Gautama Buddha


The son of a king, Gautama's time of birth is uncertain: most early-20th-century historians dated his birth in 563 B.C. Although he lived in India more than 2500 years ago, echoes of his world still remain. The Buddha, the Indian sage whose story inspired one of the world's great religions, Buddhism, the fourth largest religion in the world. He is the primary figure of Buddhism. The stories say that the Queen, before the birth of Gautama, had a dream. In the dream, a beautiful white elephant offered the Queen a lotus plant and then entered the side of her body. When sages were asked to interpret the dream, they predicted the Queen would give birth to a son, destined to become either a great ruler or a holy man. One day, he would either conquer the world or become an enlightenment teacher. Seven days after giving birth, the Queen dies. 

Raised in a palace with every imaginable luxury. He was called Siddhartha Gautama, a prince among a clan of warriors. "When I was child, I was delicately brought up, most delicately, a white sun shade was held over me day and night to protect me from cold, heat, dust, dirt, and anything else thought to be hazardous." His father wanted him to be a king, to be emperor of India and to conquer the world. At the time, there were 16 different kingdoms and it was said that Gautama could conquer wherever he wanted if he remained king. His father created an artificial environment so that he would remain on this path. His father wanted to prevent his son from noticing anything wrong with the world. Shielded from pain and suffering, Gautama indulged in a life of pure pleasure. Every whim satisfied, every desire fulfilled. "I wore the most costly garments, ate the finest foods, surrounded by beautiful women." He was constantly entertained by musicians and dancing girls and it never crossed his mind to leave. 

When he was 16, his father, drawing him closer to palace life, married him to his cousin, it wasn't long before they fell in love. The story says the he indulged himself for 29 years until the shimmering bubble of pleasure burst. Despite his father trying everything he can in order to prevent Gautama from leaving the palace, one day he goes outside and as he is traveling through the kingdom, he has the first of four encounters. He sees an old man and he asks his attendant who replies "oh, that's change, one doesn't always stay young and perfect." On the next tour, he sees a sick man and doesn't quite understand what it is so he asks his attendant at which time he replies "that happens to all of us." Extremely curious, he gets his chariot to take him out on more trips. On his third trip he meets a corpse and recognizes impermanence and suffering and death as the real state of things, the world that he was protected from, kept from seeing. He was shocked, but he realized that he will also have the same fate. He saw that he will also become old, sick and eventually die.This was the transformation of a naive, innocent young man into a being who wanted to know the full truth. The fourth trip outside he sees a spiritual seeker, someone who has decided to live a life completely other than his life in order to escape from impermanence, suffering and death. This was a traumatic encounter in which he observed the pain and suffering from life. He had already suffered the worst kind of loss that one could suffer. At one week old, his mother died. Something tragic happened right at the beginning of his life. Some say that suffering at such a primitive level was a factor in becoming The Buddha.

Shortly after the birth of his son he left home seeking truth. It was extremely difficult for him because he knew he was ultimately leaving his wife, infant son and father in grief but he yearned to gain knowledge and had no choice but to make this sacrifice. He would be alone in the world for the first time. On the bank of a nearby river, he drew his sword, "although my father and step mother were grieving with tears on their faces, I cut off my hair and put on the yellow robes and went forth from home in homelessness, I had been wounded by the enjoyment of the world, and I had come out longing to obtain peace." Once a great prince, he now became a beggar. He would live in frightening places where wild animals roamed and dangerous spirits were said to live. 

It is here in his journies that he experiences tragedies of all sorts and things that opened both his eye and mind. He would also encounter holy men, who would teach their own spiritual disciplines. Gautama apprenticed himself to one of them, a celebrated guru who taught that true knowledge could never come from ritual practice alone, it was necessary to look within. "You may stay here with me, a wise person can soon dwell in his teacher's knowledge and experience it directly for himself." Gautama set himself to learn the rigorous practices the guru prescribed. Yoga and meditation were among the exercises that Gautama would perform. Being taught that the self reflective capacity of 
the mind could be put to use to tame the mind and tame the passions. Despite his newly gained practices, he was still suffering from the same pain that he first set out with. 
Disenchanted, he would leave his master drifting south still searching for the answer to his question: why do human beings suffer, is there any escape? He had experienced extreme luxuries so he decides now to experience extreme deprivation. He felt punishing the body is a way to attain serenity and wisdom. He would subject his body to the extremes of hardship and pain. Gautama punishes himself for six years trying to put an end to cravings that beset him. He tortures himself, trying to destroy anything inside himself that he sees as bad. 

He would describe his physical appearance in astonishing detail, "My limbs became like the jointed segments of vine or bamboo stems, my spine stood out like a string of beads, my ribs jutted out like the rafters of an old abandoned building, the gleam of my eyes 
appeared to have been sunk deep into my eye sockets, like the gleam of water deep in a well, my scalp shriveled and withered in the heat and wind." Again, he realizes that his question will still not be answered. Too much focus was given to his body. All of a 
sudden he flashes back to a time when he was small boy when his father took him to a festival. The perfection of the world brought him much joy that day. As he watched the celebration he looked down at the grass and thought about the insects and their eggs, destroyed as the field was planted. He was overwhelmed with sadness. He realized that everything is connected. 

Throughout the rest of his life, he gains the power to see the process of birth, death and rebirth that all creatures go through. He obtains a cosmic vision of the entire universe. "My mind is at peace, at this moment, all beings and I awaken together." It is 
here that he had become "The Enlightened One, The Buddha". Here he explains that Nirvana has always existed, your reality itself is Nirvana, its the ignorance that makes you feel that you're a self centered separate being trying to fight off an overwhelming 
universe and failing, you're already that universe. Nirvana is this moment seen directly, It's simply the quality of this moment. Buddha is initially hesitant to teach what he has just learned because he feels the people will not understand, and they will think he is crazy. The myth is that God comes and asks for his assistance in teaching his new found knowledge to the people. Thirty five years old, he would devote the rest of his life to bringing his teachings into the world. 

At the end of his life, Buddha was preparing to leave the earth forever, he would never be reborn or die again. "It may be that after I'm gone, that some of you will think that now we have no teacher, but that is not how you should see it, let the discipline that I have taught you be your teacher, all individual things pass away, strive on." Those were the Buddha's last words. The Buddha died peacefully in 483 B.C. His disciples were nevertheless upset and devastated but The Buddha's instructions were so simple and so clear. I am not your light, I am not your authority, you've been with me a long time now, be your own light. The Buddha felt that death and life are inseparable, death is a large part of the unknown and if we are unable to smile about this unknown, we will be very much troubled. He had attained enlightenment, shared what he learned and left a path for others to follow. Now he was gone but before he died he had asked his followers to remember him by making pilgrimage to the place of his death, to where he gave his first teachings, where he achieved enlightenment, and where he was born. At places of pilgrimage, temples were built, images were installed and relics were enshrined. Millions of people get immense inspiration because Buddha's spirit is always there but the real Buddha's holy place is within one self. We learn from The Buddha that we must build within ourselves, we must build within our heart.



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