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TODAY, Vesak, the full moon of May, the day of the birth anniversary of the Lord Buddha, is widely celebrated.  Though there is no organised Buddhist community in Guyana, there are many Guyanese who are interested in Buddhism or follow the Buddhist path, especially among expatriate Chinese.  Though Buddhism originated in India, very few Indians are Buddhist, most of them being Hindus and Muslims.  The countries with dominant Buddhist populations are Korea, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the other Southeast Asia nations.  In Europe and North America, there are organised and growing Buddhist communities, and Buddhism has been the main influence in the growing spiritual teachings in the West.

Buddhism dates its origin from the sixth century B.C.  In the Kingdom of Kapilavastu in Northern India bordering Nepal, King Suddhodona ruled.  His Kingdom was prosperous, but he lacked an heir.  One evening, his Queen, Maha Maya, dreamt of a white elephant floating about her room and the next day, she reported to the King she was pregnant.  The King was overjoyed, and when his son was born, he named him Siddhartha Gautama.

As customary, he invited the main astrologers in the Kingdom to foretell what Siddhartha would be when he grew up.  Asita, the chief of the Astrologers, began weeping, and when the King asked him why he was weeping, he explained that he regretted he would not be alive when Siddhartha grew to manhood, for he would be either a great world Emperor or a great religious teacher and leader.  He would only become the world Emperor if he never was exposed to human suffering and never met any religious teacher.

The King was determined that his heir would never be any kind of religious teacher.  He was trained in the arts of war and was always surrounded with a life of ease, luxury and pleasure and he never saw any ageing, sick or dead persons and no monks or priests were allowed to enter the palace precincts.  At the age of 16, he was married to Yasodhra, the most beautiful and accomplished young woman in the Kingdom.  At 19, he was blessed with a son whom he named Rahul.  The King then built three palaces for each of the seasons for him, and he continued to live a life of pleasure.

Suddenly, one night an overwhelming desire to see what was outside the precincts of the palace seized him.  His father refused to allow him to go outside, but when he realised how resolute was Siddhartha, he acceded on the condition that he arranged the visit.  The streets along which the Prince was to drive were spruced up, and care was taken to ensure that no ageing, sick or dead person would be about and no monk was allowed to walk the streets.

When Siddhartha left the palace gates, he was ecstatic at the beauty of the landscape, the houses and the people when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a bent and wizened old man appeared.  He ordered his charioteer to stop and asked what that was.  Channa replied that that was an old man, and all humans will, in time, become old with body deteriorating.  Siddhartha asked, “does that apply to me also?”and Channa told him that would be so.  He became depressed, but they still drove on.  Then in an alcove of one of the houses, he caught sight of a sick man, vomiting and rolling in pain.  He again stopped his chariot and was told by Channa that he was a sick man. All would, in time, suffer deterioration of health and body, including the Prince. He was further depressed and decided to return.  On his way to the palace, he encountered a funeral procession, and Channa explained to him that what he saw was a corpse and that all who were born would eventually die and become like the corpse.  Siddhartha was completely overwhelmed with grief and depression when as he was about to enter the palace gates, he saw a monk in meditation who exuded peace and calm, which gave Siddhartha some relief.  Channa explained to him that he was a monk.

After his excursion into the city, Siddhartha’s personality changed. He realised that pleasures were merely tiny islands in a sea of suffering which would quickly pass away.  The pleasures and luxury with which he was surrounded became meaningless and disgusting, and his being yearned to find a way which could free the world from suffering. He decided to escape from the palace and go in search of the answer.
He ordered his faithful charioteer and friend, Channa, to saddle his horse and leave the palace with him.  Before he left, he visited his wife’s chamber, looked at her and Rahul, and overcame the overwhelming desire to awaken them.  As he left, the palace guards were mysteriously in a deep sleep, and the gates were open, and Siddhartha and Channa hurriedly rode away.  Buddhist tradition claims that the gates being open and the guards being asleep were due to divine intervention.  He rode as far as the river Anoma, which was the boundary of his Kingdom, stopped, cut off his hair, changed his rich royal clothes with that of a beggar and ordered Channa to return to the King with his hair and sword.

He took up the life of a wandering monk who begged for his food.  As he wandered, five monks became his companions, and he decided to go to the best teachers and hope he would find the answer to his question.  For six years, he wandered from teacher to teacher who taught him the higher meditations but could not give him the answer to his quest.  Eventually, he was able to go to the greatest teacher of them all, Udaka Ramaputta, who brought him up to Samadhi but could go no further.  During these six years, he subjected his body to the greatest austerities until he was no more than skin and bones and became very weak.  He realised that his efforts so far led nowhere, so he decided to begin to eat again and to do his own meditation.  His five companions then immediately abandoned him because he had broken his vows as a monk.  He was now completely on his own.
He decided that he must find the answer to ending suffering in the world, or he would die in the attempt.  He bathed in the river, dressed neatly, and chose a spot under a shady peepal tree overlooking the river and went into meditation.  As he started his meditation, Mara, the Devil, began his temptations.  Jesus suffered only three temptations, but Siddhartha suffered every possible temptation, including violence, death, food, power over the world,  wine, women and song, but he conquered all and drove Mara away.  He then fell into the various stages of meditation, and at daybreak, he had achieved Enlightenment and achieved Buddhahood.  Some traditions say that he meditated for nine days, others for nine hours.  On achieving Enlightenment, two options then came to his mind – either he would remain in the world and try to teach what he had discovered, or in  Enlightenment, he could enter Nirvana, become one with the Universe and achieve infinite peace. He began to feel that no one would understand his message and he would be wasting time;  it was, therefore, better to enter Nirvana.  Just in time, he realised that Mara was trying his last temptation – Egotism-  and he defeated Mara and remained in the world.

His body was so weak that he fell unconscious on the road and realised he was going to die. Fortunately, a milkmaid, Sujata, happened to pass him on the road, stopped and fed him with some milk which revived him.  He began eating again and recovered his strength, and decided to go to a deer park which was a few miles away.  As he approached the deer park, he saw in the distance his former five companions, and they too saw him and decided among themselves they would ignore him since he had broken his vows as a monk.

As he approached, they saw his body exuding light and his demeanour godlike, and they realised that he was a Buddha.  They bowed to him and washed his feet, and he spoke with them, giving his first sermon, which was the basic Buddhist teaching.  He taught the way to end individual and universal suffering and the achievement of Nirvana which is encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  The five monks understood the Buddha’s message and achieved Enlightenment.  Thus, the Sangha or Buddhist community was initiated.

The Four Noble Truths: The human condition is enveloped in suffering. Birth and Death are suffering; union with the unpleasant and separation from the pleasant are suffering. Pleasures are disappearing islands in a sea of suffering.

Cause of Suffering- Desire and attachments to material things which are all subject to the Law of Change.
Suffering could only be ended by one’s efforts.  Gods or other supernatural forces cannot end suffering.
Suffering could be ended by pursuit of the Eightfold Path.

Eightfold Path:
Right View
Right Resolution
Right Speech
Right Conduct
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration.
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path need a great deal of clarification to understand their full import, but space would not permit that.  Readers who may wish to learn more of Buddhism could use their computers, Youtube recommended.  Before we end, we will give a few sayings of the Buddha:
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts, and if a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain will follow him just as the cart follows the horse which pulls it.

     Hatred ceases not by hatred;  hatred ceases by love.
Do not dwell on the past, do not dwell on the future since they do not exist;  concentrate the mind on the present moment.
Every morning we are born again;  what we do today is what matters most.
Doubt everything.  Do not believe anything except you could experience it.

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