When you think of Buddhism what do you think of?
Inner peace, meditation, monks, the usual. But like a lot of people I was unaware of the life of the Buddha himself.
I have read up on Buddhism in contemporary books by such authors as the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Tara Brach and others.
Then I came across a PBS video narrated by Richard Gere. Here I recount a little of the story and the lessons I learned from it as I go along. It turns out the story is just as inspiring as the lessons he teaches.
Buddhism is funded on the idea that everyone is suffering. It’s something we all understand, we all share.
“The world is full of pain and sorrow, but I have found a serenity” – Buddha
The man who would become Buddha, Siddhartha, was the son of a king, raised in luxury and privilege. Ensconced away from the world his father wanted him to be a king, a great ruler.
Until, at the age of 29 he learns what the world is truly like. Outside of the palace he sees death, illness and old age.
Deeply troubled and upset, he wants to to learn how to live knowing suffering and death are a part of life. So he decides to leave the palace and find the answers for himself.
Lesson: There is suffering in this world, no one is exempt.
Lesson: Only when you are suffering can you see a purpose in front of you.
He left is wife and newborn baby, which he names Rahula, meaning ‘fetter’, that’s ball and chain. Because he knew that if he remained, his devotion to his family would prevent him from finding the truth.
At home his life would be that of a prince, a husband, a ruler. With little time to find answers and meaning. In order to find them, he would have to leave.
Lesson: There is no knowledge won without sacrifice.
That is you have to give up something in order to gain something. Progress and growth require that the new replace the old. It could be fear, doubt, possessions, bad habits.
Mara the God of temptation and desire appears and tries to stop him from leaving, but Siddhartha is determined to pursue his quest. He is looking for a solution to the problem of suffering, so he becomes a seeker, vagabond, a wanderer.
Lesson: Become a seeker, be proactive and find your own answers.
Now penniless, a pauper, with little belongings, he joins other on a similar quest.
Lesson: community is important, do not search on your own. Because you can learn from each other.
He becomes and apprentice to a guru, learns yogi and meditation practices to tame and understand the mind.
Lesson: Find those who know more than you do, and learn from them.
He is successful in his practice but the problem of suffering still remains. What he has learned is only a temporary easing of it. This is his first failure.
So next he follows an extreme form of asceticism, along with others, they endure hardship. Pain, cold, heat, the rain. Fasting till near starvation.
After 6 years, he had become badly emaciated. He was seeking to escape the desires and weaknesses of the body, but here too he failed, his second failure.
Lesson: Failure is apart of growing and learning. Do not be afraid of it.
Then he remembered a time as a young boy during a spring planting festival. He realised that the insects below in the soil were being killed in the process. He then understands better that there is suffering everywhere.
With this memory he too realises that everything is connected, and a feeling of bliss overtook him as he took in the beautiful world around him. The joy even of a broken world. But you can’t sustain those feeling for long, so the original problem still persists.
Lesson: The world is interconnected.
Then as he was suffering in his emaciated form he accepted rice-milk from a maid. It was a moment of generosity and compassion that touched him deeply.
He realised that he could not find what he wanted all by himself. He thought of his family, the feeling of connection with them.
So he turned away from asceticism knowing that it was not the way to find the answers. Instead from now on he would look within, so he started to meditate under the bhodi tree.
He would not move till he had succeed.
Lesson: Look to answers from within.
Mara the temptor god then made an another attempt to stop him. The ruler of this world, he fears Siddhartha because he seeks the truth, enlightenment. Mara again tries to tempt him into abandoning his quest, but Siddhartha is resolute.
Lesson: When seeking the truth, enemies will try to stop you.
He continued to meditate until one day he succeeds. He attained what its called Nirvana.
What he discovered is not a new state, but rather surrendering to the reality that exists. Understand that ignorance is like a veil of illusion that clouds our minds. You are already awakened and enlightened. It is only that we are trapped in these illusions that trick us and lead us astray.
See and live in this moment, that is what he discovered.
It had taken him 6 years to achieve it his goal.
Lesson: Success does not come quickly, its a long and difficult journey.
He was tempted to retire into solitude. He feared no-one would understand him or his message.
But he was persuaded by the god Brahma Sahampati to spread what he had learned.
Lesson: Do not keep what you have leaned to yourself, teach and help others.
Remember the connection to others. Focus on others and leave a path for others to follow.
His teachings, the Dharma, is what he learned. However his first attempt to teach another ascetic, failed. Nevertheless he persisted, creating converts, and so his message spread.
His message was a new way, a balanced way. Desires and want are necessary, but be smart about it. Desire can be useful, or harmful. The question is does it lead us to where we want to go?
He established a community so he could help others, the Sangha. Remembering again the interconnected nature of the world.
Lesson: Only through others can you achieve what you want.
The Buddha is still a human being however, he can’t perform miracles, neither is he immortal. Eventually he grew old, frail and died.
Lesson: He was not a god, just a mortal just like us. What he discovered anyone can find.
What he taught was how to live with your own thoughts and desires by becoming aware of them. Our emotions pull us along, so it requires awareness of them to step away and not get caught up in them.
Become aware of these desires, feelings and thoughts. Learn when they come from, when they rise and fall, what they make us do when we are not aware.
I like to think of it a being a birdwatcher. Who does not become frustrated with the birds that he sees. But accepts which ones turn up and studies them to understand them in great detail.
He also says that the understanding of ourselves is a mistake. I, as a sense of our own identity is constantly changing. The problem is the egocentric viewpoint that we can’t change and that our need must be met.
Towards the end of his life he supposedly said.
“Remember me as the one who woke up”
Lesson: We are trapped within the illusions of our minds, so try to be aware of them.
In every moment there is the potential for good or harm, awakening or damage. It is in those moments of that we get to choose which path to take.
The Buddha says it requires lots of hard work, but do not blindly follow his teachings. Test his wisdom in your own life and see if it works.
Lesson: Experiment with your own life, try new things.
I felt this was a beautiful story. I seek is what he was looking for, how to live knowing I will suffer, grow old, and die. Although I do not call myself a Buddhist, I like his advice because it’s pragmatic and practical. It’s there for anyone to follow.