Buddha: Greatest religious teacher

Only once in his life, said Rabindranath Tagore, did he feel like prostrating himself before an image, and that was when he saw the Buddha at Gaya.  Through the mighty pen of Tagore, his homage to the Buddha, the living image of Indian culture in Java, Bali, Siam, Burma, Japan, China, and other places abroad, has been eternal, undimmed by the lapse of time.

On the occasion of his visit to the famous Borobudur temple in Java, Tagore observes: “Man today has no peace, his heart arid with pride; He clamours for an ever-increasing speed in a fury of chase, for objects that ceaselessly run, but never reach a meaning.
“And now is the time when he must come groping at last to the sacred silence, which stands still in the midst of surging centuries of noise, till he feels assured that in an immeasurable love dwells the final meaning of freedom, whose prayer is: ‘Let Buddha be my refuge.’”

Tagore observes: “The spread of industry, science, commerce and imperial power was never as prominent in this country as it was during the rise and under the influence of Buddhism.”  Therefore, it is quite natural that Tagore should have great reverence for the Buddha who is the source of inspiration for such immense power.

The festival of Buddha Purnima falls on the full moon day of the fourth lunar month, in the month of Vaishakha (May). Though it is celebrated mainly as the birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, it is on this particular day that he attained Bodhi (Enlightenment) on the banks of the river Niranjana, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, under a pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), which has since been called the Bodhi Tree.

He also attained Mahaparinirvana at Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh on Vaishakha Purnima. That is why it is called a thrice-sacred day or ‘triple blessed festival’. Siddhartha’s wife Yashodhara, his charioteer Channa, his disciple Ananda, his horse Kantaka and the Bodhi Tree under which he received Enlightenment were all born on the same day.

Buddha was a unique being. He was the profoundest of thinkers, the best of speakers, the most energetic of workers, the most successful of reformers, the most compassionate and tolerant of teachers, the most efficient of administrators, and above all - the holiest of holies.

On one occasion, while the Buddha was residing in a forest, he took a handful of leaves and said: “O Bhikkhus, what I have taught you is comparable to the leaves in my hand, what I have not taught you is comparable to the number of leaves in the forest.”
Daily, he preached his doctrine to both the Sangha (ordained disciples) and the laity. In the forenoon, he would go in search of individuals who needed his advice. Immediately after his noon meal, he would exhort and instruct his ordained disciples. In the evening, he would preach the lay folk who flocked to hear him.

Absolute purity
During the first watch of the night, he would again preach his ordained disciples. Thro-ughout the middle watch, he would receive the devas and other invisible beings and explain the doctrine to them. Practising what he preached, he worked incessantly for
45 long years for the good and happiness of all to his last moment.

The most notable characteristic of the Buddha was his absolute purity and perfect holiness. He was so pure and so holy that he should be called “The Holiest of Holies.” He was the perfect model of all the virtues he preached. His life had not a stain upon it.

On no occasion did Buddha manifest any moral weakness. Everybody who came in contact with him acknowledged his indisputable greatness and was deeply influenced by his magnetic personality.

His will, wisdom, compassion, service, renunciation, perfect purity, exemplary personal life, the blameless methods that were employed to propagate the Dhamma, and his final success – all these factors have contributed to hail the Buddha as the greatest religious teacher.

Hindus honour him as an incarnation of Vishnu. Christians have canonised him as Saint Joshaphat. Muslims regard him as a spiritual teacher. Rationalists treat him as a great free-thinker. H G Wells, the distinguished thinker, assigned to him the first place amongst the seven great men in the world. Tagore called him the greatest man ever born.

(The writer is Head of Department of History, Maharani’s Arts College, Bengaluru)

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