Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Basic Bhuddhism: The Buddha's Life

North of Central India and of the kingdom of Oude, near the borders of Nepaul, there reigned, at the end of the seventh century before Christ, a wise and good king, in his capital city, Kapilavastu. He was one of the last of the great Solar race, celebrated in the ancient epics of India. His wife, named Maya because of her great beauty, became the mother of a prince, who was named Siddârtha, and afterward known as the Buddha. She died seven days after his birth, and the child was brought up by his maternal aunt. The young prince distinguished himself by his personal and intellectual qualities, but still more by his early piety. It appears from the laws of Manu that it was not unusual, in the earliest periods of Brahmanism, for those seeking a superior piety to turn hermits, and to live alone in the forest, engaged in acts of prayer, meditation, abstinence, and the study of the Vedas. This practice, however, seems to have been confined to the Brahmans. It was, therefore, a grief to the king, when his son, in the flower of his youth and highly accomplished in every kingly faculty of body and mind, began to turn his thoughts toward the life of an anchorite. In fact, the young Siddârtha seems to have gone through that deep experience out of which the great prophets of mankind have always been born. The evils of the world pressed on his heart and brain; the very air seemed full of mortality; all things were passing away. Was anything permanent? anything stable? Nothing but truth; only the absolute, eternal law of things. "Let me see that," said he, "and I can give lasting peace to mankind. Then shall I become their deliverer." So, in opposition to the strong entreaties of his father, wife, and friends, he left the palace one night, and exchanged the position of a prince for that of a mendicant. "I will never return to the palace," said he, "till I have attained to the sight of the divine law, and so become Buddha."

He first visited the Brahmans, and listened to their doctrines, but found no satisfaction therein. The wisest among them could not teach him true peace,—that profound inward rest, which was already called Nirvana. He was twenty-nine years old. Although disapproving of the Brahmanic austerities as an end, he practised them during six years, in order to subdue the senses. He then became satisfied that the path to perfection did not lie that way. He therefore resumed his former diet and a more comfortable mode of life, and so lost many disciples who had been attracted by his amazing austerity. Alone in his hermitage, he came at last to that solid conviction, that KNOWLEDGE never to be shaken, of the laws of things, which had seemed to him the only foundation of a truly free life. The spot where, after a week of constant meditation, he at last arrived at this beatific vision, became one of the most sacred places in India. He was seated under a tree, his face to the east, not having moved for a day and night, when he attained the triple science, which was to rescue mankind from its woes. Twelve hundred years after the death of the Buddha, a Chinese pilgrim was shown what then passed for the sacred tree. It was surrounded by high brick walls, with an opening to the east, and near it stood many topes and monasteries. In the opinion of M. Saint-Hilaire, these ruins, and the locality of the tree, may yet be rediscovered. The spot deserves to be sought for, since there began a movement which has, on the whole, been a source of happiness and improvement to immense multitudes of human beings, during twenty-four centuries.

Having attained this inward certainty of vision, he decided to teach the world his truth. He knew well what it would bring him,—what opposition, insult, neglect, scorn. But he thought of three classes of men: those who were already on the way to the truth, and did not need him; those who were fixed in error, and whom he could not help; and the poor doubters, uncertain of their way. It was to help these last, the doubters, that the Buddha went forth to preach. On his way to the holy city of India, Benares, a serious difficulty arrested him at the Ganges, namely, his having no money to pay the boatman for his passage. At Benares he made his first converts, "turning the wheel of the law" for the first time. His discourses are contained in the sacred books of the Buddhists. He converted great numbers, his father among the rest, but met with fierce opposition from the Hindoo Scribes and Pharisees, the leading Brahmans. So he lived and taught, and died at the age of eighty years.

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