Before learning about the life of the Buddha, we must first understand who or what exactly a buddha is.
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A buddha is one who has attained the highest level of enlightenment
in the cosmos. Buddhas are thus beings of perfect wisdom and compassion.
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.
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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.
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).
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.
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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
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:
the sky above, in the sky below,
we alone are precious.
Three Worlds all have suffering,
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.
the sky above, in the sky below
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.
Three Worlds all have suffering,
The Three Worlds
represent past, present, and future. From natural disasters to car
boundary disputes with military force to troubled, unpleasant
relationships... our lives are filled with examples of suffering as time
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.)
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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."
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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 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.
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The prince asked, "What is wrong with that man? Why is he walking like
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
"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
The man, unable to walk, was crying out in agony as he was being carried
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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
"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.
As they placed the corpse into the flames, so many people were crying, and there was a profound sadness in the air.
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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
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
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.
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"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
"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."
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.
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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.
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
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
"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.
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.
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
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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.
an exciting book on the life of Sakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama),
out "Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography" by Hisashi Ota on