Interesting and Surprising Facts about the Buddha and his Teachings

12 Mar

The Buddha was the first thinker in known history to teach the doctrine of human equality and social freedom amongst all humans. Society should be open to all, regardless of caste, color, or class. No caste, class, or race privileges existed among his lay followers or in the Order of the Sangha that he founded. Instead, social classes and castes are nothing but functional divisions of society, man-made, subject to change and resulting from social and historical factors. Any social doctrine based on the alleged superiority of a caste, class, or race, and advocating to keep it dominant by the use of force, will lead to the perpetuation of social tensions and conflict, and never bring about harmony and equality. The Buddha’s doctrine of equality means each person should be treated equally with dignity, and given an equal chance to develop their inherent potentials of economic, moral and spiritual progress, and of human perfection. Also, the Buddha was the first who attempted to abolish slavery, which included the traffic in, and the sale of, females for commercial purposes. In fact, this is a prohibited trade for his followers.

A man named Dighajanu once visited the Buddha and said, ‘Venerable Sir, we are ordinary laymen, leading a family life with wife and children. Would the Blessed One teach us some doctrines which will be conducive to our happiness in this world and hereafter?’ In a large number of his discourses, the Buddha has given practical guidance for the lay life and sound advice to cope with life’s difficulties. The Buddha identified four traits conducive to lay happiness (Pali: sukha) in this life: hard-working (uṭṭhāna-sampadā), being skilled and diligent in one’s livelihood; vigilance (ārakkha-sampadā), protecting one’s wealth from theft and disaster; virtuous friendship (kalyāṇa-mittatā), associating with and emulating those who are learned, generous, virtuous, wise, who will help one along the right path away; and, balanced living (sama-jīvikatā), abstaining from drunkenness, gambling and unwholesome friendships and behaviors.While accepting material comforts, Buddhism always lays great stress on the development of the moral and spiritual character for a happy, peaceful and contented life as well as society.

Buddhism teaches ‘The Middle Way’ because it avoids the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.
For six years the, to be, Buddha fervently followed a path of self-mortification, yet it led, not to higher wisdom and enlightenment, but only to physical weakness and the deterioration of his mental faculties. Ascetic Gotama then thought of another path to enlightenment, one which balanced proper care of the body with sustained contemplation and deep investigation. He would later call this path “the Middle Way”. He had experienced both extremes, the former as a prince and the latter as an ascetic, and he knew they were ultimately dead ends. To follow the middle way, however, he realized he would first have to regain his strength. Thus, he gave up his practice of austerities and resumed taking nutritious food. Later, He became Awakened and The Noble Buddha.

The name bhikkhuni refers to a fully ordained Buddhist nun i.e. a woman who has taken higher ordination (upasampada) in the Buddhist monastic community. Bhikkhunis live a simple life, equal to that of a bhikkhu or monk. In fact, all the monks and nuns are equal as the disciples of the Buddha. The order of nuns was established lastly, after the Bhikkhu Sangha, and the communities of laymen and laywomen. Ananda asked the Buddha, “Lord Buddha, can women attain enlightenment?” The Buddha said to him, “Ananda, yes of course they can.” He said, “If they can, why don’t you allow them to join the Sangha, learning and practicing directly?’ Because of practical considerations, it took some time and persuasion for the Bhikkhuni Sangha to be established by the Buddha, but thanks to Maha Pajapati-Gotami and Ananda’s support it came to be.

In Buddhism, actions are not termed ‘sinful’ but unskilful or unwholesome. Buddhists do regard humans as sinful or ‘evil’ by nature but the wicked person is ignorant, foolish and immature. They need instruction most of all, more than punishment and condemnation. The Buddha has encouraged us to develop and use our highest understandings through responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Our suffering is not handed down by the Gods, instead, it is created by our not understanding the great principles of life: Life is impermanent, continuously changing and interrelated; there is No-Self and there is Suffering in life. As our Enlightened teacher, The Buddha advised us on how to lead a pure life and achieve the attainment of nibbana.

The Buddha did not encourage the use of magic, charms or fortune telling to improve our lives. They have no spiritual significance or value. It is only through our Right Understanding, Right Effort and Right Practice that we advance.

In the Kalamas Sutta, the Buddha said, ‘Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.’  Many honest seekers today, like the Kalamas, of the Truth become confused and worried by the many conflicting and inconsistent sects and theologies that are pronounced daily by so many people calling themselves the ‘light to follow’. The Buddha provided a simple and direct test to guide us to know the truth of his teaching: trust yourself, your own experience, and through your experience of the correct teachings which you have found to be reliable and insightful – follow and use. Those people who are “the wise” will teach with the plan that you will see the benefit for yourself through your experience and transformation and not through blind faith and, therefore, you don’t become a slave to their wisdom, instead, you use your reason, your common sense, and your own experience as the ultimate guide and confirmation. So you develop insights for yourself ultimately. While you can benefit from reading books and listening to teachers, etc, your true reliance is upon your real understanding created through the real work that must ultimately be done in transforming and purifying our individual mind. In the end you know for yourself the confirmation of the Buddha’s teachings – there is suffering and the ending of suffering- and this is the only authority needed or desirable.

The Buddha spoke of “beginningless time” and how there is no beginning. The Buddha said that “there is no first beginning, no first beginning is knowable.” (Samyutta Nikaya 15.1-2) This implies that certainly at even the most basic level of existence, everything is made of the same atoms and cosmic ‘stuff’ and we see exclusion and separation only made by our minds.

The Buddha gave to all a practical method (Eighfold Path) for the development of the mind and heart for the shaping of our lives to eventually achieve Awakening or Enlightenment. He did not teach theology or doctrinal orthodoxy. The Buddha understood that all religious doctrines and theology are human inventions built up by the particular authors out of their own mentalities and foisted on people’s minds from the outside. Instead, The Buddha was the teacher who gave the lessons and, if we so want, we are the ones who practice sincerely what he taught and thereby develop our own insights and knowledge of especially the primary Three Universal Truths of Impermanence, No-Self and the existence of Suffering. In Buddhism this is entirely a matter that each individual has to settle for him/herself. But if one makes the effort sincerely- the benefits appear immediately.

Emperor Asoka (304–232 BCE) was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent  from c. 268 to 232 BCE. He [propagated the relatively new doctrine of Buddhism to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt. He made Buddhism his state religion around 260 BC. He built thousands of Stupas and Viharas for Buddhist followers. The Stupas of Sanchi are world famous and the Stupa named Sanchi Stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka. During the remaining portion of Ashoka’s reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (Ahimsa). Even the unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of Animals was immediately abolished. Everyone became protected by the king’s law against sport Hunting and branding. Limited Hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but Ashoka also promoted the concept of vegetarianism. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study, and water transit and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics and Caste. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies. He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for Animals and renovating major roads throughout India. After this transformation, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka, the follower of Dharma. Ashoka defined the main principles of Dharma (Dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and Generosity towards all.

Buddhism teaches that the two qualities-wisdom with compassion—are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, where there is true wisdom there is compassion, where there is true compassion there is wisdom. This teaching develops positive cooperative relationships among all people and with sentient beings. It is a teaching for a peaceful, fruitful world and enlightened personal mentality.

Buddhism is concerned with how anyone, male or female, can follow a definite path of mental culture and development to have that same realization. In his own lifetime, The Buddha saw many of his followers realize Enlightenment. After his death, and down through the centuries, thousands have experienced the awakened state – and not only monks. Buddhism is a teaching that explains how realization can be acquired in one’s life – here and now.

The Greeks had a story of a handsome young man named Narcissus who went to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image or illusion. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, later he fell in the water and drowned. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance.
The Buddha, before the Greeks, warned of the suffering caused by a belief and love of the illusion of a self. The Greek story is a nice exposition on this ignorance and the dire consequences of it. The Buddha taught the doctrine of Anatta or no-self.

Sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, the first representations of the physical Buddha were developed. These were absent from earlier Buddhist art, which preferred to represent the Buddha with symbols such as the stupa, the Bodhi tree, the empty seat, the wheel, or the footprints. The Buddha never encouraged statues or artistic representations of himself when he was living. The physical Buddha image like the standing Buddha in the photo was inspired by the sculptural styles of Hellenistic Greek influence.

When some people hear Buddhists say that ‘The World is an Illusion’ they think that means everything in the world is unreal, an illusion. This is a misunderstanding. The Buddha taught that the external environment is ‘real’ but our understanding of it is filtered through our senses, expectations, identities, and memories so our mental construction of the world is an illusion in that we believe that to be the ‘real’ reality but it isn’t – it is like a magic show. To be Awakened is to see beyond the tricks of the magician.

The Doctrine of Karma or Kamma is not a mystical force and does not entail fatalism. Instead, it is a natural phenomenon, like gravity. Our thoughts create consequences inside our mind which we then act on. The doctrine refers to our intentional mental actions- our volitions. What we are now is determined by our thoughts and actions in the past and what we do next, in the future, is determined by our thoughts and actions in the present. Therefore, our kamma has the potential to continuously change depending on our development of our thoughts and actions. The Buddha was very clear in teaching the Noble Eightfold Path that we can definitely transform the quality of our mind and action for the better and ultimately achieve Enlightenment. So Karma does not mean that we have a fixed destiny across lifetimes that we must passively accept or that bad or good things happen only because of our past actions.

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