Saturday, October 23, 2010

Life of the Buddha

Buddha Statue-Bodhgaya

The Buddha ( the enlightened or Awakened), also known as Sakyamuni or Thathagata, was born in 563 B. C. on the Vaihsakha Purnima day in the royal grove at Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, capital of the Sakyan republic, where his father Suddhodana was at the time ruling.

At birth the Buddha stood upright, took seven strides, and spoke: “This is my last birth-henceforth there is no more birth for me.” His mother, Mahamaya, died seven days after the birth. So the child, named Siddhartha, was brought up by his stepmother Gautami. Gautama as a child led a sheltered life and was given every kind of luxury. He was married at the age of 16 to Yasodhara, his cousin and the beautiful daughter of a neighboring chieftain whom he won at a contest where he defeated all the contenders including his envious cousin Devadatta. Gautama enjoyed family life for thirteen years and had a son Rahula.

Since one of the soothsayers had prophesied that Siddhartha is destined to be a Universal teacher, his father Suddhodana made every effort to keep Siddhartha virtually a prisoner in the palace. However, Siddhartha got out by stealth. The four signs he saw outside made a deep impression on him. He is said to have seen an aged man, completely decrepit and ugly and then a sick man who was covered with boils and shivering. Thirdly he saw a corpse; being carried to the cremation ground: all of which deeply depressed him because they showed that there is nothing but sorrow and suffering in the world and death comes to all of us, Finally he saw a religious beggar, clad in a simple yellow robe, an ascetic who devoted himself to religion. This man looked to be quite composed and serene and was inwardly joyful. This sort of life appealed to him. And therefore, he left his palace at night at the age of 29, to seek mental peace in the homeless life of an ascetic. Before leaving the palace, the Buddha went to the room of his son Rahul where his wife Yasodhara was sleeping with one of his hands on the head of the child. He silently left the palace since he feared that her awakening will prove to be an obstacle to his going away. This event is known as “Great Going Forth” (Mahabhiniskramana) in the Buddhist phraseology.

For full six years Gautama sought the solution to the world’s ills. He learnt the technique of ecstatic mediation (samapatti) from Alara Kalama. During the period, he searched, scrutinized and examined in detail the prevalent schools of thought. Ultimately, one fine morning of Vaisakha Purnima at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya under the bodhi tree (Tree of Wisdom) in Bihar.

The Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath (Isipatana) near Varanasi before the five ascetics who had been earlier his colleagues. Thereafter for forty five years the Buddha went about the country, from town to town, from village to village, disseminating spiritual illumination for the benefit of the suffering of humanity. He attained the final blowing out (mahaparinirvana) at Kushinara in the Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh) in 483 BC at the age of 80. The last words of the Buddha were: “All composite things decay. Strive diligently!”

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