1. Background to the Buddha’s Meetings:
The Buddha engaged in numerous conversations with parents, children, teenagers, students, householders, and the elderly from secular society, as well as meetings with novices, monks, nuns, ascetics and priests in various religious and spiritual traditions in India around 2600 years ago. The discourses (suttas) also show the depth of inquiry of all ages and backgrounds taking place in northern India in that period of human history.
People from every walk of life went to meet with the Buddha to listen to his responses to their many concerns; personal, social, spiritual, religious and philosophical. There are probably very few texts of any religious faith which record the meetings of young people with the teacher. The discourses of the Buddha serve as an honourable exception. These meetings with the Buddha confirm again and again the deep concerns of the young, as well as daily life issues affecting their parents. We could ask ourselves how we would respond to such questions from young people.
This chapter draws upon a number of those meetings with the Buddha including people’s questions to the Buddha and his responses to those questions.
Our society would certainly benefit from such exchanges to nourish different perspectives with different priorities for the welfare and wisdom of everybody. We need an exploration into the essential truths of life with the practical follow up steps to implement inner and outer change.
Generally, the discourses recording the Buddha’s meetings do not reveal much detail to the background to the many of the questions. Mention of the age of the questioner rarely gets mentioned although some discourses stated whether the questioner was young or elderly. Occasionally, the sutta refers to a specific age, such as a 16 year old Brahmin student or a religious teacher said to be 120 years old. People brought profound questions that continue to matter from one generation to the next, right up to the present time.
The psychological/spiritual/religious exploration in India held widespread interest from the powerful royal families down to the poor struggling to make ends meet. This Indian society enjoyed the benefits of a sophisticated language (Pali) rich in concepts for psychology, physiology, spirituality and consciousness. Society supported sincere spiritual seekers, networks of practitioners, communities of yogis and dharma halls (dharmasalas), available for the various Sanghas (communities of practitioners) and for public debates Citizens also enjoyed healthy organic food, clean air, plenty of outdoor exercise, numerous sports, secular and religious education and a highly developed artistic and commercial culture.
The society had a rich tradition of farming, abundant rainforests, livestock, orchards, small industry, civic and political governance, which added to a healthy environment conducive for Dharma enquiry, depths of meditation and deep realisations. Many people lived long and fruitful lives. Ethics, wise action and the divine heart were regular areas of concern along with finding of truth, both relative and ultimate, and realising an enlightened life. Citizens had a widely held belief in God (Brahma) and numerous priests (Brahmins) who claimed descent from God.
At the time of the Buddha, issues about life were ongoing with frequent public debatings about the meaning of life and the priorities of life. Is there a self? What am I? Is the experience of pleasure a problem? Is there God? The Buddha had developed a reputation as master of the dialectic. He fearlessly addressed psychological, secular and religious issues in fresh ways. He strongly advocated his listeners to practise meditation, reflect and find out for themselves the essential truths of life. He encouraged people not to rely upon religious authorities, or on ancient texts or what charismatic leaders told them. Brahmin teachers would send their brightest students to debate with the Buddha. Householders would listen to the Buddha giving teachings to the monks and nuns and the monks and nuns would listen to the advice given to householders. [ to be continued ]
Source: Christopher Titmuss Dhrama Blog | A Buddhist Perspective