|One of the earliest statues of
Buddha, his appearance changed
over time to reflect a changing
|Who was Buddha?
The word Buddha means "The Enlightened One" or "The
Awakened One". A Buddha is a person who is completely
free from all faults and mental obstructions. There are
many people who have become Buddhas in the past, and
many people will become Buddhas in the future…The first
noted Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama. There is nothing
that Buddha does not know. Because he has awakened
from the sleep of ignorance and has removed all
obstructions from his mind, he knows everything of the
past, present, and future, directly and simultaneously.
Moreover, Buddha has great compassion which is
completely impartial, embracing all living beings without
Buddhism is a way of life for about 300 million people
around the world. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago
when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was
himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
The Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding
The Life of Siddhartha Gautama
There was a small country in what is now southern Nepal
that was ruled by a clan called the Shakyas. The head of
this clan, and the king of this country, was named
Shuddodana Gautama, and his wife was the beautiful
Mahamaya. Mahamaya was expecting her first born. She
had had a strange dream in which a baby elephant had
blessed her with his trunk, which was understood to be a
very auspicious sign to say the least.
As was the custom of the day, when the time came near
for Queen Mahamaya to have her child, she traveled to
her father's kingdom for the birth. But during the long
journey, her birth pains began. In the small town of
Lumbini, she asked her handmaidens to assist her to a
nearby grove of trees for privacy. One large tree lowered
a branch to her to serve as a support for her delivery.
They say the birth was nearly painless, even though the
child had to be delivered from her side. After, a gentle
rain fell on the mother and the child to cleanse them.
It is said that the child was born fully awake. He could
speak, and told his mother he had come to free all
mankind from suffering. He could stand, and he walked a
short distance in each of the four directions. Lotus
blossoms rose in his footsteps. They named him
Siddhartha, which means "he who has attained his
goals." Sadly, Mahamaya died only seven days after the
birth. After that Siddhartha was raised by his mother’s
kind sister, Mahaprajapati.
King Shuddodana consulted Asita, a well-known sooth-
sayer, concerning the future of his son. Asita proclaimed
that he would be one of two things: He could become a
great king, even an emperor. Or he could become a great
sage and savior of humanity. The king, eager that his son
should become a king like himself, was determined to
shield the child from anything that might result in him
taking up the religious life. And so Siddhartha was kept in
one or another of their three palaces, and was prevented
from experiencing much of what ordinary folk might
consider quite commonplace. He was not permitted to
see the elderly, the sickly, the dead, or anyone who had
dedicated themselves to spiritual practices. Only beauty
and health surrounded Siddhartha.
Siddhartha grew up to be a strong and handsome young
man. As a prince of the warrior caste, he trained in the
arts of war. When it came time for him to marry, he won
the hand of a beautiful princess of a neighboring kingdom
by besting all competitors at a variety of sports.
Yashodhara was her name, and they married when both
were 16 years old.
As Siddhartha continued living in the luxury of his palaces,
he grew increasing restless and curious about the world
beyond the palace walls. He finally demanded that he be
permitted to see his people and his lands. The king
carefully arranged that Siddhartha should still not see the
kind of suffering that he feared would lead him to a
religious life, and decried that only young and healthy
people should greet the prince.
As he was lead through Kapilavatthu, the capital, he
chanced to see a couple of old men who had accidentally
wandered near the parade route. Amazed and confused,
he chased after them to find out what they were. Then he
came across some people who were severely ill. And
finally, he came across a funeral ceremony by the side of
a river, and for the first time in his life saw death. He
asked his friend and squire Chandaka the meaning of all
these things, and Chandaka informed him of the simple
truths that Siddhartha should have known all along: That
all of us get old, sick, and eventually die.
Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had
renounced all the pleasures of the flesh. The peaceful
look on the monks face would stay with Siddhartha for a
long time to come. Later, he would say this about that
When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are
disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old
some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the
ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual
intoxication with youth anymore.
When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are
disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick
some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the
ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual
intoxication with health anymore.
When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they
are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be
dead some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be
like the ignorant people. After than, I couldn’t feel the
usual intoxication with life anymore. (AN III.39, interpreted)
At the age of 29, Siddhartha came to realize that he could
not be happy living as he had been. He had discovered
suffering, and wanted more than anything to discover how
one might overcome suffering. After kissing his sleeping
wife and newborn son Rahula goodbye, he snuck out of
the palace with his squire Chandara and his favorite
horse Kanthaka. He gave away his rich clothing, cut his
long hair, and gave the horse to Chandara and told him to
return to the palace. He studied for a while with two
famous gurus of the day, but found their practices lacking.
He then began to practice the austerities and self-
mortifications practiced by a group of five ascetics. For six
years, he practiced. The sincerity and intensity of his
practice were so astounding that, before long, the five
ascetics became followers of Siddhartha. But the
answers to his questions were not forthcoming. He
redoubled his efforts, refusing food and water, until he
was in a state of near death.
One day, a peasant girl named Sujata saw this starving
monk and took pity on him. She begged him to eat some
of her milk-rice. Siddhartha then realized that these
extreme practices were leading him nowhere, that in fact it
might be better to find some middle way between the
extremes of the life of luxury and the life of self-
mortification. So he ate, and drank, and bathed in the
river. The five ascetics saw him and concluded that
Siddhartha had given up the ascetic life and taken to the
ways of the flesh, and left him.
In the town of Bodh Gaya, Siddhartha decided that he
would sit under a certain fig tree as long as it would take
for the answers to the problem of suffering to come. He
sat there for many days, first in deep concentration to
clear his mind of all distractions, then in mindfulness
meditation, opening himself up to the truth. He began,
they say, to recall all his previous lives, and to see
everything that was going on in the entire universe. On
the full moon of May, with the rising of the morning star,
Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question
of suffering and became the Buddha, which means “he
who is awake.”
It is said that Mara, the evil one, tried to prevent this great
occurrence. He first tried to frighten Siddhartha with
storms and armies of demons. Siddhartha remained
completely calm. Then he sent his three beautiful
daughters to tempt him, again to no avail. Finally, he tried
to ensnare Siddhartha in his own ego by appealing to his
pride. That, too, failed. Siddhartha, having conquered all
temptations, touched the ground with one hand and asked
the earth to be his witness.
Siddhartha, now the Buddha, remained seated under the
tree -- which we call the bodhi tree -- for many days
longer. It seemed to him that this knowledge he had
gained was far too difficult to communicate to others.
Legend has it that Brahma, king of the gods, convinced
Buddha to teach, saying that some of us perhaps have
only a little dirt in our eyes and could awaken if we only
heard his story. Buddha agreed to teach.
At Sarnath near Benares, about one hundred miles from
Bodh Gaya, he came across the five ascetics he had
practiced with for so long. There, in a deer park, he
preached his first sermon, which is called “setting the
wheel of the teaching in motion.” He explained to them
the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. They
became his very first disciples and the beginnings of the
Sangha or community of monks.
King Bimbisara of Magadha, having heard Buddha’s
words, granted him a monastery near Rahagriha, his
capital, for use during the rainy season. This and other
generous donations permitted the community of converts
to continue their practice throughout the years, and gave
many more people an opportunity to hear the teachings of
Over time, he was approached by members of his family,
including his wife, son, father, and aunt. His son became
a monk and is particularly remembered in a sutra based
on a conversation between father and son on the dangers
of lying. His father became a lay follower. Because he
was saddened by the departures of his son and grandson
into the monastic life, he asked Buddha to make it a rule
that a man must have the permission of his parents to
become a monk. Buddha obliged him.
His aunt and wife asked to be permitted into the Sangha,
which was originally composed only of men. The culture
of the time ranked women far below men in importance,
and at first it seemed that permitting women to enter the
community would weaken it. But the Buddha relented,
and his aunt and wife became the first Buddhist nuns.
The Buddha said that it didn’t matter what a person’s
status in the world was, or what their background or
wealth or nationality might be. All were capable of
enlightenment, and all were welcome into the Sangha.
The first ordained Buddhist monk, Upali, had been a
barber, yet he was ranked higher than monks who had
been kings, only because he had taken his vows earlier
Buddha’s life wasn’t without disappointments. His cousin,
Devadatta, was an ambitious man. As a convert and
monk, he felt that he should have greater power in the
Sangha. He managed to influence quite a few monks
with a call to a return to extreme asceticism. Eventually,
he conspired with a local king to have the Buddha killed
and to take over the Buddhist community. Of course, he
Buddha had achieved his enlightenment at the age of 35.
He would teach throughout northeast India for another 45
years. When the Buddha was 80 years old, he told his
friend and cousin Ananda that he would be leaving them
soon. And so it came to be that in Kushinagara, not a
hundred miles from his homeland, he ate some spoiled
food and became very ill. He went into a deep meditation
under a grove of sala trees and died.
The Four Noble Truths
The first sermon that the Buddha preached after his
enlightenment was about the four noble truths. The first
noble truth is that life is frustrating and painful. In fact, if
we are honest with ourselves, there are times when it is
downright miserable. Things may be fine with us, at the
moment, but, if we look around, we see other people in
the most appalling condition, children starving, terrorism,
hatred, wars, intolerance, people being tortured and we
get a sort of queasy feeling whenever we think about the
world situation in even the most casual way. We,
ourselves, will some day grow old, get sick and eventually
die. No matter how we try to avoid it, some day we are
going to die. Even though we try to avoid thinking about it,
there are constant reminders that it is true.
The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause. We
suffer because we are constantly struggling to survive.
We are constantly trying to prove our existence. We may
be extremely humble and self-deprecating, but even that
is an attempt to define ourselves. We are defined by our
humility. The harder we struggle to establish ourselves
and our relationships, the more painful our experience
The third noble truth is that the cause of suffering can be
ended. Our struggle to survive, our effort to prove
ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary.
We, and the world, can get along quite comfortably
without all our unnecessary posturing. We could just be a
simple, direct and straight-forward person. We could form
a simple relationship with our world, our coffee, spouse
and friend. We do this by abandoning our expectations
about how we think things should be.
This is the fourth noble truth: the way, or path to end the
cause of suffering. The central theme of this way is
meditation. Meditation, here, means the practice of
mindfulness/awareness, shamata/vipashyana in Sanskrit.
We practice being mindful of all the things that we use to
torture ourselves with. We become mindful by abandoning
our expectations about the way we think things should be
and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop
awareness about the way things really are. We begin to
develop the insight that things are really quite simple, that
we can handle ourselves, and our relationships, very well
as soon as we stop being so manipulative and complex
|His last words were...
"Impermanent are all created things;
Strive on with awareness."
|My name is Jamaal Harless and I
approved this message.