The Early Life Of Buddha and His Enlightenment
The Buddha is also referred to as Siddhartha Gautama, or simply the “enlightened one” Buddha was born in the 5th or 6th century B.C in a large clan known as Shakyas in Lumbini. His father, King Suddhodana was a great king who ruled the tribe. The mother of Buddha by the name Queen Maya passed away when he was only seven days old.
A few days after the birth of Buddha, a holy man (sadhu) prophesied great things about the young Siddhartha. The holy man said that Buddha would be either a military leader or a great king, or he will be a great spiritual leader.
To prevent his son from experiencing sufferings and miseries of the world, his father King Suddhodana raised him in affluence in a palace built just for the boy and protected him from the understanding of human hardship and religion. According to the custom, Prince Gautama married at the age of sixteen to a woman called Yasodhara, and they were blessed with a son, but his life of sensual pleasure continued for another thirteen years.
Beyond the palace walls – The Four Sights
At the age of 29, the prince had very little experience of the world outside the walls of his palaces. But, one day he ordered his charioteer to take him outside the palace walls, and he was confronted with realities of human suffering.
He saw an aged man, and the charioteer explained to him that every person grows old. The questions of all he had not encountered made him take another journey of exploration. Therefore, on these subsequent journeys, he saw a diseased man, a dead body and an ascetic. The charioteer then explained to him that the ascetic had renounced the globe to seek release from the human panic of sufferings and death.
Prince Gautama was overcome by these experiences and the next day he left his kingdom, son and wife to live an ascetic life, and find out a way to alleviate the universal misery that he now recognize to be one of the essential qualities of humanity. During that time, nothing seemed to give Prince Gautama pleasure.
For almost six years, Prince Siddhartha stayed an ascetic life and partook in its studying, practices and mediation with many different spiritual teachers. Prince Siddhartha practiced his new life with a group of five ascetics, and his determination to his mission was so astonishing that the five ascetics became his followers. After he had mastered every ascetic practice, including yoga, his teachers felt that they had no more to teach him, but still he did not find the way out of suffering.
Whatsoever he tried, Siddhartha could not attain liberation and he had become so weak because that he collapsed in the river while bathing and nearly drowned. He was rescued by a girl named Sujata who then offered him a plate of payasam (milk and rice pudding).
When he accepted that plate of food, he regained much of his former energy and he realized that self-mortification was not the right way to achieve the inner liberation and that mortification of the body will not lead him to liberation from suffering.
So he resumed eating food, drinking water and during that period, the five ascetics saw that Siddhartha had given up the ascetic life, and they quickly left him thinking that he had forsaken the spiritual path.
The Buddha’s Enlightenment
During that night, Prince Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree, resolving that he would not leave and would meditate until he had found the way out of suffering. He stayed there for many days as he purified his mind, seeing his previous and entire life in his thoughts. At that time, he had to conquer the threats of the evil demon (Mara), who challenged him from becoming the Buddha.
Mara of course, is a metaphor for the various grasping tendencies of the mind, as well as negative thoughts and feelings.
When Mara tried to declare the enlightened state as his own, Prince Siddhartha touched the ground, and the earth bared witness to his enlightenment thus banishing Mara. Soon, a picture started to form in his mind about all that happened in the universe, and he finally saw the actual answer to the questions of human suffering that he had been looking for several years.
After period of pure , Siddhartha became the Buddha (‘awakened one’) after forty days of meditation, on a full moon. It is said that he attained enlightenment on December 8th at the age of 35.
Equipped with his new deep understanding about the true nature of reality and of the self and suffering, the Buddha was firstly hesitant to teach. This is because what he now knew may perhaps not be communicated to any other person in words and can be easily misunderstood. His aim was not to create a religion but rather a science of the mind.
It is said that when he attained enlightenment the gods themselves prostrated themselves before him and he taught them. Afterwards it was Brahma, the king of gods who convinced Buddha to teach according to the legend. Buddha immediately got up from the Bodhi tree and prepared to teach. Everywhere he went, everyone saw the peace and light in his quiet smile.
One one occasion one of his students asked Buddha,
“Are you the messiah/savior?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake”, Buddha replied
During his travels, Buddha came across the five ascetics that left him during his enlightenment and they saw that something had changed. When they and many others inquired he taught them what he had realized under the Bodhi Tree, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path, which afterwards became the foundation of Buddhism.
The five ascetics became his first pupils and helped created community of monks or Sangha. By realizing the Four Noble Truths and walking the Eight-fold Path. During the mastery of the four noble truths, a state of utmost liberation or Nirvana is thought to be possible for every human being.
The Buddha explained Nirvana as the great peace of mind that is free from greed, hatred, ignorance and other negative mind states. It cannot be grasped by the mind, but it is the Bliss that is reality itself.
He taught his disciples to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching), and the Sangha as the 3 Jewels which are essential if you’re serious about walking the Eight-fold path.
Buddha traveled and took on many more disciples until he was about 80 years old, who in turn would become teachers of the Dharma themselves. When Buddha died, he told his disciples not to follow any of his teachings on blind faith but to investigate for themselves using meditation and mindfulness. The Buddha’s pupils continued to teach many other though Buddhism declined in India after his death.
The Buddha’s Core Teachings
A talk by Buddhist teacher Bob Thurman on the Four Noble Truth and Eightfold way as an evolutionary path.
The Four Noble Truths
These noble truths (Arya satya in Sanskrit) are what Siddhartha realized after sitting under the Bodhi Tree.
- First Noble Truth – The truth of about suffering (dukkha)
- Second Noble Truth – The truth about the cause of suffering (samudaya)
- Third Noble Truth – The truth of the cessation of suffering (nirhodha)
- Fourth Noble Truth – The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)
- Right (Skillful)View – understanding the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.
- Right (Skillful) Intention – cultivating benevolent intentions toward others
- Right (Skillful)Speech – refraining from destructive speech, and speaking kind and gentle words to others instead
- Right (Skillful) Action – refraining from destructive physical behavior, such as killing, stealing, and adultery; instead choose actions that preserve life
- Right (Skillful) Livelihood – living within a livelihood that does not harm others
- Right (Skillful) Effort – effort to direct the energies away from harmful, destructive thoughts and cultivation of helpful compassionate thoughts
- Right (Skillful) Mindfulness – mindfulness of body, mind, and phenomena
- Right (Skillful) Concentration – developing meditative abilities through daily meditation (dhyana)