The Life of the Buddha
Siddartha (Gautama) was born in the sixth century BC in the country Nepal. In those days, Nepal was a part of Bharat (India). Siddartha’s father, Shuddhodana, was the ruler of the Saakya people, and Siddartha grew up living the extravagant life of a young prince. But, looking at the behavior of his son, Shuddhodana felt that his son (the prince) might leave the palace to take up the life of a religious wanderer. So he arranged for him to be sheltered from all the harsh realities of life. When the prince reached the age of sixteen, Shuddhodana arranged for him to be married to his cousin, a charming princess named Yashodhara.
One day, however, Siddartha ventured out into the world and was confronted with the inevitability of aging, illness, and death. Overcome by dismay, the young prince wondered if there might be a happiness that was not subject to change and decay. Then, seeing a forest wanderer, he decided that only by taking up the wilderness life could he find the answer to his question. That night, at the age of twenty-nine, he left his kingdom and newborn son and entered the wilderness.
For six years, Siddartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices. First he studied with different religious teachers, but, dissatisfied with what they saw as their highest goal, he set out to practice extreme physical austerities on his own. Yet even through the ultimate in selfdenial, he did not reach his goal. Then one day he remembered a state of calm mental absorption he had experienced while sitting under a tree as a child, and realized that only through such a state of calm could liberation be found. And yet the strength of that calm could not be reached when the body was weak through austerities. The path to true happiness required balance—the middle way—rather than extremes of indulgence or self-denial. So on that day he ended his extreme austerities and accepted a gift of milk-rice offered to him by a young woman.
That night Siddartha sat under the bodhi tree and meditated until dawn. In the first watch of the night he remembered his past lives; in the second watch, around midnight, he saw how beings die and are reborn through the power of their karma, which in turn was shaped by the skillfulness of their intentions; in the third watch, toward dawn, he purified his mind of all cravings, attachments, and defilements, and finally of all intentions, both skillful and not. With that, he attained awakening at the age of thirty-five, thus earning the title Buddha, or “Awakened One.”
For the remainder of his life, the Buddha taught the dharma to others—men, women, and children; rich and poor; people from all walks of life and all levels of the society so that they, too, might attain awakening. He established a sangha, or community of monks and nuns, to maintain his teachings after his death.
What were the teachings of this great man? According to Buddha, there are four noble truths and they are of vital importance in life. They are the very pivots on which human life rests. These four truths are:
1) The world is full of misery and sorrow.
2) The main cause of misery is desire.
3) Misery and sorrow can be ended by killing desire and
4) Desire can be suppressed by following the Eight-fold Path
1) Right Action
2) Right Belief
3) Right Effort
4) Right Speech
5) Right Thought
6) Right Meditation
7) Right Living and
8) Right Recollection
Then, one full moon night, when he had reached the age of eighty, he lay down between two trees in a forest park and gave his last teachings to the assembled followers, counseling them to be heedful in completing their practice of dharma. With that, he entered total nirvana. He died in 487 BC.