Siddhartha Gautama: 
The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama's Early Life

Long ago, around 560 BC, a young Kshatriya (warrior/ruler) named Siddhartha Gautama was born in India to a Hindu rajah. It was foretold at his birth that he would grow to be either a great king or a great holy man. His father determined to steer him toward the path of the king and filled his life with plenty and happiness. He lacked for nothing, and his parents were careful to shield him from anything hurtful or imperfect that would cause him to swerve from that path. 

Even while he was still young, Siddhartha was blessed to marry a princess as lovely as her name: Yasodhara, which means bearer of glory. Soon they would have a son, Rahula, to carry on the family line and care for them in old age.

All seemed well in this life of indulgence and pleasures. Nothing was denied him. But they were living in a world of illusion...maya...and they were blind to the presence of suffering all around them. Then one day, on a journey outside the palace, he witnessed suffering for the first time, despite his father’s best efforts to protect him from it...

The Four Passing Sights

Known collectively as the Four Passing Sights, this was a turning point in Siddhartha Gautama’s life. Destined to be a great king, this sight of a decrepit old man, alone in the world...a sick man, suffering in pain...a funeral procession, filled with sadness...and a holy man begging—no more would he be king.

Gautama was confused...disturbed. His whole world was shaken. And so, at the age of 29, he left his life of comfort behind to follow the way of the beggar. Yasodhara grieved the loss of him, as for the dead, but he embraced asceticism and self-mortification—a path that could almost be characterized as a Jain ideal. He almost died in the process.

Enlightenment

  • Gautama decided there was no nirvana to be found at the two extremes of self-indulgence and renunciation and determined to follow a Middle Path.
  • One day, as he meditated at the foot of a fig tree, legends say he reached a state of supreme enlightenment—attainment of nirvana while still living, there at the foot of the Wisdom Tree—thereafter known as the Bodhi Tree
  • Gautama came to be called the Enlightened One: the Buddha. Other disillusioned followers of Hinduism listened to him, and by the time he died at the age of 80, his words and ideas had developed into a significant force among the religions of India.
  • His wife, Yasodhara, is said to have become a Buddhist nun. In this respect, Buddhism differed from orthodox Hindu thinking: Women were offered a road to their own enlightenment and release. They were believed capable of achieving nirvana.



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