Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Calmness of the Buddha

There's something very peculiar about Buddha faces. If you happen to google "Buddha face", you'll see why. But then again, you probably won't google it, so I'll do it for you. Here it is!

Although the Buddha faces appear slightly different in terms of their facial features, they are very similar because all have a characteristic expression of calmness. In a way, the ubiquity of this expression suggests that the Buddha was perpetually calm. 

About 2 weeks back, I was very intrigued by this perpetual calmness that Buddha seemed to possess. At that point in time, I was in search of a better outlook of life, and a thought occurred to me- since Buddha was always so calm, then shouldn't being calm like him make myself more wise? I decided to try this out.

Much to my surprise, the trial was an absolute disaster! I became so calm that I lost all passion to perform simple functions like working and thinking. I became so torpid that I accomplished nothing of value in the following days.

I realized then that the Buddha simply could not have been perpetually calm. I mean he would never have been able to do the grand things that he did, being burdened by the torpidity.

I took some time to read about Buddha, and I discovered some important facts that confirmed my conjecture. For one, he was never perpetually calm. Buddha was known for giving life-changing lectures to both monks and lay people. These lectures were not delivered while Buddha was closing his eyes and sitting calmly in a lotus stance. He spoke and acted with great passion! Another evidence to show that he was passionate is the sheer length of the lectures he gave to people. Some of Buddha's words in certain sutras could go on for hundreds of pages. How could someone speak so much, being in a state of perpetual calmness?

The question that then arises is that if Buddha was never perpetually calm, then what was he like? What is it then that characterized him and his actions? To answer this question is of course very difficult, and the answer I provide may be a far cry from what is real. But then again, I don't see anything wrong with making mistakes.

I believe that what characterized Buddha's actions was the philosophy of the Middle Way, which Buddha himself advocated during his lifetime. This philosophy explains that when faced with certain extreme choices, the wisest path to take is to find an appropriate balance between the extreme ways of acting. It basically provides one with a route to make morally objective decisions. This philosophy may seem simplistic, but then again, it is important to note that it is not a theoretical form of philosophy (one that can be rigorously analyzed), such as the philosophy of science or like epistemology (philosophy of knowledge), but rather it is a practical and dynamic form of philosophy that is understood largely through application within one's life.

I want to give you a hypothetical scenario of how Buddha may have used this philosophy. While lecturing his audience on Buddhism, the Buddha of course had many choices of action. He could have been very calm throughout the lecture. But this could bore his audience. Alternatively, he could have been overly passionate about the lecture by shouting out his teachings. But this would give his audience a shock. Both of these actions represent extremes, and Buddha could not have done without either one of them. The wisest path would be the Middle Way: to lecture the audience passionately enough to engage them, but to be calm enough to maintain self-dignity. And this is precisely how Buddha conducted many of his lectures!

Thus, I believe that Buddha chose his actions by weighing their consequences with the aid of the philosophy of the Middle Way. This is what I believe characterized him. Of course, all of this was done subtly by him. That's the beauty of him and his philosophy.

Now, going back to the Buddha faces. Another question that still lingers after this discussion is this: if the Buddha was not perpetually calm, then why do so many works of art portray him as being in that state of calmness?

This is what I think... People create art to express what they feel deep inside and to deliver a certain message to both themselves and others. Perhaps the calmness of the Buddha is a way for people, who are distressed by the great speed and adversities of daily life, to construct a figure of fortitude that they can constantly revert to. Perhaps the perpetual calmness of the Buddha is an indicator of the perpetual chaos inherent in daily living.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_way

7 comments:

  1. Amazing stuff Atta. The last paragraph is spot on, for me.

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  2. That was a great read man! I've always questioned and wondered at the calmness Buddha always seemed to portray whenever I saw him. It brings to memory a quote I have came across before, that waiting is an oasis of calm in a busy life. Your post really helped to clear up the mystery behind his apparent state of serenity. You've got a great writing style, and keep doing what you do!

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  3. "He spoke and acted with great passion!" Nope, you totally wrong, he spoke and acted with great calmness, not passion.

    "How could someone speak so much, being in a state of perpetual calmness?" of course he could, he is Buddha.

    You describe calmness in a wrong way.

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    Replies
    1. Hi. Thank you for writing.

      It is difficult to say what is right or wrong about Buddha because none of us ever met him. Thus, all we can do is postulate his characteristics based on the facts we know about him and certain assumptions that we must make about him.

      The assumption I made is that Buddha was a human being. As a human being, he must have possessed human tendencies. In my post, I'm postulating his characteristics based on the assumption that he possessed human tendencies.

      In the view that you presented, you are assuming Buddha possessed otherworldly traits- traits that a human being could never possess. Based on your assumption, you postulate that he lived his life and achieved everything he did in a state of perpetual calmness.

      There's nothing right or wrong about our postulations. After all, they are just postulations. But I think the greater question here is whether there is something wrong with our assumptions.

      Speaking from a pragmatic point of view, I think it is better to assume Buddha was a human being. Why? If we assume he was a human being, then we as human beings can learn lessons from him and apply them to improve ourselves. This contributes to the betterment of our human nature and consequently, the betterment of mankind.

      There are good reasons to assume Buddha possessed otherworldly traits too. For one, this assumption leaves us with a sense of mystery about life's possibilities. This mystery ultimately gives us a hope of finding something greater in life. This too contributes to the betterment of human nature and consequently, mankind. But the downside of this assumption is that we lose a certain amount of realism. This causes us to retrograde to superstitious notions. This, I believe, is unacceptable in today's modern society.

      Ultimately, it is still up to you to choose your assumptions. You just have to know why you chose your assumption.

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  4. Calm is his mind.
    Calm is his speech.
    Calm is his behaviour.
    So is the tranquillity;
    So is the serenity;
    of one freed by the insight
    of right understanding

    -Dhammapada-

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