Thursday, June 27, 2013
Life of Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama, who would one day become known as Buddha ("enlightened one" or "the awakened"), lived in Northern India during the 6th to 4th century B.C. While scholars agree that he did in fact live, the events of his life are still debated. According to the most widely known story of his life, after experimenting with different teachings for years, and finding none of them acceptable, Gautama spent a fateful night in deep meditation. During his meditation, all of the answers he had been seeking became clear, and achieved full awareness, thereby becoming Buddha.
The Buddha, or "enlightened one," was born Siddhartha (which means "he who achieves his aim") Gautama, a prince in northern India (in what is now Nepal) in the 6th century BC. His father was a king who ruled an Indian tribe called the Shakyas. His mother died seven days after giving birth to him, but a holy man prophesized great things for the young Siddhartha: He would either be a great king or military leader or he would be a great spiritual leader. To keep his son from witnessing the miseries and suffering of the world, Siddhartha's father raised him in opulence in a palace built just for the boy and sheltered him from knowledge of religion and human hardship. According to custom, he married at the age of 16, but his life of total seclusion continued for another 13 years.
The prince reached his late 20s with little experience of the world outside the walls of his opulent palaces, but one day he ventured out beyond the palace walls and was quickly confronted with the realities of human frailty: He saw a very old man, and Siddhartha's charioteer explained that all people grow old. Questions about all he had not experienced led him to take more journeys of exploration, and on these subsequent trips he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic. The charioteer explained that the ascetic had renounced the world to seek release from the human fear of death and suffering. Siddhartha was overcome by these sights, and the next day, at age 29, he left his kingdom, wife and son to lead an ascetic life, and determine a way to relieve the universal suffering that he now understood to be one of the defining traits of humanity.
For the next six years, Siddhartha lived an ascetic life and partook in its practices, studying and meditating using the words of various religious teachers as his guide. He practiced his new way of life with a group of five ascetics, and his dedication to his quest was so stunning that the five ascetics became Siddhartha's followers. When answers to his questions did not appear, however, he redoubled his efforts, enduring pain, fasting nearly to starvation, and refusing water.
Whatever he tried, Siddhartha could not reach the level of satisfaction he sought, until one day when a young girl offered him a bowl of rice. As he accepted it, he suddenly realized that corporeal austerity was not the means to achieve inner liberation, and that living under harsh physical constraints was not helping him achieve spiritual release.