Buddha Gautama life and biography

Buddha Gautama picture, image, poster

Buddha Gautama biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Lumbini, Nepal
Nationality : Shakya
Category : Historian personalities
Last modified : 2010-04-28
Credited as : key figure in Buddhism, Supreme Buddha, Bodhi tree

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Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher who founded Buddhism. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, "Buddha" meaning "awakened one" or "the enlightened one". The time of his birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as c. 563 BCE to 483 BCE; more recently, however, at a specialist symposium on this question, the majority of those scholars who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha's death, with others supporting earlier or later dates.

Gautama, also known as Śākyamuni or Shakyamuni ("sage of the Shakyas"), is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to Gautama were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

Siddhartha was born in Lumbini and raised in the small kingdom or principality of Kapilvastu, both of which are in modern day Nepal. At the time of the Buddha's birth, the area was at or beyond the boundary of Vedic civilization, the dominant culture of northern India at the time; it is even possible that his mother tongue was not an Indo-Aryan language. The early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious search, which was motivated by an existential concern with the human condition. At the time, a multitude of small city-states existed in Ancient India, called Janapadas. Republics and chiefdoms with diffused political power and limited social stratification, were not uncommon amongst them, and were referred to as gana-sanghas. The Buddha's community does not seem to have had a caste system. It was not a monarchy, and seems to have been structured either as an oligarchy, or as a form of republic. The more egalitarian gana-sangha form of government, as a political alternative to the strongly hierarchical kingdoms, may have influenced the development of the Shramana type Jain and Buddhist sanghas, where monarchies tended toward Vedic Brahmanism.

According to the traditional biography, the Buddha's father was King Suddhodana, the leader of Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing Kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha's lifetime; Gautama was the family name. His mother, Queen Maha Maya (Māyādevī) and Suddhodana's wife, was a Koliyan princess. On the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side, and ten months later Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father's kingdom to give birth. However, she gave birth on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a sal tree.

Born and bread to be a king, Buddha left all his worldly pleasures and possessions to learn about the world and find the true meaning of existence. After being shielded from both religion and human suffering during his life, he had eye and mind-opening experiences through travel, meditation, and study that would lay the groundwork for one of the world’s most prominent religions.

A seer revealed to Siddhartha’s father, a prominent leader of his kingdom, that his son was to become a great holy leader. There was nothing his father could do to interfere with fate and destiny. Buddha’s mother passed away upon his birth, but his childhood was filled with anything and everything he desired. He was well taught and became well learned in both books and athletics – namely martial arts and chariot tactics. Buddha’s father never revealed the seer’s message; instead, he prepared his son for the throne. In doing so, he made Siddhartha marry. His wife bore one son, named Rahula.

After 29 years of serving as a prince over the kingdom and now married, Siddhartha wasn’t satisfied with life. After much meditation, he decided to leave his kingdom behind, strip himself of his worldly goods, and meet the people he might not ever have met if he were to become king.

After becoming enlightened, two merchants whom the Buddha met, named Tapussa and Bhallika became the first lay disciples. They are given some hairs from the Buddha's head, which are believed to now be enshrined in the Shwe Dagon Temple in Rangoon, Burma. The Buddha intended to visit Asita, and his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta to explain his findings, but they had already died.

The Buddha thus journeyed to Deer Park near Vārāṇasī (Benares) in northern India, he set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the group of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment. They, together with the Buddha, formed the first saṅgha, the company of Buddhist monks, and hence, the first formation of Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) was completed, with Kaundinya becoming the first stream-enterer. All five soon become arahants, and with the conversion of Yasa and fifty four of his friends, the number of arahants swelled to 60 within the first two months. The conversion of the three Kassapa brothers and their 200, 300 and 500 disciples swelled the sangha over 1000, and they were dispatched to explain the dharma to the populace.

It is unknown what the Buddha's mother tongue was, and no conclusive documentation has been made at this point. It is likely that he preached and his teachings were originally preserved in a variety of closely related Middle Indo-Aryan dialects, of which Pali may be a standardization.

Siddhartha walked amongst the people of his kingdom, watching, thinking, and meditating. He had never before seen suffering, and during the beginning of his travels, he realized old age, illness, and death were what made up life. From then on, he lived an ascetic way of life of self-deprivation of worldly goods and suffering in order to understand the true meaning of the universe.

Buddha meditated with great monks, attempted to overcome suffering through suffering itself, and would nearly starve himself and meditate for endless hours trying to reach higher levels of consciousness. He still wasn’t satisfied and felt that some other approach besides complete self-denial was the answer. He thought about his childhood, of sitting in nature and enjoying the world around him. Then, as he reflected on this while sitting under a Bodhi tree, he reached enlightenment.

Buddha concluded that human suffering was inevitable, but could be avoided if ignorance was destroyed so he developed and preached the dharma, which became the pillars of his newfound faith. Women, men, and all races of people had the potential to become enlightened. They could enter into complete liberation from worldly wants by attaining Nirvana. Telling his followers not to worship him and that he was not a god, he encouraged them to strive to lead a life of goodness and spiritual awakening. In doing so, he founded a faith that spread from the Indian sub-continent to the rest of the world.

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