The Purnima in our lives….
The full moon night of this month (May 26, the Purnima) carries special significance in the history. This was the day when Gautama Siddhartha who was to become the Enlightened One, the Buddha— was born 2,561 years ago. This was also the day he attained enlightenment and the day he departed from this earth.
Buddha was a great social reformer and sent out a strong message of social equality, perhaps the first great historical personage to do so
By Nazarul Islam
The way of faith is always an integrated, single way. Whereas, the way of wisdom is always a highly differentiated, capricious way
The full moon night of this month (May 26, the Purnima) carries special significance in the history of the land my forefathers belonged—and of Buddhism, in particular. This was the day when Gautama Siddhartha who was to become the Enlightened One, the Buddha— was born 2,561 years ago. This was also the day he attained enlightenment and the day he departed from this earth.
What a coincidence of stars and events in the life of a person who chose to give up the luxuries of a prince and the power of the palace to enlighten the world about the meaning of suffering and the path to liberation!
As the world is caught up in the vortex of a virus and people are passing through the pains of a pandemic, tossed from the ICU of a hospital to the isolation of a room at home, seeking refuge in vaccines, ventilators and drugs, the message of Buddha comes like a balm to soothe the nerves and calm the mind. His teachings, more than ever before, seem strikingly relevant for the present troubled times.
They provide an answer to the individual suffering from disease, anxiety and fear, to the society divided by caste, color and religion, and to the ruling class torn asunder by polarized ideologies and a mad struggle for power.
According to the Buddha, everything in the world is transient, nothing endures; birth and death, growth and decay are part of the natural process. So there is no meaning in any kind of panic flight from pain and death. The root cause of suffering is desire, not the desire to live a happy and good life but the desire born of selfishness which in turn causes hatred, slander and violence.
Overcome suffering by following the ‘middle path’ (madhyamaka) which steers clear of the extremes of asceticism and sensual indulgence. This can be achieved by adopting the eight-fold path that consists of: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The middle path is the core of Buddha’s teaching and can be adopted in all walks of life. It essentially implies avoiding extremes, such as what we are witnessing today-narrow nationalism and unbridled liberalism, religious bigotry and decrying religion, obsession with a glorious past and justifying all things considered modern; in short, blind faith in what one considers right without consideration for the other’s point of view.
Buddha’s call to avoid extreme ways of practice and walk the middle way of reasonableness is the need of the hour. Buddhism inculcates a lofty system of ethics and what is enunciated in the eight-fold path is a simple yet powerful guide for all individuals including those in high places-political and business leaders, religious seers, bureaucrats and professionals.
Buddha was a great social reformer and sent out a strong message of social equality, perhaps the first great historical personage to do so – that everyone, regardless of caste, creed, gender or status had the capacity for enlightenment and translated his precept into practice.
One day, as he came across an untouchable, Nadhi, carrying excrement, conscious of his lowly status, the poor man tried to avoid the Master but the latter intercepted him and in the jostle, Nadhi fell down and the excrement spilled over. With great compassion, the Buddha not only helped him rise but exhorted him to become his disciple. He also prohibited discrimination against women.
Though initially reluctant, after being persuaded by his step-mother and his close disciple, Ananda, he admitted females into the Buddhist monastic order and even praised their attainments. And to those who ruled the kingdoms of his days, this is what the Buddha had to say: Lead others, not by violence, but by righteousness and equity.
Although Buddhism has little presence in the land of its birth, it has left a deep impact on the artistic and cultural heritage of the country through magnificent architecture, paintings and scholarly literature. The Buddha is venerated as an avatar by the Hindus and adored by all sections as a messenger of peace, love and non-violence. Buddha’s ‘doctrine of equality’ so impressed Babasaheb Ambedkar that he, along with 365000 followers, converted to Buddhism on October 14, 1956.
He also penned a book titled Buddha and the Dhamma. Interest in Buddhist teachings has revived in India with large numbers of people taking to the practice of Vipasana, a Buddhistic technique of meditation. Music lovers may be interested to know about a rock band called Dhamma Wings, consisting of five Mumbai musicians who are spreading Buddha’s teaching on equality and campaigning against the injustice of the caste system through their songs.
The influence of Buddhism beyond India’s borders has been more profound, with its wings spread across the neighboring nations of China, Japan, Tibet, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Dalai Lama (Tibet) and Thic Nat Hahn (Vietnam) are recognized as world religious leaders.
In today’s world of bitter religious and political conflicts, increasing inequalities and inequities, and unscrupulous commercial competition, the ‘middle path’ laid out by the Buddha is the only way to save mankind from the evils of hatred, vituperation and violence. The Light of Asia, as Edwin Arnold called Buddha in his poetical masterpiece of the same name, is also the Light of the World holding out the torch of hope for peace and harmony.
One of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030 is ‘Peace and Justice’. It would be appropriate for the UN to declare the birth anniversary of Buddha as the Day of the Middle Path to remind world leaders of their responsibility in moving towards its lofty goal.
Let me recall what Buddha told his disciples: Teach this triple truth to all: a generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.
Lord Buddha himself taught that basically, human nature is pure, egoless, just as the sky is by nature clear, not cloudy. Clouds come and go, but the blue sky is always there; clouds don’t alter the fundamental nature of the sky. Similarly, the human mind is fundamentally pure.
About the Author
The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.