Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bhutan - The significance of Parinirvana

Perspective 15 June, 2011 - Every fifteenth day of the fourth month in the Bhutanese calendar is observed as Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana, formally known as Duechen Ngazom. Among many great deeds of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni recorded, there are twelve most important deeds, most famous among which five are included in the Parinirvana.

A summarisation from the first deeds
When the Buddha was teaching in the paradise of Tushita, which is a realm where the devas (gods) reside and also a sambhogakaya realm, the sound of his previous motivation reminded him that it was necessary to take birth in our world and teach the dharma.

He then considered five things: the land where he ought to be born (which was Kapila in Nepal), the caste he should be born into (which was a royal caste), the family in which he should be born (which was the Shakya clan), who his mother was to be (she was Mayadevi), and the time that was right for him to be born (which happened to be when the five degenerations were on the increase, the present time).

After having made these determinations, he decided to take birth in our world. This particular deed of leaving Tushita was intended to teach us that somebody, who has achieved enlightenment, is no longer a slave of his own karma, and has control over anything he or she does.

The Buddha was conceived into the womb of his mother, Mayadevi (by taking the form of a White Elephant descending from Tushita and entering the womb immaculately). One may wonder why he was conceived and then took birth. If he had complete control over everything, then why wasn’t he born miraculously from a lotus flower as was Padmasambhava?

The Buddha had a special reason for being born the normal way. He was thinking in the long term of his future disciples, who would be inspired because the Buddha, who practised and achieved enlightenment, started out like anyone else. He did this to instill conviction and confidence in his future disciples.

Third Deed: Birth in the garden of Lumbini, in present day Nepal
Although the Buddha took an ordinary human birth, there was still something special in his birth. The Buddha came out of the body of his mother through her right side. Some people might wonder how this was possible. They might think, “Well, what exactly happened? Did the rib cage crack?” One doesn’t need to think in terms of anatomical problems, because the Buddha was a miraculous being and he just took birth through his mother’s right side without any pain or obstacle.

At the time of the Buddha’s birth, there were many very special things happening where he was born. All of a sudden, crops started growing. Trees appeared all over the area of Lumbini and rare flowers, such as the Udumvara flower, that had never grown in this area, started blooming everywhere. Due to these events, he was given the name Siddhartha in Sanskrit, or Dhon Drup in Tibetan, which means, “the one that makes everything possible”.

As a result of interdependent origination, the presence of a highly accomplished individual produces changes in the environment, such as the blossoming of flowers.

Ninth Deed: Victory over of the leader of Maras, Papiyan
When the Buddha was sitting under the bodhi tree Papiyan, the leader of Maras, used forms related to the three disturbing emotions (sometimes called kleshas) of ignorance, desire, and aggression to try and lure the Buddha away from his pursuit of enlightenment. The first deception, representing ignorance, was that the Buddha was asked to abandon his meditation and return immediately to the kingdom, because his father King Shuddhodana had died and the evil Devadatta had taken over the kingdom.

Then Papiyan tried to create an obstacle using desire; his beautiful daughters tried to deceive and seduce the Buddha. When this did not disturb the Buddha’s meditation, Mara then used hatred by coming towards the Buddha surrounded by millions of horribly frightening warriors, who were throwing weapons at the Buddha’s body. But the Buddha wasn’t distracted or fooled by these three poisons. He remained immersed in compassion and loving-kindness and therefore triumphed over this display of the three poisons and was able to eventually achieve enlightenment. (This deed of the Buddha is represented by the image of the Buddha “taking the earth as witness,” gently touching the ground with his right hand and holding a begging bowl in his left hand.

Tenth Deed: Attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree
Since the Buddha developed all the qualities of meditation to the utmost stages, he was able to reach enlightenment. He did this to demonstrate that we also can reach enlightenment. As a matter of fact, one of the main points of the whole Buddhist philosophy is to show us that Buddhahood is not something to be found outside of us, but something we can achieve by looking inside ourselves. And the qualities that we attain with enlightenment will be no different from the ones the Buddha attained. Also, the Buddha managed to eliminate all the negative emotions, the same ones we presently experience.

Twelfth Deed: Passing away at the age of 83 in the town of Kushingara
The Buddha and his monks came to a grove of sal trees in Kushinagar. The Buddha asked Ananda to prepare a couch between two trees, with its head to the north. I am weary and want to lie down, he said. When the couch was ready, the Buddha lay down on his right side, one foot upon the other, with his head supported by his right hand. Then the sal trees bloomed, although it was not their season, pale yellow petals rained down on the Buddha. The Buddha spoke for a time to his monks. At one point, Ananda left the grove to lean against a door post and weep. The Buddha sent a monk to find Ananda and bring him back. Then the Blessed One said to Ananda, Enough, Ananda! Do not grieve! Have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change and separation? All that is born, comes into being, is compounded, and is subject to decay. How can one say: “May it not come to dissolution”? This cannot be.

Ananda, you have served the Tathagata with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought; graciously, pleasantly, wholeheartedly. Now you should strive to liberate yourself.

The Blessed One then praised Ananda in front of the other assembled monks.

The Buddha spoke further, advising the monks to keep the rules of the order of monks. Then he asked three times if any among them had any questions. Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought: “The Master was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask him.” But no one spoke. The Buddha assured all of the monks they would realise enlightenment.

Then he said, All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive with diligence. Then, serenely, he passed into Parinirvana.

Contributed by Choten Dorji
Lecturer in Buddhist Studies (English) Lekjung Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies Punakha

No comments: