The Buddha: Life story of Gautama Buddha; an Asian sage inspired Buddhism
Twenty-five hundred years ago, in Southern Nepal at the foot of the Himalayas is one of the holiest places ‘Lumbini’ where a child, the prince of the Shakya Clan, ‘Siddhartha’ was born who later became the Buddha.
He was a prince leaving everything behind traveled through the roughest and steepest path of life to reach supreme wisdom.
Siddhartha’s life was an arduous spiritual journey. For forty-nine years, the Buddha of the world journeyed barefoot along the shore of the Ganges. He became the most anorectic ascetic. He was eating one grain of rice every day, standing on one foot, and sleeping on his nails.
Meditating under the ‘Bodhi tree’ he attained ‘the Enlightenment’.
The story of Buddha isn’t a story of God or Godly power. It’s a story of a human being overcoming all difficulties, meeting all challenges, and knocking down the obstacles reaching his desired state.
He tries! He makes mistakes! He fails! But he doesn’t give up!
He changes his path and puts himself on sheer hard work, rowing through all ups and downs he succeeds!
Buddha taught us liberation guiding us through the darkness like a path of light. Echoes of his words still remain.
“The world is full of pain and sorrow, but I have found the serenity that you can find too” Buddha said to his disciples.
The sacred tales say before his birth his mother queen Maya had a dream. A beautiful white elephant offered queen a lotus and entered into her womb. The sages of the kingdom interpreted the dream. They predicted that the queen would give birth to a baby boy who will become either a great ruler who will conquer the world or a holy man to become an ‘Enlightened Being’.
After ten months a baby boy was born, named Siddhartha.
Siddhartha’s life inside the palace before he became the Buddha
After seven days of Siddhartha’s birth, his mother Queen Maya died.
His father king Suddhodana raised Buddha with every imaginable luxury.
Buddha later said, “When I was a child, I was brought up most delicately. A white sun-shade was held over me day and night to protect me from cold, heat, dust, dirt, and dew.”
King Suddhodana wanted prince Siddhartha to become a king and conquer the world.
As predicted that the prince will be able to conquer anywhere if he remains as the king, father created all required environment to cuddle him, to tie him with the kingdom.
The king wanted to prevent Siddhartha from noticing anything might be wrong in the outside world. He wanted Prince to love the luxurious life that he would never go out of the kingdom as predicted at his birth that he might become a spiritual teacher rather than a king.
Shield from pain and suffering, Siddhartha indulged in a life of pure pleasure. He wore the most costly garments, ate the finest foods, and surrounded by beautiful women. Every whim and desire was satisfied. When he was sixteen years old, his father tied Siddhartha with his cousin Yasodhara. She later gave birth to a baby boy called Rahula.
Siddhartha was indulged in a pleasurable life until he became twenty-nine. His father did everything he could to never let him see pain or suffering in the outside world.
Siddhartha goes outside the palace
But one day prince Siddhartha went out of the palace and traveled through the kingdom.
This was the first time he saw an old man. And he asked his attendant, the attendant said, “that’s change. One doesn’t always stay young and perfect.”
On his next tour outside he saw a sick man, and didn’t understand what it was. He asked his attendant. The attendant said, “Oh! That happens to all of us. We all get sick.”
Then on his third trip outside, he met a corpse. And now he realized the impermanence, the suffering, and death as the real state of beings. The world that he had always been protected from shook him inside.
He realized, “this is my fate too. I shall also become old, I shall also become sick, I shall die one day. How do I deal with these?”
And then the fourth trip outside, he saw a sage, a spiritual seeker; someone who was living a completely different life than his life to escape from impermanence, death, and suffering. This was something that touched his heart the most.
Twenty-nine year old Siddhartha was determined to understand the nature of suffering. And he decided to leave his palace life.
Siddhartha leaves the palace forever
Late one summer evening Siddhartha went to his wife’s room and saw her sleeping on a bed cradling their newborn in her arms. Siddhartha gazed from the doorstep deep in thought, “If I pick my son up and hold him in my arms, it will be painful for me to leave.”
He turned away and climbed down to the palace courtyard.
Mara, the tempter god of desire was waiting outside.
“You’re born to rule a great empire, go back! And all the power is yours,” Mara told him. But Siddhartha refused.
Siddhartha was alone in the world for the first time. On the bank of the nearby river he drew his sword, he cut off his hair, and put himself on a yellow robe. Siddhartha was now homeless.
Once a great prince now was a beggar surviving on the charity of others.
Siddhartha slept on the cold ground in dark forest, frightening places where wild animals roamed and dangerous spirits were said to live.
He left everything behind to find the solution of human suffering. He had questions, but was no answer yet. The religion of that time, the ancient Vedic religion steeped into ceremony and rituals could not help Siddhartha to find the answer.
Siddhartha searches the answers
It was the period when many other men and women who were not happy with the religion they grew up with left their homes and embraced poverty and celibacy. They were living as spiritual seekers, practicing austerities, and were meditating in order to escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Siddhartha joined those thousands of searchers like him who renounced the world and sought spirituality.
As Siddhartha was roaming countryside, holy men emerged and tried to teach their own spiritual disciplines. Siddhartha trained himself with one of them. He practiced yoga and meditation. He learned how the self-reflective capacity of mind could be put to use to tame the mind.
But Siddhartha found them as temporary escape from the problem, but they weren’t solutions.
Siddhartha practices asceticism
Among the renunciants of that time, asceticism was a common spiritual practice; punishing the body to achieve serenity and wisdom.
Siddhartha along with five other ascetics (who later became his first five disciples) started subjecting his body to extreme hardship and pain.
Ascetic beliefs say that if you could punish the body sufficiently you could escape from its influence and transcend some of the limitations that body imposes.
Emaciated, exhausted Siddhartha punished himself for six long years. He tortured himself to destroy anything within himself that he saw as bad. He tried to put end to all the craving he set in. He pushed his body to the most extreme.
Siddhartha became the most anorectic ascetic
Siddhartha was eating one grain of rice, standing on one foot, sleeping on nails, no protection from the elements, sitting in the cold, and meditating fiercely for all the hours of wakening.
Once Buddha said, “My body slowly became extremely emaciated.
My limbs became like the jointed segments of vine or bamboo stems.
My spine stood out like a string of beads. My ribs jutted out like jutting rafters of an old abandoned building.
The gleam of my eyes appeared to be sunk deep in my eye sockets like the gleam of water deep in a well.
My scalp shriveled and withered like a green bitter guard, shriveled and withered in the heat and wind.”
He surrendered his body to the hard training. He was on the verge of death; dying, unawakened. Having tried everything he realized his questions weren’t answered.
“It isn’t the way.”
Siddhartha realizes his mistakes
On a beautiful day, Siddhartha sat quietly under a tree and looked within himself.
The sun moved through the sky. The shadows of the other trees shifted, but the shadow of the rose apple tree where he sat remained still.
He felt pure joy inside.
He said, “I can’t sustain a joy like this if I don’t take any food. So, better I eat something.”
At that moment a village maiden appeared carrying a bowl of rice and said, “Here, eat!” And Siddhartha accepted the rice. It was his decision towards life.
The other five ascetics who had been practicing with Siddhartha saw him eating rice. They turned away and disgust. They said, “Siddhartha loves luxury.”
But the man who was to become the Buddha understood that the extreme deprivation wasn’t the way to wisdom.
Siddhartha put his beliefs in his gurus that hadn’t helped. He punished his body, his mind, and was almost killed. Nothing helped!
Now he knew what he must do. To find the answers to his questions he will look within and trust himself.
‘Cultivation is like playing a musical string instrument. The string will snap if it is too tight, or not make any sound if it is too less’, Siddhartha realized.
Indulgence in sensual pleasure or extreme penance are attachments. Be at peace with the middle path for achieving the liberation of body and mind.
‘The Middle Path’ is the answer.
Siddhartha becomes the Buddha, the awakened one
After accepting rice from the village girl, Siddhartha put aside the rags he was wearing, bathed in the nearby river, and strengthened.
He sat beneath the Bodhi tree in the shelter of Mother Nature, and began to meditate. (Currently, the place is a famous Buddhists Pilgrimage, in Bodh Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar.)
When Siddhartha seated meditating, Mara, the lord of desire came to challenge him. Mara attacked with an army of demons, but Siddhartha didn’t move. Mara sent his three daughters to seduce him, Siddhartha remained still.
Siddhartha resisted every temptation that Mara could offer.
He reached down and touched the ground, and the earth shuddered! He said, “The earth is my witness.” Mara’s demons fled.
Siddhartha meditated until he found the answers to his questions. All his former lives passed before him. He remembered all his previous lives; the infinite numbers of previous lives. He gained the power to see the process of birth, death, and rebirth that all living beings go through. Siddhartha reaches the Supreme Wisdom!
He found a vision to see the working of the entire universe. His awareness expanded, he said, “I’m at peace.” The heaven shook! The Bodhi tree rained down flowers. Siddhartha became enlightened, the awakened one, the Buddha.
The Buddha, a teacher
35 year old, the Buddha decides to dedicate the rest of his life to bringing his teachings (the Dharma) the fundamental laws of all things into the world. But it wasn’t easy.
He was asked, “Who was your Guru?”.
The Buddha said he had no Guru, that he had attained the enlightenment on his own. No one was happy with the answer.
On his first attempt to teach, the Buddha had failed.
Buddha’s five former companions were still practicing austerities.
One day, they saw the Buddha coming and said, “Here comes Siddhartha, living luxuriously. He doesn’t deserve to be bowed down to”. (These were the companions who were disappointed with Siddhartha when he ate rice)
Buddha said, “I have discovered a new way. It’s not the path of asceticism or the path of sensory indulgence”. It’s the middle path.
These five ascetics became the first people to listen to what Buddha realized under the Bodhi tree. And they became his first five disciples.
(It was the first time, the Lord Buddha preached to his disciples after gaining enlightenment. Today, the place is known as Sarnath. It’s a city 13 km away from the Varanasi, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.)
The Buddha soon started teaching in the Deer Park near Sarnath. Thousands came to hear him and became his disciples too. For decades Buddha walked barefoot in his robes, teaching and gathering new disciples everywhere he went.
He influenced millions of lives by his teachings and inspired one of the greatest religions of the world ‘Buddhism’.
Buddha’s death termed as Mahaparinirvana
At the age of 80, he became ill near Kushinagar, a small village near the border of Nepal. Here, he grew weak and left the world forever. (Today, Kushinagar is a pilgrimage for the Buddhists and the followers of Buddhism.)
In Buddhism, Buddha’s death is known as Mahaparinirvana (the ultimate state of everlasting peace and happiness entered by an awakened being, the Buddha.)
When Buddha was near to death, his disciples began to weep.
Buddha reassured them, ‘’All things change. Whatever is born is subject to decay”.
“It may be after I’m gone, some of you will think, now we’ve no teacher,” Buddha said to his disciples.
“But that’s not how you should see it,” the Buddha said.
Let the Dharma and the discipline that I have taught you to be your teacher.
“All individual things pass away, strive on untiringly.” These were the Buddha’s last word. The Buddha died peacefully.
He would never be reborn, nor die again, but his teaching will remain forever. It will keep illuminating the path of millions for several decades.
Featured Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons