Buddha and His Teachings
This is the story of the only man in the world who left his kingdom to search for truth and wisdom and then spent rest of his life to teach people how to reduce or eliminate pain and suffering and died with a complete satisfaction and peace.
Siddhartha Gautama who is famous in the world by the name of Buddha was born in 563 B.C. in the part of India that is modern day Nepal. He died at the age of 80 in 483 B.C.
Even though people of every religion consider their founder of the religion or prophet the greatest man on earth but what respect and praise Buddha and his teachings receive from people of all religions and especially in the developed world, is unmatched.
We will first discuss conditions in India before and at the time of birth of Buddha and then about his life and teachings.
India had already been the center of one great civilization along the Indus Valley that came to an end around 1700 B.C. when it was invaded by mighty warriors who came originally from Europe and then settled in Iranian area. They called themselves Aryans which meant noble. By 1000 B.C., they became at home in India and wrote their religious books called Vedas in their language Sanskrit.
In his book Buddha Life and Thoughts that was first published in 1942, before creation of Pakistan, Dr. Muhammad Hafeez Sayed writes:
Invading Aryans were like a never ending storm for India that altered its loving and peaceful civilization and cultivated seeds of violence and cruelty. Through their poetry of revenge and wars, they made a culture of killing people on the basis of politics and religion an integral part of this society. They made attitudes of revenge and putting people down and fascist ideas of white and black, tall and short, local and non-local, and martial race part of our blood. Hinduism grew in this land under the influence of these views and leaders of Hinduism never forgot superiority of Aryans. You can see Aryans superiority in Hindu religion and all religions influenced by Hinduism in one form or anther. Even you can see the same Aryan superiority in Muslims of India throughout the history.
Here I would like to mention that perhaps it was the same Aryan superiority complex that encouraged Muslims of India to name their new country Pakistan, i.e., the place of pure people.
Dr. Hafeez Sayed writes later:
Brahmans wrote their religions books Vedas in a language that was foreign to local population. They treated local mother languages as languages of animals and then made Sanskrit the language of education and law. This is the same linguistic tradition you later find in Indian Muslims who made Arabic and Farsi the languages of education and law and treated local languages less respectable and incomplete. It was beginning of Brahmanism that was founded in our motherland on cruelty and favoritism. The time from 1000 B.C to 500 B.C was a time of fighting and unrest.
In his lecture on Buddha, Professor Rufus Fears writes that at the time of birth of Buddha, India was divided into a number if smaller kingdoms and republics. It was an age of wealthy merchants who grew up in the prosperity of India with no thoughts other than just making money, a greedy society not unlike our own.
Other sources also say that it was a time of turmoil. A few people were very rich but most of them were very poor. Brahmans involved people in too many rituals through which they extracted money from people. Every occasion such as birth, death and wedding, required rituals by Brahmans and payments of money.
Siddhartha Gautama’s father was a king and he was his heir. It is said that his mother was having difficulty in conceiving a baby. One day she saw in her dream that a white elephant enters her body and she became pregnant. Buddha was born without any pain to his mother and started talking and walking right after his birth. His mother died shortly after and he was raised by his aunt (sister of his mother) who his father married after the death of his mother.
It was professed that either Buddha will become a great king or a holy man. Obviously, his father wanted him to become a great king so he raised him inside the palace and did not let him go outside to the world. He was raised to become a king. Everything was available including good food, music and beautiful women to the Prince. He also got married. But he was getting more and more interested in seeing the outside world.
His father finally allowed him to go to see the outside world but did not want him to see bad things. But Buddha soon sees a very weak and old man and asked his charioteer what is that? The charioteer said that is an old man. Buddha asked why he is like that way. His charioteer replies that we all get that way. Everybody turns into an old man or woman like that. He then sees a person who was terribly deformed with a disease. He then sees a dead body and finds out that everyone will have to die one day. Now Buddha realizes that his own life inside the palace is actually an artificial life and not a real life.
Another time, he sees a man running around in the nude. At that time, people started asking what is the meaning of life. It was not something that was simply given to you by God. It is something you must search for. In Buddha’s time, there were numerous wandering wise men. The word for them was beggars. They had left behind all of their worldly goods. They took whatever was offered to them to eat. Many of them went through the most terrible mortification of the body, but all of them were searching for what is the meaning of life and all of them were seeking in their own way to escape from the wheel of life.
They believed deeply in the idea of Karma—every act large or small, you take has consequences. You will be held responsible for it. If you do evil deeds, you will be re-born as an animal or insect. If you do good things, you may come back as a soul so devoted to learning that you will become a wandering wise man, a beggar, and may be ultimately find the truth that will liberate your soul and free you forever.
When Buddha saw that wise man, he thought that you can have a life of contentment in this world that is full of sufferings. He decided to search for truth by becoming a holy man. One night when everyone was sleeping, he went up and looked his wife and little boy one more time and then left and joined those who were wandering in the search of wisdom. He was 29 at that time.
He followed that search for several years. Initially he also thought that the only way to find wisdom was to subject his body to the most severe discipline; that was the standard way of a wandering holy man. So he went without food for days or ate very little—until he became so thin that his ribs almost stuck to his backbone. One day people thought he was dead. When a girl said he was dead, he gave a little bit of sign of life and she took pity on him and forced him to accept some milk and rice pudding, and his life was saved.
At that time, it came to Buddha that mortifying your body was just as bad as overindulging it. The first wisdom that came to him was that of moderation, a middle way and choosing what is appropriate for you.
He then decided that he would sit under a tree until he achieved wisdom. It came to him after six years of thoughts and wandering, what he called the four noble truths. The first of these is life is suffering. Even if we are happy now, we will be unhappy when things will end that are keeping us happy now. The second truth was that our desires make us suffer. Our desires lead us into an action that may be harmful to us or others. The third truth is that we can reduce or eliminate our suffering by eliminating our desires or stop wanting things. How do you stop wanting things? That was the fourth noble truth. You can eliminate your desires by following Buddha eightfold pathway.
First you need right view followed by right intent. (That is for achieving wisdom.) You need right speech, right action, and right means of earning a living. (These are for your ethical conduct.) You need right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. (These are for mental development.)
Teachings of Buddha focus on living a practical life and not on destination. He taught people not to lie, steal, get angry, jealous, envy, deceive, talk behind people backs, bad talks, self praise, etc. In his religion, you cannot harm any living creators intentionally or unintentionally. He forbids you to have certain livelihood such as butcher, making weapons of war and producing and selling of alcoholic beverages and poison. You cannot buy or sell slaves either. He taught parents to raise their children to become honest and taught children to respect their parents and perform household chores. He taught students to respect their teachers and teachers to teach them with love and patience. He taught husband and wife their rights and duties, how to treat a friend, and also how an employer should treat his servants. He asked employers to use their servants no more than their strengths and abilities and pay them reasonably and give them vacation some time.
Buddha was very against Brahmanism rituals and dividing people in sects. He accepted everyone as his student regardless of their sect.
For monks, he has tougher rules. They cannot have worldly possession except a few things such as clothing, begging bowl, and razor. They can only eat what people give them. They cannot accept gold or silver and cannot use money. His teachers are supposed to spend most of their free time in meditation. For example, in Love Meditation, they are supposed to concentrate how to eliminate pain and suffering from the world. They are supposed to fill their hearts with love of all creatures and care about happiness of everyone in the world.
Buddha did not deny existence of Gods. But he thought they were also subject to life, death and rebirth like other creatures and had no effect or influence in this world. He did not believe in a soul but believed in rebirth.
His famous and important teaching was that there are three things that are roots of all evil deeds in the world: Greed, Hate and Delusion. These three things are like poison for people and like fire in which all people are burning. And you need to do some efforts to get rid of them.
This teaching of Buddha is still as credible today as it was 2500 years ago. Can we think of any evil deed that is not a result of any of these three things? These were behind all major wars in which millions of people died. When Hitler started World War II by declaring German race a superior race, it was his delusion. When the Church fought Crusades or each other for over one hundred years, it was their delusion. Similarly, when a Muslim kills another Muslim because he is not a good Muslim or kills someone because of his believes, that is his delusion.
To eliminate delusion, Buddha told people. Don’t believe just because you hear something, or it is a tradition, sounds reasonable, written in Scriptures, or your teacher told you. You need to evaluate everything yourself before you accept it.
Buddha thought that one big reason for suffering and delusion is ignorance. That is why a man needs to learn and search for wisdom throughout his life. There is a story of a young woman whose son died. She was crying and going to everyone to do something for his son. People told her that your son is already dead and we cannot do anything about it. Someone suggested her to go to Buddha and he might do something. . Buddha said to her that he would help her but first she needs to bring some mustard seeds. But she needs to bring those mustard seeds from a home where no one has died. The woman goes from home to home but does not find a home where no one died. She then realizes that death is a reality that every person and every home has to face. She buried her son and become a student of Buddha.
Buddha last teachings to his students are simply a work of a brilliant and man of great vision. He said: Everything is transitory. All things good or bad will end one day. Buddhism will also end one day. So [do not follow me] workout your salvation with diligence.
Professor Fears says about Buddha that for 45 years he preached and taught, converting thousands of thousands to his way and died at the age of 80 as he had lived those 45 years in the complete peace of knowing the meaning of his life. He had come for a purpose and he had taught that purpose, but above all he had achieved complete peace with himself. His message of peach and nonviolence spread [without any wars] to Asia, Japan, China, Korea, Burma and Thailand and fundamentally transformed these nations and their cultures.
In the days of my childhood, there was a beggar who used to come every Thursday and stops at every house and would say loud: “Peace for all and blessings for all. Peace for him who gives and peace for him who does not give.” That was the message of Buddha without claiming of any special status or divine authority and a secret available to anyone to live a life of peace and contentment.
- Buddha Life and Thoughts by Dr. Muhammad Hafeez Sayed [First published in 1942 in Urdu]
- The World was Never the Same: Events that Changed History by Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D. (Produced by The Great Courses company)
- Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition by Professor Grant Hardy, Ph.D. (Produced by The Great Courses company)
Muslims, Buddhists, and Worship of Oneself
(At the end, I want to say something about what is happening in Burma today.)
About 820 years ago, in 1193, a Muslim invader Bakhtiyar Khilji burnt the first and largest University of Malanda that had 9 million unique books. He also killed thousands of innocent and harmless monks. Similarly, the first Muslim King of India Qutb ud din and his generals destroyed shrines of Buddhism and killed monks in different places and played a vital role in almost eliminating Buddhism from India, its birthplace.
Today, Buddhists in Burma with the support of government and monks are killing thousands of innocent and poor Muslim minority, including women and children even though their religion forbids to even kill an insect.
It does not matter if people call themselves a Muslim or Buddhist, or Christian, Hindu, Jew or an atheist. It seems, in reality a man only worships himself and is a slave of his own self or nature.