(October 24th, 2011)
Buddhism is not a religion, it’s rather philosophy. Whilst Hinduism is full of Gods and rituals, Buddhism is a teaching, a code of morality.
The garden where it is believed Buddha was borne, it is a piece of Heaven to me. We leave our shoes at the entrance, and we walk barefoot through the grass, inside the temple, on the stones under the Bodhi tree. You breathe peace.
Buddha means the enlightened one. As a young prince, he had a name, and that was Siddhartha. The young and beautiful prince Siddhartha Gautama. His father is a king, his mother is a princess. An 80 years old priest sees in his meditation that a future teacher or a future king has been born, and he travels to see the small baby. He asks his father if he could hold him, he does, and he cries. Being asked why, he answers he is old, and he will not be around when the young man will be teaching the world.
It is only when he is 29 years old, when Siddhartha leaves the palace and the walls of his city for the first time; he comes face to face with an old man, a sick man, a hermit and a corpse. It is said that, shocked by this sudden exposure to the human suffering, the prince decides to leave his luxurious life, to find the answers to this suffering. He talks to his wife, he knows he cannot do this without her permission; and he wants to leave before their three months old son begins to call him ‘father’. She tells him that if he has to, he can go, but he has to do it when she does not know, does not see him leaving … he would leave on a full moon night.
He takes the hard path of suffering, fasting and meditation. And he would do so for five years, only to come to the conclusion that life as a starving pauper is no more conductive to wisdom than life as a prince. He would get the enlightenment under a Bodhi tree, only after a small girl, Suvata on her name, would feed him with food to satisfy his soul: this is what she tells the starving and fainting man, whilst offering him a bowl of rice. On the same night, Siddhartha would attain that fundamental grasp of the nature of human existence, and the Middle Way would be born.
Siddhartha spent the next 46 years teaching a path of moderation and self-knowledge through which human beings could escape the cycle of birth and rebirth and achieve nirvana, a state of eternal bliss.
Siddhartha is 29 when he attains enlightenment, Jesus Crist is believed to have been around 30 when he started preaching. They both look for disciples they could share their teaching with: Buddha choses five priests, Jesus Christ would choose twelve men form the lower and simple layers of society.
Both their mothers travel to give birth. Both their births appear to wise of learned man of their times, and both babies are therefore visited at their birth places: the 80 years old priest would come to see the future Buddha, the three Maguses from the East would follow the north star to see the future King of Christianity. And then there are the 10 Pancha Sila of Buddhism, and the Ten Commandments of Christianity: in essence, they are the same.
World is divided by religion, churches had fought wars in the name of their Gods. How absurd does this seem to be. Different believes can coexist. And humanity can look for ways of division, or could look for ways of acceptance.
I could not light a lamp at one of the Buddhist temples in Lumbini the other day, although I wished so much I could light a candle for my mother: it would have been her birthday on that day. They light the lamps to worship Lord Budhha, and I could not pretend to be in a church and light a candle for my mother’s soul. Would my God have understood that? I don’t know. Yet, we all believe the light to be a representation of the Devine.