“Do not trust old manuscripts, do not believe something because your people believe it or because they made you believe it since childhood. Apply your reason to everything; when you have analyzed it, if you think it is good for everyone, then believe it, live it, and help your neighbour to live it too”.
Before leaving Varanasi, I decide to make a quick stop in Sarnath, which is located about ten km north of the city, where today there is a shrine dedicated to the figure of Gautama Siddharta.
Here, in fact, in 527 BC, the Buddha began his preaching and exposed the sermons which contain the core of Buddhist doctrine: the four noble truths and the eightfold path. Stupas, monasteries, temples and schools were built over the centuries as a celebration of that day.
Unfortunately, in 1194 A.D. the city was destroyed by the fury of the Muslim conqueror Qutubuddin Aibak and only in 1834 the ruins of Sarnath were brought to light by an English archaeologist.
Today Sarnath is one of the four most important sites for Buddhists. In 1998, the Indian government asked UNESCO to include it on the World Heritage List.
I make it to Sarnath early in the morning. The archaeological park is completely shrouded in fog. You can barely guess where the stupas are. As I walk, I shrug my shoulders over the intense cold. In the distance, I see the stupa Dhamek, built in the place where Buddha exposed the first sutra to the five ascetics. With its 30 meters in diameter and 35 meters in height, this tower symbolizes the wheel of Dharma, the cycle of reincarnations.
Not far from there, a monk meditates in solitude, without worrying about the mist and the cold. His dog stays close to him, making the scene so poetic that it breaks my breath.
If there is one philosophy that can shake my soul, it is definitely Buddhism.
Six centuries before Jesus was born, an Indian prince gave up his life of splendour and wealth to devote himself to the pursuit of truth.
After joining a group of ascetics who practiced total renunciation of all good and rigid fasting, Siddhartha decided to abandon these extreme practices to find the right middle ground.
If, in fact, the life of privilege that he had led at the palace had kept him in the dark of the suffering in which humanity found itself, an unclean mind, exhausted by hunger, could not have grasped the essence of things.
Thus, in total solitude, Gautama Siddhartha continued his path until he reached enlightenment.
And here, in Sarnath, he explained the basics of his doctrine: life is suffering and suffering is caused by desire, by greed; in seeking happiness in what is transitory, man lives a life filled with dissatisfaction. Material goods, personal power, health and youth, closeness to loved ones, our own life – everything is transient. By sticking to these things, we will suffer the lack or loss.
But Siddhartha went further in his reasoning, until he understood that suffering can be removed, provided he removed the desire that causes it.
In the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha identifies the thoughts and behaviors that free men from the grip of desire. The most revolutionary element of the Buddhist view lies, in my view, in the fact that understanding the nature of pain itself produces its extinction. Everything happens within us.
Furthermore, suffering is considered an accident of life, not a sin to expiate. There is no God who punishes or rewards us; therefore, no propitiatory rites or reparatory ceremonies are needed. When the mind sees clearly, the desire and the constant craving for possession simply fall and there is no room for suffering. ” Peace comes from within, “he said. “Don’t look outside”.
It is impossible not to admire Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha. Thanks to him, in the sixth century B.C. philosophy reached its peak. For 26 centuries, scholars and philosophers have admired its lucidity. Yet history shows that few have followed suit. India itself, the cradle of Buddhism, seems to be turning away from it.
Today only 0.8% of Indians are Buddhists. One small thing compared to 80% who profess Hinduism.
I try to imagine the Buddha walking through these tree-lined avenues or meditating in the shade of a branch. And I understand that, in addition to the archaeological value, this place is mainly intended to bear witness to the message of Buddha. Sarnath exists to remind us that the only way to change the world is to change yourself. Whenever we feel lost, discouraged or confused, we can start from here.
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