Birth and early life
Gautama Buddha was born during the 500 BC, 2500 years ago in India. The exact place of his birth was in Lumbini garden, present day Nepal. King Suddhodana was the great ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas. Initially, the king wasn’t very pleased when a wise man told him that the heir to his throne and the future ruler of the kingdom could also become a great religious leader. The kings knew that the suffering and the hard life would lead the young lord on the path of religion, so, from a very young age, he was brought up only inside the castle walls. The king did everything he could to raise the young Buddha to be a great ruler. Hence, the young Buddha was locked away from the outside world and showered with luxury and security.
The Four Sights
Gautama grew up to be a fine young gentleman who soon married a young princess, Yashodara, who bore him a son named Rahula. One fine day, however, Gautama persuaded his dad let him see the city. The kings immediately told the guards to decorate the city and to hide all human miseries. That day, the town was filled with smiles and auspicious signs. In the city, Gautama was to however, to witness four sites. These four sights were; an old man, a sick person, people carrying the corpse of another and a holy man who had given up everything and still be calm and happy. Gautama was heart broken by the four sights that he thought never existed. So, Gautama decided to follow the holy man. He sneaked out of the palace in the dead of night and exchanged his beautiful robes for a plain monk robe, and he cut off his beautiful, long silky hair. With nothing but an alms bowl for people to put food in, he set of on his journey to find the truth of life.
On his voyage to find the “truth”, he came across many famous religious leaders and acquired all the knowledge that they had to share with him. Following these teachings, he put his body and mind through great torment and hardship. He survived on nothing more than a grain of rice and a drop of water, he lived in the most terrifying jungles, burning in the hot day and freezing at night, slept on beds on thorns at the cemetery and starved. However, he still couldn’t find the answers to his fundamental problems. This made him realize that if he kept on that way, he would probably die before finding one. Consequently, the concept of the middle way was born. He then affirmed that the middle path and balance was more realistic than going to extremes. Much to the disgust of his fellow followers, who left him after this main reason, he took little food and embraced the middle path. He then sat under a Bodhi tree, present day Bod Gaya and was determined to sit there until he found the truth or die trying. Finally, during the night of the full moon of May, he went into a trance of deep meditation where he gained assorted knowledge. He saw his past life, he saw how karma worked (karma means the volitional action: action done by choice or conscious decision; it had inevitable effects – good actions produce good results, bad actions produce bad results), he also saw how to overcome desire, attachment to existence and clinging to false or fixed views. Finally, as the morning stars prevailed, he awakened as from a dream and declared: “It is liberated… birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what was to be done, there is no more to come… “ He was no more Gautama, he was the Awakened One, and he was the Buddha, the one who attained nirvana. (Nirvana is the extinction of greed, the extinction of hate, the extinction of delusion. Its true nature cannot be put into words; a person must know it for himself in his own heart.)
As he knew that many people would not understand his verdicts, he was reluctant to share it with the world. He was persuaded however, that there were some “with but a little dust in their eyes” who might benefit from being told. And for his first sermon, he went to Isipatana in a deer park. This was the start of 45 years of teaching. His teachings were called the middle way because of the balance between the extremes. Soon the Buddha was followed by a group of following ready to give up everything to hear his teachings and put them into practice. This group began the Sangha; the community of monks and nuns, which from the start was supported by a large lay community.
As a man, Buddha’s life had to end, like all living beings. At the accomplished age of 80, he had his last breath in Kushinara. Naturally, his followers were deeply grieved by this. His last words to them were: “Impermanent are all compound things. Strive on heedfully.” Subsequently he passed into what Buddhists call, parinirvana or full nirvana, a state that can be no more conveyed than his first nirvana.
Yodsel Wangchuk Rinzin