Friday, December 25, 2009

The story of Buddha

I went to a Buddhist temple today. I think it is my favorite place in Singapore. The whole place was amazing, but I especially liked the garden at the very top. On the fourth floor there is a large solid gold statue in a room with solid gold tiles. It is a relic, I'm not sure of its origin but I think it might contain the tooth of Buddha.

The museum on the 3rd floor has a description of Buddha's life, as if narrated by him. For your reading pleasure, I present a transcription as complete as I could make it:

Greetings! I am the originator of Buddhism, Buddha Sakyamuni. I was born as Siddhartha Guatama in Kapilavastu, a small kingdom located in Southern Nepal today, in around 623 BC. I traveled to the human world for several decades and experienced the ups and downs in life. Amongst these encounters, the most important of all was being able to gain Enlightenment towards the path of emancipation. Hence, as I am known by all as the Buddha, which means “The Awakened One”. The Truth I have discovered is known as the Buddha Dharma. Welcome to all, who have come to learn about my life story. I hope you will be able to find some inspiration in discovering the Truth and become an awakened being, free forever, from endless sufferings.

Rebirth from the Tusita Heaven
Before I was born to this sentient world, I was Bodhisattva living in another world - the heavenly palace Tusita, for 4,000 years, waiting for my turn to become Buddha. I observed and waited till the time is ripe; when the people, time, place and my birth parents are ready for my arrival, I decided to be born into the human world to help alleviate the sufferings of all beings. My mother was Queen Mahamaya, the wife of King Suddhodana of Kapilavastu.

The Birth
Although my mother was married for many years, she remained childless. One night, she dreamt of herself becoming clothed in heavenly clothes and bedecked with divine flowers. Then, after a white six-tusked elephant holding a lotus flower in its trunk appeared and went around her three times before entering her womb on her right side. That was how I went into her womb to develop as a normal human being. It was until the eigth day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunal calendar, which is on the fifth of may, that I was born under a sala tree in Lumbini Garden. According to some legends, after I was born, I took seven steps on the ground. There after, lotus bloomed beneath my feet for every step I take. Then I said, “I am the most honored One in the world, for I will be the One who would find the way to end all sufferings in life.” Following my birth, fragrant flowers fell from the sky; nine nagas appeared and showered me with water.

Growing Up
My father gave his all to groom me into a all-rounded great ruler. He hired the best teachers to impart me the best knowledge in history, rhetoric, mathematics as well as archery, horse-riding and other martial arts. In order to prevent me from contemplating renunciation, he ordered that I was to experience nothing but the best luxuries in life, be it beautiful houses, songs and dances, women, food and clothes, which were a vast contrast with the stark realities of life. By his decree, I married Yasodhara, a princess from a neighbouring kingdom and bore a son named Rahula.

Witnessing the Pains
Despite all his painstaking efforts, I eventually turned to a different path in life upon seeing the harsh realities in life during my various excursions out of the palace. I witnessed the pains of ageing, torments incited by illness and death. These truths made me realize that no human being can ever escape from this never-ending life cycle. No longer was I capable of continuing my indulgence in the joys and goodness of life. One day, at the northern gate, I met and ascetic who enlightened me that self-cultivation was the only way for one to be liberated from the cycle of endless rebirths and sufferings. Since then, I started to have thoughts of renunciation.

After much deep contemplation, I decided to abticate my throne, renounce my weath and family in search of the Highest Truth, which would lead all beings to liberation. One night, at the age of 29, I took a last glance at my wife and son who were both deep in sleep and left the palace without a word, riding my horse Kanthaka. At dawn, when I arrived at the Anoma River, I shaved my head, put on plain robes and told my charioteer Chandaka to inform the king of my decision.

(missing piece - Buddha goes with 5 ascetics. He fasts and wears rough robes etc., renouncing worldly pleasures. He is reduced to a “bag of bones”)

Meditation under the Bodhi Tree
Eventually, I came to realize that strict asceticism should not be the path to achieve emancipation from all sufferings in life. Hence, I decided to give up this practice. I went to the riverside to cleanse myself thoroughly and accepted milk-rice offerings from Sujata, a female cow herder. The five ascetics thought that I had given up the search for the Highest Truth and thus left me. In search of my new path to understand the Highest Truth, I came before a Bodhi tree. I decided to meditate under the Bodhi and ponder on the way to achieve the true emancipation. Then I made a vow with great determination that I must find the path to liberation; else I would never leave my seat!

The Enlightenment
While I engaged myself in deep contemplation under the Bodhi tree, I finally felt as though my soul had broken through all barriers and rose to a level never felt before. My vow had created a great uproar in the heavens above, causing great disappointment and frustration for the evil king, Mara, who was out to stop me. Mara tried all evil means and ways to deflect me from the right path; he not only tried to cajole me to submission, used beautiful women to entice me and even resorted to violence. However, my sould stood firm as the mountains and eventually overcame all obstacles. After 7 days (or 49 days in some sources) of meditation, as I gazed at the star-lit night ski, I suddenly understood the cause of all sufferings and the way to release the sufferings through one’s selflessness. Then I realised that I was free from the cycle of endless rebirths in this world. From that very moment, at the age of 35, I achieved Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi and became and Enlightened One.

The First Sermon
After gaining Enlightenment, I gave my first Sermon at Mrgadava. It was historically knows as Dharma-cakra Pravartana or “the First Turning of the Dharma Wheel”. The five ascetics, who had deserted me earlier, came to listen and accept my Teachings. They sought refuge in the Buddha and became monks. From then on, I began to form my Sangha. With the presence of Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha, I paved the way to spread the Highest Truth. My devotees grew in number, reaching a record of more than 1,200 in just four years time. I broke through the caste system prevalent in the India’s tradition by reaching out to people of all classes and treating them with equality. I also created a set of rules for my devotees to follow, to guide them closely in line with my Teachings.

Spreading the Dharma
With the wish to reach out to a greater audience, I travelled around India with a group of devotees to preach the Dharma for more than 40 years. During this time, I found myself in contact with other religions, correcting some absurd fallacies, and also groomed the Ten Great Disciples including Sariputra, Mahakasyapa and Ananda. I adapted my Teachings to the audiences in accordance to the varying cultures in the places that we travelled to. These Teachings were later compiled into the widely known sutras such as The Lotus Sutra, Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra and Avatamsaka Sutra. During preaching we often experienced the presence of Buddhas from other worlds to testify the Dharma.

At the old age of 80, I know it was about time that my Dharma preaching was to come to an end. I went to Kusinagara and chose to go into the Mahaparinirvana beneath two sala trees. Before entering the state of Maharaparinirvana, I continued with my Dharma preaching, not stopping for even a second. I even managed to persuade my last disciple, Subhadra, to seek refuge in Buddha and become a monk. I also instructed my disciples to respect and abide by the rules strictly after I was gone, for the rules would be their guide and were no different from my presence. By midnight, under a solemn atmosphere and being surrounded by my disciples and devotees, I left the world to go into Mahaparinirvana, for which I am freed forever from the cycle of endless rebirths.

The Relics
After I entered Mahaparinirvana, my human body was cremated and it produced numerous relics. Apart from one tooth relic taken away by the Blessed Sakra, the lord of devas, the rest of the relics were split into eight portions, each presented to the kings of eight different kingdoms. According to some accounts approximately 200 years later, a king named Asoka was very enthusiastic and interested in spreading Buddhism. The king gathered the eight portions of relics, divided them into 84,000 portions and distributed them to numerous stuptas in his kingdom as a way to spread Buddhism. A good deed indeed!

Conclusion: The Eternal Buddha
I was consoled to know that after I had entered Nirvana, my disciples actively consolidated my Dharma, rendering my Dharma Teachings to propagate with more ease and thus benefiting more people in this world. Today, Buddhism is held in high esteem in many countries all over the world - not only in Asian countries but also in Europe and America. Three milleniums have since passed. Without a doubt, this is indeed the area where the spreading of Dharma is prevalent! The Truth, wich I have finally understood, is the helplessness of sentient beings over their own lives, and it is still the root of sufferings of mankind. But fret not! For all of you, like me, have the potential to attain Enlightenment. As long as people exist in this world, so will Buddha nature! The Buddha Dharma will thus never be outdated. Modern ideas on the Buddha and His Teachings will only illustrate how far modern people have contemplated and practiced Buddhism in their lives! in this era it is indeed the emergence of a new Buddhist culture, it is simply a new way for us to develop ourselves and achieve a breakthrough in our search of the Truth. And now, itis perhaps time for you to seek the Truth under your own Bodhi tree!"

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