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Gautama Buddha: Light of Asia

Gautama Buddha is called the light of Asia; because he was the most enlightened man of Asia and gave light to the whole world. He was a great teacher who came near to revolutionising the religious thought and feeling of all Asia.

Gautama Buddha taught his disciples at Benaras in India about the same time that Isiah was prophesying among the Jews in Babylon and Heraclitus was carrying on his speculative inquiries into the nature of things at Ephesus. All these men were contemporaries in the sixth century B.C., but unaware of one another.

The sixth century B.C. was indeed one of the most remarkable in all History. Everywhere men’s minds were displaying a new boldness. Everywhere they were waking up to traditions of kingships and priests and blood sacrifices and asking the most penetrating questions. It is as if the race had reached a stage of adolescence after a childhood of twenty thousand years.

Siddhartha Gautama was the son of an aristocratic family which ruled a small kingdom on the Himalayan slopes – King Sudhodhana of Kapilavastu. He married a beautiful cousin and they hada son also. But it did not satisfy him. He could think beyond his years.

The sight of three scenes – a funeral procession, a diseased man, and a Sannyasi, changed his life altogether. He realized– Life is full of pain and unhappiness. Cessation of desire is the solution of all sorrows of life.

So, he left this materialistic world and joined an ascetic life. After extreme penance he became enlightened and became ‘Buddha’.

The starting question of his teaching was: Why am I not completely happy? It is an introspective question. Man with desire is unhappy. All that is not eternal is painful. Gautama Buddha came to realise that desire is the root cause of sufferings. So, to get away from the desire is the holistic solution of the problem. There are three kinds of desires:

  • The first is the desire of the appetites, greed and all forms of sensuousness.
  • The second is the desire for a personal and egotistic immortality.
  • The third is the craving for personal success, worldliness, avarice and the like. All these forms of desires have to be overcome to escape from the distresses of life. And when desires are overcome, when the self has vanished altogether, then the serenity of soul, Nirvana is attained. ‘Nirvana’ is the SummumBonnum of Buddhism. It is the highest good. This was the gist of his teaching, a very subtle and metaphysical teaching indeed. Buddha’s last words are:

“Subject to decay are compound things; strive for the earnest”.

There was a widespread belief in India at that time that at long intervals wisdom come to earth and is incarnate in some chosen person, who is known as Buddha. Gautam’s disciples declared that he was a Buddha. But we don’t know whether Gautama accepted it or not.

If Nirvana was difficult, then the eight-fold path is simple. In this, there is mental uprightness, right aims and speech, right conduct, and honest livelihood. There is an acceleration of conscience and an appeal to generous and self-forgetful ends.

If Gautama Buddha was the ‘Light of Asia’, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka was the most enlightened ruler of Asia. Ashoka did a yeoman service for the spread of Buddhism in India and abroad. After the Kalinga war – King Ashoka was struckwith remorse having seen the horrors of war. He became a reformed person – Dharmashoka. Ashoka accepted the ideals of Gautama Buddha in its entire entirety.

There is popular lore that when Gautama was begging in a village, a boy poured a handful of dust into Buddha’s begging bowl. Gautama Buddha did not mind; he blessed the child saying that in the next birth this boy would be a king who will propagate my religion. And this boy became King Ashoka in the next birth.

Ashoka made vast benefactions to the Buddhist teaching order and tried to stimulate them to a better and more energetic criticism of their own accumulated literature. Missionaries went from Ashoka to Kashmir, to Persia, to Ceylon and Alexandria. Ashoka left no stone unturned in propagating the religion of the great Master – Gautama Buddha.

In this world nobody is infallible. Everybody is fallible. So was Gautama. Brahmins were opposed to the frank and open teaching of Buddha. In the Sanskrit Ramayana, Gautama Buddha has been referred to as a thief. Because Buddha’s teachings are akin to Sankhya philosophy of Hindu religion, which was already there. So Buddha has stolen.

            “Yatha hi chaura, Sahtatha Budhah Tathagatah”.

In the land of its origin, Buddhism lost its ground and was almost extinct. Buddha was accommodated into Hinduism. Shankaracharya was called a ‘Prachhanna Buddha’ (concealed Buddhist). Buddha was accepted as one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu.

            “Nindasi Yajnavidherahaham Srutijatam

                        Sadaya Hridaya darshita pasughatam

            Kesabadhrita Buddha Sarira

                        Jay Jagadisha Hare”              (Gita Govinda)

But it cannot be denied that Gautama Buddha is the ‘Light of Asia’ and Edwin Arnold’s poem ‘The light of Asia’ eulogize this Master for a long time to come.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a Freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

( (Images from the net)

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