Mar 13, 2012

Prophets and Prophecy - Part Three
Buddha Siddhartha Gautama

The Buddhist faith and way of life is a direct reflection of the doctrines and teachings of a single man. Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha following his own personal bodhi, or enlightenment. He used this newly acquired knowledge to instruct others in his faith on the means to reach both bodhi and Nirvana, which is the end of all suffering. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later. Traditional biographies of Gautama generally include numerous miracles, omens, and supernatural events.

Siddhartha Gautama was born about 583 BCE, in or near what is now Nepal. His father, King Suddhodana, was leader of a large clan called the Shakya. When his wife, Mahamaya, was expecting her first born, she had had a dream in which a baby elephant blessed her with his trunk, which was understood to be a very auspicious sign.

Legend has it that the child was born fully awake and able to speak. He told his mother he had come to free all mankind from suffering. He could stand and walked a few steps in each of the four directions, lotus blossoms rising in his footsteps. He was named Siddhartha, which means “he who has attained his goals.” Mahamaya died seven days after the birth.

King Shuddodana consulted astrologers regarding his son’s future and was told his son would either become a great ruler or a great holy man. The king, who preferred that his son rule after him, asked the astrologers what would cause his son to become a holy man. Their answer: “A decrepit old man, a diseased man, a dead man and a monk.”

Determined this would not happen, the king raised Siddhartha in luxury, shielding him from any signs of human suffering or anything religious. He placed his son in a magnificent walled estate with gardens, fountains, palaces, music, dancing and beautiful women. Siddhartha married Yasodhara at age sixteen, who gave him a son, Rahula. Throughout these early years of his life, he knew nothing of the sufferings that were taking place outside his enclosure.

At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha had had enough of seclusion, and demanded to be allowed outside of the palace. Despite his father’s efforts to continue to shield him, on one of his excursions beyond the walls he an old crippled man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic, or holy man. These sights are referred to as the four heavenly messengers. Inspired by them, Siddhartha left his family, wealth, and inheritance behind to begin a new life as an ascetic in hopes of ending the suffering of old age, disease, and death.

Siddhartha began by seeking out renowned teachers, who taught him many religious philosophies as well as how to meditate. He practiced strict asceticism for six years before realizing these practices were leading him nowhere. Just as luxury was not the true way, neither was austerity. Instead he chose a Middle Way between the two extremes.

According to legend, that night Siddhartha sat under a fig tree and meditated until dawn. He purified his mind of all distractions and opened himself up to the truth. He began recalling past lives and to see everything that was going on in the universe. He finally understood the answer to the question of suffering and attained enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, thus earning the title Buddha, or "Enlightened One".

For the next 45 years he travelled throughout northeast India teaching. Some of the fundamentals of the teachings attributed to Buddha are:

The Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an ingrained part of existence; that the origin of suffering is craving for sensuality, acquisition of identity, and annihilation; that suffering can be ended; and that following the Noble Eightfold Path is the means to accomplish this.

The Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The Buddha emphasized ethics and correct understanding. He questioned everyday notions of divinity and salvation and stated that there is no mediator between mankind and the divine, and that he was only a guide and a teacher. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later

The Buddhist way is not said to have been divinely revealed, but to have come from an understanding of the true nature of the mind, which must be discovered by travelling the path guided by the Buddha's teachings.

For more information about Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, check the following:

The Wild Rose Dreamers Lodge
Fundamental Buddhism
The Life of Siddhartha Gautama

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