The personality and the manner is which Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha dispensed His sublime Dharma (philosophy) which is today followed by about a quarter of the world’s population has been researched and published by scholars.
He was born to a Royal family of the Hindu Kshatriya warrior caste, and belonged to the Sakya clan of North India. Writers say, “He was a full stature of growth and manhood, which was tall and well proportioned commanding an athletic figure. In his youth, He was a skilled horseman and also excelled in archery. His skin had a gradation of gold colour pleasing to the eye, and a clear voice, deep and reverberating like a lion’s roar. Non harming and non hurting was his mental attitude towards all living beings. His heart was filled with unbounded love, sympathy and compassion.”
A question often asked is whether the Buddha was ever heard to laugh. It is known that He never laughed making a guffawing noise, but He did have a serene smile, without openly displaying all His pure white teeth.
|The serene smile: Buddha statues at Pindaya Caves in Myanmar.
Pic courtesy denniscox.com
In the Ajantha Caves in North India, in just one cave, the sculptor has shown that He did smile. In several paintings the Buddha is represented with a happy and serene compassion look. In Myanmar too, not far away from Mandalay are the Pindaya Caves where there are over 50 Buddha images with a serene smile. Most other mudras of the Buddha in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma) and in Thailand show Him to be in a meditative pose. It is a Vinaya Pitaka rule that Bhikkus should not laugh, but they may have a fleeting smile showing the tip of their teeth, to signify approval.
Having introduced the Buddha, let’s now briefly refer to His glorious Dharma. Buddhism, is a philosophy (a Dharma), a code of ethics for righteous living and helps one to free oneself from all facets of suffering. Buddhism is not a theistic religion like Christianity or Hinduism (Saiva worship), and does not recognize a Creator God to solve human problems. His Dharma is centred around the Noble Eightfold Path, the doctrine of conditioned genesis, doctrine of Anatta (no soul) and Aniccha (impermanance) kamma and rebirth.
The Buddha established in India, a new social order ignoring the age-old Hindu caste system. He gave the women of India a place in society.
He discouraged the performing of miracles to propagate religion but did on just one occasion demonstrate His supernatural ability by performing a miracle before the Jain header, Ramaputra at Jetawana (Sravasthi) Vihara. On that occasion, He produced fire out of water to the amazement of a large gathering of Sahet and Mahet, the twin cities near the Vihare.
To test His spiritual greatness and His mind-state (wisdom), Gotama Buddha was given by religious leaders of his time, ten questions, which the Master refused to answer, thus remaining calm and quiet. What then are these ten questions?
1) Is the world eternal (in terms of time)?
2) Is the world not eternal (not endless, nor everlasting)?
3) Is the world finite (limited or bounded)?
4) Is the world infinite (not limited)?
5) Is the soul identical with the body (self is the same as the physical body and comes to complete annihilation at the time of death)?
6) Is the soul different from the body (whether the soul is eternal whilst the physical body is perishable)?
7) Does the Enlightened One exist after death?
8) Doesn’t the Enlightened One exist after death?
9) Doesn't the Enlightened One exist and not exist after death?
10)Doesn't the Enlightened One neither exist nor not exist after death?
Some scholars maintained that, Gotama Buddha’s silence was because He did not know the answers. Other scholars held the view that the Enlightened One knew the answers, but remained silent due to pragmatic reasons. Still another group of religious leaders thought the ten questions belonged to a category of profound metaphysics bordering on mysticism.
It is widely believed that if the Enlightened One answered the questions, it would not stop the world speculating further, because humans did not have tools or methods to verify and be absolutely certain of His answers. Many scientists, philosophers and religious leaders have put forward their theories from time to time, but the world has not been convinced (beyond doubt). We, therefore have to appreciate that the Buddha did not add to the confusion there was in the people’s minds.
Scholars are of opinion that the Buddha remained silent, because to Him they were all meaningless questions, not relevant to His mission in life based on the illusionary self, the view that there is a self entity with a constantly changing psycho physical organism. The Buddha’s specific mission in life was to first attain Buddhahood (attain Enlightenment) and thereafter “Show the Path” to end all sufferings of life in samsara, where Nibbana is the goal. It is to be noted that, whenever He refused (before) to explain or discuss a subject, He would say:
“And why monks, have I not declared it? Because, it is not profitable; it does not belong to the beginning of a religious life, and does not tend to revulsion, absence of passion cessation, calm, higher knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana. Therefore, I have not declared it.” - (Samyutta Nikiya)
It is known that the Buddha traversed on foot in North India, in the regions of modern Bihar State & Uttara Pradesh, preaching His sublime dharma (philosophy) to heads of principalities, farmers, artisans and the poor, some of whom were shunned by society, being of low caste. Some of his disciples were barbers, scavengers and one was a well known murderer.
They later became Arahants. His method of preaching the doctrine suited the situation and intellect of the gathering. His discussions were learned, formal and often logical. But when conversing with the ordinary folk, He resorted to the use of similes and parables as they were better understood. In a well known conversation, He had with a wealthy Brahmin farmer named Kasi Bhadradvaja, the Buddha entwined His explanations to agricultural implements because the conversation took place during a harvesting festival. He referred to faith as the seeds he sows, devotion to rain that fertilizes it, and modesty, He said, was the plough shaft and the farmers' mind is the tie of the yoke. He also said mindfulness in what they did was the plough share and goad.
An interesting incident took place when He accidentally met a Brahmin named Vangisa. Vangisa made a living by tapping human skulls, to discover the rebirth of their owners. When Vangisa met the Buddha for the first time, knowing his reputation to tap skulls, the Buddha tested him by presenting him a few human skulls, including one of an Arahant. Vangisa was successful with the first few skulls, but when he tapped the Arahant’s skull, the books say, it was unfathomable to him (because an Arahant is not reborn anywhere). Vangisa later became a disciple and attained Arahantship. In life, he excelled in composing beautiful verses in praise of the Buddha. They have been recorded in Theragatha.
In another instance, an aged monk of Brahmin origin named Pingiya, and said to be 120 years old had joined the bhikku fraternity late in his life. When he met the Buddha he had revealed his inadequacy of spiritual attainments. He had said that his vision was poor, his hearing weak, and could not adequately comprehend the Buddha’s teaching. He asked, “Please tell me how I could transcend birth, the decay (illness and old age) in this life.” The Buddha’s message to him was to reject form i.e. the physical body if you choose to eliminate birth; then give up Tanha or craving, where it is associated with greed, attachment and jealousy. To achieve this goal, a concerted effort of self-adjustment is needed i.e. an adjustment of values, attitudes, and voluntary surrender of customary ways of living.
The compassionate ways of the Buddha were seen when He attended on an aged sick monk named Puttigatha Tissa who was in bed for a long time, without proper medical attention. The sick bhikkhu had large festering ulcers all over his body and also bed sores. A foul smell emanated from his wounds. This situation discouraged other monks. The Buddha with the help of Ven. Ananda, his faithful pupil, washed and medicated, the sores of the sick monk, for several weeks. He also bathed him frequently, until the patient was cured.
Then addressing the bhikku fraternity of that temple, the Buddha declared should anyone attend on the sick in all circumstances, we will gain much Kusala Kamma (merit) as if he had attended on, or nursed a Buddha.
When communicating His Dharma to the disciples, the Master made no distinction whatsoever amongst them. He had no favourite disciples. Some disciples were Arahants who were passion-free, whilst several others were outstanding, skilled in different spheres of the dharma, because of their mental endowments.
Before he passed away at Kushinara (modern Kashinagar), the Buddha did not appoint a disciple as His successor. Addressing several hundred of monks who were present the Master said, “The doctrine and His discipline (Dharma Vinaya) which I have set forth and laid down for you, let them after I am gone, be your teacher and guide (Samyutta Nikaya). His last words were, Decay is inherent in all component things. Work out your salvation with diligence.”