Lecture No. 2, 8th January 2000

     Author: Venerable Dhammasami , Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, London.


      Question:    Is the Buddha God?

      Answer: No. He is not. He does not believe in God or any such mystical figure either. He was born a human, a prince to put it more exactly. He was born in the year 623 BC, some 2623 years ago in India to King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya.

      He lived a princely life for 29 years before he decided to become a monk in search of solution to problems facing human life such as anxiety, fear, worry, frustration, old age, sickness and death.

      Question:    Did he find the solution he was looking for?

      Answer: Yes, he found the answer to the problems. It is called the Middle Path, which is also known as the Noble Eightfold Path because it is a path that constitutes eight factors. If followed the Path, one becomes free from anxiety, fear, worry, frustration etc. Nevertheless, one will still get old, sick and die though. But one will never lose peace of mind in the face of such miseries and therefore enjoys peace of mind till the last breathe.

      Question   Was it revealed to him by a divine force?

      Answer: No. The Buddha did not believe in such revelation by any divine authority. He believes that the problems are human, the experiences are human and the solution also must be human. He became a buddha once he found this solution. Remember, before that he was only a prince and a monk.

      We do not need to believe what he said unless proven to be true. But we have to put it into practice to prove if his teachings are true. Indeed, the Buddha invited everybody to verify it. He was very confident, liberal, scientific and down to earth.

      Question:    How did he find out the solution?

      Answer: He First he went to the two most well known meditation masters, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. Having learned all what the first teacher could teach, he left without getting what he was seeking for. He reached the highest level of what the second teacher could offer as well. That did not satisfy him either. He than adopted an ascetic practice where he starved himself. He had already built a very strong concentration then. He became so weak that he nearly died. But this self-torturing practice did not help him find the solution either. He abandoned this practice and started to eat again. He has now gone through all the available practices and teachings only to find them belonging to one or the other extreme. He reflected on them and learned a lesson from them. The Middle Path was found. This Path is what made him enlightened at the age of 35.

      Question:    What did he do after he became enlightened?

      Answer: Since at the outset, his aim was to help people overcome suffering. He began to teach soon after he became Fully Self-Enlightened One (Buddha). But before he travelled to the Deer Park, Baranasi where his five friends were, he continued to meditate, reflect on what he had realised. In fact he spent seven more weeks in the same place where he attained enlightenment.

      Question:    What did he teach to his five friends?

      Answer: Yes. It is very interesting. Let us talk about the circumstances first. He walked there alone. It took him a few days. The five friends first agreed not to greet or look after him because they felt let down when he resumed eating while practising the ascetic practice. They knew him well because they were ministers to his father, King Suddhodana. They all were learned and very serious in spiritual value. Actually they predicted his becoming of a monk and left their job earlier to wait for him in the forest and looked after him when he practised.

      As he approached, none of them could resist greeting him because he looked very calm and it was obvious that he had achieved something very special. He then convinced them of the futility of the two extremes, self-indulgence and self-torture. They needed to be convinced more on the latter because they all believed that spiritual practice required self-torturing practice. They did not argue with him about the futility of indulging in senses as they all left their ministerial post after realising it.

      He then explained in detail how suffering is caused to repeat here and now. And of course, also the way to end suffering. Indeed he declared that there is a path and that Path has been found and each one of us has to tread that Path individually with open mind. That teaching is known as the Four Noble Truths and his teaching to his five friends became known as the First Sermon or Setting the Wheel of the Truth in Motion (Dhamma-cakka-pavattana-Sutta).

      He continued teaching till he passed away at 80. He asked all his disciples to go out in different directions and help people to overcome suffering. He also established a monastic order of monks and nuns who practise full time and then teach other people what they have practised.

      Question:    How did he teach? Did people come to stay with him in his house or monastery to learn from him?

      Answer: Well, he did not have a house. He renounced all that. He went from place to place to teach people. Sometime he talked to people on the street, sometime in the paddy field, sometime in their house, sometime in the palace. He did not keep any belonging except a bowl, three pieces of robes, a razor and a strainer. He depended on people for his meal. He took only one meal a day.

      Question:    What did he teach?

      Answer: He taught mainly the Four Noble Truths. Easily speaking, he worked for the underprivileged or so-called low caste people. He argued for them intellectually, spiritually and socially. He was against discrimination of any kind. He was the person with most concerns for women's right at that time.

      He was against violence and war for any reason. He also taught families, individuals, monks and nuns, beggars and kings. Actually most of his immediate disciples were from royal and middle class families. But that did not make his teaching confined to the elite. His teaching has a universal appeal.

      He was very good in understanding his audience that he said only what was essential. He appointed two monks and two nuns as his chief disciples. At later stage, he also came to have one attendant monk who performed the duty of his secretary as well. He did not stay in one place but kept going around to meet as many people as possible. Sometime he lived in caves, under the trees or in the forest. He was at peace all the time because he has eradicated all the elements that could disturb him mind.

      What he preached for 45 years have been collected by his immediate disciples. They got together to classify all his teachings three months after he passed away. Those teachings have been preserved and handed down mainly by the monks up to the present day.

      The teachings are his advice on individuals he met during his life time. Some are rules and regulations for the monks and nuns. Some are more difficult or longer than the others. They reflect not only the nature of a live teaching but also the intellectual standard of the listener.

      They cover from meditation to family ethic, values on economic, politics, social norms and analysis of the mind. They are now available in many volumes of books or even in CDs. They have been translated into more than ten languges.

     Venerable Dhammasami

    Related articles for further reading selected by the Course Organiser:

  1. The Life of the Buddha, From "The Teachings of the Buddha", Ministry of Religious Affairs, Myanmar, 1997 ,
  2. What is Buddhism, by Venerable Ashin Thitilla, 1985,
  3. Why Do We Study Buddhism?by Dr. Tin Htut, Sheffield, UK, 1999.

(Next Week: "Tipitaka: the Buddha's Teachings")

8th January 2000