Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, was a traveling monk and spiritual guide who founded Buddhism during the sixth or fifth century BCE. Read here to know the biography of Gautama Buddha.
Gautama Buddha taught that life is full of suffering and unhappiness. This is caused because we have cravings and desires. He taught that this constant craving could be removed by following moderation in everything.
Siddhartha Gautama was, according to legend, a Hindu prince who renounced his position and wealth to seek enlightenment as a spiritual ascetic, attained his goal and, in preaching his path to others, founded Buddhism in India in the 6th-5th centuries BCE.
Buddha was born during a time of social and religious transformation. The dominant religion in India at the time was Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma, “Eternal Order”) but several thinkers of the period had begun to question its validity and the authority of the Vedas as well as the practices of the priests.
The early life of Gautama Buddha
According to tradition, Siddhartha was born more than 200 years before the reign of the Maurya king Asoka (lived 304–232 BCE).
Siddhartha was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal. His father was Suddhodana, the chief of the Shakya nation, one of several ancient tribes in the growing state of Kosala. His mother was Queen Maya, King Sudhodhana’s wife.
On the night Gautama was conceived, Mayadevi dreamt that a white elephant entered her side, and following the dream, Siddhartha was born.
During the birth celebrations, the seer Asita announced that this baby would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man. His father, King Suddhodana, wished for Siddhartha Gautama to be a great king, and shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering.
When the prince reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yasodhara, from an elite family of the same age. In time, she gave birth to a son, Rahula.
Siddhartha Gautama spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu, a place now situated in Nepal. Although his father ensured that the prince was provided with everything he could want or need, he felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.
Journey of Buddha
The journey of Siddhartha the Prince to Gautama buddha is largely divided into three stages- the great departure, the great enlightenment, and the great passing.
The great departure or renunciation
Siddhartha’s father did not want him to experience anything other than luxuries as he grew which might inspire him to adopt a spiritual path. But eventually, the prince ventured out of the palace and experienced, what is called the four signs which changed his path forever.
During his 29th year, the prince slipped through his father’s defenses and saw the four signs in the outside world-
- An aged man
- A sick man
- A dead man
- A religious ascetic
Through these signs, he realized that he, too, could become sick, would grow old, would die, and would lose everything he loved. He understood that the life he was living guaranteed he would suffer and, further, that all of life was essentially defined by suffering from want or loss.
Siddhartha disturbed by these sightings and realization renounced his luxurious life, wife, son, and family at the age of 29. He left the palace on his favorite horse, Kanthaka for a life dedicated to learning how to overcome suffering.
He meditated with two hermits, and, although he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, he was still not satisfied with his path.
He began his training in the ascetic life and practiced vigorous techniques of physical and mental austerity. Gautama proved quite adept at these practices and surpassed even his teachers.
However, he found no answer to his questions regarding freedom from suffering. Leaving behind his teachers, he and a small group of close companions set out to take their austerities even further.
Gautama tried to find enlightenment through the complete deprivation of worldly goods, including food, and became a complete ascetic. After nearly starving himself to death, Gautama began to reconsider his path.
The great enlightenment
He finally reached Gaya in modern-day Bihar where he seated himself under a Bodhi tree and meditated.
Finally, in a moment of illumination, he understood that suffering was caused by the human insistence on permanent states of being in a world of impermanence.
- One suffers because they are unaware that life is changing, and they may stop suffering by understanding that believing anything will last or being attached to it is a grave mistake that will keep them stuck in a never-ending cycle of desire, effort, rebirth, and death.
His illumination was complete, and Siddhartha Gautama was now the Buddha, the enlightened one.
Although he could now live his life in contentment, he chose instead to teach others the path of liberation from ignorance and desire and assist them in ending their suffering.
He preached his first sermon at the Deer Park at Sarnath at which he introduced his audience to his Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are:
- Life is suffering
- The cause of suffering is craving
- The end of suffering comes with an end to craving
- There is a path that leads one away from craving and suffering
The fourth truth directs one toward the Eightfold Path, which serves as a guide to living one’s life without the kind of attachment that guarantees to suffer:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India and Southern Nepal, teaching his doctrine and discipline to everyone from nobles to outcast street sweepers, including many adherents of rival philosophies and religions.
The Buddha founded the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation after his Parinirvana or “complete Nirvana”, and made thousands of converts. His religion was open to all races and classes and had no caste structure.
The great passing
According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon enter Parinirvana, or the final deathless state abandoning the earthly body.
He died in Kusinara.
The Buddha’s body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the present.
Symbols of Buddha’s life
The great events of the life of the Buddha, are important milestones in the life of Siddhartha Gautama which are represented by various symbols.
- The birth of buddha is represented by the lotus flower representing purity, beauty, and spiritual growth.
- The renunciation is depicted by his horse, Kanthaka.
- The great enlightenment is depicted by the Bodhi tree.
- The first sermon is represented by the wheel of dharma.
- The mahaparinirvana is depicted by the stupa.
Buddha urged his pupils to examine his teachings and validate them through personal experience throughout his life. Buddhism is still characterized by this lack of dogmatism today.
-Article written by Swathi Satish