The Buddha was known as Siddharta Gautama, son of Suddhodana, the head of the Sakya tribe and a member of the clan of Gautama. Prince Siddharta was born in what is now Nepal, in Lumbini, in a state that was subordinate to the Magadha kingdom in India.
The Marriage and Venture Out
As a prince he lived a life of luxury and his father protected him from all outside sorrow and harm. Siddharta married a young princess, named Yasodhara, who bore him a son, Rahula. One day, in a need to see the outside world, he persuaded his groom, Channa, to drive him down to the nearby town, to which he had never been. In all, he was to make four trips to the town which was to totally transform his life. On the first trip, he met an old man, on the second a sick man, and on the third he met a party of people carrying a corpse to the cremation ground.
Not having seen old age, sickness and death before, he was naturally deeply shocked. He asked Channa what this was. Channa replied it is old age, suffering and death which we must go through. As a result Siddharta became disillusioned with the palace life that he had been living. He became very concerned with the fact of suffering and with finding a way of ending it. On a fourth trip to the town, he came upon a possible way of finding an answer to his problem. He met an ascetic, a holy man: one who had given up everything to follow the religious life. Despite having nothing, this man radiated a calmness that suggested to Siddharta that he had somehow come to terms with the unpleasant fact of suffering.Therefore Siddharta did a renunciation and decided to follow the example of the ascetic. He slipped out of the palace in the dead of night, exchanged his luxurious silken robe for the simple orange one of a holy man, and cut off all his beautiful black hair. Then, carrying nothing but an alms bowl for people to put food in, he set off on his great search.
The six companions attempted to find release from suffering through physical discipline–enduring pain, holding their breath, fasting nearly to starvation. Yet Siddharta was still unsatisfied. It occurred to him that in renouncing pleasure he had grasped pleasure’s opposite–pain and self- mortification. Now Siddharta considered the Middle Way between those two extremes.He remembered an experience from his childhood, when his mind had settled into a state of deep peace. The path of liberation was through discipline of mind. He realized that instead of starvation, he needed nourishment to build up his strength for the effort. But when he accepted a bowl of rice milk from a young girl, his companions assumed he had given up the quest and abandoned him.
The Enlightenment of the Buddha
Siddharta began this quest by seeking out renowned teachers, who taught him about the many religious philosophies of his day as well as how to meditate. But after he had learned all they had to teach, his doubts and questions prevailed and therefore he decided to contemplate on this.
Siddhartha sat beneath a sacred fig (Ficus religiosa), known ever after as the Bodhi Tree, and settled into meditation. The work of Siddhartha’s mind came to be mythologized as a great battle with Mara, a demon whose name means “destruction’ and who represents the passions that snare and delude us. Mara brought vast armies of monsters to attack Siddharta, who sat still and untouched. Mara’s most beautiful daughter tried to seduce Siddharta, but this effort also failed.
Finally, Mara claimed the seat of enlightenment rightfully belonged to him. Mara’s spiritual accomplishments were greater than Siddharta’s, the demon said. Mara’s monstrous soldiers cried out together, “I am his witness!” Mara challenged Siddhartha–who will speak for you?
Then Siddharta reached out his right hand to touch the earth, and the earth itself roared, “I bear you witness!” Mara disappeared. And as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddharta Gautama realized enlightenment and became a Buddha.
At first, the Buddha was reluctant to teach, because what he had realized could not be communicated in words. Only through discipline and clarity of mind would delusions fall away and the Great Reality could be directly experienced. Listeners without that direct experience would be stuck in conceptualizations and would surely misunderstand everything he said. But compassion persuaded him to make the attempt.
After his enlightenment, he went to the Deer Park in Isipatana, located in what is now the province of Uttar Pradesh, India. There he found the five companions who had abandoned him, and to them he preached his first sermon. This sermon has been preserved as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and centers on the Four Noble Truths. Instead of teaching doctrines about enlightenment, the Buddha chose to prescribe a path of practice through which people can realize enlightenment for themselves.
The Buddha devoted himself to teaching, attracting hundreds of followers. Eventually he became reconciled with his father, King Suddhodana. His wife, the devoted Yasodhara, became a nun and disciple. Rahula, his son, became a novice monk at the age of 7 and spent the rest of his life with his father.
Last Words and the Parinirvana of Buddha
The Buddha tirelessly traveled and taught until his death at age 80. His last words to his followers:
“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”
Watch this great Movie of the life of Buddha by the BBC
The history of Buddhism is the story of one man’s spiritual journey to Enlightenment, and of the teachings and ways of living that developed from it.
Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha
By finding the path to Enlightenment, Siddhartha was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth towards the path of Enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or ‘awakened one’.
Buddha – A Documentary About Buddhism
This documentary is made by filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere. It tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists, including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
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