Sunday May 27, 2018

The Birth of ‘The Awakened One’: Is Buddhism a part of the Vedantic thought process?

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By Gaurav Sharma

India has eternally served the world with an oceanic infinitude of religious doctrines and postulations in order to bridge the fissures of boundaries which have been created by the puny mind of man.

While superficially it may appear that such a multitude of religious credos amplify the fault lines between men, such a notion is akin to thinking that different opinions and views are pernicious to the health of a democracy.

The current of history is replete with epochs that marked a departure from the customary thoughts and prevalent mode of living, specifically, when they reached the nadir of degraded existence.

And this is also true for the genesis of Buddism.

The Birth of ‘The Awakened One’

Buddha, also known as ‘Shakyamuni’ or Gautama Buddha, literally translates as ‘The Awakened One’. He is thought to have been born between the 6th and 4th century BCE, a time when the people of India, although following the Vedas in the namesake, had deviated from the true goal of Vedic philosophy.

Ritualistic ceremonies and rites for material pleasures had become prominent. Animal sacrifices, which form an important edict of the early Vedic schools, had reached a flash-point of unscrupulous meat eating.

More importantly, the Vedic scriptures had been usurped while becoming the sole preserve of the priestly class or the brahmanas, who had eschewed the essential tenet of non-violence and consequently become like degraded dirt.

To revitalize the decaying morality of individuals, Buddha propounded one of the most basic yet critical precepts of Dhammapada: “All beings fear death and pain, life is dear to all; therefore the wise man will not kill or cause anything to be killed.”

By rejecting the Vedic rituals, Buddha saved the people and the animals from the barbaric onslaught of the corrupt and degenerate priests.

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Confounding Conundrums

The crown jewel of the the Vedanta–Srimad Bhagavatam declares boldly: “In the beginning of the age of Kali, the Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear in the province of Gaya as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, to bewilder those who are always envious of the devotees of the Lord.”

On the contrary, Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in Lumbini, Nepal, and his mother was Queen Mahamaya. By making such a statement, the revered Hindu scripture clearly appears to be at odds with framework of history.

A deeper scrutiny into the life of Buddha suggests otherwise and, indeed verifies the claims of the scripture.

Siddhartha became the Buddha after he attained spiritual enlightenment during his meditation under the Bodhi tree in Gaya.

Furthermore, Siddhartha’s mother, Queen Mahamaya, died several days after Siddhartha’s birth, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, Anjana.

Buddhists, however, staunchly denounce the claim that Buddha was an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Conversely, they cite it as a concerted attempt by Hindus to stem the flow of Buddhism.

In the metaphysical realm, Buddhism, with its emphasis on ‘non-self’ or non-belief in the existence of the soul and God embraces and espouses Shunyata– the void or nothingness that is the essence of everything to which we must return.

This stands in stark opposition to the propositions of the Vedas which clearly accept the existence of a Supreme controller and, in fact, seek to reestablish the link between God and man.

While the Buddha unequivocally refused to discuss how the world was created or what was existence in Nirvana, the Vedas contain vivid descriptions of the spiritual world and the creation of its counterpart.

Demystifying the Riddle

While the distinctions might seem to be the only visible commonality amongst the two fraternal religions, there are striking parallels where the tide of humanistic Buddhist teachings congregate with the profound spiritual wisdom of the Vedas.

The Buddhist conception of arahant is synonymous with the Hindu brahmin. The Dhammapada states: “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.”

Treading on similar lines, the Bhagavad Gita elucidates a set of qualities that fine-tunes the Buddhist concept of Brahmin with the Vedic conception.

Both Krishna and Buddha define purity as a state of mind and reject birth as a determinant of ones spiritual progress.

Within the Buddhist tradition Nirvana–release from the cycle of birth and death is attained when the ‘three fires’ of raga, dvesha and moha–passion, aversion and ignorance are extinguished.

Nirvana bears a striking resemblance to the Hindu concept of Moksha, which is also achieved by transcending the three modes of ignorance, passion and goodness.

Even the means of breaking the shackles of suffering or the fetters of Karma bear a staggering similitude.

The Noble Eightfold Path–the system of eight steps propounded by the Buddha for progressing towards Nirvana are nothing but mere offshoots of yama and niyama–a set of basic do’s and don’ts as mentioned by the Hatha-Yoga of Patanjali.

The pali term jhana or zen used by Buddhists is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyan–to meditate. Both propose the cultivation of insight to prevent the oscillations of the mind.

In his fascinating odyssey of enlightenment, Buddha denied the existence of God. Yet, paradoxically, he was tempted by Mara– the Evil One, with many pleasures in an effort to make him relinquish his quest. Mara can easily be visualized as Yamaraj–the Hindu God who doles out punishments for ‘sinful’ activity.

The mesmerising correlations do not end there. In the Vayu Purana Daksha calls Shiva–the God in charge of the mode of ignorance–as Buddha.

The fragrant essence of the teachings of  the Buddha– Look inward: Thou art Buddha, is a euphemism for the ambrosial Vedantic aphorism:

Tat Tvam Asi–Thou are That.

 

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  • Great subject! I wish the writer wrote in a simpler language that caters to an average online reader, instead of long, complicated sentences such as “oceanic infinitude of religious doctrines and postulations in order to bridge the fissures of boundaries which have been created by the puny mind of man”.

  • Great subject! I wish the writer wrote in a simpler language that caters to an average online reader, instead of long, complicated sentences such as “oceanic infinitude of religious doctrines and postulations in order to bridge the fissures of boundaries which have been created by the puny mind of man”.

Next Story

Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

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Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)