Introducing the professor
Professor Y. Karunadasa PhD.(Lond) 73, Professor Emeritus University of Kelaniya, presently visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies, the University of Hongkong. He had an early education at the Central Colleges of Welimade and Nugawela. He graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1958 and was awarded the Woodward prize for Pali. He served as an Asst Editor of the Encylopaeda of Buddhism and joined the Academic staff of the Vidyalankara University, Kelaniya. He was awarded a PhD. (Lond) for his dissertation BUDDHIST ANALISIS OF MATTER. Later, he was appointed Director, Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Sri Lanka.
As you all know, today, on this Vesak Day, we commemorate and celebrate three events associated with the Life of the Buddha. The first is the Birth of the Buddha, the second is the Enlightenment of the Buddha, and the third is the Parinibbana of the Buddha.
As you all know, the Buddha is the founder of the religion that has come to be known today as Buddhism. The word Buddha is a title, and not a personal name. The personal name of the Buddha is Siddhattha Gotama. But what exactly is the meaning of the title Buddha? Both in Pali and Sanskrit the term 'Buddha' means 'One who is Awakened'. We should understand the term 'Awakened', not in a literal sense, but in an idiomatic sense. It means the One who is awakened from the slumber of ignorance, from the slumber of delusion. The term Buddha also means the One who is Enlightened, the One who is enlightened to the nature of reality, One who is enlightened to the nature of actuality. What this means is that the Buddha had gained an immediate vision, an immediate insight into things as they they truly are. This is what is called in Pali Yathabhutanana. And this is what Buddhism calls liberating knowledge, the knowledge that leads to complete emancipation from all forms of conditioned experience. If the Buddha is the Enlightened One, the religion he has founded can rightly be described as 'the Religion of Enlightenment'
What is unique about the Buddha as a Religious Teacher is that unlike other Religious Teachers the Buddha did not claim divinity. According to Christianity, for instance, the Christ is an incarnation of God; according to Islam, Mohommed, the founder of Islam, is a Prophet of God. Hinduism believes in what is called Avatara or Divine Descent. This means that from time to time God assumes different forms and descends downs to the earth, in order to convey to the human beings a divine message.
On the other hand, the Buddha did not attribute his knowledge to a divine source, or to some kind of transcendental reality. What the Buddha discovered through supreme human effort, he did not want to attribute to a divine source. What does this mean? This means that the Buddha took full responsibility for what He taught.
As a religious teacher the Buddha never claimed to be a Saviour, either. The role of the Buddha as a religious teacher is not to save, but to lead, to lead us from darkness to light, from ignorance to wisdom, from bondage to freedom. As the founder of a religion, the Buddha himself defines his position in this way: Tumhehi kiccam atappam/ Akkhataro Tathagata. This means: You yourselves ought to do what ought to be done. You yourselves should work out your salvation, Your emancipation. The Tathagatas show the way. What this really means is that the Buddha is a Guide, a Teacher, one who shows the way. It is up to us to work out our emancipation. This is precisely why in the early Buddhist discourses the Buddha is often referred to as Satta. The Pali word Satta means Teacher. The use of this word brings into focus the role of the Buddha as the founder of a religion. It clearly shows that as a religious teacher the role of the Buddha is not to serve as a Saviour, but to serve as a Spiritual Guide.
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