Saturday, 26 March 2011

Assigning Stages of Life (Āśramadharma)


According to Brahmanic ethics, the life of the male of high caste was classified into four stages.

1. BrahmacArI (celibate life) – This stage of life covered from the childhood and the early young age. The purpose of this is to learn the due subject of own caste that knowledge was called dharma.

2. GRhastha (household life) – At this stage males are expected to be married, to bring up children and earn money. The purpose of this stage is to earn wealth (artha) and enjoy sensual pleasures (kAma).

3. VAnaprastha (giving up household responsibilities) – In this stage as a matured man he set himself free from household responsibilities by giving children in marriage and entrusting properties on them to be free from worldly boons.

4. ßanyAsi (sage) – In this last part of male’s life he is devoted to develop himself spiritually to liberate himself from suffering (mokSa). Here he lives a spiritual life devoid of worldly boons and being free from psychological bondages too.

Women kind was very much subject to suffering and disregard under Brahmin social laws. They did not receive equal educational economical political religious social and legal opportunities like men. These characteristics were the major features in the society where the Buddha was arose.

The above social order, which was there for many centuries, aroused the need of drastic change in Indian society. The political economical social religious educational and legal patterns were needed to be changed. But there came no a powerful force political other secular against the philosophy and social order of Brahmanism gradually there arose an alternative religious tradition called SamaNa tradition mainly against the religious theories of Brahmins. Three among six famous teachers presented materialistic, nihilist teachings mainly against Brahmanism. Jainism also ended in some extremes. It was only the Buddha who realized the socio-historical causes of this era of social change. The tradition values that were based on Vedic religious teachings were challenged. The new young generation was looking for religious and spiritual alternatives. Among that young generation, the Buddha was an energetic thinker who realized spiritual and social reasons of human suffering, having realized that He revealed it to the world and most of the young generation attracted towards His views on life and society of spiritual liberation.

It was a common feature among non-Brahmin samaNa religion to go against Vedas, monotheism, kingship and traditional methods of Brahmanic social order. The uniqueness of the Buddha lies in the fact that rejecting Brahmins he did not fall into other extremes of materialism and nihilism. He rejected those new wrong views too. He was the only teacher to reject theories of Eternalism and nihilism, practices of those two theories as mentioned in first self-indulgence and self-mortification, the views of six heretics. He shows the path for a meaningful religious life in the religious arena on Ganges valley.

In the ßuttapiTaka there are many discourses that revealed the details of Siddhattha Gautama’s research of highest truth and highest good (kim saccam gevesi, kim kusalam gavesi). The ßaGgAravasutta of MN has a detail explanation of Buddha’s practicing of austerities. He experimented and tried all the available ethical systems in order to discover the new way. The åriyapariyesanasutta of MN reveals much detail about Gautama’s research for the truth of life. He learnt akiJcaJJAyatana the formless spiritual attainment of nothingness from Ālarakālama and nevasaJJA nA saJJAyatana the formless spiritual attainment of neither perception nor non-perception from Uddakārāmaputta. These were the highest religious attainment to be heard at that time. The Buddha says in the åriyapariyesanasutta of MN in later even He was unsatisfied with it.

ñAyaM dhammo nibbidAya na virAgAya, na nirodhAya, na nibbAnAya saMvattati. yAvadeva nevasaJJAnAsaJJAyatanUpapattiyAti so kho ahaM bhikkhave taM dhammaM analaM karitvA tasmA dhammA nibbijja apakkamiM.

=This doctrine does not exist for giving up detachment, cessation and liberation that is the arising of attainment of neither perception nor non-perception. Therefore, O! Monks, I having given it up, having abandoned it went away. ”

The ßaGgAravasutta of MN says how Gautama realized the liberation which cannot be attained through self-mortification because it has to give much suffering to self.

ña kho panAhaM imAya kaTukAya dukkharakiriyAya adhigacchAmi uttarimanussadhammA alamariyaJAnadassana visesaM.

=Indeed, I am not attaining (any) particular supramundane factor or noble knowledge on vision with these difficult mortification.”

The problem of researching, Gautama solved in the available system of ethics was that none of them clearly enunciated the complete liberation from samsaric suffering. When this deficiency was observed in those days religion, he naturally went for new alternative.

In the ßandakasuutta of MN, the Buddha categorized the religions in His time into two headings
1.  ånassAsika brahmacariya =No result of celibacy 
2.  åbrahmacariyavAsa = Non-celibacy 

ånassAsika brahmacariya means the religious practices, which are unsatisfactory. Although followed well they don’t give fruitful results in absolute sense. Under this category, the Buddha included Jainism, teachings of Sañjayabellattiputta and good spiritual practices of Brahmanism. Buddhism understands this form of practice as not much wrong to practice but the mean is it does bring something to practitioner but it is not the perfect.

      åbrahmacariyavAsa means those religious and philosophical ideas that did not develop any form of good conduct, ethics or spirituality of followers but also social ethics. Under this second group, the teachings of Puranakassapa, Makkaligosala, Ajitakesakambala and Pakudhakaccāyana are grouped. These theories and practices were grouped under this because they are the prevailing religions in his time which give no good to oneself as well others than it brings harm.

This evaluation of the Buddha very clearly established the fact that all big and small, old and new religions of His time were not enough as a path of liberation and none of them is capable of liberating the being from his samsaric life. In face of this situation, the Buddha presented a new theory of religious practice that taught a unique way to liberation.

The special characteristics of Buddhism – the philosophy of life as Gautama the Buddha’s thought can be briefly stated as follows.

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