The qualities of the Buddha as a teacher that led to the spread of Buddhism during his lifetime.
Actually Buddha's appearance was normal just like anyone else. How do we know?
King Ajatasattu was unable to tell the Buddha from other monks.
Venerable Maha Kassapa was said to have a strong resemblance to the Buddha.
His half brother Nanda was often mistaken for the Buddha from a distance.
The Buddha looked majestic and handsome and there were people mesmerized by just his appearance. He was said to be 6-ft tall, had coal black hair and a golden brown complexion. Examples of his appearance were
Upaka was impressed by the Buddha’s clear faculties and radiant complexion.
The Brahmin Sonadanda described him as "handsome, good-looking, and pleasing to the eye, with a most beautiful complexion. He is by no means unattractive.”
Vacchagotta said this of the Buddha: "It is wonderful, truly marvellous, how serene is the good Gotama's appearance, how clear and radiant his complexion, his senses are calmed, his complexion is clear and radiant.”
As the Buddha got older his body succumbed to impermanence as do all compounded things. Ananda described him in his old age like this: "It is strange, it is a wonder how the skin is no longer clear and radiant, how all the limbs are slack and wrinkled, how stooped his body is and how a change is to be seen in eye, ear, nose, tongue and body." In the last year before his final Nibbana the Buddha said this of himself: "I am now old, worn out, one who has walked life's path, and I have reached the end of my life, being now 80. Just as an old cart can only be kept going by being held together with straps, so too the Tathagata's body can only be kept going by being held together with bandages."
However, in his prime, people were clearly attracted by the Buddha's physical good looks as much as they were by his pleasant personality and his Dharma. Just to be in his presence could have a noticeable effect upon people. That alone attracted many to his talks and they benefited from the teachings.
2. Personality The Buddha was determined, courageous, charismatic, humorous, pleasant, serene and possessed many other good personality traits.
a) Determination After Buddha left his palace, he spent 6 years in search for enlightenment including the use of self-mortification. After he enlightened, he continued to teach the dhamma for 45 years travelling across a huge area in India by foot.
Buddha would not hesitate to intervene any conflicts between clans and state to prevent war such as Kapilavatthu and Koliya people over River Rohini.
Buddha promoted his sangha as the desired order not just the new order. He said it was an injunction to devote oneself to enlightenment. “One who sees the Dhamma, sees me. One who sees me, sees the Dhamma.” The term Dhamma here was used by the Buddha to mean not only the teachings but also Enlightenment itself.
He preached the message of spiritual urgency. He spoke this verse on at least 4 occasions to the monks: “Exert yourself this very day!
"Who knows death (will come) tomorrow. For there is no bargaining, With Death’s great horde.” This charismatic message lingers till today."
Against the backdrop of the Vedic and Brahmins exorbitant purification rituals and social suppression, the Buddha taught that liberation lied in a life of moral conduct (sila), internal purity (samadhi) and wisdom (panna). As quoted in Vasala Sutta: “None is by birth a Brahmin, None is by birth an outcaste. By deed one becomes a Brahmin, by deed one becomes an outcaste.” Also mentioned in Dhammapada 388: “One is a Brahmin because he has abandoned evil." So, the Buddha gave an ethical twist to the words “Brahmin” and “outcaste. Instead of enforcing castes system which the brahmins used, Buddha encourage people to be moral and do more good deeds instead. That appealed to many.
Buddha was a humorous person who will sometimes joke when he gives similes and metaphors to explain questions posted to him. This made him a charming speaker who attracted many. For example, when Brahmins said they could wash away their sins by bathing in sacred rivers, the Buddha joked that the water might wash away their good deeds as well.
e) Calm & Serene
Buddha responded to all criticism calmly and he clearly explained why he did what he did. Where necessary he would correct misunderstanding that gave rise to the criticism. He was always unflustered, polite and smiling in the face of criticism and he urged his disciples to be the same. Buddha told his monks: "If anyone should criticize me, the Dharma or the Sangha, you should not on that account be angry, resentful or upset. For if you were, that would hinder you, and you would be unable to know whether they said right or wrong.”
Sometimes, the Buddha was not criticised but rather abused 'with rude, harsh words'. At such times, he usually maintained a dignified silence.
3.Exemplary Life a) Magnanimous Unlike other teachers, Buddha did not compete to win supporters and he did not disparage other teachers. He even advised one disciple, Upali, not to terminate support for his former teachers because of his conversion.
b) The People’s Teacher
Two Brahmin brothers, Yamelu & Tekula, suggested to Buddha to use Sanskrit (chandas) to teach Buddhism as this is the higher class language which is used by upper classes and other teachers. But Buddha rejected it as he did not want to restrict his teachings to the privileged classes. It will be going against his sense of equality & universal compassion. So instead he used a common dialect (Magadhi ) spoken by people in the regions he taught.
a) Delights and Uplifts
The Buddha was a masterful public speaker. He had a pleasant voice, good looks and poise, this combined with the appeal of what he said, he was able to attract the attention of his audience.
Buddha did not speak highly or disparage anyone but rather he delights, uplifts, inspires and gladdens the audience with talk on Dharma.
When people asked a particularly appropriate or relevant question he would praise them, thereby encouraging discussion, questioning and inquiry. His complimentary comments encouraged and uplifted his audience. For example, when Bhadda asked a good and relevant question, the Buddha replied, "Well said! Well said, friend Bhadda! Your understanding is welcome. Your wisdom is welcome."
b) Captivating Buddha's voice had 8 characteristics: It was distinct and intelligible, sweet and audible, fluent and clear, deep and resonant.
When he instructed an assembly, his voice did not go beyond that assembly. After being delighted, uplifted and inspired, that assembly would “rising from their seats, depart reluctantly, keeping their eyes upon him.”
King Pasenadi once expressed his amazement at how silent and attentive people were when listening to the Buddha's talk. Once, the King said, when the Buddha was teaching the Dharma a monk did cough; then one of the fellow monks tapped him on the knee and said: “'Quiet, make no noise, the Lord, our teacher, is teaching Dharma.” When I saw this I thought: “It is wonderful, truly marvelous, how well-trained, without stick or sword this assembly is. The King thought it was unlike what's in his kingdom although he is a king, yet when he speaks not everyone paid attention and people will interrupt his speech. Which is contrary to the Buddha's assembly.
5.Extraordinary Teaching Skills
a) Gradual talk
The Buddha would approach people according to their needs and dispositions. Generally, good people would come to see him while he would go out to meet bad people or those in distress. He would start a talk on preliminaries (anupubbikatha), that is, "about generosity, virtue, heaven, about the dangers of desires and the advantages of giving them up."
This graduated talk will allow the Buddha to assess the listeners' level of intelligence and receptivity. If the response was good, he would then continue to "teach that Dharma which is unique to the enlightened ones - suffering, its cause, its overcoming and the way leading to its overcoming." He allows Question&Answer sessions in his dialogue in groups.
For people with strong views that he could not change, he would suggest discussing points of agreement so as to avoid fruitless arguments. Sometimes rather than talking about his own Dharma he would invite his opponents to explain their teachings first. Once a group of ascetics met the Buddha and their leader asked him to explain his Dharma. The Buddha said: "Better still, tell me about your teachings." The ascetics were astonished and said to each other: "It is wonderful, truly marvelous, how great is the ascetic Gotama in that he will hold back his own views and invite others to explain theirs."
b) Effective Approach to Answering Questions
The Buddha would pick the most effective approach to answer questions and to meet inquirer’s need. He usually used 4 methods to answer questions:
Categorical assertion (ekansa vyakaraniya)answer to the point: For example when asked whats the cause of suffering he will reply "craving".
Dissecting and analysing question (vibhajja vyakaraniya) when a categorical answer either does not satisfy the question or may complicate or even mislead.
Answer with a counter question (patipuccha vyakaraniya): The Buddha would use what is called the Socratic-method (reference to greek philosopher socrates). He will ask clearer questions as a means of leading people to an insight or to prove a point. Eg, once during a discussion, a Brahmin named Sonadanda proclaimed: "A true Brahmin has pure ancestry, he is well-versed in the sacred scriptures, he is fair in colour, he is virtuous, he is wise and he is an expert in the rituals." The Buddha asked: "Could a person lack one of these qualities and still be considered a Brahmin?" Sonadanda thought for a moment and then admitted that one could have a dark complexion and still be a Brahmin. Continuing to ask the same question, Sonadanda was led to the same view as the Buddha's, that it is not ancestry, knowledge, colour or social status that makes one superior but virtue and wisdom.
Questions to be set aside – (Thapaniya): There are 10 questions which the Buddha would not answer, mainly metaphysical. They are:
1. Is the world eternal? 2. Is the world non-eternal? 3. Is the world finite? 4. Is it infinite? 5. Is the body and soul one? 6. Is the body and soul two? 7. Does the person who realised truth exist after death? 8. Does the person who realised truth not exist after death? 9. Does he exist or not exist after death? 10. Does he neither exist nor not exist after death? The Buddha chose not to answer these question and would rather prefer to teach the 3 Characteristics of Existence, the 4 Noble truths, and the concepts of Kamma and Rebirth to dispel these doubts instead.
c) Use of Similes and Metaphors The Buddha would use a rich variety of similes and metaphors to clarify his teachings and make them more memorable. For examples i) He compared a person who fails to practice the teachings to a beautiful flower without fragrance. ii)We should replace negative thoughts, the Buddha said, with positive ones, just as a carpenter knocks a peg out of a hole with a second peg.
d) Use of Real Situations
Buddha was also skilled at using whatever was at hand to make a point or dramatise or make clear his meaning. Prince Abhaya once asked the Buddha if he had ever said anything that made people feel unhappy. At that time the prince was holding his baby son on his knee. The Buddha looked at the child and said: "If your son put a stone in his mouth, what would you do?" Prince Abhaya replied: "I would get it out straight away even if I had to hurt the child. “And why?” the Buddha asked. The Prince replied “Because it could be a danger to the child and I have compassion for him." Then the Buddha explained that similarly sometimes he would say things that people needed to be told but did not like to hear, but that his motive was always compassion for that person.
The Buddha's ability to give a new or practical meaning to old ideas or practices and to reinterpret things in order to make them relevant to his followers. i) When someone asked him what the most powerful blessing was, instead of mentioning charms or mantras, as the people would have expected, the Buddha said that by acting with honesty, kindness and integrity one would be blessed as in Mangala Sutta ii) When he was accused of teaching annihilation he agreed that he did, but then qualified his agreement by explaining that he taught the annihilation of greed, hatred and delusion.
a) Far and Long Reach of His Dhamma
The Buddha ran his ministry for 45 years which was the most successful and longest of all the religious teachers. For 45 years of his teaching career, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain, in what is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to outcaste, street sweepers to murderers such as Angulimala. He taught everyone without any exception.
b) Deathbed Conversion
Even as he lay dying, ascetic Subhadda approached him to ask a question. Ananda and the other disciples held him back saying that the Buddha was tired and ill, but when the Buddha saw this, he beckoned Subhadda forward and answered his questions.
The question asked by Subhadda was whether the claim of many famous religious teachers that they discovered the truth was genuine. The Buddha advised Subhadda not to worry about other teachings. Buddha replied that in whatever doctrine where the teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path is found, the 4 stages of enlightenment can be found. Where the Noble Eightfold Path is not taught, enlightened beings will not be found. Subhadda became the Buddha’s very last convert at his deathbed. Even near death, Buddha continued to teach the dhamma to those who were keen to learn.
The Buddha was the first religious teacher who meant his message to be proclaimed to all humankind and who made a concrete effort to do so. The Buddha was the first religious Universalist. He told his first disciples to "spread the Dharma far and wide, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men."
In the Dharma we have a perfect teaching, and in the Buddha we have a perfect teacher, and the combination of these 2 meant that within a short time of being first proclaimed, the Dharma became remarkably widespread. With the passing of the Buddha, his last words for all to heed were: "All conditioned things are subject to decay. Strive on with diligence”.
Reference: Sister Jean Lau's notes from diploma class