Buddha <~His Life and Times~> His Life and Times Compassion and self-control.

Poise and serenity. Renunciation of worldly desires. These are the qualities exemplified and taught by the great spiritual master Siddartha Gautama, known to the world simply as Buddha. It is Buddha's fresh and vibrant teachings that revitalized the spiritual energy of the 6th century B.C. and formed the basis of the religion Buddhism. At various times throughout history, Buddhism has been a major religious, cultural, and social force in almost every part of Asia. Today there are over 334 million Buddhists in the world, making it the fourth largest religion, behind Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. And although most of the world's Buddhists are still in Asia, the religion is steadily gaining popularity in the West. Behind that religion are principles of such unchanging and everlasting Truth that they have guided and inspired countless souls for over 2000 years in their own personal quest for knowledge and enlightenment. Siddartha Gautama's life was as extraordinary as his teachings. He was a man of a noble and rich family who sought instead the nobility of poverty; he was a man who had everything and searched instead for nothingness; he was a man who rejected the world, only to embrace and serve it. Siddartha was born a prince in a ruling family of a small kingdom in northern India, near the Himalayas, in what is now known as Nepal. He was born in 563 B.C., just a few years before Confucius and shortly after Lao-tzu, two other figures who had profound impact on Chinese culture and world philosophy. Buddha's age was one of enormous social and political change. It was marked by the rise of cities and trade, an increase in materialism, the disappearance of old tribal structures, and the birth of many new religions and spiritual movements. Of all these new movements, Buddhism would become the most successful, spreading throughout India and most of Asia. At the time of Buddha's birth, India had a strong caste system. His family belonged to the Kshatriya, or warrior caste. Buddha's father, Suddhodhana, was a warrior prince. His mother, Mahamaya allegedly had a dream the night before Buddha was born. In that dream a beautiful white elephant entered her womb through her side. Priests interpreted this to mean she would have a son who would become either a world ruler or an Enlightened One. Ten months after her conception, Mahamaya gave birth to this son in a park, while on her way to visit her parents. Immediately after the birth, a sage came to see the baby and recognized him as a divine incarnation. The sage was very old and he wept at sight of the child because he knew he would not live to see the child's Enlightenment. When the baby was five days old, 108 Brahmins, or priests, came to see him. Eight of them were specialists in interpreting bodily marks. Seven of these eight specialists predicted that the child would be a universal monarch if he remained at home, but he would become an Enlightened One if he left home. The eighth specialist, the youngest,

predicted the child would definitely become an Enlightened One. This eighth later became one of Buddha's companions and one of his first five disciples. The child was given the name Siddartha which means "one whose aim is accomplished." Siddartha's mother died when he was only seven days old and he was raised by her sister. Once, as a child, Siddartha was found sitting cross-legged in a trance under a tree. His father fell to the ground in worship of his son. As was traditional, Buddha married quite young, at the age of sixteen. The wife was his cousin, Princess Yasodhora. All through his childhood, Siddartha was groomed to take over his father's kingdom. His father, worried about the prophecies regarding his son, hoped that if he made the boy's life exceptionally comfortable, he would never leave home. Siddartha lived in a very protected environment - a luxurious palace where he was loved and respected and wanted for nothing. His father carefully protected him from any sight of pain or suffering. Buddha himself once said: "I was delicately nurtured, exceedingly delicately nurtured, delicately nurtured beyond measure. In my father's residence lotus ponds were made: one of blue lotuses, one of red and another of white lotuses, just for my sake. Of Kasi cloth was my turban made; of Kasi my jacket, my tunic, my cloak. I had three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season. In the rainy season palace, during the four months of rain, entertained only by female musicians, I did not come down from the palace." But one day, when Siddartha was out riding with his charioteer he saw four things he had never seen before: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a shaven-headed monk, whose peaceful and serene expression moved him deeply. Some of his followers believe this experience occurred in a vision; others believe it actually happened. More important than the nature of the experience was its effect. The first three sights made Siddartha aware, for the first time, of the impermanence of life; and the fourth sight, the wandering monk, showed him there were people who sought a higher truth. That same day, on the way back to the palace, he learned of the birth of his son, whom he named Rahula, which means "fetter" or "bond." It was then, at the age of 29, that Buddha made his famous GREAT RENUNCIATION. He vowed to give up his family, his kingdom, his entire life to seek spiritual truth. In the middle of the night, after taking one last look at his sleeping wife and newborn son, he crept away. By the time he saw them again, he had found what he was seeking. At first, Siddartha went south to the known spiritual centers of India, where he contacted spiritual teachers and masters. From each master, he learned something new. With the help of two of them he reached advanced mystical states - one was the "sphere of nothing" and one was the "sphere of neither-perception-nor-nonperception." But Siddartha still longed for more. He then joined company with five other wandering ascetics and began to practice austerities and self-denial, a practice that lasted six years. He lived in filth and often ate only one grain of rice a day. He also pulled out all the hairs of his beard one by one. He once described himself during these years: "All my limbs became like

withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo's hoof; my back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared sunk deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well; my scalp became shriveled and shrunk as a bitter gourd cut unripe becomes shriveled and shrunk by sun and wind; the skin of my belly came to be cleaving to my back-bone; when I wanted to obey the calls of nature, I fell down on my face then and there; when I stroked my limbs with my hand, hairs that had rotted at the roots fell away from my body." Siddartha became so weak, he often fainted. But through all this selfdenial and suffering, the truth still eluded him. Finally, realizing that mortification would not bring him the release he sought, he rejected the ascetic path. One morning, sitting under a banyan tree, he accepted a bowl of milk rice from the daughter of a landowner in the village. He spent the rest of the day in a grove and then in the evening, he found a bodhi tree in a village near Gaya, and stationed himself there, determined not to leave until he attained enlightenment. Here Siddartha met an old woman who was advanced on the spiritual path. She told him that he was now more bound than ever before. She said that once where he had fetters of iron, he now had fetters of gold, but they were fetters just the same. Then she told him a secret. She said: "Good and bad are mere terms. Real freedom can only be obtained when you give up all desires. You have to renounce them ALL!" While he sat under the tree, Buddha became involved in a desperate battle with Mara the evil one, the lord of worldly passions and desires. Mara said to him: "You are emaciated, pale, you are near death. Live, Sir. Life is better." Siddartha responded that it was better to die in battle than to live defeated. The battle continued but Siddartha remained unmoved by Mara's temptations and at last the demon gave up and moved on. Siddartha had conquered the false world of illusion. <~His Enlightenment~> His Enlightenment Siddartha spent the rest of that night in deep meditation under the bodhi tree, and eventually he felt his mind illumined with light. He said that he first gained knowledge of all his former existences, and then his "superhuman divine eye" was opened. He then directed his mind to the knowledge of the destruction of all his impurities. He said: "My mind was emancipated, ignorance was dispelled, darkness was dispelled, light arose." At this point, he began to question whether he could pass on to others the truths he had experienced. He thought to himself: "I have realized this Truth which is deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand...comprehensible by the wise. Men who are overpowered by passion and surrounded by a mass of darkness cannot see this Truth which is against the current, which is lofty, deep, subtle, and hard to understand." Then a Brahmin approached Siddartha and convinced him to accept his destiny as a spiritual teacher, by showing him a vision of lotus flowers. In a lotus pond there are some lotuses still under water; there are some that have risen just to the level of the water; there are still others that stand above the water, untouched by it. Like the lotus flowers, people too are at different levels, and

each can be reached at their own. Siddartha accepted the challenge and set out to begin his work. He had attained enlightenment during the night of the full moon of May in 528 B.C. at Bodhi Gaya, at the age of 35. He had remained under the bodhi tree for seven weeks, totally absorbed in the Truth. Today, this tree is a center of pilgrimage. After he left the bodhi tree, Siddartha traveled north. Others soon learned of his enlightenment and they began to call him Buddha, The Awake or The Enlightened One. The term Buddha is a title, not a name. Buddha returned to five companions he met on his quest who had remained in Sarnath, and told them he was now enlightened. At first, his companions didn't believe him. But then Buddha gave his first sermon, which he called Turning the Wheel of the Law. In that sermon in a park in Sarnath, Buddha outlined for the first time the essential doctrine of Buddhism. It was based on what he called THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS. He also described a way of life that he called THE MIDDLE WAY, because it was neither selfindulgent nor ascetic. This Middle Way was based on what he called THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH. The preaching of Buddha's first sermon is one of the most sacred events in Buddhism. After his first sermon, Buddha began his ministry, teaching first throughout northern India. His initial disciples consisted of about fifty people he met during his quest through India. As his followers increased, Buddha founded a community called the Sangha, consisting of monks, nuns, and lay people. His work at that time was aimed partly at shattering the power of the Brahmin, or Hindu priests, and reforming Hindu practices that had grown corrupt and confining. Hinduism had developed a fatalistic view of life based on an incomplete understanding of reincarnation and karma. This view had led to apathy, inertia, or reliance on others, such as the priests, for one's own salvation. Buddha broke this pattern of thought. He told people they could work out their own salvation. Instead of seeking help from the Brahmin priests, who charged fees for the privilege, He invited people to approach God directly. He showed them how to train and discipline their own minds, and he inspired them to live their own salvation, through a life of compassion, mercy, and joy. People were irresistibly drawn to him, some by the wisdom of his teachings, some by the sheer beauty and serenity of his Presence. After his enlightenment, Buddha decreed, as an act of humility, that no one was to paint him or make an image of him. But one artist, seeing him in deep contemplation on the banks of the River Ganges in Benares, was so moved by his saintly expression that he was filled with desire to portray it in someway. The artist decided that if he used Buddha's reflection in the rippling waters as a model, instead of the Buddha himself, then he wouldn't be violating the decree. It's for this reason that many representations of the youthful Buddha have folds in their garments, known as the water-ripple effect. Buddha sent his companions in various directions to spread his teachings, advising that "no two should take the same road." He himself traveled throughout India for several

years, preaching his message of how to overcome suffering. One of his most famous sermons was the Fire Sermon in which he described man's existence as burning with the fire of lust, the fire of hate, and the fire of delusion. He was often offered comfortable and even luxurious lodgings, but instead he went begging for his food from house to house. During his wanderings, Buddha returned to his childhood home, where his father, aunt, and wife all became his followers. Everywhere he went, people were fascinated by his teachings and captivated by his charisma. He knew how to reach each individual on their own level and would often walk long distances just to help a single person. He attended sick people neglected by others, saying "He who attends on the sick attends on me." Besides his compassion and poise, Buddha was known to be a lover of beauty with a special appreciation for certain beautiful places and people. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. He was described as a very handsome man with great beauty of complexion, a sublime color, a perfect stature, and a noble presence. Buddha also played the role of social reformer, continuing to condemn the Brahmin priests and attacking the inhumane caste system of Indian society, a position that was not always popular. Criticism never angered Buddha and he remained serene even when scorned and ridiculed. Once a man interrupted Buddha's preaching with a flood of abuse. Buddha waited patiently for him to finish and then asked: "If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?" The man answered: "To the one who offered it." Buddha replied: "Then, I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself." There were also those within Buddha's circle who created opposition to him, chief among them a disciple named Devadatta, who was one of Buddha's cousins. Devadatta was ambitious and aspired to take Buddha's place as he grew older. Buddha had already proclaimed that no one would take his place and that his sangha, or community, would be run on democratic principles. Devadatta vowed revenge and made three attempts on the life of the Buddha, all of which failed. He then tried to create disharmony in the sangha and persuaded several new monks to join him in the creation of a new order. However, they all eventually returned to Buddha, at which point Devadatta developed a serious illness, which led to his death nine months later. Buddha traveled and taught for more than forty years and then announced he was ready to die. Three months before his death he told his closest attendant, Ananda: " Dwell by making yourselves your island, making yourselves, not anyone else your refuge; making the dhamma your island, the dhamma your refuge, nothing else your refuge." Dhamma, also known as dharma, is a term for the Master's teachings. As he grew closer to death, Buddha called his disciples together and told them he had no plans to leave them with any instructions. He said only that they were not to rely on any outward authority, but instead on their own direct understanding and experience of the Truth.

Buddha arranged to share a last meal with several of his monks. He ordered that the leftovers from the meal be buried. Shortly after, he became ill and racked with pain. He told Ananda that no blame should fall on the one who had prepared the meal, adding that there were two offerings that had equal value and blessing - one was the meal offered right before the attainment of enlightenment; the other was the meal offered right before the death of the Enlightened One. Then the Buddha laid himself down before a tree, resting on his right side, with one leg atop the other, calm and self-possessed. He admonished Ananda for crying, saying that his new Master would be the Dhamma Buddha left behind. He also admonished him for sending away a seeker who hoped to see Buddha, and insisted Ananda call the man back. The man joined the order that same night and became Buddha's last direct disciple. When he passed away, Buddha's last words were: "Work out your own salvation with diligence." He died on the anniversary of his illumination under the bodhi tree, on the full moon in May, 483 B.C. He was eighty years old. His followers gave him an elaborate funeral, cremated his body, and distributed his bones as sacred relics. After his passing, the great energy of Buddha's work became manifest and his teachings spread far and wide, gaining thousands and then millions of followers. <~His Teachings~> His Teachings Buddha taught that existence is a continuing cycle of death and rebirth, in which an individual is reincarnated over and over into new lives. A person's experiences in one life are a result of experiences and actions in previous lives. For instance, actions we might perceive as evil would result in suffering in future lives. Actions we might perceive as good deeds might result in a state of well-being in a future life. Buddha said that as long as we remain in this cycle of death and rebirth, we can never be free from pain and suffering. He also offered a way to escape this cycle, which was by eliminating our attachment to worldly things and desires. Only then could we attain lasting peace and happiness, a state he referred to as NIRVANA. Nirvana is attained by acceptance of the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and dedication to the EIGHTFOLD PATH, both of which he described in his very first sermon. The FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS that were the subject of this first sermon, and that became the foundation of Buddhism, are: One: Man's existence is full of suffering, conflict, dissatisfaction and sorrow. By this, Buddha meant not just the daily sufferings of people, but the long cycles of birth and rebirth which continually bind us. Two: All this suffering is caused by craving, desire, or "thirst."

Three: There is liberation and freedom from this suffering, called Nirvana, which means the extinction of the false. Beyond this is light, love and infinite joy. When one attains Nirvana, one is free from the cycle of rebirth. Four: The way to liberation is through the Eightfold Path. THE EIGHTFOLD PATH was described in various ways by Buddha depending on the nature of his audience. Because there were many stages within each of the eight paths, Buddha could choose the aspects that were most appropriate for the people he was teaching. All of the Eight Paths are based on Buddha's basic principle that people could find the truth within themselves, and this truth was obtainable through practical approaches to daily life. To Buddha, wisdom and enlightenment were achieved not by distancing oneself from life or the world, but by participating in the world and conducting oneself in certain noble ways. The Eightfold Path consists of the following: One. Right Understanding: Knowledge of the Four Noble Truths and the reality of the human situation. Two. Right Thought: This refers to a person's intention, an intention to transcend ignorance and evil. It includes the acceptance of self-sacrifice; acknowledging that the life of the ego is coming to an end and will be replaced by love and compassion. Right thought brings about four sublime states: benevolence, compassion, joyous sympathy, and equanimity. Three. Right Speech. Saying nothing to hurt others; saying nothing that is ignorant, cruel or dishonest. Four. Right Action. Respecting life, property, beauty and harmony. Five. Right Livelihood: Living according to the principles of love and compassion. Working in areas that promote truth and service. Six. Right Effort: The energy and will to get on with what needs to be done, not to be distracted, constant determination. Striving to work towards one's own salvation. Seven. Right Mindfulness: Being aware of what one's doing and in control of one's actions. Eight. Right Concentration: One pointed meditation that is accompanied by joy, until the joy gives way and all that remains is blissful awareness. None of the Buddha's teachings were recorded in his lifetime. One hundred and forty years after his death, his followers formed councils and tried to reach an agreement on a definition of Buddhism. Three councils were held at this time and a fourth was held more than a hundred years later. The fourth council met during the reign of the Indian emperor Asoka, who was a convert to Buddhism. Under Asoka's patronage, Buddhism spread throughout Asia and into China. As it developed, it split into different sects.

There are two main branches of Buddhism - the Hinayana, or "The Lesser Vehicle" and the Mahayana, "the Great Vehicle." Another way to interpret them is that Hinayana means "the path of salvation available to a smaller number of people" and Mahayana means "the path of salvation open to a larger number of people." The Hinayana has only one surviving branch called Theravada, so in that sense the terms Hinayana and Theravada are now interchangeable. Theravada means "Way of the Elders." Hinayana (or Theravada) is the more conservative of the two main branches and became popular in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. The Mahayana is more liberal and is most popular in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and among Tibetans. There is very little Buddhism in India. Partly because of absorption into Hindu culture and partly because of persecution by Muslims, Indian Buddhism disappeared sometime in the 13th century. All Buddhist sects are committed to three things, which are called the THREE REFUGES or the THREE JEWELS. They are committed to Buddha. They are committed to his teachings, called the Dharma. And they are committed to the religious community he founded, called the sangha. HINAYANA BUDDHISM The first, Hinayana Buddhism, now represented only by the Theravada sect, is based on a monastic organization that Buddha himself founded, and centers itself around the careful preservation of Buddha's own words and theories. It is, in a sense, the historical branch of Buddhism. In this school of Buddhism, people believe that Buddha's Great Renunciation was his most critical message and so they maintain that the only way to achieve enlightenment is to detach oneself from the world, become a monk or nun, and lead a life of monastic discipline under the guidance of a Buddhist teacher. In the monasteries, Hinayana Buddhists practice techniques to purify their minds and develop awareness and control. The most skilled at this become masters of meditation and of yoga. MAHAYANA BUDDHISM The other major sect of Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhism, popular in Japan and other eastern parts of Asia. It embraces what is called the Great and Broad Path, or the idea that illumination and enlightenment is attainable by anyone. This approach blends Buddhist principles with Hindu styles of worship. It places less emphasis on self-discipline and control, and more emphasis on compassion, selfless service, and devotion. Meditation is directed towards divine figures such as saints and bodhisattvas. A bodhisattva is a being who dedicates his own existence to the illumination of others. He postpones his entry into Nirvana to relieve the ignorance and suffering of those who are still unenlightened. Mahayanas encourage everyone, monks and lay people alike, to follow the example of a bodhisattva, by leading a life of compassion and virtue. Mahayanas believe in the existence of many Buddhas and they focus on people they believe will become Buddhas in the future.

Mahayana Buddhism spread north to Tibet, China and Japan. Because it was less ascetic, more intuitive and emotional, it appealed immediately to many different kinds of people. Today, over 56% of Buddhists belong to the Mahayana school. Mahayana Buddhism also has several sects within itself. One that is widely known is the Tibetan school, which focuses on the guidance of a qualified lama or guru. The Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion and Intuitive Knowledge. Some of these schools of Buddhism offer the most refined systems of mental training of any spiritual system. Disciples spend their time reciting mantras, performing sacred dances, and meditating. Many followers of this school believe in evil spirits and devils and the use of magic to repel these entities plays a large part in their rituals. Mahayana Buddhism reached not just into Tibet but into all of China, where it underwent further changes and adaptations. The teachings of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in China in the first century A.D., where they blended with Taoist teachings to form a new series of Buddhist schools which then spread to Japan and emerged as Shinto, Zen, and other contemporary schools. Chinese and Japanese schools focused on training that would lead to a sudden, dramatic experience of a state beyond the ego and personality. Zen Buddhism, still popular in Japan, includes specialized practices designed to lead to a state of spiritual enlightenment called Satori. As Buddhism spread through China, it had a profound impact on Chinese culture and society. Early on, Buddhists became influential at the Chinese court where their views soon penetrated into the philosophical and literary circles of the upper class. Buddhism also introduced the monastic community, which offered a refuge from the harsh feudal system and the wars and rebellions which plagued China in ancient times. Chinese from all classes were attracted to the monasteries, including the cultural and literary elite. A great deal of scholarly work was accomplished in the monasteries, including the translation of Buddhist scriptures. Eventually, Buddhism merged into the life and culture of China. The first Buddhist translations used a Taoist vocabulary - perhaps the first time historians can date the intermingling of Taoism and Buddhism. At first, the Chinese viewed Buddhism as a foreign type of Taoism and for many centuries the Chinese even believed that Buddha had been taught by Lao-tzu or that Lao Tzu had been reborn in India as Buddha. Buddhism in China adopted many of the principles of Chinese culture, including the importance of family, a principle Confucius amplified. As the centuries passed, Buddhism in China adopted the spirit of its people. It became more pragmatic, more focused in the world, than Indian Buddhism. It expanded to include Chinese concepts like affirmation of the soul, the belief in countless numbers of Buddhas, and the path of sudden enlightenment known as Zen Buddhism. In 845 however, the Chinese government cracked down on the Buddhist community, feeling its large size and tax exempt status was a drain on the empire's economy. Temples were destroyed, thousands of monks and nuns lost their privileged status, and vast

properties held by the monasteries were confiscated. Buddhism did recover after this period of persecution, but it never again held the same power and prestige in Chinese society. In Japan, Buddhism gained an early foothold when the Japanese interpreted it as a means to magical and supernatural power. It became mixed with various Japanese folk practices and for a time in the 8th century became the state religion. In almost all areas where Buddhism became established, the monasteries developed a dependence on the community for food and supplies. Although in some areas the monasteries did become wealthy, most Buddhist monks traditionally were beggars, a practice that still exists in southeast Asia. Buddhist monks are also celibate, so new members of the community must be recruited from outside. Recruits often enter the monastery as children and spend years studying, learning and helping with the chores. Once they are ordained their days are spent in devotions, meditation, studying, and teaching. Some Buddhists become monks for life; other serve for a temporary time. An important principle in a Buddhist monastery is the concept of OFFERINGS. Flowers, incense, and praise are given to the image of Buddha, the bodhi tree, and the bodhisattvas. Today Buddhism has disappeared from many countries where it was once a dominant presence. Due primarily to the influence of Communism, Buddhism has virtually ceased to exist in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Mongolia, Tibet, and North Korea. Yet as Buddhism declines in the East, an unexpected event is occurring. It is rising in the West. Various Buddhist sects now have sizeable followers in Western Europe and America. In the United States alone there are over half a million practicing Buddhists. The teachings of the Buddha have been variously interpreted. They have been practiced and lived in numerous different ways. They have been absorbed, adapted, and integrated into many different cultures. And now these teachings, based on the elimination of desire and the renunciation of materialism, are emerging in what is perhaps the most materialistic and desire-driven culture of all - the modern Western world. This history itself is evidence of the essential Truths the Buddha personified and expressed. He once said: "There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded; were there not, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made, and the compounded." That hope and promise of escape from the cycles of suffering, which he called Nirvana, is the ultimate goal and attraction of Buddhism - it is what has drawn millions of people for thousands of years to the extraordinary teachings of the extraordinary Master called The Buddha.