By Jayaram V
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Siddhartha, Gautama and Sakyamuni, the founder of
Buddhism. We have presented the life of the Buddha in four parts.
This is part 1.
is a brief sketch of the life of the Buddha also known as The Buddha
was born in the year 563 B.C. in a mango grove at a place called
Lumbini. It is presently located in the foot hills of Nepal in the
region bordering the present day India. His father Suddhodana was
a Sakya king and his mother Maya also came from a princely family.
Seven days after his birth his mother died, leaving him to the care
of her sister and his step mother Mahajapati, who was also a wife
The young Buddha was brought up in Kapilavastha, which was the
capital of Sakya kingdom. When he was born, legend records the occurrence
of several miracles, confirming the arrival of a great being into
the world. His father and some prominent members of his court were
aware that a divine child, who was was destined to be a great person,
was born amidst them. His parents gave him the name Siddhartha.
They expected him to grow and become a successful and skillful king.
Siddhartha was also known in history by the name Gautama. This
was in fact his family name, which he inherited from his mother's
Princely life and the great change
We are told that knowing well what was in store for his son,
his father tried his best to shield him from all possible spiritual
contacts and influences by surrounding him with pomp and luxury
and providing all material comforts, so that when he grew up he
would become a great ruler. He built three palaces for his son with
all the comforts and amenities and arranged for his training in
in martial arts and education in various subjects necessary for
conduct of state affairs. We are told that despite of these arrangements
the young Siddhartha was still drawn occasionally into philosophical
and contemplative thinking during which he would suffer from deep
Prince Siddhattha and Princess
When he reached the age of sixteen he was married to a beautiful
princess called Yashodhara. She was the daughter of a Sakya Chieftain
called Suprabuddha. He had a son through her by the name Rahula.
We do not know much about his family life, except that he cared
for his wife and spent considerable time in her company. We do not
know whether he had any liaison with some other women too. Yashodhara
was probably a very dutiful wife, who might have suffered later
in life when the Buddha finally left her.
Buddha seeing an old man from his chariot
During this period he went through four strange experiences which
the Buddhists refer as the "Four Noble Signs". They changed
his thinking completely and brought a fundamental change in his
attitude towards the life he was leading till then.
The first of these signs was the sight of an old and decrepit
man. This made him think about the decay inherent in all life. The
second was the sight of a sick and ailing man. This made him think
about the suffering inherent in existence.
The third sign was the sight of corpse lying in a bier. This
made him think about the transience of human life and need for liberation
from the very experience of death. The fourth was the sight of a
meditating monk, who had renounced the worldly life and was leading
the life of a monk. It reminded him of the possibilities of spiritual
life lying beyond the boundaries of his own materialistic life.
These experiences prompted the young Siddhartha to review the
life he was leading till then and change it if he could. He was
overwhelmed with a sense of grief and compassion for the troubles
of the mankind. He decided not to rest till he found suitable answers
to the questions that were troubling him for some time. His son
Rahula was just born then, as if circumstances were making it a
little more difficult for him to leave his wife and worldly life
The life of a wandering monk
But the young Siddhartha was firm in his resolve. Ever
since he saw the meditating hermit, he became eager to pursue a
similar life of austerity and inner detachment.
Shortly afterwards, one day, in the middle of the night, when
every one was asleep, he left the palace, his family, friends and
But the young Siddhartha was firm in his resolve. Ever since
he saw the meditating hermit, he became eager to pursue a similar
life of austerity and inner detachment. Shortly afterwards, one
day, in the middle of the night, when every one was asleep, he left
the palace, his family, friends and the kingdom.
He felt relieved as he rode out of Kapilavasthu, in a chariot
driven by his trusted charioteer named Channa, towards the deep
forests that lay beyond the civilized life. After crossing a stream
called Anana, he removed all his jewelry and rich clothes and gave
them to Channa. He ordered him to return to the city with the chariot
and all his belongings, much against the protestations and pleadings
of the latter.
After Channa's departure, he proceeded on foot to a near
by mango grove called Anupia and stayed there for a week, contemplating
on the possible course of action he was to take. After a few days
he decided to go to Rajagriha, the capital of the famous Magadha
Kingdom, ruled then by the equally famous king, Bimbisara, who was
a man of noble qualities and great vision. We are told that when
he was in Magadha, he was visited by king Bimbisara, who tried to
persuade him unsuccessfully not to renounce his princely ways and
worldly life. But Siddhartha, could not be persuaded. He remained
firm in his resolve. He promised him nothing. But he gave him the
assurance that when he attained enlightenment, he would first come
to Magadha only to preach his gospel to the people there.
From Rajagriha, he went to meet a famous sage named Aalara Kalama
who was living then in a hermitage near by. We do not know how he
came to know about this sage and when he actually decided to see
him. It is possible that he might have heard of the latter's
spiritual eminence when he was staying in Rajagriha.
Alara Kalama accepted him as his disciple and initiated him into
the secrets of ecstatic meditation. He also taught him the doctrine
of Atman and the existence of Brahman. But it appears that he was
not able to exert any influence on his young disciple, as probably
he himself was not very conversant with the deeper aspects of the
Upanishadic knowledge of Brahminism.
By all means, while staying in the hermitage, Siddhartha grew
disillusioned with the teachings of his master. So after a brief
stay, he decided to leave the hermitage and search for Truth on
his own. Alara Kalara's teachings, especially on the nature
of Atman and Brahman, convinced him that if he wanted to know the
Truth he must search for it on his own. He left the hermitage and
repaired to a forest near Uruvela, on the banks of river Nairanjana.
There he met five wandering monks. Like him they were also looking
for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths and they believed
that it could be achieved only through the strict observation of
austerities and self-denial. Upon meeting him and talking to him,
they decided to stay with him and pursue their path. And when the
saw the sincerity behind his resolution and the manner in which
started practicing austerities, they decided to accept him as their
leader and master.
Austerities and self-mortification
For six years, Gautama practiced several austerities and subjected
himself to severe self-mortification. He led a life of hardship,
complete fasting and starvation, so much so that his well groomed
body was reduced to a heap of bones and skin without any flesh in
between. He lost the vigor of youth and the strength to perform
even ordinary tasks. Because of terrible weakness and complete exhaustion
one day he fell unconscious.
When he came out of unconscious state, he felt that he was pursuing
a wrong path. He became convinced that he would not get enlightenment
and final liberation through a weak body that had lost its strength.
He decided to leave the austere life behind and go to near by villages
to beg food and strengthen his body again. A village girl by name
Sujata said to have served him with milk-rice during this period,
thereby ending the six-year period of his severe fasting.
The five monks who were with him till then were not happy with
the change they noticed in Gautama. They wondered how Gautama who
was unable to get enlightenment even after six years of severe austerities
would achieve liberation if he started begging and eating ordinary
food. They left him alone and went away to Isipitana, a place that
was in the suburbs of ancient Varanasi.
The Buddha, the Enlightened One
After they deserted him, Gautama spent some time alone in the
forest contemplating the further course of action he was to take.
His initial failure only strengthened his resolve to seek enlightenment.
He decided not leave the place till he got the knowledge he wanted.
Thus resolved, he sat under a bodhi tree and practiced deep meditation
for several days. Legend has it that during this period he was subjected
to many temptations by the deceitful Mara, but no amount of trickery
could defeat his purpose and resolve.
Finally, after several days, one day, "when the sun was
yet above the horizon", he received the answers he was searching
for and received enlightenment. He entered the stage of Nirvana
and became the Buddha or "the Knower".
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