Rosicrucian Writings Online


The Buddha, A Practical Teacher

 By Sister Vajira, F. R. C.
 
[From The Rosicrucian Digest December 1944]
 
      Editorial Comment: Not many years ago a young woman forsook the conveniences and accustomed modes of living in England, to devote herself to the pursuit of esoteric truths in the Far East, being fascinated by the psychology of restraint and of living as taught by Buddha. She ultimately became a member of the Buddhist Order in India, and likewise an Initiate of a Tantric Order of Tibet. Residing in a hermitage of the Buddhist Order in a city in Northern India, renowned for its historical connections with Buddha's life, she became an apt scholar in the ancient Pali language, which was the traditional tongue of Buddha.
      This young woman, also a Rosicrucian, is now known in the Buddhist Order as Sister Vajira. Upon our special request, she has submitted direct from the Sanctuary of the Buddhist Order in India to the ROSICRUCIAN DIGEST, the following article.
  
THE main reason why the Scriptures of the Southern School of Buddhism attract me so much is that I am able to see and realize that Gotama, the Buddha, was a Human Being, a very lovable, and also a very powerful human being.
 
It takes the Buddhist student much of his time and wits to discriminate in the Pali Scriptures as to what is legend, what is taken over from the Mahayana, and what is actual fact connected with the life and teachings of the Buddha. Pious monk editors, centuries after Buddha's death, when they were compiling a written record of the teachings, wove wonderful legends about Gotama's life, legends connected with previous Buddhas and which they heaped onto Gotama. For instance, there are very few people who realize the true reason why Gotama left his home, or the reason that drove him out of his home. Happily, an eminent Indian Buddhist scholar, whose knowledge of Sanskrit and Pali is the despair of wishful thinking, sentimental religious devotees, showed me a clear way to follow through the books of the Scriptures.
 
The so-called Buddhist Church which existed in India, twenty-five hundred years ago, was very different from what it is today. In these times we have the collection of Scripture books, of temples, of images, of relics, of ruins, and the present-day universities, which give the modern intellectual an opportunity to obtain some degree or other. Now, when the Buddha was touring the northern part of India during his ministry of about forty-five years, his church at that time consisted of four very strong pillars: his monks, his nuns, his laymen and his laywomen, or, to use their Pali terms, the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunis, the upasakas, and upasikas. Over and over again are found, here and there, in the Pali Scriptures, the Buddha's reference to his Four Groups. In these four groups there were all sorts of men and women; some with very keen intellects, insight and intuition, and others awfully stupid, quarrelsome, lazy, who needed constant reminders, encouragement, and directions along the Path.
 
The Buddha was a practical man of everyday affairs. He had his feet on the ground, so to speak, and he gave discourses to people or to an individual, based on what they wanted and to their capacity of thought. For the majority of his monks he had to use similes to impress upon their minds the various principles of his teaching. He would use all sorts of similes of everyday value. Here are just a handful of similes: a lotus in water, a light in the darkness, pots full and empty, tangled ball of thread, horse-training, bridle in the mouth, elephants, streams to the ocean, sun in autumn, yeoman farmer, Benares cloth, grain of salt, writing on rock and water, the capable shopkeeper, clever physician, seafaring merchants, the grasscutter, glowing embers, fire undefiled, and last but not least, the gold-refiner.
 
The Buddha had a great deal to say about gold. Indeed, he seemed to know all about gold in all its aspects. As a member of the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose and Cross, I appreciate the various discourses the Buddha gave on gold, about gold from quartz, the debased gold when the metal is debased with iron, copper, tin, lead, and silver and not pliable, workable, nor bright, but is brittle and of no use for the best work. He knew all about the work of the gold-refiner and the process of washing the gold of its impurities, the process of blowing on it, and the right use of fire on the receptacle until the stage arrived when "that sterling gold is melted, molten, flawless, done with, its impurities strained off," and so it becomes pliable, and capable of workmanship; then it can be used for the particular purpose that one wishes, such as a "gold frontlet, or a ring, or necklace, or golden chain."
 
The monks and nuns were not allowed to keep nor to accept silver or gold coins, but they were expected to be gold-refiners of their own hearts and minds, in order to develop the higher consciousness. so that his or her mind might become pliable, workable, radiant, not stubborn, but perfectly poised by the destruction of the asavas (specified impurities of the mind); and to whatever branch of special knowledge he may direct his mind for the realization thereof, he attains the power personally to realize such, whatever be his range.
 
The Buddha had around him male and female disciples of all mental capacities and some of them had extraordinary powers of extension of consciousness. Others of course were capable only of following the Rules of the Order, but if a disciple, male or female, of the Order, or of the layfollowers, showed aptitude for instruction, the Buddha always gave out the principles of his Teaching. The Buddha never concealed anything. He had no inner circle of Adepts, which present-day folk love to think he had and would be sorely disappointed if they were forced to realize that he had not.
 
On one occasion when the Buddha was touring through a part of the country, he and a small band of disciples were passing through a large grove of trees. The Buddha picked up a handful of leaves and asked his disciples to tell him what difference there was in the number of leaves in his hand, and the number of leaves on the trees in the grove. The disciples observed that the leaves on the trees in the grove were decidedly many more in number than what the Master had in his hand. The Buddha then pointed out that the number of the leaves on the trees in the grove resembled the many things which he had discovered, but which he had not revealed to them; and what he had revealed to them resembled the number of leaves in his hand. And why? Because the many things which he had found out and had not revealed were useless, profitless, and did not lead to the goal which he wanted his disciples to reach; but the number of leaves he had in his hand represented the few things which he had revealed to them. And why? Because they were the things which were full of profit and would lead them to the goal; namely, the Four Noble Truths: this is Suffering; this is the Cause of Suffering; this Cause can be removed; this is the Path which will remove the Cause.
 
As mentioned before, the Buddha, his monks, and nuns were closely connected with the white-robed layfollowers. These laydisciples, male and female, gave liberal support in food, medicines, clothing, and other necessary requisites to the Buddha himself, to his monks and nuns. The Buddha had much to say about the power of merit that would accrue for layfolk who gave such necessary support to the Order. The monks and nuns, those who had renounced the home life, were not concerned with merit; but they constituted a great field of merit for the layfolk, especially those disciples who had attained the highest stage, namely, Arhatship.
 
Now, the Pali word dakkhineyya, means, one who is worthy of a gift, dakkhina; and in the time of the Buddha the most worthy recipient for gifts was the Buddha's Order of monks and nuns. When I went through my initiation into a Tantric Order of Tibet, my old Guru with the aid of his peculiar ritualistic implements invoked as many Dakkhinis as he could in the room for my benefit and blessing, and the number of ritualistic offerings I had to make to the Dakkhinis (goddesses of various orders), were endless.
 
So the conception of the Pali word dakkhina today, as understood in Tibet, is different altogether from what it originally meant in its simplicity. The Buddha had much practical advice to give to householders about the right trade to follow, the best way to portion out their wealth, to cultivate the four kind dispositions: liberality, kindly speech, a life of usefulness, and equal treatment toward everybody.
 
Then there are the famous Five Precepts which were expected to be observed daily by all Buddha's followers; namely, to refrain from killing or injuring any living creature, to refrain from stealing, to refrain from adultery, to refrain from telling lies, and to refrain from taking any kind of alcoholic drink. Actually these Five Observances were in existence long before the time of the Buddha and he merely incorporated them into his teaching. He did not mention smoking as this particular habit was not introduced into India until the invasion of the Mohammedans. The Buddha would not waste time in useless speculations. He was very firm about this, and when some Brahmin came to question him about whether he (the Buddha), would exist after death or not, or whether the world was eternal or noneternal, the Buddha kept silent. The Buddha was concerned only with the meaning of Suffering here on this earth, in all its physical and mental aspects; its Cause; its removal, and the Path, known as the Eight-fold Path, which leads to its removal.
 


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