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 BASIC BUDDHISM

The Life of the Buddha

~566 B.C.

Birth of the Buddha

Buddhism is one of the major religions in the world. It began around 2,500 years ago in India when Siddhartha Gautama discovered how to bring happiness into the world. He was born around 566 BC, in the small kingdom of Kapilavastu. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya.

Soon after Prince Siddhartha was born, the wise men predicted that he would become a Buddha. When the king heard this, he was deeply disturbed, for he wanted his son to become a mighty ruler. He told Queen Maya, "I will make life in the palace so pleasant that our son will never want to leave."

At the age of sixteen, Prince Siddhartha married a beautiful princess, Yasodhara. The king built them three palaces, one for each season, and lavished them with luxuries. They passed their days in enjoyment and never thought about life outside the palace.

Early 20's

Four Sights

Soon Siddhartha became disillusioned with palace life and wanted to see the outside world. He made four trips to the city and saw four things that changed his life. On the first three trips, he saw sickness, old age and death. He asked himself, "How can I enjoy a life of pleasure when there is so much suffering in the world?"

On his fourth trip, he saw a wandering monk who had given up everything he owned to seek an end to suffering. “I shall be like him." Siddhartha said. 

29 years old

Renunciation

Leaving his kingdom and loved ones behind, Siddhartha became a wandering monk. He cut off his hair to show that he had renounced the worldly lifestyle and wore ragged robes. Wandering from place to place, he studied with the wisest teachers of his day, in search for the truth. None of them knew how to end suffering, so he continued the search on his own.

For six years he practiced severe asceticism, thinking this would lead him to enlightenment. He lived with five yogis and ate only one grain of wheat and one sesame seed a day. He could endure more hardships than anyone else, but this did not take him anywhere. Realizing that neither life in the palace nor life as an ascetic was the way to freedom, he began to eat nourishing food again and regained his strength. When the five yogis saw him eating such food, they left him.  

~35 years old

Enlightenment

On a full-moon day in May, Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree in deep meditation and said, "I will not leave this spot until I am enlightened." During the night, he was visited by Mara, the evil one, who tried to tempt him away from his virtuous path. First, Mara sent his beautiful daughters to lure Siddhartha into pleasure. Next, he sent bolts of lightning, wind and heavy rain. In the end, he sent his demon armies with weapons and flaming rocks. One by one, Siddhartha met the armies and defeated them with his loving-kindness.

As the struggle ended, he realized the cause of suffering and how to remove it. He had gained the most supreme wisdom and understood things as they truly are. He became the Buddha, 'The Awakened One'. From then on, he was called Buddha Shakyamuni. 

35-80 years old

The Buddha Teaches

After his enlightenment, the Buddha wandered to the Deer Park near the holy city of Benares and shared his new understanding with the five ascetics. They understood immediately and became his disciples. This marked the beginning of the Buddhist community, the Sangha.

For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples wandered from place to place in India, spreading the Dharma. At night they would sleep where they were, and when hungry ask for a little food. The Buddha’s compassion knew no bounds, he helped everyone along the way: both men and women, rich and poor, king and slaves.

Wherever the Buddha went, he won the hearts of the people because he dealt with their true feelings. He advised them not to accept his words on blind faith, but to decide for themselves whether his teachings were right or wrong. He encouraged everyone to have compassion for each other and develop their own virtue. He said, "You should do your own work, for I can teach only the way."

The Buddha never became angry or spoke harshly to anyone, not even to those who opposed him. He always taught in such a way that everyone could understand. Each person thought the Buddha was speaking especially for him. The Buddha told his followers to help each other on the Way. Following is a story of the Buddha living as an example to his disciples.

Once the Buddha and Ananda visited a monastery where a monk who was suffering from a contagious disease, lived. The poor man lay in his own filth, with no one looking after him. The Buddha himself washed the sick monk, and Ananda placed him on a new bed. Afterwards, the Buddha said to the other monks. "Monks, you have neither mother nor father to look after you. If you do not look after each other, who will look after you? Whoever serves the sick and suffering, serves me." 

80 years old

The Last Years

The Buddha passed away around 486 BC, at the age of eighty. Although he has left the world, the spirit of his kindness and compassion remains.

The Buddha realized that he was not the first to become a Buddha. He said, "Many Buddhas have come before me and more will come in the future. All living beings have the Buddha nature and can become Buddhas." For this reason, he taught the way to Buddhahood.  

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