Qualities of the Buddha
As a child,
Prince Siddhartha was extraordinarily thoughtful and was able
to meditate even at the age of seven. The saving of the wounded
swan was evidence of another quality, compassion. Now that He
had attained Enlightenment, perfect wisdom and great compassion
could be seen in all His words and actions. Many unhappy and
unfortunate people came to the Buddha in order to find solutions
to the problems of life and recover their confidence. The Buddha
helped them to distinguish between what was useful and what
was not, and encouraged them to think for themselves. He also
showed them how to comfort their fellowmen who were distressed
Buddha's Practical Approach
the Buddha lived about two thousand and five hundred years ago,
his approach to the problems of life was like that of the scientist
of today. He was not interested in theories which had no real
importance for living. He looked for practical answers. He saw
a problem in the shape of the suffering of life and offered
a solution to it based on His experiences. He used the following
parable to illustrate the attitude of those who cannot distinguish
between what is useful and what is not:
someone was hit by a poisoned arrow and his friends and relatives
found a doctor able to remove the arrow. If this man were to
say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I know whether
the person who had shot it was a priest, a prince or a merchant,
his name and his family. I will not have it taken out until
I know what kind of bow was used and whether the arrowhead was
an ordinary one or an iron one.' That person would die before
all these things are ever known to him."
In the same
way, those who say they will not practise the Dharma until they
know whether the world is eternal or not, infinite or not, will
die before these questions are ever answered.
did not answer these questions because they are not relevant
to the problems of suffering, nor do they lead to happiness,
peace and Enlightenment. Whether one believes that the world
is eternal or not, or that it is infinite or not, one has to
face the reality of birth, old age, sickness, death and suffering.
The Buddha explained suffering, the cause of suffering, the
end of suffering and the path leading to the end of suffering
here and now. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths because
He knew that they lead to happiness, peace and Enlightenment.
Importance of Critical Thinking
In the Buddha's
days, there were so many different religious teachings that
the people did not know which teaching to follow.
the Buddha visited a village, the inhabitants (the Kalamas)
told Him, "There are teachers who visit our village, who
explain their own teachings and condemn the teachings of others.
Then others come and they too explain their own teachings and
condemn the teachings of others. So we are always troubled as
we are not certain which of these teachers has spoken the truth
and which has spoken falsely."
replied that it was natural that they should have doubts regarding
matters which were open to dispute. Then he told them, "Do
not be led by rumour, or tradition, or by the authority of religious
texts, nor by false arguments, nor by appearances, nor by theories,
nor even by reverence. But rather when you know through your
own experience that certain things are wrong and unwholesome,
do not lead to calm and happiness and are not beneficial, then
give them up. When you know for yourselves that certain things
are right and wholesome, lead to calm and happiness and are
beneficial, then follow them."
advised them to accept His Teaching only after having examined
it for themselves and not out of reverence for him. For instance,
it is clear that greed and anger are not beneficial. A person
who is overcome by greed and anger finds that he cannot eat
or sleep. Greed and anger destroy the well-being of mind and
body, and can lead to disagreements and quarrels with others.
When people see for themselves the harmful consequences of greed
and anger, they will understand the truth of the Buddha's Teaching
that greed and anger lead to suffering.
for the Sick
compassion was exemplary. Not only did He arouse confidence
in those who were forlorn and who had lost hope, but He also
inspired others to cultivate wholesome attitudes towards their
Once a young
monk known as Tissa fell sick. At first, small boils broke out
on his body. Gradually they became bigger and finally burst.
Eventually when open sores covered his entire body, his fellow
monks became unwilling to look after him and left him alone.
On learning of this, the Buddha set some water to boil over
a fire. Then he went to where Tissa was lying and took hold
of the corner of the bed. The monks understood what the Buddha
wanted and carried the patient to the fire. The Buddha had the
monks wash Tissa's clothes and dry them while He Himself gently
cleaned the sores and washed Tissa. The monk's suffering was
greatly eased and he lay on his bed with his mind at peace.
there was the case of the woman known as Patacara who was born
into a wealthy family at Shravasti. She was so attractive that
in order to keep away her suitors, her parents confined her
in a tower watched over by guards. She fell in love with one
of the guards and when she heard that her parents had arranged
to have her married to another man, she ran away with her lover.
soon found life difficult as they had little to live on. When
she became pregnant, she wished to give birth to the baby in
her parents' home but her husband was reluctant to let her go.
Nevertheless, she set out for her parents' home by herself.
Fearing for her safety, her husband joined her, but before they
could reach their destination, the child was born. They then
decided to return home.
later, she became pregnant again. This time, in her husband's
absence, she took her child in her arms and started for her
parents' home. Her husband caught up with her but they were
overtaken by disaster. A great storm arose and they were without
shelter. Fear and worry hastened the time of delivery. She asked
her husband to look for a shelter, but while doing so, he was
bitten by a snake and died. While waiting for her husband's
return, the baby was born.
In the morning,
she was grieved to find the body of her husband. Feeling helpless,
she hurried on with her two children towards her parents' home.
When she came to a river swollen by the recent rain, she was
too weak to carry the two children across. She carried the newborn
baby across first and left him hidden under some leaves. Then
she went back to fetch the other child. While she was in midstream,
an eagle swooped down to where she had left the baby and carried
him off. Though she shouted and clapped her hands, the bird
took no notice. The other child, watching from the bank, thought
that his mother was calling him. He started to go to her but
tumbled into the river and was carried away by the swift current.
by grief at the loss of her husband and children, Patacara went
on to her parents' home. There, more bad news awaited her. She
learnt that her father, mother and brother had died when their
house collapsed in the storm. On hearing the news, she could
no longer bear her grief and became mad. She ran naked through
the streets of Shravasti. The sight of her aroused amusement
among the foolish, some of whom even threw stones at her.
sought refuge at the Monastery of Anathapindika, some tried
to prevent her from entering, but the Buddha forbade that. She
came before the Buddha who said to her, "Sister, regain
your mindfulness." His compassionate words calmed her and
she regained control of her mind. A kind person in the crowd
then gave her a shawl to cover her body. The Buddha talked to
her and she began to have an understanding of the nature of
things. Some time later, when her insight was complete, she
became an Arahant.
show how the Buddha's wisdom and compassion helped confused
and desperate people to realise the Truth and regain hope and
confidence. The Buddha, having overcome suffering Himself, was
always ready to relieve the suffering of others. He treasured
life and cared for the spiritual and material needs of the people.
had great wisdom and compassion. Through His wisdom, people
learn to be practical in their approach to the problems of life,
as illustrated by the parable of the man wounded by a poisoned
arrow. He also taught people to examine all teachings in the
light of their experience in order to know which is true. Out
of compassion, He taught people to care for and comfort the
sick and the unfortunate, as in the cases of the sick monk and