Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dark Mind is the Root Cause of Suffering

                 Pure Land Buddhism clearly teaches that the root cause of suffering is dark mind.

                 But what is dark mind?

                Dark mind refers to a mind that is unclear or has uncertainty about the afterlife.

                Death casts a shadow over our entire life. Because we can't see through the darkness beyond our own death, doubt toward the unknown future keeps us suffering from deep within.

Original Photo by Darco TT available on
  Let's understand the concept of dark mind by first looking at the idea of death...   

Death will definitely occur in our future.

             Birth -------------------------------> Death

               The longer we live, the closer we get to death. This fact makes death the most common and most important reality that all people have to face. And this issue will never change for us. Even if all the clocks in the world suddenly stop, time will keep counting down our life up until our very last moment.

               Though our death is 100% guaranteed, not so many people think about it for too long. It's really something nobody ever wants to even think about at all. We're just overly obsessed with daily life such as studying, working, or having fun.

Original Photo by kimberlykv available at

               We are firmly assuming that death is an event too far away in the future and nothing really to worry about right now.

               But even if we try to imagine what the experience of death will be, we cannot grasp at what it truly is. While we're alive, death is impossible for our minds to visualize. It would only be our imagination at work.

               This is because our perception of death and the reality of death are totally different.

               Imagine a deadly predator from the animal kingdom like a tiger or a shark...

   Our Perception of Death

The death we can imagine... is just like coming upon a tiger caged in a zoo...

Original Photo by Harlequeen available on

...or seeing a shark from behind the glass of an aquarium.

Original Photo by brainware3000 available on

Death in Actuality

The real experience of death is more like... meeting the hungry tiger's gaze in a jungle face-to-face...

Original Photo by Rennett Stowe available on

...or encountering the shark's sharp teeth while swimming in the ocean.

Original Photo by travelbagltd available on
We do know that the moment of our own death will come...
...but what exactly will happen to us after death?

               This is the most serious question everyone must face one day, and yet nearly all of us remain clouded and unclear on this issue.

               There are those who claim that we just become nothing when we die. However, when a friend or family member passes away, they quickly pay respect and pray for the person's soul. Their actions don't really support their beliefs, and there's still no way they can prove for sure that nothing becomes of us when we die.

               Then there are some who believe they will go to heaven after death. That being the case, wouldn't it be better to die sooner since our life can be so full of suffering at times? If heaven is a state to be granted to us after death, we cannot savor peace of mind until we're in the grave.

Original Photo by Damek available on

                Have you ever thought that to believe indicates that you have doubt?

                A person who was been burned does not say they believe fire is hot. They know it from experience. If one day you believe you are going to heaven but the next day you are not so sure, this demonstrates a belief. In Buddhism, true faith comes from knowing.

                So does life after death exist or not? Can it be known with certainty? And if it does exist, is it a happy world or a sad world? What kind of world could it be?

               Most of us have no clear answers to these questions. We remain in total darkness about what's in store for us after this life, and that's why this troubling, unsettled state is known as dark mind.

               Sakyamuni Buddha taught that the root cause of our suffering is having to leave behind everything in this world at death and still not knowing for sure where we go in the afterlife.

Let's say you have an exam in three days, 
and it will determine your entire career's future.

How would you feel about it?

Original Photo by Jeff Pioquinto available at

Your present state of mind would be in the dark because of anxiety 
or worry about the outcome of the test.

What if you had to undergo a major surgery in five days?
What would go through your mind?

Original Photo by Army Medicine available on

Your present state would be shrouded in darkness because of either doubt
or uncertainty toward the outcome of your procedure.

               Can you still have fun or be carefree knowing that big exam or that life-or-death surgery is just around the corner?

                When the future is dark, the present moment becomes dark as well.

               Many philosophers have compared this life to a journey. And the most important part of any journey is arriving to the destination safely and successfully.

               Let's say you're flying over a vast, seemingly-endless mountainous range. You enjoy zipping around through clouds, carefree of all the rocky terrain below. However, you begin to see that your fuel supply is dwindling and there appears to be nothing but perilous conditions below. Your flight becomes uneasy when you realize there is nowhere safe to land your plane.

Original Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives available on

                      This metaphor reflects our own present uneasiness and uncertainty while living toward an afterlife that's covered in darkness.

               The purpose of life is to have our dark mind eliminated. It is impossible to truly enjoy the present moment without having first solved the nagging, great question of our afterlife.

               Pure Land Buddhism boldly declares that the root cause of suffering is this mind in darkness about its future. Eliminating darkness of mind and gaining everlasting happiness is the true purpose of human life. Future posts will show you the way it can be solved. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Four & Eight Sufferings

                   Life is like a tree… that blooms with flowers of suffering. During our lifetime, we must overcome all kinds of obstacles and troubles.

               We are never at ease as our many anxieties and worries enter our mind daily one after another.

               Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famous German writer and thinker from the 19th century said, “I can affirm that during the whole of my 75 years, I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being.”

                Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha who appeared on Earth, said these famous words after attaining enlightenment, “Life is suffering.”

The Four Sufferings

1.) Suffering of Birth & Living

2.) Suffering of Aging

3.) Suffering of Sickness

4.) Suffering of Death

The Eight Sufferings

Include the first four:

     1.) Suffering of Birth & Living

     2.) Suffering of Aging

     3.) Suffering of Sickness

     4.) Suffering of Death

Then add these other four:

     5. Parting from the Loved
     6. Meeting What We Dislike
     7. Not Getting What We Want
     8. Our Own Existence

1.) Suffering of Birth and Living

              Newborn babies cry because they suffer from leaving the warmth and comfort of their mother’s womb. So we are suffering from the moment of our births, and we continue to suffer in our adult lives.
  • Getting up early in the morning
  • Fighting heavy traffic
  • Working all day at our jobs
  • Struggling with our finances

2.) Suffering of Aging

  • Declining physical strength, energy
  • Growing gray hair
  • Wrinkling skin
  • Getting tired easily
  • Worsening memory
  • Weakening eyesight
  • Losing hearing
  • Being separated from the days of your youth

3.) Suffering of Sickness

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Torn muscles
  • Pinched nerves
  • Broken bones
  • Flus and colds
  • Back problems

4.) Suffering of Death

               Nothing brings us as much suffering in life as dying. Of all the events that will happen to us in our future, this is the one that is so dreadful, we avoid the very thought of it.
  • Death from old age
  • Death from a car accident
  • Death from illness
  • Death from murder
  • Death from falling
  • Death from suicide

               Even our fears or phobias of sharks, doctors’ offices, snakes, or spiders relate directly to our fear of death.

5.) Suffering of Parting from the Loved
  • Mothers, Fathers, Sons, Daughters, Aunts, Uncles, Friends
  • Sisters, Brothers, Husbands, Wives, Lovers, Pets, Celebrities
  • Home, Warm Bed, Job, Life Itself, Possessions, Reputation, Places

6.) Suffering from Meeting What We Dislike
  • People who are annoying
  • People who make us mad
  • People who cause trouble
  • Our boss or supervisor
  • Taking tests
  • Our mother-in-law
  • The dentist
  • Filing taxes
  • Hearing gas blowers
  • Political candidates
  • Media pundits
  • Solicitors
  • Telemarketers 

7.) Suffering of Not Getting What We Want
  • Overlooked for the higher position at work with more pay
  • Rejected before the first round of American Idol
  • Not enough money in your savings account
  • Losing the bid on your dream house
  • Not being as slim or as fit as you wanted
  • Lonely from lack of a boyfriend or girlfriend
               We have so many unlimited desires in this limited life...

8.) Suffering of Our Own Existence

              This suffering encompasses all the other seven sufferings. It also includes that we have to suffer because of the existence of our physical body.

               We have to go through these eight sufferings regardless of what time or place we live in and no matter our gender, status, or wealth. They all affect us whether we’re the President of the United States or homeless. In other words, the Four and Eight Sufferings are both global and universal.

               Now, everybody tries hard to cut off all the flowers of suffering. But since nutrients get to the tree through the roots, another flower of suffering quickly blossoms in its place. For this reason, our suffering does not cease, all the way up until our very last moment.

               This harsh reality requires a definitive answer to the ever-pressing question of why we live. Because of all the various painful kinds of suffering, can there really be a point at all to living?

               Though life is suffering, we are not living in order to suffer.

                Buddhism clearly teaches that the root cause of suffering is the dark mind. Once the dark mind is solved, we can attain true happiness. Please find out more about this crucial life-or-death matter in the next post!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mirror of Dharma

               Long ago, a group of drunken noblemen were having a party in the forest. When they fell asleep, a woman from their entourage made off with all their valuables. Sakyamuni Buddha was in the area at the time, and the noblemen asked if he knew in which direction she went or how they could find her.

               Sakyamuni Buddha replied, "I understand the situation, but which is more important? Finding that woman, or finding yourself?"

Screenshot from the Buddhist film The Osha Castle Tragedy


               We tend to think that we are fully aware of our self, but it's actually the most difficult thing to know. This is why since ancient Greece it has been said to "Know Thyself." (Reason, p. 103)

               We are all seeking for happiness, but if we don't know our true self we will not be able to attain it.

               Thus, the key to happiness is to know our true self.

               These days we know all about the vast distant galaxies in the universe and even about the tiny specialized cells within the human body. But do we really know any more about ourselves?

               There is a very simple reason behind why we can't know our self. It's because we're just too close to it.

               The human eye can see outwardly many things at great distances, but it cannot see inwardly the things that are very close.

Original Photo by benjgibbs available on

               For example, can you see your eyebrows with your own eyes? ... Didn't think so. Our eyes cannot see our own eyes, just like a knife can't cut itself.

              In order to see something that is very close to us, we use a mirror. (Reason, p.107) There are three kinds of mirrors to see ourselves: rectangular, oval-shaped and round. 

The Three Mirrors

   Mirror of Others      Mirror of Self       Mirror of Dharma

               A mirror should reflect exactly how our appearance really is. When we buy a mirror at the store, we need to be especially careful that it reflects how things really are. Cheap mirrors may be warped or bent. Let's examine each mirror to see if it reflects our true self accurately.

Mirror of Others

   "Do people think I am a good person or a bad person?"

               This is the reflected image we see from the minds of others.We're all concerned about the way others see us. We worry about it, sometimes even from morning to night.

               So we put on makeup or wear fancy clothes to appear cool in the Mirror of Others everyday. But if we lived on a deserted island, no one would need these kinds of items because no one would be around to care.

               We want to be praised by others and to be seen as kind and caring. Sometimes we even do things we don't want to do just to win approval.

               Why? It's because we think our true self is reflected in this mirror.

Original Photo by dearoot available on

               That's why we get upset when others are talking badly about us. But suddenly when something good is said about us, we get happy and our feelings can suddenly jump way up.

               According to what other people say our feelings go up or down.

               Does this mirror reflect our true self? ... Not really.

               It reflects a distorted image that relies on others and their convenience. (Reason p.108)

               Let's assume a policeman is coming toward you, when you have just been threatened by a robber. The officer must look like an angel to you!

               Later you make a left turn a little too late at a red signal... and see the same policeman.

               He must look intimidating when he is holding that ominous yellow ticket in his hand. He looked like an angel before, but now he looks like a real devil. So which one is he?

Original Photo by woodleywonderworks available on
               Depends on your convenience, right? This is because it is all according to your own biased evaluation.

               Others are doing the same thing. They judge us according to how beneficial we are to them. With this mirror, we seem like a bad person and a good person on the same day. Which one are we truly?

 A Japanese priest named Ikkyu once said:

The human tongue
gives praise today, tomorrow
it finds fault --
laugh away or weep away,
it is all a tissue of lies.
  (Reason, p. 108) 

               Even though I may receive 100 compliments today, I still cannot feel at ease, because tomorrow I might be criticized 10,000 times. 

              That's why at the end of the day some of us often feel that, "Talk is cheap."

               So it's kind of silly to get depressed or rejoice over what people say and how they rank you. You're relying on another's rating of you that is solely opportunistic in nature.

               The Mirror of Others does not reflect our true image. It is obviously distorted. So what about the next mirror?

Mirror of Self (or Mirror of Conscience)

               We may think deeply about ourselves from time to time with many introspective questions in search of the truth.

  "Who is the real me? Am I a good or bad person? What am I truly?"

Original photo by diejule available on

                 But what kind of real answer can we give to these questions? Let's reflect on an old folktale for insight.

               One day a princess in the legendary Dragon Palace under the sea held up a jewel and told all the fish, "I will give a prize to anyone who can tell me what color this is."

               Each of them named a different color: the black porgy said it was black, the bluefish said it was blue, and the whitefish said it was silver.

               Then they asked the princess, "Which one is right?"

               She replied, "The jewel has no color of its own. It is transparent and simply reflects each of your colors." (Reason, p.109)

               Similarly, we see everything including ourselves through the prism of our thoughts and emotions. (Reason, p.109) When it comes to examining ourselves in particular, it is impossible to take off the tinted glasses of our partiality.

               We always want to see ourselves in a good light. That's why all our good qualities are easily identified, but it's so much harder to spot our own faults.

               It's not a problem for us to point out the shortcomings of others or blame them, but it's difficult once we look for those weaknesses within ourselves.

               We just can't get rid of our own biased vision.

Original Photo by Leshaines123 available on

               And if we don't like something about our self, we just look at someone else who is in worse shape. Compared to them, we can feel better. Examining this mindset, we can clearly see the conceit in it. Let's now break it down into detail.

Seven Types of Conceit
  1.  Pride of looking down on others who are below you
  2. Pride among equals
  3. Pride over superiors
  4. Pride even though I know I'm wrong
  5. False pride in the belief of having attained enlightenment
  6. Pride in humility
  7. Pride of wrong action
               How many times have we looked down on others regardless of their position, defended ourselves when we knew we were wrong, or concealed our pride by acting really humble? Too many to count!

               It's all because we're wearing those tinted glasses of partiality. In plain terms, we are conceited.

               If we could see our true self as it really is, then this mirror would be true. Since it isn't, we must look to the last of the three mirrors to see if it is true.

Mirror of Dharma

              The Mirror of Dharma, also known as the Mirror of Truth, is our image reflected in the eyes of Buddha.

              This mirror is not like the other two. It's a mirror of sheer truth. It never distorts anything and always shows us everything exactly as it is.

              One can become aware of one's true self only by approaching the Mirror of Dharma.

              But why is this so?

              It's because it's completely impossible to see our true self by using the Mirror of Others or the Mirror of Self. Using either of these two mirrors, it is too difficult for us to see clearly what is true all the time.

              Imagine, if one can see only the good in one's own child, how much more so is that bias directed at one's self?

              Look at your hand with your naked eye, and it looks clean. This level of sight is compared to the laws we use to protect society. Next look at your hand with a magnifying glass. You might begin to see traces of dirt here and there. This level of sight is compared to ethics and morality.

              The Mirror of Dharma is like a microscope. The teachings of Buddhism see deeply and clearly all the germs and bacteria contained within our true nature.

              In the same way when X-rays are taken, all people, whether pretty or ugly, rich or poor, male or female, old or young, are reduced to nothing but bones. (Reason, p. 137) Once our true self is revealed in the Mirror of Dharma, we realize for the first time all the flaws we've had hidden deep within ourselves.

              This is because Buddhism goes beneath our physical exteriors. It places all our actions into three distinct categories. They are Deeds of the Mind, Deeds of the Mouth and Deeds of the Body. (Reason, p.110)

Three Types of Deeds

||                                   ||
Mouth                           Body

              Buddhism places the greatest emphasis on the actions of the mind because it is the source.

              If we think of all the countless thoughts within our minds, we see how hard it is to get a glimpse of our true self accurately without the Mirror of Dharma.

             "In the deep of the night, a candle burned in a mountain cabin, convinced it was the brightest of all. Then came an oil lamp with similar delusions of grandeur. Next came the electric light, arrogant and full of self-conceit, so bright the candle and the lamp could barely hang their heads. Then when morning came, the Sun rose in the eastern sky. Thoroughly eclipsed, all three went dark." (Reason, p.137)

              Likewise, our conceit is the hardest obstacle while seeking for the truth. We must strive with all our might to see it as it is. Only then can we become happy from our core.

              So in order to know that true self deeply, you must listen to the Mirror of Dharma as well as practice its teachings.

Source Material: You Were Born for a Reason: p. 103-112, 135-138 // Know Thyself p. 103, Eye/Knife/Use a Mirror p. 107,
 Convenience p. 108, Ikkyu p. 108, Dragon Palace p. 109, X-Ray p. 137,  Mind/Mouth/Body p. 110, 
Candle Story p. 137

Friday, September 28, 2012

Six Paramitas

                The Six Paramitas are taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. They are also known as the Six Perfections. The Sanskrit word paramitas means "perfections."

                 There are so many countless good things that we can do in life. If we're told to do as many good deeds as we can, we might get overwhelmed and not even try to do any.

                  Each paramita can be thought of as a way to perfect virtue. Sakyamuni Buddha condensed all good deeds into these six categories. We select just one of the paramitas and practice doing various good deeds that embody that virtue.

                  Sakyamuni Buddha did this so that we could easily pick the one we like best and then make it our sole focus.

                   By doing so often, we can steadily promote more harmony with others and also bring ourselves more relative happiness. The more good deeds we perform = the more good we can enjoy. Accumulating this virtue also helps us as we progress toward our true purpose in life.

                   To understand the concept of the Six Paramitas within metaphor, imagine for a moment being a dazed customer, lost inside a giant shopping center.

Original Photo by coolinsights available on

               You wander inside a spacious department store, but you still find more countless choices to try on and compare prices. A friendly salesperson comes up to you with a smile and asks, "How can I help you?"

                Then you take a moment and reply, "Well, I need a new shirt for work. The color should be kind of basic. Oh, and the price needs to be around $20 or so."

Original Photo by Robert Sheie available on

                The salesperson picks six different styles from the many choices available. In this way, you can find the best choice for you with ease...

Original Photo by Robert Sheie available on

                This is the same reason why Sakyamuni Buddha summarized all the various good deeds for us into the following six virtues. We just have to pick the one paramita that fits us the best.

1st Paramita - KINDNESS 

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on
  • Giving to people in need
  • Offering donations
  • Sharing your belongings
  • Smiling to everyone
  • Looking at others affectionately
  • Thanking those that help you
  • Having an Aloha spirit
  • Welcoming people to your home to eat or spend the night

2nd Paramita - KEEPING YOUR WORD

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Remembering your promises
  • Not breaking your agreements
  • Arriving on time
  • Being consistent with what you say and do
  • Having accountability for your actions
  • Acting responsibly in difficult situations
  • Answering honestly
  • Coming through for others when they need it

3rd Paramita - PATIENCE

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Putting up with life's little nuisances
  • Thinking steadily through those tough times
  • Enduring hardships with positive intentions
  • Keeping your cool even when someone else is wrong
  • Waiting in line respectfully
  • Remaining calm after acknowledging mistakes

 4th Paramita - EFFORT

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Doing your best under pressure
  • Keep making the right choices, even if they take longer 
  • Helping a friend move
  • Attending to little details with vigor
  • Pouring your heart into your work
  • Using some elbow grease on a volunteer project
  • Focusing all your energy constructively to do good

5th Paramita - SELF-REFLECTION

Original Photo by Celestine Chua available at

  • Being careful with your own thoughts
  • Examining your mindset
  • Concentrating on how you affect others
  • Look at yourself first before blaming others
  • Reflect on your actions daily
  • Think about the effect others have on you and why

6th Paramita - WISDOM

Original Word Art Photo by Celestine Chua available on

  • Being kind
  • Keeping your word
  • Having patience
  • Making a valiant effort
  • Reflecting on yourself

Wisdom is the practice of the first five paramitas simultaneously.  

But if you practice any one of the Six Paramitas...
fully and to the best of your ability
you end up practicing all of them!!!

                For example, the 2nd paramita of Keeping Your Word also requires Patience which may take a long time to complete.

                You also need to make a sustained Effort or you will not follow through.

                 Without Self-Reflection, you may not be able to know whether or not you can fulfill the promise.  

                 Wisdom helps integrate the steps you need to make to fulfill the agreement.

                  Keeping a promise is received by others as a great Kindness

 Buddhism encourages us to choose one paramita 
and practice it by doing good deeds.

Pick one virtue that fits you the best, 
and the rest will follow.

That way we can be happy as we move forward 
toward achieving our purpose of life!

So what's your Paramita?







Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Life of Buddha

Buddha Defined

                      Before learning about the life of the Buddha, we must first understand who or what exactly a buddha is.

Original Photo by dorofofoto available on

              A buddha is one who has attained the highest level of enlightenment in the cosmos. Buddhas are thus beings of perfect wisdom and compassion.

             There are a total of 52 levels of enlightenment. Each level can be compared to a greater elevation on a mountain. For example, the higher you climb Mt. Fuji, the more you are able to see around you. Once at the top of the mountain, you finally have a 360-degree perspective. 

Original Photo by emrank available on

              The teachings of a Buddha are known as Buddhism. They guide us toward our own enlightenment by revealing to us our true nature.

             Although there are as many buddhas in the universe as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, there has been only one human being to have ever achieved supreme enlightenment on Earth.  His birth occurred nearly 2,500 years ago near India.

Birth of a Noble Prince

                In the year 485 B.C., King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Maya resided in the castle of Kapilvatsu. It was in the city of Lumbini, Nepal (pictured below present day). 

Original Photo by Whats There! available on

           One night Queen Maha Maya had a dream of a beautiful white elephant coming down into her womb, and this was interpreted as a sign that either the Buddha or a universal emperor was about to be born. 

                When it finally came time to give birth, Queen Maha Maya went into the royal garden and painlessly delivered her child.

                 He was named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha means "one whose aim is accomplished." 

                There's a famous story that recounts the first few moments after his birth. Once baby Sidhhartha was born, it was told he walked seven steps in the direction of north, south, east, and west, all while pointing up and down. His first words were said to be:

In the sky above, in the sky below,
Only we alone are precious.
The Three Worlds all have suffering,
Yet I here, precisely in this place, have attained peace.

                What?!? A new born baby walking and talking? 

                One may wonder whether or not this actually took place, but this tale conveys a truly important message. Let's look at is meaning.

In the sky above, in the sky below
Only we alone are precious.

               There is a very precious task that only human beings can accomplish. It is a declaration that everyone born in this world has one and only one sacred mission to accomplish. We alone have the rare chance in this lifetime to attain a true form happiness.

The Three Worlds all have suffering,

               The Three Worlds represent past, present, and future. From natural disasters to car accidents... boundary disputes with military force to troubled, unpleasant relationships... our lives are filled with examples of suffering as time passes.

Yet I here, precisely in this place, have attained peace.

                While still in this human world, Prince Siddhartha was able to attain peace of mind and become full of joy. There are Six Realms within the cycle of birth and death, the human realm being one of them. 

                By taking a seventh step into each direction, Sakyamuni declares absolute happiness is possible for all human beings to attain. We are born here to enter into a World without Hindrance within this lifetime causing an end to our being endlessly lost within countless transmigrations.

Siddhartha Gautama's Childhood

                Soon after giving birth to Siddhartha, Queen Maha Maya passed away. Siddhartha was raised by his father and his aunt, Maha Pajapati. Siddhartha was the sole heir to the throne and kingdom.

                Siddhartha's father, King Suddhodana, summoned a clairvoyant, Ashita, to the castle. At the sight of the prince, the seer shed tears. The kind demanded to know why the seer had cried in this way.

                Ashita replied, "In seeing him, I prophesied that the young prince would become either an outstanding king who would spread peace in the world, or a nobleman who would pursue and attain the supreme enlightenment. I believe his attaining the enlightenment will be more likely to happen. But by the time he becomes an enlightened one, I won't be alive anymore and thus unable to hear his teachings. I felt deeply saddened and couldn't help crying."

                King Suddhodana was determined to raise the prince as a great king and heir to the throne. However, if the prince should choose the spiritual path, he would abandon the castle and endeavor to save all humankind. Suddhodana decided to give him the very best training to ensure the monarchy.

                King Suddhodana then called upon two of the kingdom's most renowned scholars to instruct his son, Badarani (Udraka Ramaputra) in the literary arts, and Sendaidaba (Alara Kalama) in the military arts. The prince excelled in both. He was peerless in ability.

                One day, Badarani came to visit the king. Suddhodana wondered if the young prince was not learning to write well. The language at that time was Sanskrit. (Pictured below is the word "Sanskrit" actually written in Sanskrit characters.)

Original Word Art by OldakQuill available on Wikimedia Commons

                The scholar said, "Your majesty, the young prince is so clever that he can understand 100 ideas by hearing just one. I have nothing more to teach him. I regret that I can't meet the expectations to be his teacher. Please release me from this position." The king couldn't say anything but "yes" to Badarani's humble request.

                After a while the king had a visit from his son's military art teacher. This time, the king asked the master with a skeptical tone, "Sendaidaba, you didn't come to resign as my son's tutor, did you?"

                "In fact, your majesty, the prince excels at everything, and there is nothing for me to teach him. People talk about me as if I'm the most skilled shot, but even I will miss one shot of 100. But the prince will hit the target 100 of every 100 times. This is just an example, but he is a master of all the military arts. Please allow me to leave my position."

Original Photo by Nina Mathews Photography available on

                This account shows that Siddhartha was not only blessed with assets, materials, and position as future king, but he was also gifted with extraordinary talents in every field.

The Four Gates

                 The king, still wanting his son to be a universal monarch and not abandon the castle, surrounded the palace with a triple enclosure and numerous guards. King Suddhodana even proclaimed that the use of the words "death" and "grief" were forbidden.

                 The young prince, however, had a yearning to know the world beyond the castle walls. So, one day, the prince asked his guards to escort him outside the castle. The prince departed the castle through the East Gate. Everything was new to him, so the prince was very excited.

                 But while walking outside the castle, he came upon an old, ailing man with a wrinkled face and a cane. At the sight of the old man, the prince became fearful. He had never seen such a person.

Original Photo by Sukanto Debnath available on

                 The prince asked, "What is wrong with that man? Why is he walking like that?"

                 The guards answered, "He is an old man. He was young once, but now he is old and can walk only with a cane. This happens to everyone. No one can remain young forever."

                 "Am I going to be old too?" the prince asked.

                 "Yes. Once born, people age and become old." Shocked at this new knowledge of old age, the prince felt sad and returned to the castle.

                 Time passed, and again the prince elected to explore the world beyond the castle walls. Siddhartha exited through the South Gate. He looked around with curiosity as he was led out by the guards. Siddhartha then encountered a sick man on the ground with a contorted face, moaning from severe pain.

Original Photo by nicksarebi available at

                 The man, unable to walk, was crying out in agony as he was being carried away.

                 The prince was startled. "What is the matter with him?" he asked.

                 The guards answered, "He's ill. He's in a lot of pain and can't walk."

                 "How did he get sick?"

                 "Everyone eventually becomes sick. The moment we are born, we begin to age and throughout our lives we are exposed to various diseases." The prince was saddened by this new realization.

                 Siddhartha reflected, "Why are people born just to become old and sick?" He did not want to walk on any further. The prince returned home dejected and melancholy.

                 He thought again and again, "Why do people live? What is the purpose of life?" The more he learned of human suffering, the more he needed to know the meaning of life.

                 More time passed. And again, Siddhartha decided to explore the outside world. Next he exited through the West Gate. During his stroll on that day, he encountered a funeral. There were people carrying a dead body over to a fire. 

Original Photo by Peter Curbishley available on

                  As they placed the corpse into the flames, so many people were crying, and there was a profound sadness in the air.

                 This time the young prince was told about death. The prince learned of the inescapable end to the human journey. People are born, age, sicken, and finally they die.

                Siddhartha grew pensive and asked, "Is there nothing more to life? What should be done on this journey of life? We must have a purpose, or life would only be suffering. Though I am young and healthy, I am no different that others. I will become sick, old, and die someday. Why must I go through this painful process?"

                Unable to find the true meaning of human life, Siddhartha became dispirited.

                Finally, Siddhartha decided to exit the castle through the North Gate. During that walk, the prince observed a man practicing self-reflection. He seemed very calm with his eyes close in some kind of meditation.

Original Photo by rulon available on

                "What is he doing?" asked the prince.

                "This is an ascetic doing spiritual practices. After learning that everything is fleeting, this man decided to leave society in order to seek the purpose of life. He is doing these practices in the hope of attaining enlightenment, so that he can transcend this world of impermanence and achieve happiness."

                "At last, this is what I was searching for!" the prince exclaimed. "Since old age, sickness and death await me, I can't just languish in a life without purpose or direction."

Getting Married & Parenthood

                King Suddhodana noticed that Siddhartha had become more and more contemplative. Siddhartha was still struggling internally about the meaning of life. The prince was torn between his metaphysical concerns and his duty to his father and the kingdom. The king became worried when he recalled the prophecy about the prince leaving the castle.

               "I should do something to make my son happier. Maybe he needs a wife..."

                The daughter of a wealthy king, Yasodhara, was chosen to marry Siddhartha. She was known to be the most beautiful woman in all the lands. When Siddhartha was 19 years old, he married Yasodhara in an elaborate and opulent ceremony. The prince regained his good spirits with his new lovely wedded wife and lived happily after... for a while.

Original Photo by Anandajoti available on

                 Later on, Prince Siddhartha and Yasodhara eventually had a child who they named Rahula. In naming his son, Siddhartha's nagging preoccupation with the purpose of life became evident. Rahula in Sanskrit is "fetter," meaning restriction or limitation.

                After Rahula's birth, Siddhartha thought, "I now have Yasodhara and a child that I am responsible for. I should not abandon them to seek my spiritual path." The prince was distressed yet again at his dilemma.

Three Wishes

                Siddhartha remained in conflict with himself, but he knew that he couldn't continue to live on without knowing his true purpose. He had to make a choice.

                One day the prince gathered up enough courage and asked the king, "Father, please allow me to leave the castle so that I may seek true happiness."

                Suddhodana was shocked. He replied, "Why do you ask for this? What are you lacking? I can give you everything you could possibly want and more. Tell me what you desire and I'll grant it to you right away. Just name it. Anything!"

                The prince spoke, "I have three wishes."

                "What are your three wishes? Go ahead, my son."

                "My first wish is that I not grow old. I want to remain young forever. My second wish is that I never become sick. I want to be healthy forever. My third wish is that I never die."

                Hearing his son's three wishes the king cried out, "That's impossible! You should not ask for things that I can't give."

                Siddhartha Gautama was blessed with vibrant youth and so much talent. On top of this, he had wealth, status, a beautiful wife, and a healthy child. The prince had everything that anyone could imagine. Yet he knew, deep inside of himself, that this happiness was fleeting and would eventually abandon him. Happiness in this world is impermanent, and knowing this reality, the prince was unable to feel true peace of mind and satisfaction.

                "What is true happiness?" and "How can I attain happiness that does not fade?" were questions that lingered in his mind. The prince's desire to seek the truth grew stronger day by day.

                What are you lacking? The same question can be made to us. Could we remain happy even if we collected all the money, obtained that high position, possessed an unmatchable status, married the best spouse, and had a beautiful child?

                The answer Siddhartha found was that the happiness of all these pleasures is lasting only if we don't age, get sick, or die. These outer sources of happiness cannot solve all the deep unrest we have in our hearts.

Departure, Ascetic Life & Enlightenment

                Then during the darkness of night, Siddhartha at 29 years old left the castle on his quest for true happiness. He traveled deep into the mountains.

                Underneath a Bodhi tree (pictured below), Siddhartha continued to practice meditation for six grueling years. These practices were so severe in nature that at times he was close to death from starvation. No human being had ever attempted them before.

Original Photo by Akuppa available on

               Then finally on December 8th at the age of 35, Siddhartha prevailed over his own inner demons.  As the morning star rose in the sky that day, he attained the highest level of enlightenment and became the buddha. Later on, he became formally known as Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sakyamuni Buddha's Teachings

               So what is the enlightenment of Buddha?  Let's read an excerpt from the animated book The Story of Buddha.

"'Life is suffering. It is like a sea with ceaseless waves of suffering. But we were not born to suffer, nor is that why we live. Then why do we live? Can we not get through this life of tribulation in joy and gladness? There is a way. I have awakened to that truth. In the heavens and on earth, only one sacred mission is ours. Human beings can attain true happiness without fail. Life has a purpose, which when attained, fills us with joy that we were born. All people exist in order to enter this world of supreme bliss. No matter how painful your life is... you must endure to the end, until you are saved into that happiness.'"

               In our life, there are tragedies that we can never solve even with tremendous fortune, political power, or worldwide respect. In Buddhism, all those outer sources of happiness are called relative happiness. Our suffering can never be completely solved by them, no matter how much relative happiness we collect. 

                Absolute happiness never fades even in the face of death. It is a true peace of mind and satisfaction that can be achieved by listening to Buddhism. Sakyamuni Buddha taught us exactly how to eliminate the root cause of our suffering for the remaining 45 years of his life. 

                On February 15, he finally passed into Nirvana at age 80.

For an exciting book on the life of Sakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), 
check out "Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography" by Hisashi Ota on