Why should we follow Buddha as a teacher?
by Saurabh Bele
A: Any normal being who is born is usually unaware of the fact that there is something like a spiritual path. But at some point in life, beings stumble upon the reality of this world; the cycle of rebirth, karma, and their own spiritual path, then it is time to find the right teacher. So in search of a teacher, many beings come in contact with the teachings of The Buddha, and many become his followers. Why is the Buddha so unique, and why would anyone want to follow the Buddha and not another teacher? What did the Buddha attain, and what will we gain if we follow in his footsteps? So let's first understand who is called a Buddha.
BUDDHA is an enlightened being who is accomplished and endowed with great knowledge, has gone forth in the right path, is knower of the worlds, and is an incomparable teacher of gods and humans, he is enlightened and blessed. We all keep hearing this, but we still don't fully understand who a Buddha really is. The Buddha is a being who is perfect in all senses; you can't find even a tiniest of taint in him or fault in his conduct. Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, but what is his level of enlightenment? As per the scriptures, enlightenment has different levels. It can be achieved by following the Nobel eightfold path. That's observing (right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi). In short observing precepts and meditation. Let's see, in short, what different levels of enlightenment are.
Sottapanna - First level of attainment. Which has been translated in English as stream entrant. At this stage, a few impurities of the mind are removed. But a person understands what is anatta( an-atma). These teachings have more profound meaning and require much study and meditation practice. Time varies from person to person. No accurate benchmark is possible here to understand the theoretical study. This person is not reborn after their seventh birth.
Sakrudagami - Second level of attainment. At this stage, the person is free from some more impurities of the mind. Experiences more relief and peace of mind. This person returns only once. This is translated into English as a once-returner.
Anagami - Third level of attainment. This is translated as non-returner. At this level, the person is born in pure - abodes, not in lower realms like earth or lower than earth like hell realms. This person has an even more refined mind. Free from impurities like anger and lust, but still not wholly free from the concept of atta(self)
Arahant - The last stage of enlightenment. This is where a person is fully enlightened, free from all impurities of the mind, free from craving, and from cycles of rebirth.
Where does Buddha stand here? Yes, Shakyamuni Buddha( Siddharth Gautam Buddha) was an Arhant, an enlightened being, but the difference is that The Buddha was a Samma Sambuddha, meaning he found the final way by his own efforts. The monks who followed Buddha and became Arahants were not Buddha because they had a teacher(Buddha) whose teachings they followed and became Arahant (Referred to as Sāvaka-buddha). So Buddha is always head of the Sangha; all monks, lay followers, and even Arahants. Buddha is perfect in every sense: his actions, thoughts, speech, and mind. We can give an example of the Buddha's perfection. His words were so perfect that even after 2600 years, whatever he said still holds true, you can pick up any sutta, and you will find that whatever he said has not become irrelevant with time. It is usually widely understood that Siddharth became enlightened after meditating for six years. As per the scriptures, before being born as Siddhartha, he was born as a Boddhisatva and was reborn 1 lakh(100,000) times. A Boddhisatva is also an enlightened being who could have escaped the cycle of rebirth but takes a vow to exit cycles of rebirth only after becoming a Buddha. While being reborn as the Bodhisatva helps other beings to escape this cycle of rebirth. So he didn't become a Buddha in just six years but required 100,000 lives to perfect his conduct, speech, dana(giving) etc. These different perfections are called paramitas, and he perfected the six paramitas, generosity (dāna), morality (śīla), patience (kṣānti), vigor (vīrya), concentration (dhyāna), and wisdom (prajñā)) of them in his different lifetimes, you can read about it in Jataka tales.
There are other Buddhas also, called Pratyeka Buddha, who also get enlightened by their own efforts. Still, they don't teach anyone to lead them to enlightenment or create a Sangha that will spread their teachings.
That's why Samma Sambuddha is a teacher whom we should follow.