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The Word of the Buddha

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 113 the Word of the Buddha (1972)

Today, as we've just heard, we are celebrating a festival. We are celebrating a festival which is generally known in the East as Dharmachakra Day, or, to give it its full, as it were official, title, Dharmcakrapravartina Day, which means the anniversary of the Buddha's first turning the Wheel of the Dharma; and turning the Wheel of the Dharma is a traditional Buddhist idiom for the Buddha's first proclamation, in words of human speech, of the Truth that he had discovered at the foot of the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya some two months before.

So Dharmachakra Day, or Dharmacakrapravartina Day, the anniversary of that first proclamation of the Truth, is evidently one of the most important occasions, one of the most important festivals, in the whole Buddhist year, and obviously it happens to be one of those festivals directly associated with the life of the Buddha. In the course of the Buddhist year we have all sorts of festivals, all sorts of celebrations. Some are associated with the life of the Buddha, with events in the life of the Buddha, others are not, and this happens to be one of those associated with an event, one of the most important events, in the life of the Buddha.

Many of you know, many of you will remember, that two months ago exactly we celebrated the Vaishakha Purnima, and this, of course, is the anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment, the anniversary of his realisation of the Supreme Truth; the day on which, to change the idiom somewhat, the New Man emerged from the mass of humanity. And this event, the Buddha's awakening to the Truth, the Buddha's realisation of the Truth, the Buddha's becoming a New Man, this had and still has a tremendous significance, spiritual significance, for all mankind, inasmuch as it constitutes a sort of turning point in the whole course of human history.

Now though this event happened some 2500 years ago, we know roughly the circumstances under which it took place, we know where it took place; and it took place at Bodh Gaya, or Buddhagaya as we sometimes say, which is situated in the present-day state of Bihar in north-eastern India. And this event, the Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment, took place, of course, in the month of Vaishakha, on the full moon day of the month of Vaishakha, which corresponds to our April-May.

Now after his attainment of Enlightenment, after his awakening to that Supreme Truth, the Buddha spent, we are told by the tradition, altogether seven weeks in that same place - seven weeks in Bodh Gaya; and we are told that he spent his time sitting mainly at the foot of various trees. He'd spend a few days at the foot of one tree, then he'd move, spend a few days sitting at the foot of another tree. And in this way seven whole weeks passed, and we are told he hardly bothered about food, he hardly bothered to eat. Apparently two wandering merchants did offer him some honeycomb or something of that sort, but that's the only actual reference to food. He was above and beyond, as it were, at that time, any bodily considerations.

It wasn't just that he had gained Enlightenment - that was a tremendous thing to begin with, but it wasn't just that. Not only was there the question of attaining Enlightenment, realising the Truth, seeing Reality, but there was also, in addition to that, the if anything even more difficult task of assimilating that, of absorbing that, at every level of his being, in every aspect of his being. And it's in that great task, as it were, that he was spending those seven weeks immediately following upon the Enlightenment, absorbing that experience, assimilating that 1 experience, allowing it to transform and transmute every atom, every fibre of his being. After all, we may say that what had happened to the Buddha when he gained Enlightenment was the greatest thing, the most tremendous thing, that can possibly happen to any human being, any member of the human race: to be transformed from an un-Enlightened into an Enlightened human being. This, surely, is the biggest transformation that possibly we can undergo; so big a transformation, so great a transformation, indeed, that in a sense when we become Enlightened we cease to be in the ordinary sense a human being at all. We become an Enlightened human being, become a New Man, becomea Buddha, which is an entirely new and entirely different category of existence.

Now I've spoken of this question, this task, of the assimilation of the Truth, of the assimilation of that Enlightenment experience by the Buddha at all levels and in all aspects of his being, and one very important aspect of that assimilation in the course of those few weeks was the development out of his experience of Enlightenment of what we can only call, in terms of ordinary human speech, compassion or ikarunai - compassion directed towards all those who were not, as he was, Enlightened, that is towards the vast mass of humanity, suffering from its own ignorance, its own psychological conditioning, its own bewilderment, its own confusion.

So as the result of as it were the assimilation of the Enlightenment experience in the depths of his emotional being, or in the depths of the emotional aspect of his being - his ordinary human emotion was transformed into something far higher, something far sublimer, something far nobler - then compassion, ikarunai, arose in the mind and in the heart of the Buddha, and he decided to make known to the rest of humanity for their spiritual benefit the Truth which he had discovered. And in the texts, in the traditions, at this point there follows the famous, the celebrated episode of Brahma's request.

We are told - it is put in a highly mythological form - that as the Buddha was sitting there, under one or another of those trees, as he was still meditating, as he was enjoying the bliss, as it were, of that Enlightenment experience, he saw as it were a great light, and he heard as it were a great voice. And he saw as it were a great form, the form of a mythological, as we would say, being that the Indian tradition calls Brahma Sahampati, the Lord of a Thousand Worlds: a being belonging to a very high plane of existence, but still not so high as the plane that the Buddha now occupied. Perhaps we can say that this was like a great, a sublime thought arising within the Buddha's mind, though at a level lower than that of actual Enlightenment or actual Buddhahood.

And the voice said, this form said, as it were: 'Now you are Enlightened. You have come to the end of the journey. You've reached your goal. You are at peace. You have got perfect knowledge. You have perfect bliss. But what about others? What about those who are still struggling below? What are you going to do for them?' And as the Buddha heard these words, as he saw that form, as he saw that light, a great upsurge of compassion took place in his heart.

He looked forth over the world. He saw that there were some who were ready for the teaching, even though many were not, but still some were ready, and he decided that he would make known the Truth he had discovered. And he said to Brahma as it were, or to himself as it were: 'Wide open are the gates leading to the deathless state. Let those who have ears to hear put forth their faith.' And this was his decision to teach, out of compassion.

2 So, having decided to teach, the question arose: whom should he teach? Even a Buddha can't teach unless there's someone itoi teach - so, whom to teach? And his mind went back, his mind went back into the past, went back to two men who had been his own teachers in his very early days when he was still searching for the Truth. They had not known the Truth, they did not know the Truth, they were not able to show him the Truth, but they had helped him on his way to a great extent, and they were noble and high-minded men. So his first thought was, 'I shall teach them the Truth that I have discovered. They will appreciate it, they will understand it quickly. They were almost there, but not quite. I shall teach them first.' But then he suddenly knew in his own mind that it was too late, too late so far as this life as it were was concerned, because the two were already dead. So he turned his mind then to five disciples that he had had, again in his early days when he was still struggling, when in fact he was practising self-mortification, self- torture, extreme austerities, fasting and so on. And he thought, 'These five, when I was still struggling, when I was practising asceticism, though they did leave me afterwards, still for a while they were very serviceable to me. So let me teach them first.' So one sees here, in this episode, the Buddha's as it were spirit of gratitude. He felt grateful to his old teachers, even though he had had to leave them and find out the truth for himself. He felt grateful to those five pupils, those five ascetics; even though they had deserted him in the end they had been serviceable for a time. So he wanted to repay them, as it were, he wanted to share with them the great Truth that he had now discovered. So we see that even in the Buddha after his Enlightenment there was this great spirit of gratitude to those who had helped him in the earler stages, in the earlier phases, of his career.

And there are other accounts which emphasise this still more. We are told, in fact, that the Buddha after his Enlightenment was grateful even to the tree underneath which he had sat when he gained Enlightenment, and we are told in one account that after the Enlightenment he stood a certain distance from the tree and he looked at it. He looked at it for hours and hours together, and he saluted it, saying as it were, 'At the foot ...

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