Taking Refuge in the Buddha: From Darkness to Light
He said "Conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity. Conquer dishonesty with truth.” It is his glorious teachings and attempts to ignite mankind in the light of self–control, self–discipline and self-realization, along with contentment and enlightenment, that we still respect him and remember his philosophy. In this world of violence, hatred and destructive materialism and selfishness, the essence of his wisdom seems all the more relevant. He is the Buddha, the enlightened one.
More than two thousand five hundred years ago, his appearance and subsequent messages for mankind created a radical change in the thought process and mental horizon of people not only in India but worldwide. His Birth Anniversary on the Full Moon Day of Vaishakh is celebrated as Buddha Purnima. This auspicious day has other significance being the date of his attainment of enlightenment as well as the end of his mortal life. Hence, this day has a special significance for all the followers and devotees of the Buddha. This year, Buddha Purnima is on May 5. We pay our respect to his values and wisdom which is like a ray of light in the darkness of mundane thoughts and self-centered life. Not only the followers of Buddhism, but everyone irrespective of their religion remembers the great thinker on this day.
Buddha was born as Siddhārtha Gautama in Lumbini, now in Nepal. His father was King Suddhodana, the head of the Shakya clan in the state of Kosala and his mother was Queen Maya Devi. She died seven days after giving birth to Gautama Buddha. He got the lavish and prosperous upbringing of a prince and got married to Princess Yashodhara, the daughter of Koliya king Suppabuddha and Queen Amitha. They had a son named Rahula.
One day, while he was on a chariot ride in the city, he saw an old and handicapped man by the roadside. Again on another day, he witnessed a sick man and a dead body being carried to the funeral ground. Feeling highly distressed by the sufferings caused by old age, physical handicaps, death and other disasters, he decided to leave home and set on a search for truth. Hence, at the age of 29, he left his royal life and the palace and initiated a spiritual pursuit, looking for enlightenment and finding a path to put an end to human suffering. This was the turning point of his life, the beginning of a new life outside the protection of the palace and setting out on a journey towards self-realization.
Gautama’s journey through the lengths and breadths of India, his knowledge and wisdom and attainment of ‘Nirvana’ and becoming the Buddha have taught us the essence of a meaningful life and the great value of peace, morality and truth. After wandering through many places and experiencing suffering, he reached Bodh Gaya, where he sat under a tree. After forty-nine days of meditation, on the full moon of May, he finally attained nirvana, the state of permanence and became the Buddha “One who is Enlightened.” Henceforth, his teachings have shown us the path of true life. He was an extraordinary human being, who revealed a way of achieving true wisdom, compassion and freedom from suffering and taught us the immense value of peace, non-violence and tolerance which is especially significant in today’s complex and hostile era.
The four noble truths of suffering as said by the Buddha are
- Dukkha or the universal truth of suffering.
Everyone goes through some sort of suffering.
- Samudaya or the reason behind the suffering.
The cause of suffering is our desire.
- Nirodha or the end of suffering.
It is possible to get rid of suffering and achieve Nirvana.
- Magga or the middle path for achieving Nirvana.
It is the middle way that will help us in achieving enlightenment.
The middle way is a practical approach that is not very difficult to follow and is relevant for one and all. It tells us to avoid any kind of extremes like the path of extreme luxury and indulgence as well as extreme suffering and pain and follow a path that is a combination of both. This is the middle way that is simple and easy to follow.
Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path also teaches us the right approach to life, these include:
- Right View means we should see things as they are, not as we wish them to be.
- Right Thought means we should think about things in a realistic way.
- Right Speech means speaking the truth and always preventing lies.
- Right Action means doing the right thing and not committing any crime, following violence etc.
- Right Livelihood refers to earning a livelihood in a truthful and honest way, without hurting or cheating anyone.
- Right Effort means taking the right action and following the path of truthfulness.
- Right Mindfulness means being aware and awake and focusing on a good life.
- Right Concentration is also concerned with focus and meditation to get freedom from pain and suffering.
Not only enlightenment, but Buddha’s teachings also help us in anger management too. He said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” We can easily understand the evils of anger from this saying. He also said, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” These quotes teach us the significance of kindness and compassion and love for all.
Buddha has taught us many lessons of life wisely through various instances of life which are now narrated as stories. These stories are based on daily life and its activities that teach us important lessons about life.
One story is about a conflict between people living on both sides of a river. They used the river water for their different kinds of businesses and other activities. Once a dispute arose between the people of both sides regarding the usage of water, wherein people of each side accused the other of over-usage of river water. Disagreements became hostile and they were up in arms, killing people. Buddha called the people from both sides and asked what they wanted to do. The aggressive crowd answered that they will not spare the opponents, hence continuing to shed blood and create a river of blood. Buddha answered that all of them are violent and revengeful against each other. However, it is not blood that is required for their livelihoods. They only need water. Buddha taught them that violence will only bring more violence and not solve their problem. They should learn from the river that selflessly gives water to all. We all can understand the uselessness of violence from this story.
Another story about Kisa Gotami teaches us the ultimate lesson about death being an inevitable part of life. Kisa Gotami had a son, who died a premature death. She was so sad at the death of her baby boy that nobody could console her. Then someone asked her to go to the Buddha for magic. She went there and begged for her son’s life. Buddha saw the grief-stricken mother and told her that he can bring her son back to life. She has to bring mustard seeds from a household that never lost any member of the family. She looked for such a household but never found one. Every household lost some of the members of their family to death. All of them had gone through the pain of separation from their loved ones due to their demise. Then she came back to Buddha empty-handed as she realized that death is an inevitable part of life. This simple yet meaningful story tells us the ultimate and inevitable truth of life, that is death and the pain related to the death of near ones.
Such simple stories and priceless lessons of Buddha have enriched us in countless ways. Contemporary times of unrest and violence need to look at the significance of his teachings for a better and peaceful world, devoid of violence and suffering.
Buddha taught us the essence of self-realization, morality and meditation to become free from suffering and also better human beings. Buddha also showed us the way of courage and truth and living an ethical life free from fear. He said "The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed."
Let us be truthful and express our utmost gratitude to one of the greatest thinkers of the world, Gautama Buddha, not only on Buddha Purnima but also in our daily lives.