ON THE TRACES OF THE BUDDHA
Wednesday September 25, 2013: Conference In the footsteps of the Buddha by Madame Trâm-Journet, lecturer at the Cernuschi Museum, teacher at the Ecole du Louvre.
This first lecture of a cycle on Buddhism makes it possible to evoke the birth of Buddhism following the footsteps of Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha Sakyamuni.
An image and a Buddhist canon will be created that will spread outside the Indian world and some traits or episodes will be more or less retained depending on the culture.
The historical Buddha will be born in an Indian world shaped from the second millennium BC by the contributions of an Aryan population probably originating from the confines of the Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean. These Aryans or Indo-Europeans will settle first in the Indus basin then, towards the first millennium, in the Ganges basin. Society is hierarchized into four large castes: priests or Brahmans, nobles or kshatriya, common people or Vaisya, servants or surdra. The culture of this society is based on a set of sacred texts: the Vedas (know). From Vedism, culture will evolve into Brahmanism through a change in the hierarchy of divinities with the predominance of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The set of rules that govern society constitutes the law, the dharma. Alongside this great model, there are monks who by ascetic practices, including yoga, seek to acquire supernatural spiritual forces. One of the strong ideas of Vedism is the notion of cycle and that the death of beings is followed by their rebirth. This inescapable cycle is known as samsara or metempsychosis. The rebirth is based on the acts of the past with the notion of moral retribution: the karma will be the cause of the rebirth whether good or bad. It is possible to get out of this cycle by the practice of a very rigorous asceticism and this is the point on which the historical Buddha will bring a solution accessible to all.
This historical Buddha was born in the north of India to 563 before our era and his life is inseparable from the legend. This life retraces the stages crossed by a bodhisattva (to be promised to the Awakening) whose last reincarnation is the prince Siddhartha Gautama who will become a being of Enlightenment, a Buddha. This accession to enlightenment is done in several lives recounted in texts, the jatakas (births) which bring together the 540 legendary accounts of the past lives of the Buddha. The basis of these accounts is that it puts forward ten virtues considered essential whose importance will vary between ancient Buddhism, Theravada, and Buddhism known as of the Great Vehicle, Mahayana. In Theravada, these essential notions are gift, moral practice, self-denial, renunciation, intelligence, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness and determination while in Mahayana Buddhism this are gift, moral practice, patience, energy, wisdom, meditation, mastery of means, resolve, moral strength and knowledge. The jatakas are the subject of many illustrations.
Le jataka Prince Mahâsattva narrates the story of three princes who see a hungry tigress with his little ones. Two princes are going back home to find food, but the third remains and decides to offer food to the tigress so that she can breastfeed her little ones. This jataka is the subject of many representations in the Buddhist world (China, Japan, etc.). The Vessantara jataka which relates the penultimate life of the historical Buddha tells that this king, during various adventures, donated to different brahmans of his white elephant, symbol of his status, his children, his wife and finally the Brahmins prove to be aspects of the god Indra who makes him everything. At his death, King Vessantara, having accumulated good deeds will be reborn in the sky of the gods Tushita.
He will spend a very long time (4 000 years) before being reborn one last time. He determines himself the time, the place of birth and the mother who will carry it. His choice is for Queen Maya and the Suddhodana king of the Shakyas clan, whose capital is Kapilavastu, and will be reborn in the ksatriya caste. The royal couple live in abstinence and have no children and the design of the future Buddha is a miracle. Queen Maya sees in a dream a white elephant penetrate her right flank. Her dream interpreted by the diviners tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be either a universal monarch or a being of enlightenment, a Buddha, provided that he renounces the world.
Ten months later, the queen, going to her parents, will stop at Lumbini in Nepal, where she will give birth. This birth will also be miraculous: the queen is standing under a tree clinging to a branch and the young prince will come out of his right flank without hurting her.
The date set today for the birth is the eighth day of the fourth lunar month (8 April) which is an essential holiday in Thailand or Cambodia. In order to prevent every human being from touching this child called to an exceptional future, the newborn will be received by the gods Indra and Brahma.
Just born, the child knowing immediately walk, performs seven steps north, fix the cardinal points and proclaim that "like a lion free from fear and terror, he will conquer the disease." At the same time are his wife, his squire, his horse will be born too. After the birth the young prince will be bathed and according to the countries the representation will be able to differ.
After the disappearance of the Mayan queen after 7 days, the young prince is raised by his aunt. Returning to Kapilavastu, the prince receives from his father the name of Siddhartha (who obtains success, prosperity) and the diviners establish his horoscope and examine the 32 major marks and the 80 secondary signs of the eminent man, confirming the interpretation of the queen's dream. Buddhist art will retain some of the major signs: curly hair that turns clockwise, cranial protuberance (and not a bun!), A tuft of white hairs between the two eyebrows, the lobes stretched ears, the folds of beauties on the neck. Other signs, such as a membrane between the fingers, can be represented depending on the country and the time.
His father will give him an exemplary education that allows him to master the 64 arts, which includes both physical and spiritual disciplines. From this period he will arouse jealousies, including that of his cousin Devadatta who will try to kill him three times. At the age of sixteen, Prince Siddhartha will marry Yashodhara. Suddhodana, unwilling to see his son become a renunciant, will give him all the pleasures and hide all human suffering by creating pleasure gardens. It is by going to these gardens that Siddhartha will make the Four Encounters that will decide his destiny. He will meet an old man on his way to the East, a sick man in the South, a funeral procession in the West and a beggar monk in the North. Following these meetings, he will realize that all is not pleasure, that there is suffering and that the path to follow is that of renunciation. On his twenty-ninth birthday he decides to leave his family, this is the Grand Départ. This departure will be done in the greatest secrecy, the gods will sleep the palace, deities will support the hooves of his horse to stifle the noise. Once removed from the palace, Siddhartha will get rid of his jewels, his clothes, cut his hair and ask Chandaka, his squire, to return to the palace with his horse and announce to his father his decision to give up the world .
During the following period, the future Buddha will meet different masters but they do not show him a satisfactory way to achieve salvation. With five companions, they will isolate themselves and will try to find by themselves the way to this salvation. He will associate yoga practices with asceticism and a prolonged fasting which will make him lose his flesh and all the exceptional signs. In a state of extreme weakness, he sees the god Indra appear who presents him with a three-stringed lute: the first is not stretched enough and gives no sound (one must not be linked to this world), the third is too tight and breaks (ascetic practices taken to the extreme are not a good solution), the second string that is just tight is the right solution, it is the middle ground. He will therefore cease his asceticism, which will cause the rejection of his five companions. He will refuel and settle on the site of Bodh-Gayâ, under a tree, the pipal (ficus religiosa) where he will begin a very long meditation. This meditation will lead him to Awakening and the boddhisattva Siddhârta Gautama thus becomes a Buddha, the Buddha Sakyamuni, the sage of the Sakya clan. During his meditation, the god Mara will send his daughters to distract him, faced with his failure he will send his troops and then natural disasters without managing to disturb the future Buddha. To mark his victory, the Buddha will make a very important gesture, that of taking the Earth as a witness (Bhumisparsha-Mudra).
The Awakened One will possess the four noble truths: the truth about pain, the truth about the origin of pain, the truth about the cessation of pain and the truth to remedy it. During the following seven weeks, the Buddha will meditate and during the sixth week, a torrential rain will fall and the Naga king Muçilinda will curl up to raise him up and protect him with his hoods (this scene is particularly represented in Khmer art. ). After the intervention of the gods, the Buddha will decide to teach these four noble truths. Founding episode of the historic Buddha's preaching life, his First Sermon for his companions in asceticism not far from Sarnath, in Benares, in the gazelle park. It is on the occasion of the Benares Sermon that the Buddha will set in motion the wheel of the law (Dharmaçakra mudra). For this first sermon, the Buddha will explain the four noble truths: all is suffering (birth, old age, death, to be united with what one does not like, to be separated from what one loves, not having what we want are suffering), the cause of suffering (the desire for unfulfilledness provokes re-existence and become it again, the thirst for the pleasures of the senses, the thirst for existence and becoming, thirst for non-existence), the cessation of suffering (complete cessation of this thirst, freeing yourself from it, detaching yourself from it), the remedy proposed is the noble eightfold path (ethical conduct linked to the right word, right action, the means to righteous existence - the mental discipline of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration - which leads to right understanding and right thinking).
For forty-five years, the Buddha with his disciples will not stop traveling the middle basin of the Ganges to explain and teach his doctrine. During his wanderings the Buddha will experience adventures and one of the most famous episodes is the miracle of Srasvatî: in front of an audience which discusses his teaching, the Buddha will rise in the sky, flames will escape from his shoulders and water will flow from his feet. Other miracles will enamel his life until the end, when he decides to cease to exist and to be extinct (he cannot die). This event, the parinirvana takes place near Kusinâgara: the Buddha lies on his right flank and his disciples, the gods like the whole universe will deplore his extinction.
After its extinction, the transmission of its teaching and monastic rules will be the subject of a first council during the following rainy season on the site of Rajagriha around 480 before our era. During this council we will question two disciples: the first, Upali, will answer questions concerning monastic discipline, the second, Ananda, the favorite disciple of the Buddha, will answer questions concerning teaching. Following this we will write a set of texts which will be divided into three main categories forming the Tripitaka (the triple basket): the Vinaya Pitaka, basket of discipline, the Pitaka Sutra, text basket, theAbhiddharma Pitaka, basket of supreme doctrine. This set still forms the Buddhist canon today but, depending on the different schools, one text will be put forward rather than another. The oldest corpus is the one on which Theravada Buddhism is based, which was transcribed in Pali, a language believed to be close to the language of the Buddha. But this ancient Buddhism advocates the way of renouncing the world and we will seek a way more accessible to the laity so that they can find refuge in the Triple Jewel: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Towards the third century before our era, the Council of Pataliputra was held, where we saw the idea that it was not necessary to renounce the world to reach enlightenment, which was to prepare the schism of Mahayana Buddhism which will appear under the Kushan in North India.
Theravada Buddhism is practiced mainly in South Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Kampuchea, Laos, Burma and parts of Vietnam) while Mahayana Buddhism has developed from Central Asia to Tibet, China, Korea, Japan and parts of Vietnam.
We can thank Mrs Trâm-Journet for this first conference, which has been devoted to the life of the Buddha Sakyamuni, and prepares the way for the following lectures.