Almost all Indians, who have been to school, grow up with a fair and firm knowledge of the bare facts of the Buddha's life and the essential features of his teachings. So well is the chapter on the Buddha in our history book taught, or more to the point, so well is this chapter examined, that these details remain with us, long after practically everything else in our text books has been forgotten.
We all know that Sidharth was a prince of the Shakya clan. That his father was the powerful Suddhodana and his mother the beautiful Maya. We know that the prince was born in the garden at Lumbini, while Maya was on her way from Kapilavastu to her parents' home for the childbirth. A wise sage Asita predicted that the little boy would grow up either to be a very powerful king, or after renouncing the world, a great teacher. To pre-empt the second possibility, Suddhodana kept the young prince cloistered in a beautiful palace and provided him with all the pleasures of the world.
Bored by the idleness of his life, Sidhartha asked his attendant, Channa, to drive him through the city. Three excursions came in quick succession and on these three excursions he saw three sights which were to influence the course of his life and fulfill the second part of the sage's prophecy.
First he saw an old man, bent with age, shuffling painfully along the road. Then he saw an ill man, sickened and decayed by the ravages of disease, and, finally, he saw the corpse of a dead man being readied for funeral.
The inevitability of old age, disease and death, which the Prince had never been exposed to before, left him shattered. How could you pursue a life of pleasure without coming to terms with this dreadful knowledge? He pondered long and deep over this question. Suddhodhana, worried at his sons distraction, arranged his marriage with Yashoda, who in due course had a son, Rahul.
Despite now being a householder, Gautam Sidharth was not at peace with himself There were many questions that he. needed answers to and he could not find these answers while living in the palace. In the quiet of the night, he abandoned all worldly possessions, all earthly attachments, and stole away from the palace.
For fourteen years he wandered from place to place and finally, after fourteen years, he found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Gaya and preached his first sermon at Sarnath, near Benaras.
We also learn from our history book that Buddha's teachings consisted primarily of the four truths and the eight fold path. The four truths are:
1. All is suffering
2. The origins of suffering lie m thirst or attachment.
3. To achieve cessation of suffering we must contain the craving or thrust of attachment.
4. To achieve this cessation of suffering we must follow the eight fold path.
The eight fold path consisted of the following steps:
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Conduct
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
What our history books do not teach strongly enough for us to remember, is that by the time of the second council, a hundred years after the Buddha's death, all his teachings had been set down in the Tipitaka or Three Baskets' of the Pali Canon. These consisted of forty-five volumes containing teachings to all kinds of people.
The three baskets were:
1. The Sutta Pitaka consisting of five collections of sermons delivered by the Buddha.
2. The Vinayaka Pitaka, the book of monastic disciplines which codifies the rules of the order.
3. The Abhidhama Pitaka which deals with philosophical and doctrinal analysis.
Sometimes the teachings took the form of a simple statement in a few words, sometimes the form of long discourses. Sometimes the teachings were in the form of explanations in abstract terms, sometimes they used beautiful illustrations speaking of trees, flowers, the sun and the moon and ordinary human life. Sometimes the teachings told stories by way of illustration of particular percepts.
The second of the five collections of sermons which comprise the Sutta Pitaka is the Khuddaka-Nikaya, which is a collection of minor works, including popular texts like the Dhammapada, an anthology of the Buddha's epigrams and short poems.
It is from the Dhammapada that the present selection of 101 quotations is drawn; a miniscule selection from a minor portion of the vast body of Buddha's teachings, which has fascinated the world for centuries and in the present context is drawing an ever increasing number of followers, even from the west.
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