My first exposure to the historical figure we call The Buddha happened in a reel-to-reel projector movie in 5th Grade Social Studies. I don’t remember the context of the entire film, perhaps ancient Indian history. I do remember the story of the enlightened teacher whose teaching of compassion and release for human beings spread across Asia. There was mention of the fact that upon his death he conquered the cycle of birth and rebirth that has human beings trapped on a wheel.
These were foreign concepts to a young man growing Christian in middle America in the the 1970s. Yet, I remember feeling drawn to this man and his teachings even then.
Fast forward 15 years. I have just had a real brush with death at the age of 25. I have been released after spending close to three months in the hospital. I was thirsty…thirsty to understand how people around the world processed life and processed death. I began reading the book so many have read as their gateway to understanding – Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Here again, I encountered this fully-enlightened human being, not relying on gods or the teachings of others for his wisdom. Instead, demonstrating the fullest potential of a human being acting under his own agency. I was hooked. I read everything I could get my hands on about Buddhism and the Buddha.
As I became familiar with ancient Buddhist images, like the one at the top of this article, I realized that from my earliest days in this life and with no exposure I recall, I had imagined this being seated on his lotus throne and expelling his wisdom from my earliest spiritual impulses.
Today I don’t necessarily consider myself Buddhist. Labels, after all, are somewhat opposite of all he taught. I do, however, see Siddhartha Gautama as a template for what human enlightenment looks like. I find it a valuable objective for my own life.
He was famously harried by one of his disciples for answers as to whether there was a God, was the universe eternal or non-eternal, was existence or non-existence superior? In classic form, the Buddha kept what was first first. He asked the disciple if answers to any of those questions changed the reality of human suffering and his need for release from that suffering. The man answered that they did not. “Then,” prodded the Buddha, “I suggest you address yourself to the issue at hand.”
He was proof that what is within us is all we need to reach the ultimate. In the Dhammapada, he is quoted as saying, “Housebuilder, I have seen thee. No more shall you build your house within me.” I’ve often wondered if this was his great moment of release and escape from the Prison Planet so many of us understand and see in the 21st century. Was this his ultimate cry of rebellion against those who control humanity and a clue to us that there is a path beyond these controls?
Studying and emulating the Buddha, I believe, is a key factor in seeing through the delusion around us and claiming our own independence.
This brief video was part of of an excellent documentary about Buddha narrated by Richard Gere. Here the film describes Buddha’s final moments and his final words to all of us. Enjoy.
Ray Davis is an author, thinker, and advocate for human potential. He is the author of the Anunnaki Awakening series. Signed copies of Book 1, Revelation, are now available within the U.S. from his website, AATrilogy.com or outside the US from Amazon or by order from your local bookstore.