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Buddha's prophecy about the survival of his original teachings

After he was enlightened, Buddha was walking down a path and he was completely glowing. He was shining. He was effulgent. He was what sufis call "munawwara" (radiant, effulgent).

A man came up to him and was so taken by the light, he asked, "Are you a celestial being, or a god"? He answered, "No". And then he said, "Well, then you must be a magician". "No".
"Are you a man"? "No".

"What are you"?

"I am awake. I am pure light."

The one who reached the awakened state, which eventually how he would be later known to world history, 'Buddha' (the word meaning the awakened one) - Siddhartha Guatama (563 - 483 BC) is recorded to have prophecied about how long his original teachings will last and that was 500 years.

In the past, every new age the world is gifted with world teachers. In some religious tradition these world teachers are known as messengers, prophets or apostles. In other tradition they are called great sages, master teacher, avatars, paramavatars etc. No matter what they are called, all major nations of the world in important turn of history has given birth to great spiritual masters. And in all ages, each teacher brings new teaching, reforms old pattern of thinking and behaving and replace all that is out dated.

They come at a certain important juncture of human history and transmit different facets of truth / Truth which is needed of the time. Without exceptions every teacher's teaching by the very nature of time and human history becomes teaching of the past. Yes they certainly carry certain universal truth which are timeless, yet on the social, personal context many of the practices given to hold those teachings become outdated after certain period of time and thats when the next master (or masters) of the age arrives and renew the teachings.

Even before Buddha left his body when asked by his disciple Ananda, 'Who shall teach us when thou art gone?' And Buddha replied, "I am not the first awakened one (Buddha) who came upon the earth nor shall I be the last." (Gospel of Buddha by Carus)

Its very interesting that Buddha himself prophesied how long his teachings will last in its spirit or originality. And this prophesy comes in even more interesting context which is when there was a question raised by Buddha's closest companion, Ananda, requesting to allow women to be ordained as nun in the Sangha (spiritual community founded by Buddha).

I quote from Barbara O'Brien's article The First Buddhist Women via Maha Pajapati Gotami was the sister of the Buddha's mother, Maya, who had died a few days after his birth. Maya and Pajapati were both married to his father, King Suddhodana, and after Maya’s death Pajapati nursed and raised her sister's son. Pajapati approached her stepson and asked to be received into the Sangha. The Buddha said no. Still determined, Pajapati and 500 women followers cut off their hair, dressed themselves in patched monk’s robes, and set out on foot to follow the traveling Buddha.

When Pajapati and her followers caught up to the Buddha, they were exhausted. Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and most devoted student, companion, found Pajapati in tears, dirty, her feet swollen. "Lady, why are you crying like this?" he asked.

She replied to Ananda that she wished to enter the Sangha and receive ordination, but the Buddha had refused her. Ananda promised to speak to the Buddha on her behalf.

Ananda sat at the Buddha’s side and argued on behalf of the ordination of women. The Buddha continued to refuse the request. Finally, Ananda asked if there was any reason women could not realize enlightenment and enter Nirvana as well as men.

The Buddha admitted there was no reason a woman could not be enlightened. "Women, Ananda, having gone forth are able to realize the fruit of stream-attainment or the fruit of once-returning or the fruit of non-returning or arahantship," he said.

Ananda had made his point, and the Buddha relented. Pajapati and her 500 followers would be the first Buddhist nuns. But he predicted that allowing women into the Sangha would cause his teachings to survive only half as long - 500 years instead of a 1,000.

Many people look for sexism on part of Buddha in the context of this history of Buddhism. But they ignore the social context and practicality from where Buddha was coming from. He was by no mean objected initially the ordination of nuns because he believed in masculine supremacy. Buddha was mostly concerned that the rest of society, which supported the Sangha, would not approve of the ordination of nuns. Many suggest that Buddha might have simply been protective of women, who faced great personal risk in a paternalistic culture when they were not under the protection of a father or husband. Ordaining female disciples was a revolutionary step; there was nothing like it in the other religions of India at the time.

Going back to the point of predicting the originality of the teaching of Buddha, its quite fascinating to observe that Buddha himself prophesied that his teachings will last for 500 years.

The teachings dated back more than 2000 years ago were essentially oral teachings which were passed down from generation to generation. The writing system was not sophisticated and there was no distribution of information in writing among mass. Now from a very common sense point of view the longevity and reliability of oral teachings can not retain its purity for long. Even within one generation it start to become obscured.

The teachings of Buddha remained an oral tradition for over 200 years, only after 200 years they were written down. So one can imagine how much original teachings of Buddha was left and how much was filtered through 3 generation of monks and followers. Similarly the earliest surviving complete copies of the Christian Canonical Gospels date to the 4th century which also sheds light how much originality could possibly be retained by the time the organized religions of past became so called "organized".

So as these great world teachers appeared in history of humanity, there teachings had a certain time period within which it retained its originality and its spirit. After which it started to vanish. The shell was retained perhaps, but the spirit was no longer there. Names of many great teachers are even not known, let alone their teachings. For this very reason, the ancient the religious and wisdom tradition is, the more likely that the original teachings of the great enlightened mind from where it came through is lost in the flow of cosmic time.

Once a sufi spiritual teacher was asked whether one can attain enlightenment and reach God by following historically ancient religious traditions (such as Hinduism / Buddhism or even more ancient religions). The sufi teacher advised, its like trying to cross an ocean with a boat that has many holes at its bottom. Yes one or two extremely lucky person will reach the other shore after great difficulty and struggle, but most will be drowned and not succeed.

Its possible for only few to reach enlightenment by following the path of out-dated religious tradition, but it will be close to impossible for majority of recent time.

# Related and Reference:
. Why Buddha is Special?
. Buddha prophesised the advent of a Maitreya
. Buddha' Emptiness
. Buddha Never Bowed Before a Statue, and Jesus Never Kneeled Before a Cross
. Commentary on Buddha by Inayat Khan

. What the Buddha taught about women
. Buddhism and Sexism
. History of Buddhism

. Islamic Buddhist Dialgoue
. Islam and Buddhism: Some Common Features
. Buddha's wisdom


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Technology of the Heart: Buddha's prophecy about the survival of his original teachings
Buddha's prophecy about the survival of his original teachings
Technology of the Heart
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