If the Buddha is a mere human being [which he is not],
who was born and died like us,
how can he guide us to become Buddhas,
who are beyond birth and death?
According to the Dona Sutra, the brahmin Dona was walking along when he sighted the Buddha’s footprints. Amazed by their auspicious details of wheels with a thousand spokes, with rims and hubs, it occurred to him that they could not belong to a human being. Tracing the footprints, he encountered the Buddha, who was seated under a tree, radiating and inspiring confidence and tranquillity mindfully. Curious, he went forth and asked if the Buddha was a deva, a godly being, to which the Buddha said he was not. Next, he asked if he was a gandharva, a lesser godly being, to which the Buddha also replied that he was not. Dona then asked if he was a yaksha, a demon, to which the Buddha again replied that he was not. Stumped, Dona finally asked if he was a human being, to which the Buddha too replied that he was not. Out of further imaginable options, Dona finally asked, ‘Then what sort of being are you?’
The Buddha answered that he had abandoned fermentations that conditioned rebirth as a deva, gandharva, yaksha or human being, similar to how a palmyra stump is totally uprooted. As such, he is no longer any of them or subject to being any of them again. Just like a lotus flower that blossoms untainted and stands above muddy defiled water, though he was born in this world, he overcame its taints to become ‘awakened’. This was when the Buddha defined himself for the first time, when he said, ‘I am awake’, or ‘I am Buddha’. The word ‘Buddha’ means an ‘awakened one’, one who was awakened from the taints of attachment, aversion and delusion, the muck and mire of Samsara. Having described himself to be like a lotus, this is how the lotus became the symbol of purity in Buddhism, the goal which all Buddhists aspire towards, away from all fermentations and taints that condition rebirth.
The Buddha did not state that was not a mere human being in just one instance. He repeatedly taught that fully awakened ones cannot be defined as adhering to conditions which bind beings to the cycles of rebirth. While their minds cling to those conditions which define them, his mind does not cling to any of them, just as a lotus flower rises above pure, unconditioned by the dirt where its roots were. Greater than humans and gods, both of whom are still bound by rebirth, one of the traditional titles of the Buddha is ‘Teacher of humans and gods’, as it is he, who is free from rebirth, who discerned and walked the path to this freedom, who is capable of teaching all along this path. The Buddha was human when he was still Prince Siddhartha and Ascetic Gautama, but having evolved spiritually and perfectly in compassion and wisdom, he joins the ‘race’ of all other Buddhas, who are equally supremely enlightened!
Having transcended all constraints,
the Buddha can skilfully manifest as
devas, gandharvas, yakshas, humans or any other beings
to guide them to Buddhahood.
Transforming Muck & Mire
What the Lotus Means
Have You Seen the Buddha Yet?
Is There an ‘Ultra-Reality’ to be Realised to Be a ‘Super-Buddha’?