Unfolding The Knot Of Darkness

The 6th century B.C. ushered in an era of intellectual upheaval and was, indeed a turning  point in the religious history of mankind. In China, we had Lao Tzu and Confucius; in Greece Parmenides; in Iran, Zarathustra; in India, Mahavira and the Buddha.

Buddha, the light of Asia, occupies a peculiar place among the greatest men of the world. Buddha was born around 563 B.C. when his mother Mahamaya was traveling from Kapilvastu her parents home in Devdaha to have her first child. On the way, the queen gave birth to a son in Lumbini (Nepal) in a grove between two Saal (Shorea robasta) trees. The queen died after a week and the prince was brought up by his step mother Mahaprajapati Gautami. The child was called Siddhartha, meaning “The one whose purpose has been fulfilled.”

There is no precise account of Lord Buddha’s life, but texts give parts of the life story interwoven with historical matter as well as colourful legends. The legend tells us that a prophecy was made by Astrologers that the prince would be either a monarch or a great ascetic. King Suddhodan observed his spiritual inclinations and tried his best to protect the young prince from worldly suffering. At the age of sixteen, Siddharth was married to Yashodhara, a lady from an aristocratic family of the Koliyas. They had a son named Rahul. Siddhartha led a life of comfort and luxury, but material comforts never satisfied him. He had a very meditative nature.

The prince went one day with a charioteer for an excursion from his palace and saw an old man, a sick man and a dead body followed by a recluse. This completely changed his thinking. Prince Siddhartha resolved to gain freedom from old age, sickness and death. The sight of the recluse, healthy in body, cheerful in mind, without any discomfort of life, impressed the prince. He decided to renounce the world and devote himself to discovering find solutions to the problem of suffering. One night he left his palace for the forest; he was 29 at the time. He subjected himself to severe ascetic torture for 6 years in Bodh Gaya. He had enjoyed the richest life of sensuous pleasures. Now, he witnessed the other extreme of life. He ultimately realized the folly of self-torture and resumed eating and sleeping in moderation. At that time, he accepted rice pudding offered by Sujata and thus he gave up his ascetic practices. He gained bodily health and mental vigor. He spent seven weeks under the shade of the Peepal tree (ficus religiosa) later known as Bodhi tree resolving to enter the perfect enlightenment (Sammasambodhi) through meditation. At the age of thirty five, sitting in a state of the deepest and most profound meditation on full moon day of Vaisakha (April-May) he entered the blissful state of Nirvana: Enlightenments: the state of desirelessness: Samyak Sambodhi: Buddhatva.

After the enlightenment, he came to Sarnath,, known in Buddhist literature as Rishipattana and Mrigadava. In this ancient seat of learning, Buddha preached his first sermon about the four noble truths to the five ascetics who had earlier left him in despair. The first sermon is called “The discourse on the turning of the wheel of law” (Ddharma-Chakra Pravartan Sutra). Buddha propounded the four noble truths (Arya Satya) viz,. suffering (Dukha), cause of suffering (Dukha Samudaya), cessation of suffering (Dukha Nirodh), and the path to eliminate suffering (Dukh Nirodhgami Patipada).

Life is full of misery and pain. Suffering is inherent in the very nature of things. All beings are subject to decay, disease,and death. Even pleasures and worldly happiness lead one to sorrow because they are transitory. The Buddha admits that there are different forms of happiness but they are impermanent, full of suffering and subject to change. Therefore, the Buddha is realistic when he says “Every thing is Dukha. O Monks! Suffering is the noble truth: birth is sufferin;, decay is sufferin;, illness is suffering; death is suffering; separation from the desired object is sufferin;, and not obtaining one’s desire is suffering”.

The cause of suffering is our craving. There is nothing in this world which is produced without any cause or condition. All the states of the mind and matter are being conditionally produced by other states of mind and they are conditionally produced by still others and thus the process, the wheel of becoming (Bhava Chakra) moves on. Thus things are interdependent, relative and conditional.

There are twelve constituents in the law of conditionality:

1)    Ignorance.

2)    Conditioned by ignorance comes (Karma formation) predispositions.

3)    Conditioned by “Karma formation” comes consciousness.

4)    Conditioned by consciousness comes mental and physical states.

5)    Conditioned by mental and physical states comes six mental and physical faculties.

6)    Conditioned by six mental and physical faculties comes contact with the object.

7)    Conditioned by contact with the object comes sensation.

8)    Conditioned by sensation comes grasping.

9)    Conditioned by thirst comes grasping.

10)    Conditioned by grasping comes process of becoming.

11)    Conditioned by process of becoming comes birth.

12)    Conditioned by birth comes death.

Thus, there are twelve connecting factors or spokes in the wheel of becoming (Bhavachakra). The conditional process goes on for ever till a person enters Nirvana.

The cessation of suffering is called ‘Nirvana’ beyond description. It is not a negative condition but a positive one an unconditioned state realized by mind, to eliminate suffering, one must eliminate its cause. Nirvana is nothing but elimination of craving. It is a placid state of mind, a place of liberation,an end to suffering,a sence of supreme joy, supreme tranquility, an end to the cycle of birth and death .

How can Nirvana be attained? By the fourth noble truth, the noble eight fold path. It is also called the middle path by which the wayfarer avoids two extremes. He neither follows the path of self mortification nor that of self-indulgence. Buddha has shown the path for removal of suffering. The noble eightfold path is an ethical path which when followed can removen and attain libration. The noble eightfold path consists of eight steps which are : (1) Right view. (2) Right resolution, (3) Right speech, (4) Right action (5) Right livelihood, (6) Right effort, (7) Right mindfulness and (8) Right concentration.

The first step is the right view. Rid yourself of all superstitions and animism. Give up your faith in the cruel animal sacrifice, in the inequality of human beings in the existence of a creator of the universe and depend on your own powers of pure reasoning. This is possible when the mind is free from all obsessions and impurities; this is achieved through ethical conduct and mental culture.

Right mental resolution is the foundation of all great achievements provided it is based on the right view. Right thought means the thought of renunciation, detachment, compassion, love and nonviolence. Words free from lies, anger, abuse and slander are the right speech which is followed by right action. Right action is refraining from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. It aims at promoting moral, honorable and peaceful conduct of a person.

Right livelihood is the product of right action. Wrong means of livelihood is doing those which cause suffering to others e.g. trading in weapons, living beings, intoxicants or poisonous articles.

Right effort consists in strenuous efforts by a person to raise his/her own mental and moral being. One should first give up one’s bad habits, keep oneself free from evil tendencies and promote the good qualities that one may have acquired already.

Right mindfulness means becoming constantly aware and mindful of activities of the body, sensations, mental states and ideas etc.Through right mindfulness man gains self-control and becomes self-possessed.One achieves a state of self-mastery.

The last step in the middle path is right concentration, the fixing of mental faculties on a single object. This ability is useful not only for mental uplifting but it is essential in all pursuits, whether they are scientific, literary, artistic or religious.

The noble eightfold path is a practical way shown by the Buddha for a tensionless, tranquil and peaceful life. It is the path of self purification. The essence of the path has been put in one verse by Buddha. “Abstinence from all evils, fulfillment of all good, purification of one’s mind.”

Thus in the Deer-park of Sarnath, Buddha proclaimed his Dhamma and unfolded the knot of darkness.

Lord Buddha and Human Welfare

Whenever there is mention of human welfare, Lord Buddha will be taken as its synonym. It is well known that once when he went around the city on royal chariot, he came across an old man, a sick man, a dead body, and an  ascetic. The scene agitated his heart. All previous beliefs, instructions, and visions vanished. And then was born a new Siddhartha. The world, death, birth, afflictions, old age, separation from the loved one, and unpleasant all are sorrows. On one hand, the mankind has been trying to get rid of these sorrows, on the other it has taken them as destiny. Buddha said, “Man himself is responsible for his sorrows”. There is nothing in the world which is without cause.Every mental state is born of other mental states and is still so caused by others. And thus the process of creation, i.e., Bhav Chakra (wheel of becoming) is ever active. Things are interdependent, relative and sanskarita. This is known in Buddhist literature as the law of “pratitya samutpada” i.e., if there is sorrow there is also its cause, elimination and control through the following of the ” Eightfold noble path” (ashtangika arya marga). It means right view, right resolution, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The correct vision resulting from realization of reality destroys the false vision. Following this eightfold path the suffering mankind may achieve a peaceful and tension free life. This is the path of self purification which is summarized by Buddha as :
” Sabba papassa akarnam, kusalassa upa sampada
Sacitta pariyodapanam, etam Buddhanusasanam”.
(“Abstinence from all evils, fulfillment of all good, purification of one’s mind.” is actually Buddha’s preaching.”)
The  end of sorrow is Nirvana which is indescribable. The elimination of the cause of sorrow is the end of suffering. Nirvana is nothing but absence of desire (trisna). It is calm mental state, liberation, end of sorrows, supreme bliss, supreme peace and termination of the worldly cycle (bhava-chakra).
In  renouncing worldly life, the lord was leading a life of apassion, (vitaragi) in the forest of Urubela. He lived the austere life of an ascetic.  Performing many experiments on himself, he finally reached the conclusion that we should keep away from extremes. He said, “Neither keep lute (vina) strings so loose that musical notes do not come, nor tighten them so much that they snap.” He was a scientist. Buddhist philosophy is based on reason and science the great scientist Einstein said, “If there is any scientist religion in the world it is Buddhism and its middle path liberty goal to adjust the rules of time and place; to establish room for logic and its verification; to eliminate devoid of superstitions and ostentations. It is standing upright on solid foundation of science.”  This is why many thinkers and philosophers like Dr. Ambedkar, Rahul Sankrityayana, Anand Koushalyaya consider it relevant for human welfare; modern India has embraced it.
Buddha is the only visionary whose religion is humancentric. His first principle is man’s duty to others.It has nothing to do with soul and soul. The world is full of sorrow and the aim of religion is to eliminate it. Other than this, there is s nothing. Buddhism declares man as master and controller; on the other hand, it tries to make man superior by extolling good conduct.Remember in Buddhism, good conduct has the same place as God or Allah in other religions. Man’s welfare require observance of “panchasila”; this is manadatory.
1.  Refrain from killing leaving beings.
2.  Refrain from stealing.
3.   Refrain from sexual misconduct.
4.   Refrain from telling a lie.
5.   Refrain from taking intoxicant.
These things distinguish Buddha and his religion from others. Buddhism neither makes man god nor demon, high or low. It makes all equal !!
Equal are all, neither slave nor master.
In this respect, Buddhism is an invention, a discovery that human life is a state of serious study and complete understanding of human instincts along with those tendencies giving birth to human history which may become the cause of his destruction. Buddha merely shows the path, he does not bestow liberation. Each has to work for his own liberation..Buddha never claimed that he was infallible. Every one has right to ask, test, and observe if one is on the noble path or not. He never declared any one as his successor. Religion alone is his successor.
He challenged the prevailing system. Man is just man. There can’t be any caste. Merit on basis of birth is outright wrong. Following culture of action instead of culture of birth is the only way for human welfare. He denied yajna, havana, sacrifice, puja and physical mortification.
He preached, “Be thy own lamp.” Eliminate your sorrow with your own efforts that you have verified on your own. What is required is to make all improper things proper in life. Every one is born with potentiality of enlightenment. One should try to work for enlightenment. Buddha is unique in all the world civilizations,because he gives so much importance to man. The basis of religion is that which is natural in life and events governed by natural laws.
When we think honestly, we realize that human welfare is only possible when our life is governed by correct prajna (wisdom), Samadhi and shila. The sorrows of the ignorant have a beginning but no end. So long as humanity consider others as the cause of its sorrow and worships and waits for some liberator its sorrow will increase. Buddha in renouncing his royal privilege presented a path for mankind to ponder; since then , man has been to secure its welfare. How can there be any path superior to it.
One may question whether there has been exploitation of man in other religions and by other leaders. Buddha with great courage exposed evils in name of religion and said that unrighteous religion has to be renounced. Unrighteousness has been centered on the innocent and illiterate in religions for ages. Buddha was the great warrior who raised his voice against it. He also spoke about the limits of religion. Religion is not an end in itself but a means to reach the end. Man is not for religion but religion is for man. Buddha compared religion to using a raft to cross a river and then leaving it; it is not to be used and abandoned. It is a secret means to reach a sacred end.
The whole world bows its head before Sakya, Muni, Gautam Buddha who showed the path of friendship, love, and sympathy for human welfare.
Homage to him the exalted one, the blessed one, the fully enlightened  one

Sarnath : The Land of the Enlightened One

Dear Children!

On vacation you go with your parents to some tourist place. Our country has many such places where not only we go but numerous foreign tourists go also.

Children! Tourism fosters our cultural and natural heritage and this keeps them viable. This keeps our cultural tradition dynamic and free from stagnation. It develops our society, culture and mind. When we travel to different places, meet different people and their cultures, it broadens our minds, breaking down the walls of caste,creed and regions. It helps us realize the aphorism ” vasudhaiva kutumbakam”, the world is a family widening our horizon. It helps multifarious development of our personality.

Sarnath is a unique tourist place attracting many tourists. Buddhists from all over come to see their sacred place, where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon to his five disciples. Its old name was Mrigadava, i.e.” the forest of deer”. According to Buddhist literature, flocks of deer roamed, protected by the king of Kashi. Living at Sarnath, Buddha crossing the Varuna would walk down to Kashi to beg. Here Buddha established his first Sangha with Yash , son of a wealthy merchant of Kashi, his 54 friends and pachavargiya; monks he sent them to different places to spread Buddhism. The first Sangha was formed in Sarnath.

There are ancient archaeological remain here; stupa, museum, the Saraganath temple of Shiva, and many temples built by different Buddhist countries are worth visiting. After witnessing the large scale killing of people in Kalinga battle of 3 B.C, Emperor Ashoka vowed to renounce war and became a follower of Buddha. He built Dharma Rajika Stupa, the lion capital, and many memorials. According to chinese traveler Fa-Hien there were two stupas and four monasteries here. The glory of Sarnath continued till the reign of Kumargupta and Skandgupta. In the seventh century, during the reign of king Harsha, Huen Tsang visited Sarnath. According to him many monks lived here. There was a 61 meter high temple with a beautiful idol of Buddha. The Queen of Kannauj Kumar Devi was a Buddhist and built the Dharma Chakra Jin Vihara in 12th century.

The Modern world came to know of Sarnath in 1794 when Raja Chet Singh’s Divan Babu Jagat Singh demolished the Dharmarajika Stupa in search of construction material and used it to build the locality of Jagatganj in Benaras City. Inside the Stupa was a casket containing Buddha’s corporal relics. Col. Machenzie and later is 1936, Mr. Alexander Cunningham excavated the spot.

On the left and the right of the present remains are two viharas; a little further on north is the Dharmarajika Stupa built by Ashoka. Now, only its foundation remains. Inside it were Buddha’s relics. It was renovated many times. The two famous statues of Buddha were found here. One a huge statue of Budhisatva from the Kaniska period and the other of Buddha in “dharma charka pravartan” posture, the best in Sarnath. Now they are kept in the museum here.

About 20 meters north to the Stupa was the main temple, the Mulgandh Kuti Temple where Buddha would meditate. The grandeur of the temple can be imagined by the ruins around it and breath of the walls.   Near the southern wall is a vedika of the Maurya period built by Ashoka,it is carved out of a single stone. It is still shining; a characteristic of Ashokan period art. In the east is a long courtyard extending upto the Dhamekh stupa; it is full of small and big holy stupas and chaityas. To the west is the pillar of Ashoka, now broken in pieces. The pillar is inscribed with a royal edict, saying “if a monk or a nun causes dissension in the sangha, he/she will be condemned and banished”, forced to wear a white cloth. The pillar also contains writings from Kushan and Gupta period. On the east of the vast courtyard is the round Stupa called Dhamak or Dharmachakra; the Stupa is covered on all sides with ornamental stone slabs containing swastikas, floral fetters and different figures. Gupta artisans excelled in ornamentations with lines and creepers.

Cunningham excavated at the centre of the stupa and found an ancient remain in it. According to scholars perhaps Buddha delivered his first sermon here. Its grand ornamentation shows its importance among buildings here and people venerated it as the religious body of Buddha.

Coming out of the southern main gate from the ruins , one comes across the famous lion capital of Ashok which was a part of the pillar. It is now our national emblem. The four lions on it facing four direction are symbolic of lord Buddha looking in every direction. At the top is a wheel with 32 spokes whose broken remains are extinct. Four animals at the base are between four dharma charkas. Our national flag containing religious wheel with 24 spokes is this.

On the right side is the huge image of Bodhisatva established by Tripitakacharya  Bhikshu Bal of Mathura during the reign of kanishka where Lord Buddha would walk. In the north gallery we can see a most beautiful image of Buddha in “dharm charka pravartan” mudra, a unique work of art from the prospective of iconography, aesthetics, and history; it has been lauded by the art critic, A.K.Coomarswamy. Also, there are many statues and edicts ranging from the 3th century B.C. to the 12th century B.C;in the museum you can study with the help of museum officers or recognized guides.

The present Mulgandh kuti vihar temple built in 1931 is the centre of attraction for tourists; it has an image of the Lord, a replica of the famous Gupta period statues. Below the image are physical remains of the Lord found in Takshashila and Gunter. Every year on the full moon day of kartika (October-November) and Vaishakh (May) one may have holy sight of them. The frescoes on the temples walls painted by the Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu are attractive and depict different episodes from the Lord’s life.

In the east near the temple in the holy bow (Boddhi) tree. The branches of the peepal tree beneath which Siddhartha received enlightenment were planted at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka by the daughter of Ashoka Sanghamitra, to propagate Buddhism. In 1931 to promote Buddhism, the reverent Anagarika Dhamma Pal of Sri Lanka planted branches of the tree here.

Dear Children! The Buddhists from Thailand, Burma, Srilanka, Korea, China, Japan and Tibat etc,. have build several beautiful temples and viharas  here. You must visit them. And don’t miss the animals and birds here moving freely.

Every year on “Vaishakh purnima” many programs about Buddha’s birth anniversary are scheduced; you can learn much about Buddhist culture. Sarnath is the holiest place for Buddhists in the entire world.