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Be Positive

What the Buddha Said

By Scott Shaw

Historically, little is of absolute certainty regarding the life of the being who has become commonly referred to as, The Buddha. Throughout history, however, his life has been chronicled in legend.


Siddharta Guatama
Siddhartha Guatama, the Sakyamuni Buddha, “Buddha from the Kingdom of Sakya,” is generally agreed to have lived from 563 to 483 B.C.E. Legend states that he was a Prince who lived a very sheltered life. Upon witnessing poverty, illness, and death for the first time, he lost faith in all that was material and left behind his Royal Lifestyle, his wife, and his newborn child in pursuit of the ultimate truth of human existence.

What is historically established is that during the lifetime of The Buddha a revolution was taking place in South Asia. Iron had recently been introduced to the Indian Subcontinent from China. This led to many rapid advancements in society—agriculture was vastly improved and landscapes could be readily cultivated. No longer were the forests the daunting obstacles they had once been. Now, they could be cleared so crops could be harvested within their once impenetrable boundaries. New structures, particularly palaces, were constructed in a much more substantial fashion. And perhaps most definitive of the era, the tool of warfare were vastly improved. So much so that near the end of his life The Buddha’s own kingdom of Sakya fell to the neighboring Kingdom of Kosala. Within a century of his lifetime, the entire region of what is now Northern India and Nepal would be united as the Magadha Empire.

The prominent religion of this historic era was Vedic Brahanism. This religion can trace its roots back a thousand years prior to the life of The Buddha. Its scriptures, known as The Vedas, began to be composed in 1500 B.C.E. This religion is the basis for modern Hinduism.

The highest practitioners of this religion were the Brahmans. They were identified as the highest cast and obviously the wealthiest of this ancient society. From this, they claimed privileges not afforded to the average individual.

As formalized power, secular wealth, and religious privilege rose in this region, dissatisfaction among the populous also escalated. This gave birth to a group of ascetics who were known as Sramana. The Sramana shunned society, renounced material possessions, and became wandering holy men following an undefined path to enlightenment. This group laid the foundation for what has become more commonly known as the Sadhu. The mindset of this group, undoubtedly, influenced the path the young Siddhartha Guatama as he would ultimately follow.

The Buddha’s path to enlightenment is historically unclear. It is believed that he studied with two primary teachers, Arada Kalama, who taught Akimcanya Ayatana, “The experience of nothingness” and, Udraka Ramaputra, who taught Naiva Samjna Asamjna Ayatana, “The experience of conscious unconsciousness.”

The legend persists in China that Lao Tzu, the Great Sage who is credited as the author of The Tao Te Ching, upon becoming disheartened with Chinese society and leaving his royal post, actually entered what is modern day Nepal and also became one of The Buddha’s teachers. As romantic as the pairing of these great souls appears, there is no historic evidence to provide factual substantiation to this claim.

The Enlightenment of the Buddha
Legend states that The Buddha dissatisfied with not obtaining the ultimate understanding of life from his two teachers or following the path of a wandering holy man, sat down under a Bodhi Tree and swore he would not rise until he became enlightened. Though many legends have been written about what The Buddha experienced during this period of intensive meditation, it is known that he did, in fact, emerge an enlightened being.

The Buddha, upon his realization, gave his first enlightened discourse at what is now Bodh Gaya, near Varanasi, India. This talk is known as, “The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.”

It cannot be established, with absolute certainly, what The Buddha actually said during this discourse, however. All that is written, claiming him as the source, was done so years, and in some cases centuries, after his physical death.

The Pali Canon
The Theravada tradition of Buddhism claims that the language of the Buddha was Pali, and thus, their collections of scriptures, known as, The Pali Canon, is the most accurate. This, however, has proven to be linguistically incorrect, as Pali came into existence after the time of The Buddha—who left his body near the city of Kusinagra, when he was eighty years old.

Thus, his spoken words, though possibly initially recorded in his native dialect, most probably, Magadhi, were handed down from disciple to disciple for an undefined period before they finally found their way into scriptural form.

The Buddhist Religion
With the end of Buddha’s life came the Buddhist religion. But, The Buddha did not invent the concept of enlightenment, nor was he the first or the last, being to reach this highest level of conscious evolution. Throughout the centuries, the followers of Buddhism have come to idealize his life and his teachings to the degree that it was impossible for them to reach their own Buddhahood, due to the extensive set of parameters they have assigned to the advancement of human consciousness.

There is an elemental problem with this mindset, however. Was the Buddha a Buddhist? No, he was not. He was a Hindu. Did the Buddha ask for worship? No, he did not. In fact, legend states that when he was asked, “Are you an Avatar,” he answered, “No, just a man.” When asked, “Then, are you a Guru?” He answered, “No, just a man.”

This is the portrait of the true, perfectly enlightened teacher, who achieved the highest level of human consciousness. Yet, he did not seek admiration due to his realization.

It is the unenlightened mind of humanity that has forgotten this simple truth and chosen to make him a deity of worship and his teachings the basis for a religion. From this mindset has come centuries of Buddhist that have been unable to encounter the realms of Nirvana—solely due to the fact that they project such an orchestrated, idealized image of what enlightenment is supposed to be. This problem is amplified by the fact that many Buddhists hold fast to the belief that the teachings of their sect of Buddhism or their individual teachers hold the only great truth and the purest pathway to higher consciousness. They miss the point...

The teaching laid down by The Buddha are absent from formalized religion. Formalized religion employs ritual. Ritual, though beautiful to watch, is based in physical actions. Physical actions only leads to physical reactions. Thus, Karma is set in motion—not enlightenment.

If enlightenment is the core teaching of The Buddha and it is understood that it is possible for each individual to achieve this level of consciousness, then why do anything other than become enlightened? Arguing that my school or my teacher is the best and yours is wrong does not produce enlightenment. Only enlightenment produces enlightenment.

Be enlightened.

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