Unveiling Buddha’s Wisdom: A Beacon of Rationality

In any library or reputed bookshop, one would surely find several books on the life and teachings of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha who held centre stage in an age of intellectual ferment. In that age, there were in India, 63 other known religious leaders of ancient Vedic faith, associated with Athman and the cosmic law. Others were professing Jainism.

There are about 1.5 billion Buddhists today and three main schools – Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana all believe in the fundamental teachings of the Great Master, who has been accepted not as God-head, but as an extraordinary human being, whose mission was to “Show the Path” to human liberation from suffering.

He did not use persuasive methods, nor the power of the sword to convert people to accept His dharma. He did not require followers to blindly accept His teachings as explained in the Kalama Sutta, nor did He rely on the performance of miracles to win over people, although He did once perform a miracle before the Jain leader Udakku Ramaputra, by creating fire from water.

After attaining enlightenment at Buddha Gaya on a Vesak Poya Day, Sakyamuni Gotama the Buddha had 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, 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 clairvoyance or divine eyes where the virtuous and intelligent lived and remembered His five fellow ascetics, who were at the Isipathana deer park (modern Saranath). 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 Isipathana and met the five ascetic friends, Kondanja, Baddiya, Assaji, 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 also 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. This then was an important communication of the Buddha, as was seen at Saranath.

Within three centuries, Buddhism had spread to distant Syria, Albania, ancient Bactria, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, modern Pakistan, entire India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea, Java and other states. Three months after Esela Poya, the Buddha sent forth 60 trained Dharmadutha monks on an Il Poya, 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. He gave society a new vision, not by divine revelation, to adopt and free themselves from the grips of priestcraft and unquestionable tradition and faith. He communicated something new.

The axles of Buddha’s dharma
Buddha who in a sense was a revolutionary, preached that the belief in a permanent soul or self was the most pernicious of errors leading to great sorrow and suffering. The belief of a soul must produce attachment which leads to craving or desire, pleasure on earth and beyond in heaven. The Buddha’s one mission was to end suffering on earth. He, therefore, totally rejected the concept or belief in the self-conscious “I” or “self’, which is constantly changing (Anichchaya). In the Dhammapada, it is said,
“All conditioned things are impermanent,
All conditioned things are suffering (dukkha)

The four noble truths relating to dukka; its presence, the cause, and the way (or path) that leads to the cessation of dukka (unsatisfactoriness in all its many forms); the practice of Sila (morality), Samadhi (mental culture ) and Panna (wisdom), the law of causation (or dependent origination) and the roots (mula) of good or bad karma (acts of volition) were the axles of his teaching.

All conditioned or unconditioned things (Dhamma) are soul-less or self-less”.

The Buddha showed the way to end suffering. He said the man’s goal is Nibbana. It is the elimination of greed, hatred and delusion. In the Samyutta Nikaya, it is said, that if one follows the Noble Eightfold Path, namely right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right consciousness, one could attain the goal of Nibbana.

People often cling to comfort, prestige and wealth, for their convenience. Life to them is a chain of “grasping” or attachments. The master once said, “A man was travelling on foot. He had to cross a swollen river so he made for himself a raft. Having crossed the river, the man had an attachment to the raft and did not wish to abandon it. He, thereafter, carried the heavy raft which was an unnecessary burden.” The Buddha questioned, ” Can we call him a wise man?” He related the parable to indicate that even a good thing when it becomes an unnecessary burden should be discarded. While staying at Rajagaha in Magadha He “surveyed the world with the attainment of great compassion” and saw that Brahmin Kasi Bharadvaga could attain Arahantship. During the ploughing season (Vappa-kala), 500 ploughmen had gathered in the Brahmin’s field. The Buddha, at lunchtime, arrived there with His alms bowl. When lunch was over, the farmers flocked around the Buddha and requested Him to deliver a sermon. This would have disrupted the ploughing. Hence, the Buddha was asked to leave, although it was time to offer alms. The Buddha refused to move but told Bharadvaja that He too earned his food (Dhane) by tilling the soil and sowing as a professional farmer differently. Baffled, the Brahmin indicated that he did not see the Buddha as a farmer. It was then that the Buddha responded with a well-known parable of seeds and water.

Confidence (Sardha) to achieve the goal is the seed (beeja), discipline (tapo) water (urthi) wisdom (panna), the yoke and plough (yuga-nariga) sense and shame (hiri), plough pole (isa) and mindfulness – the goad (sati) were what He preached. He compared the mind to the yotta. The Buddha by “His method of farming” gave freedom from human suffering. Finally, the Brahmin offered him alms, entered the Sangha Order and became an Arahant.

The psychological approach
In at least three instances, the Buddha used the psychological approach to tell people 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. But Patachara who appeared to be insane, after realizing the sudden loss of her husband and child, impressed upon her the impermanence of all things.

The beautiful courtesan Sirima had, after listening to the Buddha, turned a new leaf and gained much merit.

The Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha, though a king, donned beggar’s clothing for 45 years and moved on foot throughout India, spreading His glorious dharma. As an experienced communicator, He discovered people. The methods of communication He adopted suited both the audience and the situation. As His message was eternal (Akalika), it was a great success, prompting historians to recognize Him as the greatest religious leader, and skilful communicator of that time. Amidst age-old religious obstacles, He triumphed. It was the triumph of reason.