Who is a Buddha?
He is known as the highest perfection of man. Before attaining Enlightenment to be a Buddha, one has to fulfil ten Perfections (Paramita). These perfections are Dhana (Charity) or the love of giving for others’ welfare, virtuous discipline (Seela), renunciation of lay life, Panna or wisdom, patience, trustfulness, determination and courage, compassion and equanimity. A Buddha is one who has released Himself from all attachment and pleasures of the senses and is free of ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. He is pure and one who by His own effort attained Enlightenment.
The Buddha left us no written word and lived in a land steeped in spirituality and Vedic religious tradition. His charismatic personality, collected around Him a band of devoted disciples who were in search of the Truth. As a Teacher of morality, He left His footprint on Indian soil. Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha was, according to scholars of the Anglo-Buddhist school (i.e., Mrs Rhys Davids, Edward Conze and Marshall) an extraordinary man. He was a social reformer who lived at a time when Vedic traditions and ceremonialism were strong. He did not approve of animal sacrifices which would be at the price of others’ suffering. He decried the caste system. Several of His disciples were considered to be of low castes. Suneetha was a scavenger, Radha was a beggar, and Upali was of the barber caste. They all entered the Maha Sangha (priest-hood) Order. The Buddha’s humanism crossed many racial and national barriers. He believed in the oneness of man although we are born with Karmic inheritances (of Samsara) which are highlighted indicating degrees of intellect, degrees of human dynamism, varying riches, poverty and even human handicaps at birth.
What is Buddhism?
All major religions except Buddhism bind one to believe in a supreme Creator God, immortal soul, revelations, eternal heavens and hells. The Theravada Buddha Dharma is free from such beliefs, dogmas and theories. Hence it cannot strictly be called a religion, but today due to Hindu influence and certain Hindu practices such as poojas (offerings, vows) have crept into the practice or observance of Buddhism. Buddhist dharma is essentially a teaching of cause and effect (Hetupala Dharma).
The virtues of Dhana (charity), Seela (righteousness) and Bhavana(meditation) promote the individual to follow ‘The Correct Path’ on his Samsaric journey (Karmic journey) towards the goal of Nibbana. This dharma (philosophy) is based on the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Law of Dependent Origination, Karma and rebirth. In homage to the Buddha during Vesak, millions flock to temples wearing white, to observe Ata-sil (a day of absolute devotion to the observance of Dhmma)in a religious atmosphere. They will all partake in a vegetarian diet, a frugal meal, listen to discourses on the dharma and meditate on the law of Anicca (impermanence of life). Prof. Lakshmi Narasu, an Indian Buddhist scholar who lived 100 years ago had said, “Of Buddhism alone, it can be said that it has discarded all animism, all dogmatism, all sensuality, all asceticism, all ritual, ceremonialism and consists of universal compassion or Maitri, charity, self-denial and love for all life.”
“All mankind is His shrine
Seek Him henceforward in the good and wise
In happy thoughts and blissful emotions,
In-kind words and sublime serenity.
And in the rapture of the living deed,
There seek Him if you would not seek in vain,
There is the struggle for justice and rights,
In the sacrifice of self for all
In the joy and calm repose of the heart,
Yes, and forever in the human mind ;
Made better, and more beauteous by this work.”
Vesak is a full moon day of great significance when the thoughts of about three million people all over the world, are focused on the noble figure of Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha and His teachings (Dharma), as recorded by His disciples in Suttas.
It was on a full moon day in May 623 BC that, a noble Sakyan Prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who was blessed at birth with 32 special marks such as the lotus and conch shells on His palms and a further 108 marks on His two feet, was born at the Lumbini Gardens (now located in Nepal) amidst a grove of Sal trees, all in bloom. He preached His first sermon at the Deer Park in Saranath in the open air, and about 45 years later, at the age of eighty years passed away (Maha Parinibbana) again in the open air amidst tall trees at Kasi, now known as Kasi-Nagar (Kushinare) in India. It was also on a Vesak day in Sri Lanka, centuries later, that King Dutugemunu began constructing the Ruwanveli Maha Seya( the largest stupa in Sri Lanka) at Anuradhapura.