Buddha, the enlightened one, is primarily referred to Siddhartha Sakyamuni Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism. He was a prince of a small kingdom in Kalinga (now Orissa), Northern India. Only legends and traditional beliefs give us insights on the early life and birth of the Lord Buddha.
No one knows the specific date of the Buddha’s birth. According to a legend, he comes out from his mother’s side without causing her any pain and the earth trembled as he was born. After which, he was miraculously showered with water. He stood up, walked seven steps and declared he would be the chief of the world and this would be his last reincarnation. His parents named him Siddhyrtha Gautama. Siddhartha means “one who has achieved his aim”. Gautama was his clan name. His other name is Sakyamuni which means “the sage of the Sykyas”. His mother died three days after his birth.
A sage prophesied that one day Sakyamuni would become either a king or a great religious leader. His father, afraid that he might choose the religious life, raised him into a state of luxury fully attached to material or earthly things.
At an early age of 16, he was married to Yasodhary. At the age of 29, he had a son, Ryhula, with his wife. After his son’s birth, curious about what lies outside the real world, some sources said he took four journeys by chariot. Other sources say he had four visions. During the first journey/vision, he was deeply disturbed by seeing an old, helpless, weak man. On the second, he saw sick and depressed man suffering from acute disease. On the third, he saw a grieving family carrying their dead to a cremation site. He was affected deeply by the sufferings brought about by old age, illness and death. On his fourth journey/vision, he saw a religious monk, an ascetic, devoid of all the pleasures in life and leads a life of meditation and was calm and serene. Siddhartha’s fourth encounter encouraged him to follow the way of the ascetic and seek spiritual solution to the problems brought about by human sufferings.
Siddhartha had tried various ways to seek and discover practical solutions to human sufferings. First, he tried
meditation but failed.
Second, he tried to practice breath control and fasted intensely for six years. However, he suffered extreme physical discomforts and nearly die of starvation.
Finally, he decided to reject this path as well. He found out that neither the extremes of asceticism nor the mortification of the flesh would lead to enlightenment but rather only weaknesses and self-destruction. Then he discovered that a better path to achieve the state of Nirvana, a state of liberation and freedom from suffering, was to pursue the “middle way”, defined as moderation and meditation.
One night while seated underneath a large tree known as the Bodhi tree, he began to meditate and never stood up until he discovered the truth. At dawn, he became a fully enlightened Buddha. After enlightenment, Buddha gave his first sermon in Sarnath where he revealed and taught the Four Noble Truths: First, that suffering exists; Second, that there is a cause for suffering; Third, there is an end to suffering; and Fourth, that there is a path leading to the cessation of suffering and for suffering to cease, one must follow the Eightfold Path- Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Buddha recruited lay disciples (male and female) to teach and spread his methodology to others who are in the state of sufferings. He converted his former ascetic companions and become the first monks of Buddhism. The ministry of Buddha continues for almost 45 years until he passed away at the age of 80. Thus, he entered final Nirvana. His body was cremated.
After his death, Buddhism spread all over the world and evolved into two or three forms: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Today, Buddha is recognized as the father of Buddhist religion, the fourth largest religion.
Buddha did not consider himself as a prophet to propagate doctrinal revelation of a supreme being but a teacher and keen observer of life. He observed life as it is; the human beings who suffer through his life’s journey. He searched and discovered practical solutions to the human sufferings he saw in the real world. Indeed, Buddha’s teachings do not subscribed to any spiritual doctrines or recognized any form of deities or gods. He formulated methods, not doctrines based on human state of being and behaviors in life.
Buddha statues and images are typically portrayed sitting with his legs crossed in a lotus position. He sits in peaceful, compassionate meditation. Today, his followers worshiped him as a supreme human being.
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