Siddhartha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from ancient India and the historical founder of Buddhism. He is universally recognized by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha (Sammasambuddha) of our age. The time of his birth and death are uncertain: a majority of 20th-century historians date his lifetime from circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE, but some more recent scholars have suggested dates around 410 or 400 BCE for his death. This alternative chronology, however, has not yet been accepted by other historians.
Conception and birth
According to tradition, Siddhartha was born more than 200 years before the reign of the Maurya king Asoka (273–232 BCE).
Siddhartha was born in Lumbini,ancient India now in modern day Nepal. His father was King Suddhodana, the chief of the Shakya nation, one of several ancient tribes in the growing state of Kosala; Gautama was the family name. His mother, Queen Maha Maya (Mayadevi) 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 lunar months later Siddhartha was born from her right side (see image right). As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya fell pregnant, she returned to her father’s kingdom to give birth, but after leaving Kapilavastu, she gave birth along the way at Lumbini in a garden beneath a sal tree.
The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated in Theravada countries as Vesak. Various sources hold that the Buddha’s mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pali: Siddhatta), meaning “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that this baby would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man. This occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita’s hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. Suddhodarna held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. Kaundinya (Pali: Kondanna), the youngest, and later to be the first arahant, was the only one who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.
While later tradition and legend characterized Suddhodana as a hereditary monarch, the descendant of the Solar Dynasty of Ikhvaku (Pali: Okkaka), many scholars believe that Suddhodana was the elected chief of a tribal confederacy.
Early life and marriage
Siddhartha, destined to a luxurious life as a prince, had three palaces (one for each season) especially built for him. His father, King Suddhodana, wishing for Siddhartha to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. Siddhartha was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati.
As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yasodhara (Pali: Yasodhara), a cousin of the same age. In time, she gave birth to a son, Rahula. Siddhartha spent 29 years as a Prince in Kapilavastu, a place now situated in Nepal. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.
The Great Departure
At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace in order to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s effort to remove the sick, aged and suffering from the public view, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. Disturbed by this, when told that all people would eventually grow old by his charioteer Channa, the prince went on further trips where he encountered, variously, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. Deeply depressed by these sights, he sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Siddhartha escaped his palace, accompanied by Channa aboard his horse Kanthaka, leaving behind this royal life to become a mendicant. It is said that, “the horse’s hooves were muffled by the gods” to prevent guards from knowing the Bodhisatta’s departure.
Siddhartha initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. Having been recognised by the men of King Bimbisara, Bimbisara offered him the throne after hearing of Siddhartha’s quest. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.<br><br>
Siddhartha left Rajagaha and practiced under two hermit teachers. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama, Siddhartha was asked by Kalama to succeed him, but moved on after being unsatisfied with his practices. He then became a student of Udaka Ramaputta, but although he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness and was asked to succeed Ramaputta, he was still not satisfied with his path, and moved on.
Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kondanna then set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through near total deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing.
The Great Enlightment
After asceticism and concentrating on meditation or Anapana-sati (awareness of breathing in and out), Siddhartha is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata, who wrongly believed him to be the spirit that had granted her a wish, such was his emaciated appearance. Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. Kaundinya and the other four companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become indisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment; according to some traditions, this occurred approximately in the fifth lunar month, and according to others in the twelfth. Gautama, from then on, was known as the Buddha or “Awakened One.” Buddha is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One.” Often, he is referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”
At this point, he is believed to have stated that he had realized complete awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering which was ignorance, along with steps necessary to eliminate it. These truths were then categorized into the Four Noble Truths; the state of supreme liberation—possible for any being—was called Nirvana. He then came to possess the Nine Characteristics, which are said to belong to every Buddha.
According to one of the stories in the Ayacana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1), a scripture found in the Pali and other canons, immediately after his Enlightenment, the Buddha was wondering whether or not he should teach the Dharma to human beings. He was concerned that, as human beings were overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, they would not be able to see the true dharma, which was subtle, deep and hard to understand. However, a divine spirit, Brahma Sahampati, interceded and asked that he teach the dharma to the world, as “there will be those who will understand the Dharma”. With his great compassion to all beings in the universe, the Buddha agreed to become a teacher.
The Great Passing
According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon enter Parinirvana or the final deathless state abandoning the earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal, which, according to different translations, was either a mushroom delicacy or soft pork, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ananda to convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with his passing and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit as it provided the much-needed energy for the Buddha.
Ananda protested Buddha’s decision to enter Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kusinara of the Mallas. Buddha, however, reminded Ananda how Kushinara was a land once ruled by a righteous king that resounded with joy.
Buddha then asked all the attendant Bhikshus to clarify any doubts or questions they had. They had none. He then finally entered Parinirvana. The Buddha’s final words were, “All composite things pass away. Strive for your own salvation with diligence.” The Buddha’s body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the present. For example, The Temple of the Tooth or “Dalada Maligawa” in Sri Lanka is the place where the relic of the right tooth of Buddha is kept at present.
According to the Pali historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, the Dipava?sa and Mahava?sa, the coronation of Asoka is 218 years after the death of Buddha. According to one Mahayana record in Chinese, the coronation of Asoka is 116 years after the death of Buddha. Therefore, the time of Buddha’s passing is either 486 BCE according to Theravada record or 383 BCE according to Mahayana record. However, the actual date traditionally accepted as the date of the Buddha’s death in Theravada countries is 544 or 543 BCE, because the reign of Asoka was traditionally reckoned to be about 60 years earlier than current estimates.
At his death, the Buddha told his disciples to follow no leader, but to follow his teachings (dharma). However, at the First Buddhist Council, Mahakasyapa was held by the sangha as their leader, with the two chief disciples Mahamoggallana and Sariputta having died before the Buddha.
The original teachings of the historical Buddha are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover or reconstruct. While there is disagreement amongst various Buddhist sects over more esoteric aspects of Buddha’s teachings and over disciplinary rules for monks, there is generally agreement over these points, among many others:
- The Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an inherent part of existence; that the origin of suffering is ignorance and the main symptoms of that ignorance are attachment and craving; that attachment and craving can be ceased; and that following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of attachment and craving and therefore suffering.
- The Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
- The concept of dependent origination: that any phenomenon ‘exists’ only because of the ‘existence’ of other phenomena in a complex web of cause and effect covering time past, present and future. Because all things are thus conditioned and transient (anicca), they have no real independent identity (anatta).
- Rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture: Teachings should not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and are praised by the wise.
- Anicca (Sanskrit: anitya): That all things are impermanent.
- Anatta (Sanskrit: anatman): That the perception of a constant “self” is an illusion.
- Dukkha (Sanskrit: dukkha): That all beings suffer from all situations due to unclear mind.
According to tradition, the Buddha emphasized ethics and correct understanding. He questioned the average person’s notions of divinity and salvation. He stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine; distant gods are subjected to karma themselves in decaying heavens; and the Buddha is solely a guide and teacher for the sentient beings who must tread the path of Nirva?a (Pali: Nibbana) themselves to attain the spiritual awakening called bodhi and see truth and reality as it is. The Buddhist system of insight, thought, and meditation practice is not believed to have been revealed divinely, but by the understanding of the true nature of the mind, which could be discovered by anybody.