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Sunday, 15 May 2011

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The 2600th anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment:

Three great events in Buddha's life

In an impermanent world filled with greed, jealousy, violence, destruction, poverty, suffering, misery and death, the Buddha, the Enlightened One showed mankind the path to a new world of light, peace and contentment. His great teachings, the heart of which embodies the Four Noble Truths: Dukkha or suffering, the origin or cause of suffering, the end or cessation of suffering and the path which leads to the cessation of all sufferings,is like balm to the restless human mind and soul. Today millions the world over treasure the princely gift the Buddha gave to the world following His Enlightenment which is commemorated on Vesak Poya Day annually.

Vesak Poya Day which is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar however, is not significant only as the day Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment. It is a Thrice Blessed Day because it commemorates the Birth, Enlightenment and Mahaparinibbhana of the Buddha, the spiritual leader of the majority of people in our country and many others abroad.

Most of you must be familiar with the stories surrounding these three great religious events in the life of the Buddha but let us reflect on these events as the Buddhists prepare to celebrate this significant day in just two day's time... Lumbini is the place where Prince Siddhartha was born in 624 B.C. It is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in modern Nepal. In the Buddha's time, Lumbini was a beautiful garden full of green and shady sal trees. The garden and its tranquil (calm) environs were owned by both the Shakya and Koliya clans. King Suddhodana was of the Shakya dynasty belonging to the Kshatriya or the warrior caste. It is said that his wife Queen Maya Devi, gave birth to their child, the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha on her way to her parent's home in Devadaha while taking rest in Lumbini under a sal tree in the month of May. According to the Tripitaka, which is recognised by scholars as the earliest existing record of the Buddha's life and discourses,He immediately walked, spoke, and was received by Brahma.

Worried by the prediction that Prince Siddhartha would either become a great universal monarch or a Buddha - a supremely enlightened teacher,His father took pains to shelter his son from misery and anything else that might influence him towards the religious life.

He was protected from the miseries of aging, sickness and death. However, at the age of 29 he wanted to see more of the world and started to travel. In successive trips, he saw an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. Since he had never seen these, his charioteer had to explain what they were to him. Finally, Prince Siddhartha saw a dignified hermit. He was highly impressed with the peaceful appearance. He was curious to find out how the hermit could be so serene in the midst of such suffering and decided to go into the world to discover it.

He opened his heart to his father and said, he wanted to go out into the world.

Grief-stricken at the idea of losing his son, the king doubled the guard around the walls and increased the pleasures and distractions within. From his marriage to Yasodhara he had a son who was named Rahula. The birth of his son evoked in him much tenderness but he was disillusioned with life and wanted to go into the world in search of the truth.

His mind made up, Prince Siddhartha secretly left the palace on the day Rahula was born, casting one last look at his wife and new born son, to become a wandering ascetic. It was the beginning of his search for nirvana, the highest level of enlightenment. He mounted his horse Kantaka and rode off accompanied by his equerry Channa. At the city gates Siddhartha turned over his horse to Channa, then he cut off his hair, gave up his sumptuous robes, and entered a hermitage where the Brahmins accepted him as a disciple. Siddhartha had now and forever disappeared. He became the monk Gautama, or as he is still called, Sakyamuni, the ascetic of the Sakyas.

For many years Gautama studied the doctrines until, having felt the need to learn more elsewhere, he travelled and fasted. His two teachers had showed him how to reach very deep states of meditation (samadhi). This did not, however, lead to a sense of true knowledge or peace, and the practice of deep meditation was abandoned in favour of a life of extreme asceticism which he shared with five companions. But again, after six years of self-mortification, Siddhartha felt he had failed to achieve true insight and rejected such practices as dangerous and useless. Resolved to continue his quest, Siddharta made his way to a deer park at Isipatana, near present day Benares.

Here he sat beneath a tree meditating on death and rebirth and resolved not to rise until he had attained the Supreme Enlightenment.It was here that Siddhartha attained a knowledge of the way things really are; it was through this knowledge that he acquired the title Buddha (meaning "awakened one"). After fighting off Mara, an evil spirit who tempted him with worldly comforts and desires, Siddhartha reached Enlightenment, becoming a Buddha at the age of 35.

This awakening was achieved during a night of meditation, which passed through various stages as the illumination that Gautama had sought slowly welled up in his heart.

When day came, Gautama had attained perfect illumination, and had become a Buddha. The rays emanating from his body shone to the boundaries of space. He stayed in meditation for seven more days, and then for four more weeks he stayed by the tree.

The Gautama Buddha then travelled to the deer park near Benares, India, where he gave his first sermon and outlined the basic doctrines of Buddhism.

For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught and gathered disciples to his Sangha, or community of monks until His Parinibbana which took place at the age 80.

Facts and pix: Courtesy Internet

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