‘Buddha’ does not refer to a name, but is a Sanskrit title used to indicate a person who is spiritually awake and enlightened towards the real meaning of existence. When most people refer to the Buddha, they are clearly referring to Siddhartha Gautama – the founder of Buddhism. The significance of Buddha is evident from the way he is revered as divine incarnate across different religions. While Hindus regard Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Dasam Granth of the Sikhs considers Buddha as the twenty third avatar of Vishnu. In Baha’ism, Buddha is received as a divine embodiment of the Supreme Power.
After renouncing a life of luxury and opulence, Siddhartha Gautama went on to gain enlightenment and attain the title of ‘Buddha’. He dedicated his life to spreading his wisdom and valuable lessons on the ephemeral nature of material life and the enduring quality of spiritual consciousness for the benefit of all. The teachings of Buddha provide deep insight into the meaningless pursuits of worldly pleasures and guides people on following a life of noble deeds to attain true salvation.
Renowned world over as a path to peace, self-realization, transformation and salvation, Buddha’s ancient teachings continue to be a source of inspiration, solace and spiritual bliss for millions of people around the world.
Birth, Childhood and Early Life
The birth of Siddhartha Gautama is believed to be on a full moon day of the month of Vaishakha, in the year 563 BCE, in Lumbini, a place near the India-Nepal border. Buddha was born to King Suddhodana and Queen Mayadevi, as a prince of the powerful Sakya Kingdom. The Shakyas were Suryavanshi Kshatriyas, and said to be the descendents of the Ikshvaku dynasty.
Mythology has an interesting story related to the birth of Buddha. It is said that Queen Mayadevi dreamt of a propitious white elephant entering her womb. Soon after, on a full moon day, the queen unexpectedly felt tired and leaned against a tree for support. In that instant, the Buddha was born from her side in a divine birth. As soon as his blessed feet touched the ground, lotus flowers bloomed at the spot signifying a divine incarnation. The queen passed away seven days later. King Suddhodhana named his son Siddhartha Gautama. While Gautama refers to his clan, Siddhartha means the one who attains prosperity and victory. Oracles of the time predicted that Siddhartha would become world-renowned as either the emperor of the world or as an enlightened one, the Buddha.
Siddhartha spent his protected and opulent childhood at his father’s palace situated in Kapilavastu. His aunt Mahaprajapathi brought him up under her wings. Even at a young age, Siddhartha could enter a meditative state through intense concentration. Historical records speak of Buddha as a remarkably ntellectual and empathetic individual blessed with the strong and handsome physique of his warrior race. He was also trained in various martial disciples including archery and one-on-one fighting.
Eager to ordain him as the next king of the kingdom, Siddhartha’s father protected him from the miseries of the world and instead surrounded his son with all kinds of luxuries and worldly pleasures. He was gifted with multiple, magnificent palaces so that he could spend each season at a different place. He could indulge in sports or other leisure activities of his choice. At the young age of sixteen, he emerged victorious in an archery contest and was married to Princess Yasodhara, a cousin of his same age. He spends thirteen years of marital bliss with his wife in his numerous palaces. In due course, the couple is blessed with a son, who is named Rahula.
Renunciation and Enlightenment
Although Siddhartha Gautama had been shielded from the harsh realities of life, his introspective and empathetic nature persuaded him to explore life outside his palace walls. During a tour through the kingdom, he was deeply troubled by the sights of sickness, suffering and death. Thus at the age of 29, the thought process of Siddhartha was completely transformed by the Four Sights. These included seeing an extremely old man, a sick man, a dead man and finally a mendicant in search of the meaning of life.
Siddhartha realized that his privileged status was merely an illusion and that no one was immune to sickness, old age and death. He was pained as the understanding dawned on him that he could do nothing to relieve his people of life’s sufferings. Simultaneously, he was mesmerized by holy men who had found eternal and lasting bliss within their own minds.
Yearning to unlock the mysteries of the mind and discover true peace, Siddhartha abandoned his palace and family and set off on the life of a wanderer along unknown terrains. Siddhartha who hitherto led a life of luxury began begging for food, clothing and shelter. He immersed himself in spiritual studies under the tutelage of renowned masters. He underwent extreme periods of fasting that were believed to help the mind achieve its true potential. However, he failed to find satisfactory answers to life’s most pressing questions, becoming disillusioned with the prevailing religious orders and caste system.
During Vaishakha Purnima of the year 528 BCE, Siddhartha was immersed in meditation beneath a Bodhi tree located in Bodhgaya in present day Bihar. After seven days of continuous meditation, on an auspicious full moon day, he was blessed with enlightenment that revealed the path to salvation. He experienced the cosmic consciousness beyond all barriers of time and space. At the age of 35, he had become the ‘Buddha’.
Spread of Buddhism
After attaining enlightenment, Gautama Buddha set out to Sarnath in search of his former followers. He related his divine experience in detail, transforming them into his disciples. This site of Buddha’s first sermon is now famous for the stupa (pillar) that dates back to the 5th century BCE.
In the subsequent years, Buddha went on to gain stupendous reputation in northern and western India, attracting devoted disciples and countless followers. All his travels were on foot in the company of his disciples, regardless of incessant weather or rough terrain. His sermons of Buddhist teachings – called dhamma(dharma) – drew people from various strata of the society, most of them later converting into Buddhism. He patiently answered all their queries and always guided people towards the supreme goal of becoming one with the mind and relieving oneself from the endless cycles of rebirths.
For forty five years, Buddha was actively engaged in spreading Buddhism to different corners of the country and converting even kings to the Buddhist way of life. Amidst the deluge of admirers, there were also people envious of the Buddha’s fame. Although they made several attempts to impair his life and popularity, he survived all acts of ill will, emerging more popular than ever before.
While travelling through a forest in Nepal in 483 BC, Buddha hinted about the impending departure from his mortal form. Finally at the age of eighty, the Enlightened One entered the state of Nirvana surrounded by disciples and adorned by his radiant, all-knowing smile of peace and contentment.
Inspirations from Life of Lord Buddha
Ever since the times of recorded history, humanity has always had its share of exceptional spiritual leaders. While many of them may be irrevocably lost in the mists of time, the wisdom imparted by some of them continue to enlighten generations even after millenniums. Buddha is a perfect example of an enlightened teacher whose enduring lessons keep on attracting followers to Buddhism from all corners of the globe.
Unlike modern branches of faiths that are often rigid, Buddhism is notable for its flexible nature, an attribute that was ensured by Gautama Buddha himself. The Enlightened One always persuaded his students to question his teachings and to arrive at their own inferences from their personal observations and experiences. Consequently, Buddhist teachings continue to be interpreted in multiple ways, opening up new avenues of spiritual consciousness and self-realization.
Buddha is undoubtedly one of the greatest masters of our times who have left behind a vast legacy of wisdom that finds relevance even after two thousand five hundred years. The teachings of Buddha serve as guiding light to help us deal with the complexities and uncertainties of life, to unleash the true potential of the human mind and to seek peace within ourselves.