Life and Nature of the Buddha
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Following Sections are Covered in this Document
Contents Section
Gautama, The Buddha 1
His Renunciation 2
Nature of the Buddha 3
Was Buddha an Incarnation of God? 4
The Buddha’s Service 5
Historical Evidences of the Buddha 6
Salvation Through Arahantahood 7
Who is a Bodhisatva? 8
Attainment of Buddhahood 9
Trikaya — The Three Bodies of the Buddha 10
The Founder of Buddhism.

GAUTAMA BUDDHA, the founder of Buddhism, lived in Northern India in the 6th century B.C. His personal name was Siddhartha, and his family name was Gautama. He was called the ‘Buddha' after He attained Enlightenment and realized the ultimate Truth. ‘Buddha' means the ‘Awakened' or the ‘Enlightened One'. He generally called Himself the Tathagata, while His followers called Him Bhagava, the Blessed One. Others spoke of Him as Gautama or Sakyamuni.

He was born a prince who seemed to have everything. He had a luxurious upbringing and His family was of pure descent on both sides. He was the heir to the throne, extremely handsome, inspiring trust, stately and gifted with great beauty of complexion and a fine presence. At sixteen He married His cousin named Yasodhara. She was majestic, serene and full of dignity and grace.

Despite all this, Prince Siddhartha felt trapped amidst the luxury like a bird in a golden cage. During His visits outside the palace, He saw what was known as the ‘Four Sights', that is, an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy recluse. When He saw the sights, one after another, the realization came to Him that, ‘Life is subject to old age and death'. He asked, ‘Where is the realm of life in which there is neither old age nor death?' The sight of the recluse, who was calm after having given up the craving for material life, gave Him the clue that the first step in His search for Truth was Renunciation. This means realizing that worldly possessions cannot bring the ultimate happiness people crave for.

Determined to find the way out of these universal sufferings, He decided to leave home to find the cure not for Himself only, but for all mankind. One night in His twenty-ninth year, He bade His sleeping wife and son a silent farewell, saddled His great white horse, and rode off toward the forest.

His renunciation is unprecedented in history. He left at the height of youth, from pleasures to difficulties; from certainty of material security to austerities; from a position of wealth and power to that of a wandering ascetic who took shelter in caves and forests, with His ragged robe as the only protection against the blazing sun, rain and winter winds. He renounced His position, wealth, promise of prestige and power, and a life filled with love and hope in exchange for the difficult search for Truth which no one had found although many in India had sought for thousands of years.

For six long years, He laboured to find this Truth. What was the truth He sought? It was to understand truly the nature of existence and to find the ultimate, unchanging happiness. He studied under the foremost masters of the day, and learned everything these religious teachers could teach Him. When He found that they could not teach Him what He was seeking for, He decided to find the Truth through His own efforts. A band of five ascetics joined Him and together they practised severe austerities in the belief that if the body was tortured then the soul would be released from suffering. Siddhartha was a man of energy and will power and He outdid other ascetics in every austerity they practised. While fasting, He ate so little that when He took hold of the skin of His stomach, He actually touched His spine. He pushed Himself to do superhuman feats of self-torture so that He would have certainly died. But He realised the futility of self-mortification, and decided to practise moderation instead.

On the full moon night of the month of Vesakha, He sat under the Bodhi tree at Gaya , wrapped in deep meditation. It was then that His mind burst the bubble of the material universe and realised the true nature of all life and all things. At the age of 35 years, He was transformed from an earnest truth seeker into the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

For nearly half a century following the Enlightenment, the Buddha walked on the dusty paths of India teaching the Dharma so that those who heard and practised could be ennobled and free. He founded an order of monks and nuns, challenged the caste system, raised the status of women, encouraged religious freedom and free inquiry, opened the gates of deliverance to all, in every condition of life, high or low, saint or sinner, and ennobled the lives of criminals like Angulimala and courtesans like Ambapali. He freed humanity from religious slavery, religious dogma and blind faith.

He towered in wisdom and intellect. Every problem was analysed into component parts and then reassembled in logical order with the meaning made clear. None could defeat Him in dialogue. He is an unequalled teacher even until today. He still is the foremost analyst of the mind and phenomena. For the first time in history, He gave human beings the power to think for themselves, raised the worth of mankind, and showed that human beings can reach to the highest knowledge and supreme Enlightenment by their own efforts. He encouraged people to open their minds and think without bias nor preconceived notions to understand the reality of life and the universe.

Despite His peerless wisdom and royal lineage, He was never removed from the simple villagers. Surface distinctions of class and caste meant little to Him. No one was too little or low for Him to help. Often when an outcaste, or poor and dejected person came to Him, his or her self-respect was restored and turned from the ignoble life to that of a noble being.

The Buddha was full of compassion (karuna) and wisdom (pañña), knowing how and what to teach individuals according to their level of understanding. He was known to have walked long distances to help one single person to show him or her the correct Path.

He was affectionate and devoted to His disciples, always inquiring after their well being and progress. When staying at the monastery, He paid daily visits to the sick wards. His compassion for the sick can be seen from His advice: ‘He who attends the sick, attends on me.' The Buddha kept order and discipline on the basis of mutual respect. King Pasenadi Kosala could not understand how the Buddha maintained such order and discipline in the community of monks when he, as a king with the power to punish, could not maintain it as well in his court. The Buddha's method was to make people act from an inner understanding rather than make them behave by imposing laws and threatening them with punishment.

Many miraculous powers were attributed to Him, but He did not consider any kind of supernatural powers important. To Him, the greatest miracle was to explain the Truth and make a cruel person to become kind through realisation. A teacher with deep compassion, He was moved by human suffering and determined to free people from their fetters by a rational system of thought and way of life.

The Buddha did not claim to have ‘created' worldly conditions, universal phenomena, or the Universal Law which we call the ‘Dharma'. Although described as lokavidu or ‘knower of the worlds', He was not regarded as the sole custodian of that Universal Law. He freely acknowledged that the Dharma, together with the working of the cosmos, is timeless; it has no creator and is independent in the absolute sense. Every conditioned thing that exists in the cosmos is subject to the operation of Dharma. What the Buddha did (like all the other Buddhas before Him) was to rediscover this infallible Truth and make it known to mankind. In discovering the Truth, He also found the means whereby one could ultimately free oneself from being subjected to the endless cycle of conditioning, with its attendant evils of unsatisfactoriness.

After forty-five years of ministry, the Buddha passed away ( attained Parinirvana ) at the age of eighty at a place called Kusinara, leaving behind numerous followers, monks and nuns, and a vast treasure store of Dharma Teaching. The impact of His great love and dedication is still felt today.

In the Three Greatest Men in History, H.G. Wells states:

‘In the Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, alone, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too gave a message to mankind universal in character. Many of our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he taught, to selfishness. Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a greater being. Buddhism in a different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500 years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality.'

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The renunciation of Prince Siddhartha was the boldest step that a man has ever taken.

It was night. Siddhartha could no longer find peace. He strode through the halls of the palace and finally went to the king. He bowed and said to him: ‘Father, grant the request I have to make. Permit me to leave the palace to follow the path to deliverance, for all earthly things are changing and of short duration. So we must part, father.'

‘Son, give up this idea. You are still too young for a religious calling. It is rather for me to embrace religion. The time has come for me to leave the palace. I abdicate, O my son!'

‘Promise me four things, O father, and I shall not leave your house and repair to the woods.'

‘What are they?' asked the king.

‘Promise me that my life will not end in death, that sickness will not impair my health, that age will not follow my youth, that misfortune will not destroy my prosperity.'

‘I cannot promise them, son, for they are inevitable.'

‘Then do not hold me back. O father, my mind is fixed. All earthly things are transitory.'

Thus the prince resolved to accomplish the Great Renunciation that very night.

At the age of 29 years, Siddhartha was a full blooded, young man in the prime of life. As it was, the temptation not to abandon all He had known and loved was great. He knew the effort to seek the truth must have been formidable. During His final moments in the palace, He visited His bedroom and looked at His slumbering wife and their newborn child. The great impulse to remain and abandon His plan must have caused Him intense agony. Contrary to present day materialist values, in those days in India , it was considered a noble thing for a person to forsake home and loved ones to become an ascetic to lead a holy life. It was considered a sacrifice which was spiritually praiseworthy. All things considered, therefore, it would seem that Siddhartha was right in boldly and quickly carrying out His plan.

Two thousand five hundred years after His renunciation, some people criticise Him for His action. They say it was cruel for Him to run away from the palace without even telling His wife. They condemn Siddhartha for His manner of leaving home and Kingdom. Some describe it as a ‘callous abandonment of wife and family'. Yet what would have happened if He had not left so quietly and had approached His loved ones for a formal farewell? They would, of course, have implored Him to change His mind. The scene would have been hysterical, and quite possibly the little domain of His father Rajah Suddhodana would have been thrown into turmoil. His intention to seek the Truth would have had to be aborted by His father and wife who would have disagreed with His renunciation plans although He had discussed with His father and His wife about His intentions of renunciation. Because of His departure on that day, today, five hundred million human beings follow Him. If He had stayed without ‘running away' only His wife and son would have run after Him. His wife, however, did not accuse Him of desertion when she realised the purpose of His renunciation. Instead, she gave up her luxurious life to lead a simple life as a mark of respect. Earlier, when He discussed His renunciation with His wife she came to know that there was no way for her to stop His renunciation. She then requested Him to have a son before Him. That is why He decided to renounce the very day the son was born.

He renounced the world not for His own sake or convenience but for the sake of suffering humanity. To Him the whole of mankind is one family. The renunciation of Prince Siddhartha at that early age was the boldest step that a man could have ever taken.

Detachment is one of the most important factors for the attainment of Enlightenment. The attainment of Enlightenment is by way of non-attachment. Most of life's troubles are caused by attachment. We get angry; we worry; we become greedy and complain bitterly. All these causes of unhappiness, tension, stubbornness and sadness are due to attachment. When we investigate any trouble or worry we have, the main cause is always attachment. Had Prince Siddhartha developed His attachment towards His wife, child, kingdom and worldly pleasures, He would never have been able to discover the remedy for suffering mankind. Therefore, He had to sacrifice everything including worldly pleasures in order to have a concentrated mind free from any distractions, in order to find the Truth that can cure humanity from suffering. Consider this, if the prince had not gone forth, humanity would today still be entrapped in fear, ignorance and misery, with no real understanding of the human condition.

In the eyes of this young Prince, the whole world was burning with lust, anger, greed and many other defilements which ignite the fire of our passions. He saw each and every living being in this world, including His wife and father, suffering from all sorts of physical and mental ailments. So determined was He to seek a solution for the eradication of suffering amongst suffering humanity, that He was prepared to sacrifice everything.

Here is how a poet saw the renunciation of the Buddha:

‘T'was not through hatred of children sweet,
T'was not through hatred of His lovely wife,
Thriller of hearts—not that He loved them less,
But Buddhahood more, that He renounced them all.'
Light of the World
‘Understood are the things to be understood,
Cultivated are the things to be cultivated,
Eradicated are the things to be eradicated,
Therefore Brahmin, I am the Buddha.'

‘As long, brethren, as the moon and sun have not arisen in the world, just as long is there no shining forth a great light of great radiance. There prevails gross darkness, the darkness of bewilderment. Night is not distinguishable from the day, nor the month, the half-moon and the seasons of the years from each other.'

‘But, brethren, when the moon and sun arise in the world, then a great light of great radiance shines forth. Gross darkness, the darkness of bewilderment, is no more: Then are months and the half-moon and the seasons of years.'

‘Just so, brethren, as long as a Buddha, who is an Arahant, a Buddha Supreme, arises not, there is no shining forth a great light of great radiance. But gross darkness, the darkness of bewilderment, prevails. There is no pro­claiming, no teaching, no showing forth, no setting up, no opening up, no analysis, no making clear of the Four Noble Truths.'

‘What Four? The Noble Truth of Suffering, the Arising of Suffering, the Ceasing of Suffering, and the Approach to the Ceasing of Suffering.'

‘Wherefore, brethren, do you exert yourselves to realize “This is suffering; this is the arising of suffering; this is the ceasing of suffering; this is the approach to the ceasing of suffering”.'

The above words give us a clear picture of the great value of the arising of the Buddha to the world. The Buddha arose at a time when Western Philosophy as developed by the Greeks, was led by Heraclites who gave a new interpretation to the early religions of the Olympian gods. It was a time when Jeremiah was giving a new message among the Jews in Babylon .

It was a time when Pythagoras was introducing a doctrine of reincarnation in Greece . It was a time when Confucius was esta­blishing his ethics of conduct in China .

It was a time when India 's social fabric was heavily encrusted with priestcraft, Brahmanical dominance, self-mortification, caste distinctions, corrupt feudalism and subjugation of women.

It was at such a time that the Buddha, the most fragrant flower of the human race, appeared in the land where saints and sages dedicated their lives to the search for truth.

He was a great man who wielded an extraordinary influence on others even during His lifetime. His personal magnetism, moral prestige and radiant confidence in His discovery, made Him a popular success. During His active life as a Teacher, the Buddha enlightened many who listened to Him. He attracted the high and low, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, men and women, householders and ascetics, nobles and peasants. He went in search of the vicious to teach, while the pure and virtuous came in search of Him to learn. To all, He gave the gift of the Truth that He had discovered. His disciples were kings and soldiers, merchants and millionaires, beggars, courtesans, religious, criminal-minded as well as deluded people. When people were fighting, He made peace between them. When they were deluded, He enlightened them. When they were inflamed with rage and lust, He gave them the cooling water of Truth. When they were forsaken and wretched, He extended to them the infinite love of His compassionate heart. All people were one in the eyes of the Buddha.

He was ‘ Lokavidu'— ‘The knower of the world'. Having himself lived a life of luxury He knew the world too well to have any illusions about its nature, or to believe that its laws could be completely refashioned to suit the desires of human beings. He knew that the world does not only exist for their pleasure. He knew about the nature of worldly conditions. He realised the vicissitude of worldly life. He knew the futility of human imagination or day-dreaming about the world.

He did not encourage wishful-thinking in terms of establishing a worldly Utopia. He did not set out to remould the world. Rather, He told of the Way by which one could conquer one's own world— the inner subjective world that is everyone's private domain. In simple language, He told us that the whole world is within us and it is led by the mind and that mind must be trained and cleansed properly. The external material world could be controlled and cease to create anguish if our inner world is under control.

His Teaching was basically simple and meaningful: ‘To put an end to evil; to fulfil all good; to purify the mind. This is the advice of all the Buddhas.' (DHAMMAPADA 183)

He taught the people how to eradicate ignorance. He encouraged them to maintain freedom in the mind to think freely.

By every test of what He said and did, He demonstrated that He was the pre-eminent man of His day. He declared a faith of service, a ministry of sacrifice and achievement. He advised us to start each day as if it was the beginning of a life. We must not waste time and energy in searching the beginning of life. We should fulfil our endless responsibilities and duties of daily existence here and now without depending on others to do it for us. In other words, He taught us to be self-reliant.

He gave mankind a new explanation of the universe. He gave a new vision of eternal happiness, the achievement of perfection in Buddhahood. He pointed out the way to the permanent state beyond all impermanence, the way to Nirvana, the final deliverance from the misery of existence.

His time was more than 2,500 years ago. Yet, even today this great Teacher is honoured not only by all religious-minded people. He is also honoured by atheists, historians, rationalists and intellect­uals, free thinkers, scientists and psychologists all over the world who freely acknowledge Him as the Enlightened, most liberal minded and compassionate Teacher.

  ‘Sukho Buddhanam Uppado.'  
  Happy is the birth of the Buddhas.  
  (DHAMMAPADA 194)  
The Buddha never claimed that He was the son or messenger of any God.

T he Buddha was a unique human being who was self Enlightened. He had no one whom He could regard as His teacher. Through His own efforts, He practised to perfection the ten Paramitas—supreme qualities of generosity, discipline, renunciation, wisdom, energy, endurance, truthfulness, deter­mination, goodwill and equanimity. Through His mental puri­fication, He opened the doors to all knowledge. He knew all things to be known, cultivated all things to be cultivated, and destroyed all things to be destroyed. Indeed, it is difficult to compare other religious teachers to Him in terms of cultivation of the mind, mental purity and supreme wisdom.

So special was He and so electrifying His message, that many people asked Him ‘ What (not so much Who) He was'. The question of ‘Who He was' would be with respect to His name, origin, ancestry, etc., while ‘What He was' referred to the order of beings to which He belonged. So ‘godly' and inspiring was He that even during His time, there were numerous attempts by others to turn Him into a god or a reincarnation of a god. He never agreed to be regarded as such. In the Anguttara Nikaya, He said: ‘I am indeed not a deva nor any other form of divine being; neither am I an ordinary human being. Know ye that I am the Buddha, the Awakened One.' After Enlightenment, the Buddha could no longer be classified even as a ‘manusya' or an ordinary human being. He belonged to the Buddha wangsa, a special class of enlightened beings, all of whom are Buddhas.

Buddhas appear in this world from time to time. But some people have the mistaken idea that it is the same Buddha who is reincarnated or appears in the world over and over again. Actually, they are not the same person, because then there would be no scope for others to attain to Buddhahood. Buddhists believe that anyone can become a Buddha if he develops his qualities to perfection and is able to remove his ignorance completely through his own efforts. After Enlightenment, however, all Buddhas become identical in their attainment and experience of Nirvana.

In India , the followers of many orthodox religious groups tried to condemn the Buddha because of His liberal and rational teachings which revolutionised Indian society at that time. Many regarded Him as an enemy as His teachings contradicted their age-old religious traditions but more intellectuals as well as people from all ranks of society began to follow Him and accept His teaching. Some tried to reduce His stature by introducing Him as a reincarnation of one of their gods. This way they could absorb Buddhism into their religion. To a certain extent, this strategy worked in India since it had, through the centuries, contributed to the decay and the subsequent uprooting of Buddhism from the land of its origin.

Even today there are certain religious groups who try to absorb the Buddha into their faiths as a way of gaining converts to their religion from among Buddhists. Their basis for doing so is by claiming that the Buddha Himself had predicted that another Buddha would appear in this world, and that the latest Buddha will become even more popular. One group even claims that Jesus Christ who lived 600 years after Gautama the Buddha is the latest Buddha. Another group says that the next Buddha had arrived in Japan in the 13th century. Yet another group believes that their founder came from the lineage of great teachers like Gautama and Jesus. These groups advise Buddhists to give up their “old” Buddha and follow the so-called new Buddha. While it is good to see them giving the Buddha the same status as their own religious teachers, we feel that these attempts to absorb Buddhists into another faith by misrepresenting the truth are in extreme bad taste.

Those who claim that the new Buddha had already arrived are obviously misrepresenting what the Buddha had said. Although the Buddha predicted the coming of the next Buddha, He mentioned some conditions which had to be met before this can be possible. It is the nature of Buddhahood that the next Buddha will not appear as long as the dispensation of the current Buddha still exists. He will appear only when the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path have been completely forgotten. The people living then must be properly guided in order to understand the same Truth taught by the previous Buddhas. We are still living within the dispensation of Gautama the Buddha . Although the moral conduct of the people has, with very few exceptions, deteriorated, the future Buddha will only appear after some incalculable period when the Path to Nirvana is completely lost to mankind and when people are again ready to receive Him.

Some people have already started to erect the image of the future Buddha and have started to worship and pray just because of that belief. They have moulded the image and features of that Buddha according to their own imagination.

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The Buddha was born to dispel the darkness of ignorance and to show the world how to be free from suffering.

THE Buddha was the embodiment of all the virtues that He preached. During His successful and eventful ministry of 45 years, He translated all His words into actions. At no time did He ever show any human frailty or any base passion. The Buddha's moral code is the most perfect the world has ever known.

For more than 25 centuries, millions of people have found inspiration and solace in His Teaching. His greatness still shines today like a sun that outshines the glow of lesser lights. His Teachings still beckon the weary pilgrim to the security and peace of Nirvana. No other person has sacrificed so much worldly comfort for the sake of suffering humanity.

The Buddha was among the first religious leaders in human history to admonish against animal sacrifice for any reason and to appeal to people not to harm any living creature.

To the Buddha, religion was not a contractual agreement between a divinity and man but a way to enlightenment. He did not want followers with blind faith; He wanted followers who could think

freely and wisely and work out their own salvation.

The entire human race has been blessed with His presence.

There was never an occasion when the Buddha expressed any unfriendliness towards a single person. Not even to His opponents and worst enemies did the Buddha express any unfriendliness. There were a few prejudiced minds who turned against the Buddha and who tried to kill Him; yet the Buddha never treated them as enemies. The Buddha once said, ‘As an elephant in the battlefield endures the arrows that are shot into him, so will I endure the abuse and unfriendly expressions of others.' (DHAMMAPADA 320)

In the annals of history, no man is recorded as having so consecrated himself to the welfare of all living beings as the Buddha did. From the hour of His Enlightenment to the end of His Life, He strove tirelessly to elevate mankind. He slept only two hours a day. Though 25 centuries have gone since the passing away of this great Teacher, His message of love and wisdom still exists in its pristine purity. This message is still decisively influencing the destinies of humanity. He was the most Compassionate One who illuminated this world with loving-kindness.

After attaining Nirvana, the Buddha left a deathless message that is still with us. Today we are confronted by the terrible threat to world peace. At no time in the history of the world is His message more needed than it is now.

The Buddha was born to dispel the darkness of ignorance and to show the world how to get rid of suffering and disease, decay and death and all the worries and miseries of living beings.

According to some other beliefs, a certain god will appear in this world from time to time to destroy wicked people and to protect the good ones. The Buddha did not appear in this world to destroy wicked people but to show them the correct path.

In the history of the world, did we ever hear of any religious teacher who was so filled with such all absorbing compassion and love for suffering humanity as the Buddha was? We have heard of some wise men in Greece : Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and many others who lived at about the same time as the Buddha. But they were only philosophers and great thinkers and seekers after truth; they lacked any inspiring love for the suffering multitudes.

The Buddha's way of liberating mankind was to teach them how to find complete freedom from physical and mental suffering. He was not interested in alleviating a few chance cases of physical or mental distress. He was more concerned with revealing a Path that all people could follow.

Let us take all the great philosophers, psychologists, thinkers, scientists, rationalists, social workers, reformers and other religious teachers and compare, with an unbiased mind, their greatness, virtues, services and wisdom with the Buddha's virtues, compassion and Enlightenment. It is not difficult to see where the Buddha stands amongst all those great intellectuals.

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The Buddha is the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. His Teaching illuminates the way for mankind to cross from a world of darkness, hatred and suffering to a new world of light, love and happiness.

GAUTAMA the Buddha is not a mythical figure but an actual, historical personality who introduced the religion known today as Buddhism. Evidences to prove the existence of this great religious Teacher are to be found in the following facts:-

1. The testimonies of those who knew Him personally. These testimonies are recorded in the rock-inscriptions, pillars and pagodas made in His honour. These testimonies and monuments to His memory were created by kings and others who were near enough to His time to be able to verify the story of His life.
2. The discovery of places and the remains of buildings that were mentioned in the narratives of His time.
The Sangha, the holy order which He founded, has had an unbroken existence to the present day. The Sangha possessed the facts of His life and Teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation in various parts of the world.
The fact that in the very year of His death, and at various times subsequently, conventions and councils of the Sangha were held for the verification of the actual Teachings of the Founder. These verified Teachings have been passed on from teacher to pupil from His time to the present day.
After His passing away, His body was cremated and the bodily relics were divided among eight kingdoms in India . Each king built a pagoda to contain his portion of the relics. The portion given to King Ajatasatthu was enshrined by him in a pagoda at Rajagriha. Less than two centuries later, Emperor Asoka took the relics and distributed them throughout his empire. The inscriptions enshrined in this and other pagodas confirm that those were the relics of Gautama the Buddha. Some of these relics which were not touched by Emperor Asoka were discovered only as recently as one hundred years ago, with inscriptions to prove their authenticity.
‘The Mahavamsa', the best and authentic ancient history known to us gives detailed particulars of life as well as details of the life of Emperor Asoka and all other sovereigns related to Buddhist history. Indian history has also given a prominent place to the Buddha's life, activities, Buddhist traditions and customs.
The records which we can find in the Buddhist countries where people received Buddhism a few hundred years after the Buddha's passing away such as Sri Lanka, Myammar, China, Tibet, Nepal, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos show unbroken historical, cultural, religious, literary and traditional evidence that there was a religious teacher in India known as Gautama the Buddha. Many of these records are widely separated in time and space and yet they say exactly the same things about the Buddha—this proves that they could not have invented these stories independently.
The Tripitaka, an unbroken record of His 45 years of Teaching is more than sufficient to prove that the Buddha really lived in this world because no other religious leader has ever said anything like what the Buddha has taught.
The accuracy and authenticity of the Buddhist texts is supported by the fact that they provide information for historians to write Indian history during the 5th and 6th century B.C. The texts, which represent the earliest reliable written records in India , provide a profound insight into the socio-economic, cultural and political environment and conditions during the Buddha's lifetime as well as into the lives of His contemporaries, such as King Bimbisara.

The names of the places where important events occurred during the Buddha's time and which are recorded in the scriptures still exist today with slight modification in spelling and pronunciation. Examples of these are Buddha Gaya—Bodhagaya, Baranasi—Benares, Kusinara—Kusinagara, Rajagaha—Rajgiri, Lumbini—Rummini, Savatthi—Sahetmahet, Vihara— Bihar , and so on.

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Attaining Nirvana through Arahantahood is not selfish.

CERTAIN Buddhists believe that to seek salvation by becoming an Arahant is a selfish motive because everyone, they claim, must try to become a Buddha in order to save others. This particular belief has absolutely no ground in the Teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha never mentioned that He wanted to save every living being in this whole universe. He offered His help only to those who were spiritually mature and willing to accept His Noble way of life.

‘ The doors to the deathless are open!
  Let those who will hear leave wrong doctrine…'  
  ‘ Now shall I turn the Wheel of the Great Law  
  For this I go to the Kasian city, Baranasi.  
  There shall I beat the drum of deathlessness  
  In this world that is groping in the dark.'  

In the Original Teachings of the Buddha, there is no such thing as ‘saving others'. According to the method introduced by the Buddha, each and every person must make the effort to train and purify him or herself to attain his or her own salvation by following the guidance given by the Buddha.* One should not forget the following advice given by the Buddha. ‘You yourself make the effort for your salvation, the Buddhas are only Teachers who can show you how to achieve it.' (DHAMMAPADA 276)

The belief that everyone must strive to become a Buddha in order to attain salvation cannot be found in the original Teachings of the Buddha. This belief is just like asking every person to become a doctor in order to cure other people and himself of diseases. This advice is most impractical. If people want to cure themselves of their sicknesses they can get medical advice from a qualified doctor. This they can do without waiting until they are all doctors before curing themselves. Nor is there any need for each and every person to be a doctor.

Of course, those who wish to become doctors can do so. But they must have intelligence, courage and the means to study medicine. Likewise, it is not compulsory for everyone to become a Buddha to find salvation. Those who wish to become Buddhas can do so. However, they need the courage and knowledge to sacrifice their comforts and practise all kinds of renunciations in order to attain Buddhahood. Even if we are not prepared to aim for Buddha-hood, we must aim to become perfect ones, called Arahantas.

To attain Arahantahood, one has to eradicate all greed and selfishness. This implies that while relating with others, an Arahant will act with compassion and try to inspire others to go on the Path leading to Liberation. The Arahant is living proof of the good results that accrue to a person who follows the method taught by the Buddha. The attainment of Nirvana is not possible if one acts with a selfish motive. Therefore, it is baseless to say that striving to become an Arahant is a selfish act.

Buddhahood is indisputably the best and the noblest of all the three ideals (of becoming a Supreme Buddha, Silent Buddha or an Arahant). But not everyone is capable of achieving this highest ideal. Surely all scientists cannot be Einsteins and Newtons . There must be room for lesser scientists who nevertheless help the world according to their capabilities.

Arahantas also impart the Dhamma taught by the Buddha for the benefit of others to find their own salvation by following the advice given by these Arahantas.

Not only arahantas preached the Dharma taught by the Buddha. Some other disciples also preached the Dharma from time to time. One of the chief disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta, attained sotapanna, the first stage of sainthood after listening to one Buddha word from Venerable Assaji, the youngest among the first five disciples of the Buddha and later attained Arantahood by following the Buddha. Emperor Asoka who introduced Buddhism in many parts of the world became a Buddhist after listening to the Dharma from a novice monk named Nigrodha.

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A Bodhisatva is a being devoted to Enlightenment.

AS a ‘Compassionate Being', a Bodhisatva is destined to attain Buddhahood, and become a future Buddha through the cultivation of the mind.

In order to gain Supreme Enlightenment, a person practises transcendental virtues (Parami) to perfection. These Paramis are generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity. One cultivates these Parami with compassion and wisdom, without being influenced by selfish motives or self-conceit. One works for the welfare and happiness of all beings, seeking to reduce the suffering of others throughout the series of countless lives. In the journey to perfection, the person is prepared to practise these virtues, sometimes even at the cost of his or her own life.

In the Pali scriptures, the designation ‘Bodhisatva' was given to Prince Siddhartha before His Enlightenment and in His former lives. The Buddha Himself used this term when speaking of His life prior to Enlightenment. According to the Pali texts there is no mention of Buddhahood being the only way to attain the final goal of Nirvanic bliss. It was very rare for a disciple during the Buddha's time to forgo the opportunity to attain sainthood and instead declare Bodhisatvahood as his aspiration. However, there are records that some followers of the Buddha did aspire to become Bodhisatvas to gain ‘Buddhahood'.

In the Mahayana school of thought, the Bodhisatva cult however, plays an important role. The Mahayana ideal regards the Bodhisatva as a being who, having brought himself to the brink of Nirvana, voluntarily delays the acquisition of his prize so that he may return to the world to make it accessible to others. He deliberately chooses to postpone his release from Samsara in order to show the path for others to attain Nirvana.

Although Theravada Buddhists respect Bodhisatvas, they do not regard them as being in the position to enlighten or save others before their own enlightenment. Bodhisatvas are, therefore, not regarded as saviours in a spiritual sense. In order to gain their final salvation, all beings must follow the method prescribed by the Buddha and follow the example set by Him. They must also personally eradicate their mental defilements and develop all the great virtues: no one can give them salvation.

Theravada Buddhists do not subscribe to the belief that everyone must strive to become a Buddha in order to gain Nirvana. However, the word ‘Bodhi' is used to refer to the qualities of a Buddha, or Pacceka Buddha and Arahant in expressions such as Samma Sam Bodhi, Pacceka Bodhi and Savaka Bodhi. In addition, many of the Buddhas mentioned in the Mahayana school are not historical Buddhas and are therefore not given much attention by Theravada Buddhists. The notion that certain Buddhas and Bodhisatvas are waiting in Sukhavati ( Pure Land ) for those who pray to them is a notion quite foreign to the fundamental Teachings of the Buddha. Certain Bodhisatvas are said to voluntarily remain in Sukhavati, without gaining enlightenment themselves, until every living being is saved. Given the magnitude of the universe and the infinite number of beings who are enslaved by ignorance and selfish desire, this is clearly an impossible task, since there can be no end to the number of beings in the whole universe.

Must a Bodhisatva always be a Buddhist? We may find among Buddhists some self-sacrificing and ever loving Bodhisatvas. Sometimes they may not even be aware of their lofty aspiration, but they instinctively work hard to serve others and cultivate their pristine qualities. Nevertheless, Bodhisatvas are not only found among Buddhists, but possibly among the other religionists as well. The Jataka stories, which relate the previous birth stories of the Buddha, describe the families and forms of existence taken by the Bodhisatva. Sometimes He was born as an animal. It is hard to believe that He could have been born in a Buddhist family in each and every life. But no matter in what form He was born as or what family he was born into, He invariably strived hard to develop certain virtues. His aspiration to gain perfection from life to life until His final birth when He emerged as a Buddha, is the quality which clearly distinguishes a Bodhisatva from other beings. What is important here is not the label “Bodhisatva” but the great virtues common to everybody.

The belief of some people that the Bodhisatvas exist in a particular world system as some sort of divine beings is not consistent with the teaching of the Buddha. Bodhisatvas exist in any part of the world by cultivating the great virtues and precepts in order to gain enlightenment. They generally do so as human beings.

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The attainment of Buddhahood is the most difficult task that a person can achieve in existence.

BUDDHAHOOD is not reserved only for chosen people or for supernatural beings. Anyone can become a Buddha. This is unique because no founder of any other religion ever said that his followers have the opportunity or potential for the same attainment as theirs.

However, attaining Buddhahood is the most difficult task a person can achieve in this world. One must work hard by sacrificing one's worldly pleasures. One has to develop and purify one's mind from all evil thoughts in order to obtain this Enlightenment. It will take innumerable births for a person to purify and to develop the mind in order to become a Buddha. Long periods of great effort are necessary in order to complete the high qualification of this self-training. The course of this self-training which culminates in Buddhahood, includes self-discipline, self-restraint, superhuman effort, firm determination, and willingness to undergo any kind of suffering for the sake of other living beings in this world.

This clearly shows that the Buddha did not obtain supreme Enlightenment by simply praying, worshipping, or making offerings to some supernatural beings. He attained Buddhahood by the purification of His mind and heart. He gained Supreme Enlighten­ment without the influence of any external, supernatural forces but by the development of His own insight. Thus only a man who has firm determination and courage to overcome all hindrances, weaknesses and selfish desires can attain Buddhahood.

Prince Siddhartha did not attain Buddhahood overnight simply by sitting under the Bodhi tree. No supernatural being appeared and revealed anything by whispering into His ear while He was in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree. Behind His Supreme Enligh­tenment there was a long history of previous births. Many of the Jataka stories tell us how He worked hard by sacrificing His life in many previous births to attain His Supreme Buddhahood. No one can attain Buddhahood without devoting many lifetimes practising the ten perfections or Paramitas * . The great period of time needed to develop these ten perfections explains why a Supreme Buddha appears only at very long intervals of time.

Therefore, the Buddha's advice to His followers is that in order to find their salvation it is not necessary for each and every person to wait until Buddhahood is gained. Aspirants can also find their salvation by becoming Pacceka Buddhas (Silent Buddhas) or Arahantas—(Perfected Ones). Pacceka Buddhas appear in this world during the period when there is no supreme Enlightened Buddha. They are also Enlightened. Although their degree of perfection is not similar to that of the Supreme Buddha, they experience the same Nirvanic bliss. Unlike the Supreme Buddha, however, they do not preach to the masses. They lead a life of solitude.

Arahantas can also experience the same Nirvanic bliss as the Buddhas do. There is no discrimination or status in Nirvana. The only difference is that Arahantas do not have the Supreme Enligh­tenment to be able to enlighten others in the same way as the Buddhas can. Arahantas have overcome all their desires and other human weaknesses. They can appreciate the Dharma which was discovered and taught by the Buddha. They also have some ability to show others the Path to salvation.

  ‘Kiccho Buddhanam Uppado'  
  Rare is the appearance of the Buddhas.  
  * The ten virtues are mentioned in the previous section on ‘Bodhisatva'.
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The three bodies of the Buddha consist of Dharma-kaya (Truth body),
Sambhoga-kaya (Enjoyment body),
and Nirmana-kaya (Manifestation body).

IN Mahayana philosophy, the personality of the Buddha is given elaborate treatment. According to this philosophy, the Buddhas have three “bodies” ( trikaya ), or three aspects of personality: the Dharma-kaya, the Sambhoga-kaya, and the Nirmana-kaya.

After a Buddha has attained Enlightenment, He is the living embodiment of wisdom, compassion, happiness and freedom. Two thousand five hundred years ago, there was only one Buddha in the Buddhist tradition. He is the historical Sakyamuni the Buddha. However, even during His lifetime, He made the distinction between Himself as the enlightened, historical individual, on one hand, and Himself as the Embodiment of Truth, on the other. The enlightened personality was known as the ‘Rupakaya' (Form-body) or ‘Nirmana-kaya' (Manifestation-body). This was the physical body of the Buddha who was born as Siddharta Gautama among men, attained Enlightenment, preached the Dharma and attained Maha Parinirvana. The Manifestation-body or physical body of Buddhas are many and differ from one another. On the other hand, the principle of Enlightenment which is embodied in Him is known as Dharma-kaya or Truth-body. This is the essence of Buddhahood and is independent of the person realising it. ‘Dharma' in this context means ‘Ultimate Universal Truth', and does not refer to the verbal teachings which were recorded down in the scriptures. The teaching of the Buddha also emanates from this ‘Essence' or ‘Truth'. So the real, essential Buddha is Truth or the principle of Enlightenment. This idea is clearly stated in the original Pali texts of the Theravada. The Buddha told Vasettha that the Tathagata (the Buddha) was Dharma-kaya, the ‘Truth-body' or the ‘Embodiment of Truth', as well as Dharmabhuta, ‘Truth-become', that is, ‘One who has become Truth' (DIGHA NIKAYA ). On another occasion, the Buddha told Vakkali: ‘He who sees the Dharma (Truth) sees the Tathagata; he who sees the Tathagata sees the Dharma' (SAMYUTTA NIKAYA ). That is to say, the Buddha is equal to Truth, and all Buddhas are one and the same, being no different from one another in the Dharma-kaya, because Truth is one.'

In the Buddha's lifetime, both the Nirmana-kaya and the Dharma-kaya were united in Him. However, after His Parinirvana, the distinction became more pronounced, especially in Mahayana philosophy. His Manifestation-body died and after cremation was enshrined in the form of relics in stupas: His Dharma-body is eternally present.

Later, the Mahayana philosophy developed the ‘ Sambhoga-kaya', the Enjoyment of—Bliss-body. The Sambhoga-kaya can be considered as the body or aspect through which the Buddha rejoiced in the Dharma, in teaching the Truth, in leading others to the realisation of the Truth, and in enjoying the company of good, noble people. This is a selfless, pure, spiritual enjoyment, not to be confused with sensual pleasure. This ‘Enjoyment-body' or ‘Body of Bliss' is not categorically mentioned in Theravada texts although it can be appreciated without contradiction if understood in this context. In Mahayana, the Enjoyment-body of the Buddha, unlike the imper­sonal, abstract principle of the Dharma-kaya, is also represented as a person, though not a human, historical person.

Although the terms Sambhoga-kaya and Dharma-kaya found in the later Pali works come from Mahayana and semi-Mahayana works, scholars from other traditions did not show hostility towards them. Venerable Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhi Magga referred to the bodies of the Buddha thus:

‘The Buddha is possessed of a beautiful rupakaya adorned with eighty minor and thirty-two major signs of a great man, and possessed of a Dharma-kaya purified in every way and glorified by Sila, Samadhi, Pañña, full of splendour and virtue, incomparable and fully enlightened.'

Though Buddhaghosa's conception was realistic, he was not immune to the religious bias of attributing superhuman power to the Buddha. In the Atthasallini, he said that during a three months' absence of the Buddha from the physical world, when He was engaged in preaching the Abhidharma to His mother in the Tusita heaven, He created some Nimmitta-buddhas as exact replicas of Himself. These Nimmitta-buddhas could not be distinguished from the Buddha in voice, words and even the rays of light that issued forth from His body. The ‘created Buddha' could be detected only by the gods of the higher realms of existence and not by ordinary gods or men. From this description, it is clear that the early Therava­dins conceived Buddha's Rupakaya or Sambhoga-kaya as that of a human being, and His Dharma-kaya as the collection of His Dharma, that is, doctrines and disciplinary code, collectively.

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His Message - Next
Buddhist Teachings Life and Nature of the Buddha
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