(The following article has been translated from an article by S. N. Goenka from the Vipassana Patrika dated 17 September 1997.)
The Buddha did not teach Buddhism. During his lifetime, he did not convert a single person to Buddhism. One will be surprised to hear this and will not want to believe it, because we have been hearing, speaking, reading and writing contrary to this fact for such a long time. But the historical truth is that the Buddha neither taught Buddhism nor made any person a Buddhist.
The Buddha taught Dhamma and made people righteous. The Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) located in Dhamma Giri, has produced a CD-ROM containing the entire teaching of the Buddha and related literature in Pali. This literature is really vast. It contains 146 volumes with 52,602 pages and 74,48,248 words. This amazing new device has the facility of easily and quickly locating any word in this vast literature. One can instantly locate where a particular word occurs: the volume, page and line in which it occurs. Upon the use of this universal modern technology, the truth of the above statement was established. In the entire teaching of the Buddha as well as in the vast literature of the related commentaries, sub-commentaries, and sub-sub-commentaries, the word "Buddhist" has not been used with regard to his teachings or his followers.
In the entire teaching of the Buddha, the word that has been used everywhere for the teaching of the Buddha is "Dhamma", not "Buddhist Dhamma". Whenever any adjective precedes the word "Dhamma", it is qualitative, not sectarian. Like saddhamma (true Dhamma), ariyo dhammo (noble Dhamma), dhammo sanātano (eternal Dhamma), and so on. His followers have not been called Buddhists anywhere. For those who gained benefit by walking on the path shown by him, these six words were used: dhammim, dhammiko, dhammattho, dhammacarim, dhammavihari, dhammanusari.
Not only during the lifetime of the Buddha but even in the next few centuries, we do not come across words like "Buddhist" or "Buddhism" anywhere. About two and a half centuries after the Buddha, Emperor Ashoka, who was obssessed with royal power, caused a cruel human carnage and was proud to be called "fierce Ashoka", came in contact with Dhamma. He benefited from Dhamma and inspired others to walk on the path of Dhamma, and was therefore called "Dhamma Ashoka", not "Buddhist Ashoka". Out of a feeling of affection towards his subjects, he encouraged the spread of Dhamma, among them, not Buddhism. He sent not Buddhism, but the Dhamma ratana (the jewel of Dhamma), not only to neighhbouring countries but to distant western countries as well, in the form of a priceless gift from India. On this beneficial, historical and important mission to these countries, he sent Dhammadūtas (messengers of Dhamma), not "messengers of Buddhism". None of the edicts on rocks and columns of Emperor Ashoka that have come to light so far contain the word "Buddhist"; everywhere, the word "Dhamma" is used. Dhamma is universal, it is for everyone.
Therefore, Emperor Ashoka, who walked on this path, instructed his subjects that the people of one sect should never criticize the people of another sect and they should have love and affection for one another. This is the distinguishing feature of the universal Dhamma. When this universal Dhamma teaching of the Buddha became confined within narrow limits, is a subject for investigation. It is a research topic for linguistic and historical scholars to discover when and by whom these sectarian words like "Buddhist", "Buddhism" and "Buddhist philosophy" came into use. VRI will also conduct relevant research in this area.
One may rightly surmise that this word may have come into use after this country forgot the essence of the true teaching of the Buddha. Gradually this country also lost the entire original related literature and, worst of all, it lost Vipassana, which is the technique of practicing the essence of that teaching. The technique of Vipassana, which was the practical aspect of the Buddha's teaching and by the practice of which, breaking all the artificial barriers of caste, race, class and religion, humanity gained benefit, was the direct proof that the Buddha's teaching was universal. When the technique of Vipassana was lost, the original teaching of the Buddha was lost, and this was a very big loss not only for our country but also for humanity as a whole.
The teaching of the Buddha which was for everyone, became "Buddhism" and became limited to those people who called themselves "Buddhists". Because of the loss of Vipassana, most people forgot the universal and eternal importance of the Buddha's teaching pertaining to all countries. As long as it was "Dhamma", people did not hesitate to practice it but as soon as it began to be called "Buddhism", the delusion naturally spread, "This is the dhamma for Buddhists, not for us". That which the Buddha called appamano dhammo, (unlimited Dhamma) became confined by the narrow bounds of an organised religion, became pamanavatti (limited) and unfortunately was placed in the shallow row of the different religions of the world. Because of this, people remained ignorant of its universally beneficial nature, and were deprived of the benefits obtained from it.
Fortunately because a few wise people in the neighbouring country of Myanmar preserved this universal technique of Vipassana in its pure form for centuries, from generation to generation, it has arisen again. It has returned to India. It has arisen again in the world. In the past nearly three decades through its practice, it has been completely proved that the original teaching of the Buddha is not meant to be confined within the bounds of a religion. It is universal. People of all religions, races, castes and communities of the world can take advantage of this beneficial technique, they are already benefiting from it. One can believe that by the spread of Vipassana, the strife, aversion and ill-will between different religions and communities will end and mutual love and affection will be produced in all people in this country and in the world.
Vipassana is a very ancient meditation technique of India. Any person who becomes a Buddha attains enlightenment by rediscovering this lost technique. In the Vedic literature before the lifetime of the Buddha, there is abundant praise for this technique. But it is only praise. The India of that time had completely forgotten the practical application of this technique. Sakyamuni Siddhattha Gotama rediscovered this technique by exerting much effort. Feeling great compassion for suffering humanity, he distributed it for the benefit of all. Unfortunately after only a few centuries, India forgot this historical Buddha and once again lost the ancient technique of Vipassana. India lost the beneficial technique because of which its past had been very prosperous and the world had saluted it in the form of a vishwa-guru (Teacher of the world).
This huge stupa (a round or domed monument, usually containing a sacred relic) will prove to be a bright light-house of that ancient prosperity and prestige. It will again bring to light the ancient eternal universal tradition of Dhamma for the benefit of the world. This golden stupa will herald the second coming of that golden age when India was the leader not only in the field of spirituality but also in material prosperity. This sky-high stupa, raising its lofty head, will give a call not only to India but to all the people of the world and will proclaim the universally beneficial teachings of the Tathāgata (the Buddha) with a resounding voice.
Its circular exhibition gallery with traditional sculptures and paintings depicting important events of the Buddha's life and teachings will, with the help of modern technology such as special lighting and audio-visual devices, remove the misconceptions that have spread about the Buddha,. Visitors will come to learn that Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha was neither a god nor an incarnation of any god nor a prophet of any god. He did not become the Buddha because of divine grace. Perfecting his paramitās (wholesome mental qualities that help to dissolve egoism and thus lead to liberation), by exerting strenuous efforts for innumerable lives, he attained supreme enlightenment in his final life and therefore, was called a sammāsambuddha (one who becomes a Buddha by his own efforts). He was not a mythological being but a completely historical person.
He was called superhuman because he attained the highest state that can be attained by a human being. Filled with infinite compassion, he kept teaching the technique of Vipassana to suffering humanity all his life for liberation from suffering, therefore he was called the All-compassionate One. Because he completely eradicated craving, aversion and ignorance, he was called Bhagavā. Because he discovered and taught the operation of the natural laws of kamma (action) and the corresponding consequences of kamma as a result of his direct experience, he was called a supreme theist. In those days in India, this was the only acceptable definition of theism.
If the true nature of the historical superhuman Buddha comes to light, the misconceptions about the Buddha in India will be removed and the importance of human effort and valour will be established in place of blind belief in divine miracles. Many historical incidents occurred during the long lifetime of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha. However, the number of exhibition rooms in this hall will be limited. So even though it will not be possible to exhibit all of these incidents, whatever is exhibited will prove that the Buddha did not establish any religious sect. He never had any intention of converting anyone and confining them within the bounds of an organised religious sect. With infinite compassion towards all, he taught the pure Dhamma with only one objective, "bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya" (for the good of many, for the happiness of many) and not for the good of any one person or religious sect. Those whom he taught the Dhamma thoroughly and sent to teach to others, were sent only after he inspired them with the noble sentiments of "bahujana hitāya bahujana sukhāya lokanukampaya" (for the good of many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world). Instead of establishing a religious sect, he re-established the ancient true eternal Dhamma in its pristine purity.
Like an infinitely compassionate and skilled physician, he exerted spirited efforts to remove the ugly rotting painful leprous sores on the healthy beautiful body of pure Dhamma. He made successful efforts to stop the cruel ritual of sacrificing meek innocent animals in the name of Dhamma. Uprooting the defiled system of classes and the debased institution of caste arising from it, which ignored virtue and was based on birth, he made great effort to establish the purity of Dhamma on the basis of action. Gullible people were immersed in the blind belief that purification of the mind and liberation from the cycle of existence could be attained through meaningless rituals. With infinite mettā and compassion, the Tathāgata made strong efforts to bring such deluded people to the path of Dhamma, the path of sīla (morality), samādhi (mastery of the mind) and paññā (wisdom).
He taught the way to make pure Dhamma an integral part of life through the practice of Vipassana to deluded people who considered the reading and recitation of their scriptures and the inferring or denying of their philosophical beliefs to be the desired objective of their lives. Many people were under the delusion that if they prayed or appealed with exaggerated praise to some imaginary invisible power, that power would be pleased and liberate them from all suffering. The Buddha explained the importance of the true eternal Dhamma based on the natural laws of reaping results according to the actions done by oneself and taught the beneficial technique of improving one's physical, vocal and mental actions.
It is with the help of this technique of Vipassana that the Buddha attained the state of liberation from the cycle of existence and became a sammāsambuddha. Upon discovering this technique, he cultivated the Dhamma-strengths of boundless patience, courage, equanimity, compassion and mettā, as a result of which he was able to face many unpleasant situations equanimously. Glimpses of some of these inspiring incidents from his life will be displayed in this exhibition hall so that people may develop enthusiasm for pure Dhamma. Glimpses of some inspiring historical incidents related to the innumerable people who became fearless, free from animosity and attained the state of complete liberation from the cycle of existence during his lifetime, will also be displayed.
The most important thing about the Vipassana Pagoda will be that the sacred relics of the physical body of the Buddha will be enshrined within it. Before the World War, the Archaeology department of the imperialistic British government found relics of the Buddha in the ruins of an ancient stupa in India. They took them to London and placed them in a museum. A museum is not an appropriate place to keep the sacred relics of the Buddha. In the last watch of the full-moon night of the Buddha's mahaparinibbāna, in the month of Vesākha, on being questioned by Ananda, the Buddha gave this clear instruction that the relics of his body should be enshrined in a stupa at a public place in some capital city, so that devoted people could pay respect to them and earn merit. Those who were meditators were instructed to meditate.
On an earlier occasion also, the Buddha had explained in clear words that the true worship of the Tathāgata is to sit cross-legged, with straight back and steadfastly practice Vipassana meditation. To fulfil these instructions of the Buddha, the rulers of eight kingdoms of north India at that time wanted to enshrine these relics in their own capital cities and started quarrelling among themselves. They all knew that wherever the relics were enshrined, the glory of that city would increase manifold. That stupa would become a place of pilgrimage. Many devoted people would come for a pilgrimage from distant places; the kingdom would not only gain merits but its fame will also spread far and wide. Therefore everyone wanted the sacred casket of relics to be enshrined in the stupa of their capital. Seeing this quarrel intensifying, a wise brahmin named Dona satisfied everyone by dividing these relics into eight parts. In this way, in accordance with the instructions of the Buddha, eight magnificent stupas enshrining the relics were built in the eight capital cities. For centuries they became places of pilgrimage for devoted followers and inspired people to walk on the path of Dhamma. Thus it was clear that a museum was not a suitable place for the exhibition of these relics.
Therefore there was a peaceful but strong protest in Sri Lanka regarding this situation directed against the British government. The British government quickly understood that because of their lack of understanding, the feelings of devoted people not only in Sri Lanka, but in the whole world were deeply hurt. They therefore removed the relics from the museum and made the wise decision to return them to India. These relics were returned to India after World War II. With the help of the government of independent India, they were respectfully enshrined in the Buddha temples built by the Mahabodhi Society. The Mahabodhi Society is very kindly giving a portion of these sacred relics for enshrinement in this Grand Vipassana Pagoda, which will be an important historical part of the function of the formal dedication of the land for the Grand Pagoda on 26 October. Because of the enshrining of these sacred relics, this Grand Pagoda will become a sacred place of pilgrimage for millions of devoted people.
Usually such pagodas are solid. But with the help of the most modern techniques of architecture, instead of building a solid pagoda, a vast meditation hall will be built within it, at the centre of which these sacred relics will be installed so that thousands of meditators can sit around them, meditating together and benefit from their Dhamma vibrations. There are thousands of Vipassana meditators in Mumbai. This number is increasing day-by-day and it will continue to do so in the future.
Therefore, this vast Vipassana meditation hall will prove to be very useful as well as a great inspiration to those who come for group meditation. It is clear that the glory of Mumbai will increase because of this Grand Pagoda and the usefulness of this Dhamma-stupa will increase in the densely populated capital city of Mumbai.
One more question that arises is why is this pagoda being built in a Burmese architectural style and not in an Indian architectural style? All should understand this. In the pure ancient tradition of India, there are two important yardsticks for gauging one's progress in Dhamma. The first yardstick is to become pubbakari, meaning to serve others selflessly without expecting anything in return. The second is kataññu katavedi, meaning to be grateful. Actually one should be grateful to anyone from whom one obtains any ordinary worldly help.
We have obtained this priceless technique of Vipassana, which had been lost for two thousand years, from Myanmar (Burma) which preserved it in its pristine purity. That is why we have received this technique in its pure form. Twenty to twenty-five hundred years ago, when this technique went from here to different countries, they expressed their gratitude to India by building stupas in an Indian architectural style, so that when devoted people there saw these stupas, they would remember their gratitude to India. As centuries passed, the original Indian architectural style was influenced by local architecture and the stupas of these different countries assumed characteristic differences. Today we have received this technique from Myanmar. It is our duty to express our gratitude towards Myanmar. For centuries, people of this country who see this pagoda will remember the kindness of that country with gratitude. With the arising of this feeling of gratitude, their Dhamma volition will be strengthened. Thus the building of this Grand Pagoda, a replica of the Swedagon pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon), will be very meaningful. The people of this country will become happy, become peaceful.