Detachment is the one word that describes the central point of the teaching of the Buddha. This was told to me by the tall, agile Buddhist monk from Thailand under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya one summer morning. The place was revered and serene and the monk kept himself busy collecting Bodhi leaves from the ground, thus helping the ground staff of the Mahabodhi temple. This is the place from where the wave of Buddhist philosophy spread across the globe in all directions – East, West, North, South – over thousands of years. The vibrations are still felt there at Bodhgaya in the air, on the earth, in the trees and in the stupas surrounding the temple.
The Buddha is not considered a God but a human being, a man who had found the answers to the deepest dilemmas of human life and made them available to others. Buddhism worldwide conveys a sense of sacred feeling, self-confidence and calmness. Millions of men over thousands of years took refuge in Buddhism to find severity in the world of suffering. Suffering is the only common phenomenon attributable to every human being.
Buddhism as a religious tradition began with the attainment of Nirvana – The Awakening – by Prince Siddhartha Gautama 2,500 years ago. According to Thathagata, Buddha’s The Middle Path’ is the desired path to attain knowledge, wisdom and superior insight. And the Middle Path is the Noble Eightfold Path: “right views”, “right thoughts”, “right speech”, “right action”, “right livelihood”, “right effort”, “right mindfulness” and “right concentration”.
Just after the attainment, Lord Buddha thought: “This is the only way for living beings to become pure, to overcome grief and pain, to end sufferings and sadness”. Nirvana or enlightenment is meant to be the feeling, the experience of emptiness, the understanding of “No self”. The Buddha preached that every common man could attain Nirvana if she/he rightly and earnestly pursued it. This was the positive approach of the Buddha who always tried to instil confidence and, self-belief in the common man. He did not pose as God, but rather as a teacher, a monk. The Buddha teaches that a monk should be energetic, attentive and mindful. He was very affirmative and always full of life. He wandered on the streets, in the jungles, passed kingdom after kingdom on foot almost throughout his life and never stayed back in the palace meant for him after he left his “golden prison” at the age of 29 years. Prince Siddhartha searched for Truth. He said: “I should quit this golden prison, where my heart lives caged, to find the Truth; which henceforth I will seek, for all men’s sake, until the truth be found.” And he found the Truth. The Truth would flourish and be full-blown like a lotus.
The Buddha propagates four Noble Truths: “The Truth of sufferings”, “the Truth of the origin of sufferings”, “the Truth of the cessation of sufferings” and “the Truth of the Path”. He perceived that the origin of suffering lies in desire; desire comes from the nature of the self. Human beings want to get rid of suffering. Siddhartha was able to bring suffer- ing to an end in the experience that Buddhists called Nirvana. Ignorance and desire are the fuels of the ‘samsara’ and the source of the sufferings. Desire calls for suffering. Detachment alienates desire. Thus detachment cures suffering. This was the point the monk from Thailand want- ed to make to me on that summer morning. Keep equal distance from joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness- ness i.e. remain unmoved by joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness. This state of mind once achieved would make a man strong and sturdy, and he would achieve wisdom.
The Buddha was an excellent teacher inculcating a spark of new ideas and new thoughts in the minds of disciples about life lessons. Society in India was dominated by the priests, by their verdicts and sermons. The lives of the common man were guided by the directions of the priests. But The Buddha never gave in to the priests, never bowed to superstition, casteism, or other old ideas detrimental to human well being. He did not even appreciate the idea of the existence of God. The Buddha was fearless in advocating his ideas and thoughts. He changed the thought process of humankind and was thus a revolutionary, a social reformer. The Buddha wanted to take people out of darkness into light and peace and hope. He had a tremendous love for humans and animals.
Institutionalism or various social organisations create rules, a unified code of conduct that helps people to manage work in groups and live in a community. People living in society behave in harmony with others, share the same ideas, and preach the same customs and rituals. The Buddhist philosophy also spread across the world through the religious institution called “Samgha”. Royal patronage was also there to strengthen the spread of the teachings of The Buddha. “The Right Livelihood” is the fifth “Noble Eightfold Path” that implies that earning livelihood for survival is essential. There is no conflict between spiritual uplift and material well-being. But excess enjoyment of material wealth is not the part of right livelihood and it stands in the way of the liberation of humankind. Human life is not only to consume food and enjoy comforts. Life has its own creative presence, a meaningful existence and in that way one individual is unique and different from other individuals though living in the same society. Buddhist philosophy always stands for human well-being. One can obtain maximum well-being with minimum consumption of material. This philosophy helps attain happiness.
The exponential growth of population on earth, and tremendous growth of technology and inventions made the lives of people confusing, contradictory, compromising and complicated, and Buddhist philosophy waned to some extent. But it is still palpable in some corners of the world. We are increasingly being unable to look inwards in this polluted and overcrowded world. The overwhelming technology, concepts of growth and economy have engulfed our lives like monsters. Our lives are guided by external material forces rather than inner strengths.
The Buddha concentrated on the mind, but the modern world concentrates on the material. Plastics and pesticides are the base materials that lead our life. We are submerged in the pond of greed, lust and desire. We are guided by, in every decision, science, technology and economy and not by philosophy. “But inner strength, inner peace is essential and helpful to solve any problem outside the world effectively and to live a meaningful life. Compassion is the strength for gaining inner strength. A peaceful inner mind also creates a peaceful atmosphere that other people can enjoy too. It creates a happier society.” These are the words of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
Lord Buddha insisted upon his disciples to live a meaningful life. At the time he was preaching his sermons there were, in a historic assumption, living in India about one crore people and the world had about ten crores. Since then, we have come a long way and many million people lived their lives on earth – “ate, drank, laughed, loved, and lived, and liked life well” and then died. India now witnesses more than 1.3 billion people. “Since there is hope for man only in man”, let us pray that Lord Buddha relives with us now; we desperately need a thousand splendid Buddhas on earth.
(The writer is a cost accountant who works for a state power utility.)