The Buddha's Character?

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The Buddha's Character?

Postby Cal » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:02 pm

I'm hoping here not to offend anyone. However this question has been playing on my mind for a while.

I have been interested in Buddhism and meditating for a number of years, but only recently started reading the Suttas, rather than books on Buddhism or by Buddhists. Possibly unhelpfully, I recently read Bhikku Nanamoli's 'The Life of the Buddha', as I've had it unread on my shelf for ages, and it seemed like it strung together a lot of extracts from Suttas into a coherent framework.

However, having read the book I'm left with an impression of the Buddha which isn't as gentle and compassionate as I'd expected. He certainly appears significantly less so than most of the Sangha members I have met. I find myself inspired by the teaching and wisdom, but now rather turned off by the character.

So, could anyone with more knowledge of the Pali Canon perhaps point me to a few examples of such compassion and gentleness, and perhaps other aspirational aspects of the Buddha's character/personality? Or should I view the Buddha in different terms? I'm taking account of the different values we have 2,500 years after his death, but had still expected compassion etc. to shine through, as strongly as wisdom does.

Metta

Cal
Right Speech: It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will. [AN 5.198]

Personally, I seem to gain the most insight when I am under the most pressure, when life is at its most unpleasant. There is something in me on those occasions which feels that there is nothing left but to be aware of 'this'. Ajahn Sumedho - Don't Take Your Life Personally, p288
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:17 pm

I think you have put your finger on a real issue Cal. a balanced reading of the Suttas will show that the Buddha had great compassion, but he wasn't a milksop. He did not hesitate if he thought it necessary to point to foolish views and lack of logic. Certainly his idea of Right Speech did not always conform to what some of his modern followers insist on shaped as they often are by ideas of political correctness.. On the other hand he worked tirelessly for decades to bring the truth of things to those around him.
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby plwk » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:29 pm

Contrast....Kesi Sutta & Kucchivikara-vatthu
I think you have put your finger on a real issue Cal. a balanced reading of the Suttas will show that the Buddha had great compassion, but he wasn't a milksop. He did not hesitate if he thought it necessary to point to foolish views and lack of logic. Certainly his idea of Right Speech did not always conform to what some of his modern followers insist on shaped as they often are by ideas of political correctness.. On the other hand he worked tirelessly for decades to bring the truth of things to those around him.

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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:03 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I think you have put your finger on a real issue Cal. a balanced reading of the Suttas will show that the Buddha had great compassion, but he wasn't a milksop. He did not hesitate if he thought it necessary to point to foolish views and lack of logic. Certainly his idea of Right Speech did not always conform to what some of his modern followers insist on shaped as they often are by ideas of political correctness.. On the other hand he worked tirelessly for decades to bring the truth of things to those around him.

Well said.
To me, he was above all an outstanding teacher, with some of the, um, challenging, character traits you probably remember in even the best teachers you dealt with in school. You know - endlessly patient with students who tried hard, but a bit rough on others (always for their own good, of course); saying the same thing over and over in different ways until people get it; sure that he's right and quite willing to crush the opposition if that's the only way that they will realise they are wrong (he had a couple of really good stoushes with Brahmins, as I remember).
Of course, my view of him is probably affected by the fact that I have been a teacher myself for decades. I automatically notice the tricks of the trade and assess teaching skills quite independently of course content. I give the Buddha full marks on the first and nearly full marks on the second - some of his science curriculum is a bit shonky :tongue:

:namaste:
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Individual » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:06 am

I don't see the problem. If you don't think the Buddha had a good personality, why should we tell you your opinion is wrong?

The Buddha isn't Jesus or God or Muhammad or Joseph Smith. We don't devote ourselves to the Buddha and his honor doesn't need to be defended.

The important thing is the teaching.

With that said, I think the problem with this is the way a lot of translations are presented. They try to be literal, some of them even use archaic language like what the Bible uses, and they include redundant phrases, which was a style of Indian writing which sounds awful to modern people. It'd be great if somebody out there could take the suttas out there and have a translation that's less literal and less word-for-word, and you might get a much deeper picture of what the Buddha was like when you don't have to wade through so much stuff.

For some good stuff of the Buddha, though, I suggest the Digha Nikaya and the Jatakas.

Here's a nice Jataka about a past life of the Buddha, as a chief of an army of monkeys:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j2/j2030.htm

Here's a cute sutta, regarding the Buddha's compassion:
http://tipitaka.wikia.com/wiki/Kutadanta_Sutta

If you have the time, the Mahaparinibbana sutta (which is pretty long) is worth it also:
http://tipitaka.wikia.com/wiki/Maha-parinibbana_Sutta
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Cal » Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:12 am

Many thanks all for your contributions.

Individual wrote:I don't see the problem. If you don't think the Buddha had a good personality, why should we tell you your opinion is wrong?

The Buddha isn't Jesus or God or Muhammad or Joseph Smith. We don't devote ourselves to the Buddha and his honor doesn't need to be defended.

The important thing is the teaching.


Individual - I wasn't asking anyone to tell me I'm wrong. I specifically asked for helpful references, which admittedly you did give. For that, many thanks.

However, I don't really accept your assertion that :
We don't devote ourselves to the Buddha

Surely :
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
suggests paying hommage to the Buddha. Much pali chanting that I've heard is exactly devotional towards the Buddha (as well as to the Dhamma and Sangha)

The Buddha was no prophet. He was the embodiment of an enlightened being, a state which I suspect most Buddhists aspire to. I guess I had just expected this aspirational state to shine through more clearly in the suttas. For example, I read the exhortations to the sharing of loving-kindness, but haven't as yet come across this being demonstrable in the Buddha's character. I am working from the assumption that this is due to my lack of knowledge of the suttas, so was looking for guidance. I guess I'm trying to make progress towards Sanghamitta's :
balanced reading of the Suttas
and trying not to be too turned off by the fairly blunt tone/attitude which comes across in the, admittedly relatively small amount of, reading that I've done so far.

Metta

Cal
Right Speech: It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will. [AN 5.198]

Personally, I seem to gain the most insight when I am under the most pressure, when life is at its most unpleasant. There is something in me on those occasions which feels that there is nothing left but to be aware of 'this'. Ajahn Sumedho - Don't Take Your Life Personally, p288
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:18 am

I think when reading anything Cal we need to aware of the human capacity for projection. We are after all supplying the voice and tone that we are reading in.
I think also that we need to balance reading and actual practice. Try for example practising metta bhavana and then read the suttas and see if it changes the tone that you percieve.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Cal » Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:53 am

Sanghamitta wrote: Try for example practising metta bhavana and then read the suttas and see if it changes the tone that you percieve.


Good suggestion. Thanks. :namaste:

Cal
Right Speech: It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will. [AN 5.198]

Personally, I seem to gain the most insight when I am under the most pressure, when life is at its most unpleasant. There is something in me on those occasions which feels that there is nothing left but to be aware of 'this'. Ajahn Sumedho - Don't Take Your Life Personally, p288
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby clw_uk » Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:02 pm

Cal wrote:I'm hoping here not to offend anyone. However this question has been playing on my mind for a while.

I have been interested in Buddhism and meditating for a number of years, but only recently started reading the Suttas, rather than books on Buddhism or by Buddhists. Possibly unhelpfully, I recently read Bhikku Nanamoli's 'The Life of the Buddha', as I've had it unread on my shelf for ages, and it seemed like it strung together a lot of extracts from Suttas into a coherent framework.

However, having read the book I'm left with an impression of the Buddha which isn't as gentle and compassionate as I'd expected. He certainly appears significantly less so than most of the Sangha members I have met. I find myself inspired by the teaching and wisdom, but now rather turned off by the character.

So, could anyone with more knowledge of the Pali Canon perhaps point me to a few examples of such compassion and gentleness, and perhaps other aspirational aspects of the Buddha's character/personality? Or should I view the Buddha in different terms? I'm taking account of the different values we have 2,500 years after his death, but had still expected compassion etc. to shine through, as strongly as wisdom does.

Metta

Cal



Could you quote any particular instances where this lack of kindness stuck you? Just so we can get and idea

metta
Last edited by clw_uk on Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby cooran » Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:48 pm

Hello Cal,

I second cl_uk's request for you to give some examples of what you mean.

In the meantime, a little information here:

What was the Buddha like?
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/bud ... ples05.htm

with metta
Chris
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby bodom » Sat Nov 06, 2010 4:46 pm

So, could anyone with more knowledge of the Pali Canon perhaps point me to a few examples of such compassion and gentleness, and perhaps other aspirational aspects of the Buddha's character/personality?


How about this sutta?

Kucchivikara-vatthu: The Monk with Dysentery - Mv 8.26.1-8

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Sat Nov 06, 2010 5:01 pm

Hi Cal.Picking up on what Kim said.The best teachers that I had in school were the ones that A-wanted to teach us,believing we were worthy of being taught and B-weren't backwards about coming forwards when it came to putting us straight on things.It is those teachers who I remember the best and whose teachings and little quips stay with me to this day.Lord Buddha was without a doubt a man of compassion,but not a man of idiot compassion.
He knew his audience and taught and spoke as he knew their capability to understand.
With metta
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby Cal » Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:08 am

Many thanks for the replies, all. I liked 'Monk with Dysentery' sutta, thank you. The sutta was also quite appropriate as I've been rather indisposed for about 10 days myself...

To answer with direct examples, I need to spend some time re-reading Nanamoli, in order to quote relevant passages, as I'm sure there were specifics beyond the general impression it left on me. Please bear with me as life is a little complicated here.

As I suggested previously, I'm sure the Buddha was compassionate, it just didn't come through in the book I'd read. So I was looking for guidance to dispel this unhelpful impression. I intend no criticism or slight.

Metta
Cal
Right Speech: It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will. [AN 5.198]

Personally, I seem to gain the most insight when I am under the most pressure, when life is at its most unpleasant. There is something in me on those occasions which feels that there is nothing left but to be aware of 'this'. Ajahn Sumedho - Don't Take Your Life Personally, p288
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Re: The Buddha's Character?

Postby cooran » Wed Nov 10, 2010 7:24 am

Hello Cal,

Also .... when people use the word '''compassion''' - oftentimes it is best to check what this term means within the Teachings.


II. Compassion (Karuna)
The world suffers. But most men have their eyes and ears closed. They do not see the unbroken stream of tears flowing through life; they do not hear the cry of distress continually pervading the world. Their own little grief or joy bars their sight, deafens their ears. Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. Being stiff and narrow, how should they be able to strive for any higher goal, to realize that only release from selfish craving will effect their own freedom from suffering?

It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self.
Through compassion the fact of suffering remains vividly present to our mind, even at times when we personally are free from it. It gives us the rich experience of suffering, thus strengthening us to meet it prepared, when it does befall us.

Compassion reconciles us to our own destiny by showing us the life of others, often much harder than ours.
Behold the endless caravan of beings, men and beasts, burdened with sorrow and pain! The burden of every one of them, we also have carried in bygone times during the unfathomable sequence of repeated births. Behold this, and open your heart to compassion!

And this misery may well be our own destiny again! He who is without compassion now, will one day cry for it. If sympathy with others is lacking, it will have to be acquired through one's own long and painful experience. This is the great law of life. Knowing this, keep guard over yourself!

Beings, sunk in ignorance, lost in delusion, hasten from one state of suffering to another, not knowing the real cause, not knowing the escape from it. This insight into the general law of suffering is the real foundation of our compassion, not any isolated fact of suffering.

Hence our compassion will also include those who at the moment may be happy, but act with an evil and deluded mind. In their present deeds we shall foresee their future state of distress, and compassion will arise.

The compassion of the wise man does not render him a victim of suffering. His thoughts, words and deeds are full of pity. But his heart does not waver; unchanged it remains, serene and calm. How else should he be able to help?

May such compassion arise in our hearts! Compassion that is sublime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help.
Compassion that is strength and gives strength: this is highest compassion.

And what is the highest manifestation of compassion?
To show to the world the path leading to the end of suffering, the path pointed out, trodden and realized to perfection by Him, the Exalted One, the Buddha.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el006.html

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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