Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. His original name was Siddharth (meaning one who has accomplished). He was also called Sakyamuni, i.e. the sage of the tribe of Sakya. He was born in the year 563 B.C. in the village of Lumbini near Kapila Vastu, within the present borders of Nepal.
According to legend, an astrologer foretold his father, the king, that young Gautama would give up the throne and luxury and renounce the world the day he would see four things (i) an old man, (ii) a sick man, (iii) a diseased man and (iv) a dead man. Hence, the king confined Gautama in a special palace which was provided with all worldly pleasures. He was married at the age of sixteen to Yasoddhra.
At the age of 29 after the birth of his first son, Gautama on the same day saw an old man, a sick man, a diseased man and a dead man. The impact of the dark side of life made him renounce the world that same night and he left his wife and son and became a penniless wanderer.
He studied and practised Hindu discipline initially, and later, Jainism. For several years he observed rigorous fasting along with extreme self-mortification. On realising that tormenting his body did not bring him closer to true wisdom, he resumed eating normally and abandoned asceticism.
At the age of 35, one evening as he sat beneath a giant fig tree (Bodh tree), he felt that he had found the solution to his problem and felt that he had attained enlightenment. Thus, he came to be known as ‘Gautama’, ‘The Buddha’, or ‘The Enlightened One’.
Later, he spent 45 years in preaching the truth that he felt he had discovered. He traveled from city to city bare-footed, clean-headed, with nothing more on his self than his saffron robe, walking stick and begging bowl. He died at the age of 80 in the year 483 BC.
TEACHINGS OF BUDDHA:
A. Noble Truths:
The principal teachings of Gautama Buddha can be summarised in what the Buddhists call the ‘Four Noble Truths’:
First – There is suffering and misery in life .
Second -The cause of this suffering and misery is desire.
Third – Suffering and misery can be removed by removing desire.
Fourth – Desire can be removed by following the Eight Fold Path.
B. The Noble Eight Fold Path:
(i) Right Views
(ii) Right Thoughts
(iii) Right Speech
(iv) Right Actions
(v) Right Livelihood
(vi) Right Efforts
(vii) Right Mindfulness
(viii) Right Meditation
Nirvana’ literally means “blowing out” or “extinction”. According to Buddhism, this is the ultimate goal of life and can be described in various words. It is a cessation of all sorrows, which can be achieved by removing desire by following the Eight Fold Path.
In meditating on human pain, he was enlightened about both its genesis and the means of destroying it.
In this first stage he saw each of his previous existences, and then understood the chain of cause and effect. In the second he surveyed the death and rebirth of all living beings and understood the law that governs the cycle of birth and death. In the third he identified the Four Noble Truths: the universality of suffering, the cause of suffering through selfish desire, the solution to suffering and the way to overcome suffering. This final point is called the Noble Eightfold Path, this being eight steps consisting of wisdom (right views, right intention) ethics (right speech, right action, right livelihood), mental discipline (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration), which ultimately lead to liberation from the source of suffering.
When day came, Gautama had attained perfect illumination, and had become a Buddha. The rays emanating from his body shone to the boundaries of space. He stayed in meditation for seven more days, and then for four more weeks he stayed by the tree. Through his process of enlightenment he discovered that all sentient beings in this universal life possess buddhahold, and all are future potential buddhas.
From that time he had two alternate paths: he could enter Nirvana immediately, or else he could stay and spread enlightenment. After Brahma came in person to beg him to preach the law, Buddha yielded and stayed on the earth. For many years he traveled and taught his wisdom about the force of love and the destruction of all desire.
Although initially hesitant to share his insight on the grounds that humanity might not be ready for such a teaching, the Buddha decided to communicate his discovery to those willing to listen. His first converts were the five ascetics with whom he had lived when he himself followed the lifestyle of the ascetic. To these he preached his first sermon in the Deer Park at Benares, outlining to them the Four Noble Truths. Out of this small group the community of monks (or Sangha) grew to about 60 in size and came to include Buddha’s cousin, Ananda, and his son, Rahula. Later the Buddha was persuaded by his stepmother and cousin to accept women into the sangha.
The remaining 45 years of the Buddha’s life were spent journeying around the plain of the Ganges, teaching and receiving visitors.
“There are two extremes which are to be avoided: a life of pleasure ~ this is low and ignoble, unworthy and useless, and runs counter to the affairs of the spirit; and a life of fasting ~ this is sad, unworthy and useless. Perfection has kept its distance from these two extremes, and has found the middle way which leads to repose, knowledge, illumination, and Nirvana. So here is the sacred truth about pain: birth, old age, sickness, death, and separation from that which one loves, are pain. And this is the origin of pain: it is thirst for pleasure, thirst for existence, thirst for impermanence. And here is the truth about the suppression of pain: it is the extinction of that thirst by the destruction of desire.
“Charity, knowledge and virtue are possessions that cannot be lost. To do a little good is worth more than accomplishing works of a difficult nature. The perfect man is nothing unless he pours out kindness on his fellow creatures, unless he consoles the abandoned. My doctrine is a doctrine of mercy. The way of salvation is open to all. Destroy your passions as the elephant would trample down a reed hut. But I would have you know that it is a mistaken idea to believe that one can escape from one’s passions by taking shelter in hermitages. The only remedy against evil is healthy reality.”
And so Buddha travelled and preached. He performed many miracles, and converted his family and many followers. During his life the Buddha had taught that no one was to succeed him as leader of the Sangha. Instead, his followers were to take his teaching and rule as their sole guides. By the time he reached the age of 80, Sakyamuni began to feel old. He visited all of the monasteries he had founded and prepared to meet his end.
Before the Buddha’s death, he became severely sick. He journeyed northwest to the banks of the river Hiranyavati, walking with his disciples, and ate the food offered by a blacksmith. His illness had progresses, and at the end, he came to the river and took a bath. Then he made a rope bed among eight sal trees, with each direction having two. He lay down on his side, right hand supporting his head, the other resting on his body. All later reclining Buddhas (called Buddha’s Nirvana) are in the same posture.
The Buddha’s disciples kept watch on him after they were told the Buddha was going to nirvana. At night, a scholar of Brahman went to see the Buddha, but was stopped by the Buddha’s disciple Ananda. Hearing this, the Buddha called the scholar Subhadda to his bed and spoke him. Thus the scholar became the Buddha’s last disciple. The final exhortation of the Buddha to his disciples was that they should not be sorry for losing their tutor. (See the last sermon of the Buddha for further elaboration.)
Growing weaker, he spoke one last time: “Do not say we have no master now. The doctrine I have preached will be your master when I have disappeared. Listen, I beg you: ALL CREATIONS ARE IMPERMANENT; work diligently for your liberation.”
Having pronounced these final words, Buddha went into the jhana stages, or meditative absorptions. Going from level to level, one after the other, ever deeper and deeper, he reached ecstacy. Then he came out of the meditative absorption for the last time and passed into nirvana, leaving nothing whatever behind that can cause rebirth again in this or any other world.and finally passed into Nirvana.
After his death, Buddha’s remains were cremated, as became the Buddhist tradition. The passing away, or the final nirvana, of the Buddha occurred in 483 BC on a full moon day in the month of May, known in the Indian calendar as Wesak.