannot pause over the most recent complications and ramifications. It is important to know that the idea of the purification of the Teaching is always alive in the Buddhist consciousness. Soon after the Teacher’s death the celebrated councils took place in Rajagriha, and after in Vessali and Patna, restoring the teaching to its original simplicity.
The principal schools of Buddhism existing are: the Mahayana (Tibet, Mongolia, the Kalmucks, the Buriats, China, Japan, Northern India) and the Hinayana (Indo-China, Burma, Siam, Ceylon and India). But both of these schools remember equally well the qualities of the Teacher Himself.
The qualities of Buddha are Muni — the wise, from the clan of Cakya. Cakya Simha — Cakya, the Lion. Bhagavat — the Blessed One. Sadhu — the Teacher. Jina — the Conqueror. The Ruler of the Benevolent Law.
Of unusual beauty is the coming of the King in the image of a mighty mendicant. “Go, ye mendicants, bring salvation and benevolence to the peoples.” In this command of Buddha, in this term “mendicants” is contained all.
Understanding the Teaching of Buddha, you realize from where emanates the assertion of the Buddhists — “Buddha is a man.” The temple does not exist for Him, but there is a place of assembly and a temple of knowledge — the Tibetan du-khang and tsug-lag-khang.
Buddha disputed the conventional conception of God. Buddha denied the existence of an eternal and immutable soul. Buddha gave the teaching for every day. Buddha struggled forcefully against possession. Buddha fought personally against the fanaticism of castes and the privileges of classes. Buddha bade the realization of the life of the universe in its full reality. Buddha laid the foundations of the community, foreseeing the victory of the community of the world.
Hundreds of millions of worshippers of Buddha are scattered throughout the world and each of them affirms: “I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in the Teaching, I take refuge in the Samgha.”
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The Buddhist written traditions and our contemporary researches have established a series of details of the life of Gotama Buddha. Buddha’s death is ascribed by the majority of investigators to the year 483 B. C. The age of the Teacher at his death is given as about 80 years. The place of the birth of the Teacher is known as Kapilavastu, situated in the Nepalese Terai. The royal line of Cakya, to which Gotama belonged, is known.
Undoubtedly all biographies of the great Teacher have been greatly elaborated by his contemporaries and followers, especially in the most recent writings, but in order to preserve the coloring and the character of the epoch, we must to a certain extent refer to the traditional exposition.
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According to the traditions of the sixth century B. C. the domain of Kapilavastu existed in North India, in the foothills of the Himalayas; was populated by numerous tribes of Cakyas, descendants of Ikshvaku of the solar race of Kshatriyas. They were ruled by the Elder of the clan who resided in the city of Kapilavastu, of which no traces are now left; during Buddha’s time it was already destroyed by a hostile neighboring king. At that period, Cuddhodana, the last direct descendant of Ikshvaku, reigned at Kapilavastu. Of this king and Queen Maya was born the future great Teacher, who received the name of Siddhartha, which means — “He who fulfilled His purpose.”
Visions and prophecies preceded His birth and the event itself, on the full moon-day of May, was attended with all propitious signs in heaven and on earth. Thus the great Rishi Asita dwelling in the Himalayas, having learned from the Devas that a Bodhisattva, the future Buddha, had been born to the world of men in the Lumbini Park and that He would turn the Wheel of the Doctrine, immediately set out on a journey to pay homage to the future Teacher of men. Reaching the palace of King Cuddhodana, he expressed the desire to see the newborn Bodhisattva. The King ordered the child to be brought to the Rishi, expecting his blessing. But the Rishi on seeing the child, first smiled and then wept. The King anxiously asked the reason of his sorrow and whether he saw an ill omen for his son. To this the Rishi replied that he saw nothing harmful for the child. He rejoiced because the Bodhisattva would achieve full enlightenment and become a great Buddha; and he grieved because his own life was short and he would not live to hear the great Doctrine preached.
Queen Maya, after giving birth to the great Bodhisattva, departed her life and her sister Prajapati took the child and reared it. In Buddhist history, she is known as Buddha’s first female disciple and the foundress and Head of a Samgha for Bhikshunis.
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On the fifth day, one hundred and eight Brahmins, versed in the Vedas, were invited by King Cuddhodana to his palace. They were to give a name to the newborn Prince and read his destiny by the position of the Luminaries. Eight of the most learned said: “He who has such signs as the Prince will become either a Universal Monarch, Chakravartin, or, if he retires from the world, will become a Buddha and remove the veil of ignorance from the sight of the world.”
The eighth, the youngest, added, “The Prince will leave the world after seeing four signs: an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an anchorite.”
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The King, desiring to retain his son and heir, took all measures and precautions to assure this. He surrounded the Prince with all the luxuries and pleasures which his royal power could afford. There are many facts indicating that the Prince Siddhartha received a brilliant education, since knowledge as such was in great esteem in those days, and according to a remark in “Buddhacarita” by Acvaghosha, the city of Kapilavastu received its name in honor of the great Kapila — the founder of Samkhya philosophy.
Echoes of this philosophy can be found in the Teaching of the Blessed One.
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For greater conviction, in the Canon the narrative about His luxurious life at the court of Cuddhodana is put in the words of Buddha Himself.
“I was tenderly cared for, bhikshus, supremely so, infinitely so. At my father’s palace, lotus pools were built for me, in one place for blue lotus flowers, in one place for white lotus flowers and in one place for red lotus flowers, blossoming for my sake. And, bhikshus, I used only sandal oil from Benares. Of Benares fabric were my three robes. Day and night a white umbrella was held over me, so that I might not be troubled by cold, heat, dust, chaff or dew. I dwelt in three palaces, bhikshus; in one, during the cold; in one, in the summer; and in one, during the rainy season. While in the palace of the rainy season, surrounded by musicians, singers and female dancers, for four months I did not descend from the palace. And, bhikshus, although in the domains of others only a dish of red rice and rice-soup would be offered to the servants and slaves, in my father’s house not only rice, but a dish with rice and meat was given to the servants and slaves.” (Anguttara-Nikaya, v. I., p. 145.)
But this luxurious and happy life could not appease the great spirit. And in the most ancient traditions we see that the awakening of consciousness to the sufferings and misery of men and to the problems of existence, occurred much earlier than is stated in later writings.
Thus the same Anguttara-Nikaya, seemingly in Buddha’s own words, quotes, “Endowed with such wealth, reared in such delicacy, the thought came — ‘Verily, the unenlightened worldling, subject himself to old age, without escape from old age, is oppressed when he sees another grown old. I, too, am subject to old age and cannot escape it. If I, who am subject to all this, should see another one, who is grown old, oppressed, tormented and sickened, it would not be well with me.’ (The same is repeated of sickness and death.) Thus as I reflected on it, all elation in youth utterly disappeared.”
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From His earliest childhood the Bodhisattva exhibited an unusual compassion and keen mind towards surrounding conditions. According to the Mahavastu, the Bodhisattva was taken to the park by the King and His attendants. In this version He was old enough to walk about, and came to a rural village where He saw a serpent and a frog turned up by the plough. The frog was taken away for food and the serpent thrown away. This roused the Bodhisattva to great distress. He was filled with deep sorrow; He felt extreme compassion. Then, desiring complete solitude for His thoughts; He went to a rose-apple tree in an isolated spot; there, seated on the ground, covered with leaves, He fell into thought. His father, not seeing Him, became anxious. He was found by one of the courtiers under the shade of the rose-apple tree, deeply engrossed in thought.
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Another time He saw the laborers, with hair unkempt, with bare hands and feet, their bodies grimy and bathed with sweat; and the work-oxen goaded with iron prods, their backs and rumps streaming blood, gasping, with fast-beating hearts, burdened by their yokes, bitten by flies and insects, gashed by the ploughshare, with bleeding and festered wounds. His tender heart was touched with compassion.
“To whom do you belong?” he asked the ploughmen.
“We are the King’s property,” they answered.
“From today you are no longer slaves, you shall no longer be servants. Go where’er you please and live in joy.”
He freed also the oxen and said to them, “Go, from today eat the sweetest grass and drink the purest water and may the breezes from the four hemispheres visit you.” Then seeing a shady jamboo tree, He sat at its foot and gave Himself to earnest meditation.
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Devadatta, seeing a goose flying overhead, shot it and it fell in the garden of the Bodhisattva, who took it and drawing out the arrow, bound up its wound. Devadatta sent a messenger to claim the bird, but the Bodhisattva refused to relinquish it, saying that it belonged not to him who had attempted to take its life, but to him who had saved it. (D. f. 474.)
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When the Prince reached His sixteenth birthday, in conformity with the customs of His country, He had to choose a consort, after proving himself victor of the Svayamvara contest of various war-feats. The chosen one was the Princess Yacodhara of the same Cakya clan. She became mother of Rahula, who later became his father’s disciple and attained Arhatship.
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But personal happiness, great as it was, could not satisfy the ardently striving spirit of the Bodhisattva. His heart continued to respond to each human sorrow and his mind, perceiving the transitoriness of all that existed, knew no rest. He roamed through the halls of His palace like a lion stung by some poisoned dart and in pain He groaned, “The world is full of darkness and ignorance; there is none who knows to cure the ills of existence!”
This state of His spirit is symbolically described in the four preordained encounters, after which He left His kingdom seeking to deliver the world of its misery. In an ancient biography in verse, following the third encounter, there is the remark that only the Bodhisattva and His charioteer saw the corpse carried across the road. According to Mahaparanirvana Sutra the Prince was then completing his twenty-ninth year.
One day the Prince told Chandaka, His charioteer, that He wanted to drive in the park. While there He saw an old man, and the charioteer explained what old age was and how all were subject to it. Deeply impressed, the Prince turned back and returned home.
A short time after, while out driving, He met a sick man gasping for breath, his body disfigured, convulsed and groaning with pain, and His charioteer told Him what disease was and how all men were subject to it. And again He turned back. All pleasures appeared faded to Him and the joys of life became loathsome.
Another time, He came upon a procession with lighted torches bearing a litter with something wrapped in a linen sheet; the women accompanying it had dishevelled hair and were weeping piteously — it was a corpse and Chandaka told Him all must come to this state. And the Prince exclaimed: “O worldly men! How fatal is your delusion! Inevitably your body will crumble to dust, yet carelessly, unheedingly you live on.” The charioteer, observing the deep impression these sights had made on the Prince, turned his horses and drove back to the city.
Then another incident happened to the Prince, which seemed to indicate to Him the solution of His quest. When they passed by the palaces of nobility, a Cakya Princess saw the Prince from the balcony of her palace and greeted Him with a stanza wherein the word “Nibutta” recurred in each line, which means:
“Happy the father that begot you,
“Happy the mother that nursed you.
“Happy the wife who calls you husband
“This, Lord, so glorious,
“She has gone beyond sorrow.”
The Prince, hearing the word “Nibutta” (Nirvana), loosened from His neck a precious pearl necklace and sent it to the princess as a reward for the instruction she had given to Him. He thought:
“Happy are they that have found deliverance. Longing for peace of mind I shall seek the bliss of Nirvana”.
On the same night Yacodhara dreamt that the Prince was abandoning her and she awoke and told Him of her dream. “O, my Lord, where’er thou goest, there let me also go too.”
And He, thinking of going where there was no sorrow (Nirvana), replied: “So be it, wherever I go, there mayest thou go also.”
After Buddha’s return, Yacodhara, together with His foster mother Prajapati, became His first female disciple.
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It was night. The Prince could not find peace on His couch. He arose and went forth into the garden. He sat down beneath the great jamboo tree and gave Himself to thought, pondering on life, on death and the evils of decay. He concentrated His mind, became free from confusion, and perfect tranquillity came upon Him. In this state His mental eye opened and He beheld a lofty figure endowed with majesty; calm and dignified. “Whence dost Thou come and Who art Thou?” asked the Prince. In reply the vision said: “I am a Cramana; troubled at the thought of old age, disease and death, I have left my home to geek the path of salvation. All things hasten to decay, only the truth abides forever. Everything changes and there is no permanency, yet the words of the Buddhas are immutable.”
Siddhartha asked: “Can peace be gained in this world of sorrow? I am overcome with the emptiness of pleasure and have become disgusted with lust. All oppresses me, and existence itself seems intolerable.”
The Cramana replied: “Where heat is, there is also a possibility of cold. Creatures subject to pain possess the faculty of pleasure. The origin of evil indicates that good can be developed. For these things are correlatives. Thus where there is much suffering, there will be much bliss, if thou but openest thy eyes to find it. Just as a man, who has fallen into a heap of filth, should seek the nearby pond covered with lotuses; even so seek thou the great deathless lake of Nirvana to cleanse the defilement of sin. If the lake is not sought, it is not the fault of the lake; even so, when there is a blessed road leading the man bound by sin to the salvation of Nirvana, it is not the fault of the road, but of the man, if the road be not trod. And when a man burdened with sickness does not avail himself of the help of a physician who can heal him, it is not the fault of the physician; even so, when a man oppressed by the malady of wrong-doing does not seek the spiritual guide of Enlightenment, it is not the fault of the sin-destroying guide.”
The Prince listened to the wise words and said: “I know that my purpose will be accomplished but my father tells me that I am still too young, that my pulse beats too full to lead a Cramana’s life.”
The venerable figure replied: “Thou shouldst know that for seeking truth there can never be an inopportune time.”
A thrill of joy pierced Siddhartha’s heart. “Now is the time to seek the truth. Now is the time to sever all ties that would prevent me from attaining perfect enlightenment.”
The celestial messenger heard the resolution of Siddhartha with approval: “Go forth, Siddhartha, and fulfill thy purpose. For thou art Bodhisattva, the Buddha elect; thou art destined to enlighten the world. Thou art Tathagatha, the Perfect One, for thou shalt fulfill all righteousness and be Dharma-raja, the King of Truth. Thou art Bhagavant, the Blessed One, for thou art summoned to become the Saviour and redeemer of the World.
“Do thou fulfill the perfection of Truth. Though the thunderbolt descend upon thy head, never yield to the allurements that beguile men from the path of truth. As the sun at all seasons pursues its own course nor seeks another, even so if thou forsakest not the straight path of righteousness, thou shalt become a Buddha.
“Persevere in thy quest and thou shalt find that which thou seekest. Pursue thy aim unswervingly and thou shalt conquer. The benediction of all deities, of all that seek light, is upon thee; and heavenly wisdom guides thy steps. Thou shalt be the Buddha, thou wilt enlighten the world and save mankind from perdition.”
Having thus spoken, the vision vanished and Siddhartha’s soul was filled with ecstasy. He said to himself: “I have awakened to the Truth and I am resolved to accomplish my purpose. I will sever all ties that bind me to the world and I will set out from my home to seek the way of salvation. Verily, I shall become a Buddha.” (B. St. Jataka Tales.)
The Prince returned to the palace for a last glance of farewell upon those whom He loved above all treasures of the earth. He went to the abode of the mother of Rahula and opened the door of Yacodhara’s chamber. There burnt a lamp of scented oil. On the bed, strewn with jasmine, slept Yacodhara, the mother of Rahula, with her hand on the head of her son. Standing with His foot at the threshold, the Bodhisattva looked at them and his heart grieved. The pain of parting smote Him. But nothing could shake His resolution and with a courageous heart He suppressed His feelings and tore Himself away. He mounted his steed Kanthaka and finding the castle gates wide open, He passed out into the silent night accompanied only by Chandaka, His faithful charioteer. Thus Siddhartha, the Prince, renounced worldly pleasures, resigned His kingdom, severed all ties and went into homelessness. (B. St. Jataka Tales, pp. 5-6.)