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A brief overview of the life and important stages on the Buddha's road to enlightenment.

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The Life of the Buddha

Buddhism Fast Facts

Meaning: System taught by the Buddha

Began: 6th Century BC

Founded: North India

Founder: Siddhartha Gautama (also known as "the Buddha"), who was an Indian prince

Followers: 386 million

Size: The world’s 4th largest religion

Main locations: China, Japan, Korea and SE Asia

Main Sects: Theravada and Mahayana

Sacred texts: Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana sutras

Original language: Pali

Spiritual leader: Monk

Place of ritual: Temple and meditation hall.

Theism: Duality - Theravada is atheistic; Mahayana tends to be more polytheistic.

Ultimate reality: None for nothing is permanent.

Holidays: Buddha's birthday, the date of his enlightenment and the four lunar quarters

The Life of the Buddha

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What does Buddha mean?

Buddha is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates "as the enlightened one." A Buddha is a person who has recognized that personal enlightenment ends the cycle of birth and death and which brings liberation from suffering.

The Present Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born in 583 BC in Nepal and was the son of King Suddhodana who was leader of a large family called the Shakya. Queen Maya, the mother of the future Buddha died shortly after his birth.

When he was a few days old, a revered holy man prophesied the Prince would be either a great military commander or a great spiritual teacher. His father preferred the military option and raised his son with this in mind. He lived a life great luxury and opulence and protected him from all knowledge of religion and human suffering. The future Buddha thus lived a life up to the age of 29 ignorant of life outside the palace wall.

The Four Passing Sights

He had a curious and enquiring mind so one day he asked the palace charioteer to take him on rides outside the palace and into the surrounding countryside. What he saw shocked him – first he saw an old man followed by a sick man and finally a dead body. These stark and profound sights sickened and shocked the cosseted Prince. Finally, he saw an itinerant ascetic and his guide explained it was one who had renounced the world and found release from fear of death and suffering.

The Renunciation

When he returned to the Palace he found that this current life had ceased to give him any pleasure. Even the birth of his son failed to please him. So one night he took to walking around the palace alone and the excesses of his former palace life now seemed grotesque. The Prince looked upon the sight and observed how old age and death would ultimately turn them all to dust. He left the palace shaved his head and adopted the robes of a beggar. Thus on that night he began his journey for enlightenment.

The Search for Enlightenment Begins

Firstly he sought out the most renowned teachers to teach him about all the various religious ides of the time and also how to meditate – he still felt unease and thus he and five disciples left to find their own personal enlightenment.

They practiced extreme physical discipline – which included pain, holding their breath and fasting very nearly to starvation. This didn’t satisfy the former Prince and he surmised he had gone to the opposite extreme from pleasure to pain and self mortification. He posited Middle Way to bridge between those two extremes.

He learnt that the path of liberation was through disciplining his mind and decided that instead of starvation, he needed food to build up his strength on the quest. However when he accepted alms’ bowl of rice milk from a young girl, his disciples assumed he had renounced the quest and left him alone.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment

He sat beneath a sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa), which would be known hereafter as the Bodhi Tree, and began meditation.

Buddhist mythology represents this as a great battle with demons symbolized by Mara a demon of destruction and was followed by an attempt to seduce him in his mind. However he resisted all these challenges and finally it is said Mara succumbed to the greater strength and discipline of the Prince – he was stilled and as the morning star rose as night ended he realised he had reached enlightenment and become a Buddha.

The Buddha becomes a Teacher

Initially he was reluctant to teach as he felt his knowledge was not communicable in words. Only through disciplining and focusing mind would delusions fall away and Enlightenment could be directly experienced. To fail to do this would mean that pupils would be stuck in trying to conceptualise the experience and would misunderstand his teachings .However compassion persuaded him to try to achieve this goal.

He travelled to the Deer Park in Isipatana, India and was reunited found his five disciples who had abandoned him and it was to this group he preached his first sermon. This focuses on the Four Noble Truths prescribing a path of actions and disciplines through which followers can achieve their own enlightenment.

He quickly attracted hundreds of followers and became reconciled with his father, King Suddhodana. His estranged wife, Yasodhara, became a nun and disciple and Rahula, his son, became an apprentice novice monk at the age of 7 and was to spend the rest of his life with his father.

The Buddha’s Last Words

The Buddha without rest travelled extensively and taught right up until his death at 80. His last words to his disciples were;

"Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All related things in the world are changeable. They are impermanent. Work with diligence in order to gain your own salvation."

The Life of the Buddha - Part 1 Animated Cartoon

The Life of the Buddha - Part 2 Animated Cartoon

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