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Who Was the Buddha, and What Did He Teach?


Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, was born in the sixth century B.C. in what is now modern Nepal. His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the Sakya people and Siddhartha grew up living the extravagant life of a young prince. According to custom, he married at the young age of sixteen to a girl named Yasodhara.

His father had ordered that he live a life of total seclusion, but one day Siddhartha ventured out into the world and was confronted with the reality of the inevitable suffering of life. The next day, at the age of twenty-nine, he left his kingdom and newborn son to lead an ascetic life and determine a way to relieve universal suffering.

For six years, Siddhartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices, studying and following different methods of meditation with various religious teachers. But he was never fully satisfied. One day, however, he was offered a bowl of rice from a young girl and he accepted it. In that moment, he realised that physical austerities were not the means to achieve liberation. From then on, he encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He called this The Middle Way.

That night Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree, and meditated until dawn. He purified his mind of all defilements and attained enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, thus earning the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One”. For the remainder of his eighty years, the Buddha preached the Dharma in an effort to help other sentient beings reach enlightenment.

Buddha’s early life

India at the time of the Buddha was very spiritually open. Every major philosophical view was present in society, and people expected spirituality to influence their daily lives in positive ways.

At this time of great potential, Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, was born into a royal family in what is now Nepal, close to the border with India. Growing up, the Buddha was exceptionally intelligent and compassionate. Tall, strong, and handsome, the Buddha belonged to the Warrior caste.

It was predicted that he would become either a great king or spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they tried to prevent Siddharta from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world.

They surrounded him with every kind of pleasure. He was given five hundred attractive ladies and every opportunity for sports and excitement. He completely mastered the important combat training, even winning his wife, Yasodhara, in an archery contest.

Suddenly, at age 29, he was confronted with impermanence and suffering. On a rare outing from his luxurious palace, he saw someone desperately sick. The next day, he saw a decrepit old man, and finally a dead person. He was very upset to realize that old age, sickness and death would come to everyone he loved. Siddharta had no refuge to offer them.

The next morning the prince walked past a meditator who sat in deep absorption. When their eyes met and their minds linked, Siddhartha stopped, mesmerized.

In a flash, he realized that the perfection he had been seeking outside must be within mind itself. Meeting that man gave the future Buddha a first and enticing taste of mind, a true and lasting refuge, which he knew he had to experience himself for the good of all.

Buddha’s enlightenment

The Buddha decided he had to leave his royal responsibilities and his family in order to realize full enlightenment. He left the palace secretly, and set off alone into the forest. Over the next six years, he met many talented meditation teachers and mastered their techniques. Always he found that they showed him mind’s potential but not mind itself. Finally, at a place called Bodhgaya, the future Buddha decided to remain in meditation until he knew mind’s true nature and could benefit all beings. After spending six days and nights cutting through mind’s most subtle obstacles, he reached enlightenment on the full moon morning of May, a week before he turned thirty-five.

At the moment of full realization, all veils of mixed feelings and stiff ideas dissolved and Buddha experienced the all-encompassing here and now. All separation in time and space disappeared. Past, present, and future, near and far, melted into one radiant state of intuitive bliss. He became timeless, all-pervading awareness. Through every cell in his body he knew and was everything. He became Buddha, the Awakened One.

After his enlightenment, Buddha traveled on foot throughout northern India. He taught constantly for forty-five years. People of all castes and professions, from kings to courtesans, were drawn to him. He answered their questions, always pointing towards that which is ultimately real.

Throughout his life, Buddha encouraged his students to question his teachings and confirm them through their own experience. This non-dogmatic attitude still characterizes Buddhism.

Gautama Buddha Facts

  • Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, the western part of Nepal in the 6th Century B.C. He was a founder of Buddhism (a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha).
  • His real name was Siddartha Gautama. The name Gautama Buddha was given when he got enlightened.
  • Siddartha Gautama was a prince, His father was King Suddhodana, leader of the Shakya clan, and his mother was Queen Mayadevi. He was raised by his mother’s younger sister Maha Pajapati after his mother’s death seven days after childbirth.
  • Gautama Buddha was only 16 when his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yasodhara.
    “Rahula” was the only son of Gautama Buddha.
  • At the age of 29, Prince Siddhartha left Nepal in search of a way to end rebirth, old age, disease and death.
  • Gautama Buddha was the one who figured out a way in which people could do to be freed from suffering and sorrow.
  • Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta were two of the teachers of Gautama Buddha.
  • “Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment.
  • After his awakening, the Buddha met two merchants, named Tapussa and Bhallika, who became his first lay disciples. Later on more than 1,000 disciples joined them and formed “Sangha”.
  • He made 5 monks sit in front of him and delivered his first sermon known as “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Law”.
    Rahula- Son of Gautama Buddha became the youngest monk at the very age of 7.

THE FIVE PRECEPTS of Buddhism are:

  • No killing – Respect for life
  • No stealing – Respect for others’ property
  • No sexual misconduct – Respect for our pure nature
  • No lying – Respect for honesty
  • No intoxicants – Respect for a clear mind
  • Gautama Buddha died in Kushinagar, India at the age of 80 (BCE 563-483).
  • Among the 32 main characteristics, it’s mentioned that Buddha had blue eyes.
  • Buddha’s spot of enlightenment underneath the bodhi tree is still preserved to this day.
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