- The Buddha Avatar
Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism is revered as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu. The great ascetic is a preacher who opened the doors of ‘Dharma’ to the common people. He showed to the world the way of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence).
The Buddha Avatar
In the seventh century BC, India was divided into sixteen kingdoms known as ‘Mahajanpadas’. One of them was the ‘Shakya’ Republic situated in modern Nepal. Their chief was Shuddhodhan who ruled from Kapilavastu. Buddha was born as his son in 623 BC.
Shuddhodan’s queen, Mahamaya or Mayadevi was going to her parents’ place to have her first child. On her way, she gave birth to a son in the grove of Lumbini while travelling to her parents’ home. Mayadevi passed away after seven days of his birth. His aunt-Mayadevi’s sister ‘Mahaprajapati Gautami’ who was also his step-mother, nurtured Gautam very well. The child was named ‘Gautam’ and his nickname was Siddharth – the one who has achieved his aim.
Soon after his birth, Brahmins came to see his horoscope. They also saw marks of a great man on his body. They predicted that the kid may be either a great monarch or an ascetic. Shuddhodan did not want his son to be a sage. Therefore he took great care to keep him away from every pain in life. He built three palaces suitable for three seasons with huge gardens and groves around exclusively for Siddharth. The surrounding was full of pleasant and luxurious things. A number of male and female attendants were ready to fulfill his every wish.
Many learned Brahmins taught the young Gautam language, grammar and other fields of knowledge. Being very intelligent, he learnt everything quickly. He also achieved proficiency in Dhanurvidya (the art of war). He proved to be the best among all the Shakya youth in various competitions.
Gautam married a beautiful girl Yashodhara and soon they were blessed with a son named Rahul. But all these efforts of Shuddhodan could not keep Gautam away from the ultimate aim for which he was born.
Gautam used to go for a ride through the city in a chariot. One day he saw a few vignettes of life which greatly moved him. First he saw an old man, walking with a great difficulty. Then there was a diseased person lying beside the road. Afterwards he saw a corpse being carried by some weeping people. He asked his sarathi (driver) “Why do these people look ugly and sad?” Sarathi ‘Chhnna’ explained that every person grows old someday, his organs stop working, and he has to depend on others. Such a weak body becomes vulnerable to diseases and pain. At the end, he has to die, leave this world. These gloomy scenes showed Gautam the fact of life.
Finally, he came across an ascetic who was very calm and cheerful. His simple, charming appearance attracted Gautam’s attention. The first three scenes brought before him the harsh realities and inevitable stages of life – ageing, sickness and death. He came to know that human life is very painful. But the last scene of the ascetic enchanted Siddharth as he appeared with a very calm countenance. He could not understand how this renunciant could look so peaceful?
Consequently, many questions arose in his mind. He understood that worldly attachments and pleasures is not the ultimate goal of human life. Then what else is? Gautam wanted to know the truth…
Life as an Ascetic
After coming back from his ride, Gautam spent time in solitude and started spending hours in deep thinking. One day, he got the news of the birth of his son. He exclaimed, “It’s the birth of one more bond”. He decided to renounce this world and devote himself to the ascetism.
On one silent night, when Yashodhara was sleeping with young Rahul, Gautam saw them for one last time and left the palace. He called Chhanna with his favourite horse, Kanthak. Both of them kept walking silently. At last when they reached the border of kingdom, Gautam stopped. He gave all his belongings to Chhanna and asked him to go back. Poor Chhanna tried to persuade his master but it was of no use. Gautam cut his long, beautiful hair, wore the robes of an ascetic and started his journey towards the unknown. The prince left all his affluence behind to find the truth of life.
Gautam began his penance with determination. First he met a sage called Alar Kalam who taught him atheism. But it could not satisfy Gautam. Then he met some more people. No one could please him completely. This way he spent six years in study. He came to Gaya in this state. Meditating without food reduced him to starvation. Finally he understood that suffering is not the way to attend salvation. He resumed normal life and refreshed himself with food.
At the end, he went to the forest and sat under the Bodhi tree. He was determined, ‘Now whatever happens, I won’t abandon my seat. Let my skin, nerves and bones waste away, let my blood dry up, I will not leave my posture until I attain complete wisdom.” This way, he spent seven weeks.
Still there was a giant obstacle in his attempts. ‘Mara’, the deity of evil thought that he should not let Gautam reach enlightenment. He tried to distract Gautam from his aim. He created a thunderstorm, the forest caught fire. Huge monsters came to kill Gautam. But nothing could scare him from his resolve. Finally, Mara sent some beautiful nymphs to disturb him. In the end, he created Yashodhara and Rahul in front of Gautam to convince him to come back to worldly life. Even then, he did not lose his peace. Mara realized the greatness of Gautam and left.
On the next night, towards dawn he attained enlightenment. He discovered the truth of life. He became the ‘Buddha’ – the enlightened one.
Then he sat there for seven days experiencing heavenly satisfaction and sanctity.
After attaining ‘Keval Dnyan’ (complete knowledge), Buddha decided to give it to the world. While walking, he met five ascetics who were his companions earlier. They welcomed him and for them, Buddha gave his first sermon (lecture) at the deer park, Sarnath.
He said, “I realized the four truths of life. They are, Dukh, Dukhsamuday, Dukhnirodh and Nirodh-gamini pratipad. The path that takes us to these four truths is eight-fold. These eight principles are Samyak Drishti, Samyak Sankalp, Samyak Vak, Samyak Karm, Samyak Jeev, Samyak Vyayam, Samyak Smruti and Samyak Samadhi.”
“We have to avoid extremities, extreme pleasure and extreme penance. The moderate path is the path of salvation”
This first sermon given by Buddha is known as the ‘Dhammachakra-pravartan’ (turning the wheel of dharm). Then Buddha travelled throughout the land for four decades to preach the doctrine.
Buddha’s teachings were for monks as well as for common people.
Four Noble Truths
Buddha discusses the Four noble truths known as ‘Arya satyas’
Dukh – There is suffering in life. All existence is full of pain. All pleasures of life take us to sorrow. Man runs behind worldly things and both achievement or loss makes him unhappy at the end.
Dukh Samuday – All suffering has a cause. The cause is to be ignorant about the above truth. Trushna (Desire) is the centre of suffering.
Dukhnirodh – It is possible to end this suffering.
Nirodh-gamini pratipad –It is possible to end suffering. And that is gained by following Astang-Marg (eight-fold path).
This path is planned with a number of interconnected activities in relation to behaviour, knowledge and meditation. It consists of right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.
All his teachings are connected with another important aspect of Buddhism. i.e. Ahimsa. Ahimsa or non violence has many facets.
Buddha was added to the list of incarnations of Vishnu only after the Gupta period. It is not found in sculptures except on the Dashavatar panels. Though several puranas refer to Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, very little importance is attached to him.
The image of Buddha does not carry any Vaishnava emblem. He has a very calm appearance, long ears and a halo behind him. He is seated on a high lotus pedestal and his hands are in abhay mudra and varad mudra.
Any mention of Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu can be seen around 300 CE. Some puranas declare him as god; while others found a number of peculiarities in the life and character of Buddha to be called an ‘Avatar’ of Vishnu. His teachings portray him as a savior of society.
But this concept was not easily accepted. Some sources consider Balram as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu.
- Joshi M. 1964. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. III. Pune:Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
- Bapat, P. V. (Ed) 1956. 2500 Years of Buddhism. Delhi:Publication Division, Govt. of India
- Rao, T. A. G., 1998(Reprint), Elements of Hindu Iconography Vol I, Part I. New Delhi:Motilal Banarasidas.