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 Flickr.com

              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 Flickr.com

              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 Flickr.com

           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 Flickr.com

                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 Flickr.com

                 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 Flickr.com

                 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 Flickr.com

                  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 Flickr.com

                "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 Flickr.com

                 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 Flickr.com

               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 Amazon.com.

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