By Dr Ramala Sarma
It is our tural tendency to align our activities with cosmic design— a design as per which tural phenome follow their course— to harvest better benefits. This propensity shoves us to look for an opportune time to start new initiatives or to bring to culmition ongoing ones. Purnima or full moon is one such favourable time to initiate a new venture in. Because full moon is a high point in ture’s process, as it is when one lur cycle completes and the next cycle begins. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is believed that full moon has an unfathomable impact on human life and ture as well. This day is thus set for various spiritual observances ranging from prayers and meditations to fasting and holy dips in rivers. People even consider the full moon day as an auspicious time to pray and try for the birth of good children.
Nearly 2600 years ago, on a particular full moon day (known as Buddha Purnima), Siddhartha Gautam— early me of the Buddha— was born in a royal family from Shakya clan in Kapilavastu. Like many other seers and sages, his birth is also shrouded with miracles. As the legend goes, his mother Mayadevi, before conceiving him, had a vivid dream that a white bull elephant bearing a white lotus in its trunk approached her and walked around her three times and then struck her on the right side with its trunk and in fine disappeared into her. Soon she conceived. It is believed to be a divine way of conception which is called Immaculate Conception. Then after several months, Mayadevi, as per their custom, wanted to go to her materl place to deliver the child. And the story goes, she delivered baby Siddhartha on her way in a grove under a tree. As the baby was born, perfumed blossoms showered on both mother and son, and two streams of gleaming water poured from the sky to soak them. Unlike other infants, strangely enough, baby Siddhartha could walk and speak instantly after he was born. He walked seven steps and proclaimed, “I alone am the World-Honoured One!”
Symbols and myths are widespread in the story of the Buddha’s birth as well as his life! Thus in the Buddhist tradition, the white elephant represents fertility and wisdom. The lotus generally stands for enlightenment, while white lotus, in particular, symbolizes the mental and spiritual purity. The baby Buddha’s first seven steps suggest seven directions, viz., east, west, north, south, up, down, and here. And his proclamation “I alone am the World-Honoured One”, though seems a bit difficult to understand within the paradigm of the Buddhist concept of non-theism and atman, is interpreted in Mahaya Buddhism as the Buddha ture that is eterlly present in all beings. Thus in this tradition, the Buddha’s birthday is envisaged as everyone’s birthday and the followers wish each other Happy Birthday on this day.
Like his birth story, the Buddha’s life voyage from Prince Siddhartha to Gautam Buddha is also miraculous. He spent his royal life until the age of 29. Then he left his royal palace (which his father Shuddhodha filled with all beautiful things to restrict him from the exposure to miseries), his beautiful wife Yashodhara and Rahul, his newly born son to ease his troubled mind. His troubles comprised of a range of questions about the world, human life, and its purpose. He understood that within the luxurious confines of his royal palace, he was not going to have the answers to those questions that frequently churned up in his troubled mind. Of these questions, however, the one that filly led him to leave his comfy material life was— what makes humans age, decay and die? This indicates that his prime concern was human suffering the eradication of which later became the predomint goal of his life.
To achieve this goal, Prince Siddhartha went to several masters for guidance. However, none of their doctrines seemed to get him anywhere. Dissatisfied yet firm on achieving his target, the prince of Shakya clan relied on self-guidance filly. For his initial study on the subject revealed that the cause of our suffering lies within us. Our suffering is due to our ignorance of the real ture of things; our vision has always been blurred with our beliefs, prejudices and conceptions etc. Hence, the way to the extermition of suffering lies within. Here only one can be one’s own master. It is a research on the mind-body mechanism by the mind itself. The tool prince Siddhartha used in this venture was his super sharp single-pointed concentration. To sharpen his concentration, he attempted to stop all inputs from the six channels of senses, viz., eye, ear, nose, tongue, physical body and the mind itself— the media of the formation of beliefs, conceptions, judgments, and biases etc. Initially, his efforts bore no fruitful result and thus left him in bewilderment. The barriers of attachment and biases seemed very hard for him to surmount. His fight to triumph over them was very challenging which is delineated brilliantly in the Buddhist scriptures with allegories. So the scriptures say, Mara, the tempter came to Siddhartha meditating under the Bodhi tree with his three beautiful daughters to seduce him. Mara’s intent was to divert him from what he was concentrating on. Mara even claimed that the seat of enlightenment did literally belong to him and not to any mortal being like Siddhartha. Then all his monstrous soldiers said in unison, I am his witness! Mara challenged Siddhartha, who will speak in support of you? Then Siddhartha touched the earth with his right hand, and the earth spoke, I bear you witness! Mara disappeared in no time. In Buddhist tradition, Mara is believed to signify doubts, anxieties, and longings that arose in the lonely mind of Prince Siddhartha during his meditation, and Mara’s disappearance is conceived as Siddhartha’s firm resolve to overcome unwholesome feelings. Soon after Mara’s disappearance, Prince Siddhartha attained Nirva or enlightenment. He became the Buddha, the Enlightened. He was then 35. Coincidentally, it was the same full moon day on which he was born!
After enlightenment, the Buddha went to the Deer Park near Baras and shared his new understanding with five monks who became his disciples soon after. This marked the beginning of Buddhism as well as the Buddhist community. This community grew bigger and bigger as the Buddha established the Triple Gems— the Buddha (the guide), the Dhamma (the path) and the Sangha (the companions)— for the people to rely on. For the next 45 years, the Buddha with his disciples travelled from place to place to spread his teachings that emphasized on the ture of phenomel things, the way to attain them and the way out of the biases and judgements (which bring us endless sufferings) etc. Then, as the days passed by, when the Buddha attained the age of 80, he thought his teaching was almost complete and thus wished to leave his physical body. He then called his disciple Anda and told to take him to the village Kushigar, a district of eastern Uttar Pradesh. On reaching the village, he felt acutely the utter frailty of his mortal body. He asked Anda to prepare a couch with his head turned toward north between two sal trees. Then after blessing his disciples richly and delivering his last sermon, he gradually passed into meditatiol absorptions and filly entered Mahaparinirva (the great passing away). It was again a full moon day. Remarkably, it was the day he was born and attained enlightenment on! This day is known as Buddha Purnima which is celebrated by the Buddhist and the non-Buddhist alike to commemorate the three great events of the Buddha’s life— birth, enlightenment and leaving the mortal body.
An alysis of the features of the full moon and an insight into the major life events of the Buddha that took place on the day of a full moon may bring in light some sort of heavenly connection between them. It seems as if the Buddha’s life events be the wonderful delineation of the characteristics of the full moon or Purnima. Just as the full moon sigls the start of a new lur cycle, so the Buddha’s birth ushered in a new era, new finding, and a new knowledge. Again, like the radiant cool light of the full moon that illumines things and dispels darkness, the Buddha’s enlightenment enlightens people with the real ture of phenome and the true meaning of life. And in fine, the Buddha’s leaving away of the mortal body seems a nice portrayal of the impermanence ture of the full moon.
(The writer teaches Philosophy at Nowgong College)