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The New Man Speaks

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 115: the New Man Speaks - Edited Version

Two months ago, on the full moon night of the Indian month Vaishaka, we celebrated the Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment. Tonight, we are celebrating `Dhammacakka Day', or, to give it its full title, `Dhammacakkappavattana Day', the day commemorating the `setting in motion of the Wheel of the Dhamma'--this being the traditional Buddhist idiom for the Buddha's initial promulgation of the truth that he had realized at the time of his Enlightenment. On this occasion, having gained Enlightenment, the Buddha brought out into the open, in the form of words and thoughts, the content of his transcendental realization on the night of Vaishaka purnima.

Two months ago we left the Buddha sitting cross-legged on a heap of grass at the foot of the Bodhi tree, enjoying the bliss of emancipation. Sitting there he had fulfilled, after many years of effort and struggle, the entire course of the higher evolution of the individual. He had defeated the forces of Mara and was now a conqueror. He had dissolved all mental defilements, resolved all psychological conditionings. He had seen the Truth, seen Reality. He had not just had a glimpse of the truth but now saw it steadily, all the time, having fully absorbed and assimilated it. He was now an embodiment of the Truth, an embodiment of Reality. He was Reality in human form. He was a new kind of being: a New Man.

A question now arises: what happened next? The Buddha has gained Enlightenment--humanity now has a Buddha on its hands. What does humanity do with the Buddha? And what does he do with himself? At this point, something very mysterious happens. In a way that we cannot hope to understand, Enlightenment begins to communicate itself. In other words, the Buddha starts to communicate with other living beings: the New Man speaks. First of all, he simply speaks to himself; then he speaks to the gods; finally, he speaks to human beings.

As for what he says to himself, there are a number of different accounts of this first utterance, but they are substantially the same. According to the oldest Pali account, the Buddha speaks two verses--of which I must provide two different translations. Buddhadatta's prose translation offers the more or less exact meaning, while Sir Edwin Arnold's verse rendering gives a better impression of the spirit: `Many a birth have I traversed in this round of lives and deaths, vainly seeking the builder of this house.

Sorrowful is repeated birth. Oh house builder, you are seen. Never again shall you build the house. All your rafters are broken. Your ridge pole is shattered. My mind has gone to dissolution. I have attained the end of craving.'<Dhammapada 10, 8-9 (153-154) trans. Buddhadata> In Sir Edwin Arnold's much more vigorous version we find: `Many a house of life Hath held me--seeking ever him who wrought These prisons of the senses, sorrow-fraught; Sore was my ceaseless strife! `But now, Thou Builder of this Tabernacle--Thou! I know Thee! Never shalt Thou build again These walls of pain, Nor raise the roof-tree of deceits, nor lay Fresh rafters on the clay; Broken Thy house is, and the ridge-pole split! Delusion fashioned it! Safe pass I thence--deliverance to obtain.'<Sir Edwin Arnold The Light of Asia, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1971, p.115> These two verses constitute what is technically known as an Udana. The word udana means `exhalation', `a breathing out'. It also means that which is breathed out--something spoken under intense emotional pressure. Such utterances are always in metrical form. The Buddha is saying, `I'm free, I've made it!' His six-year quest is complete. He has broken through. Looking back into the past over hundreds and thousands of lives and seeing where he had been going wrong, where the mistakes and delusions lay, it is not surprising that there should have been a tremendous upsurge of energy and emotion.

Next, the Buddha speaks to the gods--or, rather, speaks to Brahmasahampati, the `Lord of a Thousand Worlds': `Opened for those who hear are the doors of the Deathless, Brahma, Let them give forth their faith; Thinking of useless fatigue, Brahma, I have not preached dhamma Sublime and excellent for men.'<Majjhima Nikaya I (Middle Length Sayings), Ariyapariyesana Sutta, trans. I.B. Horner, Pali Text Society, London, 1967, p. 213> In order to understand this verse we have to refer back to the episode in which it occurs. According to the scriptures, after his Enlightenment the Buddha felt inclined to say nothing about it to anyone. He realized that the truth he had discovered went far beyond the capacities of the vast majority of people. He saw that people were immersed in craving and ignorance; they would not be able to understand the Truth even if he uttered it.

To Brahmasahampati, this was terrible. If the Buddha did not teach, he reflected, then the whole world would perish. It might progress materially, people might become prosperous and happy after a fashion, but there would be no value in it if the Buddha would not teach, if there were to be no spiritual element in their existence. So he appeared in front of the Buddha, like a great golden light, and begged him to make known to humanity the truth he had discovered. `There are just a few', he said, `whose eyes are covered with only a little dust. For their sake, teach the truth you have realized.' At that, the Buddha looked out over the world with his eye of intuitive insight. He then saw all the beings who made up the mass of humanity to be like lotus flowers growing in a lake. The vast majority were sunk in the mud beneath the water, but some had grown up a little so as to touch the surface. Just a very few were even standing completely free of the water. Seeing this, he was overwhelmed with compassion and decided that he would teach. It was at that point that he finally addressed Brahma in the words already quoted: `Open to them are the doors of the immortal': open to humanity, open to those with just a little dust on their eyes. `Let them that have ears release their faith.' One or two points here deserve comment. Firstly, the Buddha uses the term `immortal'. In early Buddhist texts we do not find the expression Nibbana; more often we find the Pali term amata (Sanskrit amrita).

This word means `nectar of immortality', the deathless, something above and beyond the changes of the world, above and beyond time. It is a sort of synonym for Nibbana, or Enlightenment. The Buddha has now attained Enlightenment; he has broken through into the Transcendental dimension of consciousness.

Now others can follow his example and his teaching, they too can become Enlightened. The doors to the immortal are now open. Anybody who is prepared to make the effort may enter, anyone who is prepared to release their faith.

In the original Pali, the phrase `release their faith' is rather ambiguous. It can mean giving up--releasing wrong faith, and it can also mean releasing--in the sense of developing--right faith.

Faith, saddha (Sanskrit shraddha), is of great importance in the Buddhist spiritual tradition. This kind of faith is not blind belief; in the Buddhist context, faith is the authentic, living, response of the whole being--especially the emotional part of our being--to something which we intuitively perceive to be greater, nobler, more sublime and more worthwhile than ourselves as we are now, something to which we feel we ought to dedicate ourselves, surrender ourselves, something for the sake of which we ought to live.

Without faith in this sense there is no spiritual life, no development. Unfortunately, this kind of faith is rather lacking nowadays. There is plenty of faith in inferior values, but faith--in the sense of confidence in something higher than ourselves--is comparatively rare.

Finally, the Buddha speaks to human beings. He decides to teach. But who is he to teach? Who will be first? Who will learn the doctrine most quickly? At first the Buddha thought of his first teacher, Alara the Kalama, a very good and noble man--but one who had not been able to lead him to the highest truth because he had not himself realized it. We are told, however, that a god appeared to tell the Buddha that Alara the Kalama had died, just a week beforehand.

So the Buddha then thought of his second teacher, Udaka Ramaputta, under whom he had also learned many useful things. He then became aware that Udaka Ramaputta too had died, only the previous evening.

Finally, he thought of the five ascetics, his five disciple-companions from the days when he had practised self-mortification. They had stayed with him and looked after him when he was practising those terrible austerities in the hope that they would be able to benefit from his eventual realization. When the Buddha had realized that self-mortification was not the way, and had started taking solid food, they had left him in disgust. But now he thought of them: `Let me teach the Dhamma first of all to these five.' At that time they were living just a few miles out of Benares, in the Deer Park at Isipatana. So the Buddha left Buddhagaya (which was then known as Uruvela), and set off to walk the hundred miles to Benares.

He had not been on the road for very long when he met an ascetic belonging to a sect known as the Ajivakas. His name was Upaka. When from a distance Upaka saw the Buddha coming, he was very impressed by his appearance. The Buddha had gained Enlightenment only seven weeks beforehand. He was bright, shining, cheerful and happy. As they drew near, they stopped and greeted each other. As is the custom in India, even to this day, Upaka asked two questions: `Who is your teacher?' and `Which doctrine do you profess?' Upaka got rather more than he bargained for, for the Buddha replied in four resounding verses--his first utterance to humanity: `Victorious ...

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