Gautama Buddha -- “The Awakened One”
Who was Gautama Buddha? First, who he was not. He was not a god nor was he a prophet claiming to be speaking the word of God. He was quite simply a man. A man who was able to realize the basic truths of human life and, through this overcoming of ignorance, attain enlightenment.
He was born in India over 2,500 years ago. His father, King Suddhodana of the warrior Shakya clan, ruled a small but prosperous kingdom near the present day border of India and Nepal. As was the tradition at the time, his mother, Queen Mahamaya, was returning to her family home to give birth to her first child. During this journey she stopped to rest and admire the flowers in Lumbini’s Garden. It was at this time that her son, Siddhartha Gautama, was born. Legend says that a sweet rain began to fall. With no reason to continue her journey, Queen Mahamaya returned to the castle where seven days later she died. As was the custom, her sister came to the palace to act as Siddhartha’s mother.
Many legends and stories surround the life of Gautama Buddha. One says that a sage told his father at the time of Siddhartha’s birth that he would become an “awakened one," a holy man. Not wanting his son, a prince, to abandon his heritage, King Suddhodana surrounded his son with luxuries and shielded him from life’s miseries. Siddhartha became adept at all the warrior skills yet always showed an extraordinary compassion for all living things. In his twenties he married and had a son, but he was not content.
The story of the ”four gates” explains his discontentment. Although his father shielded him, Siddhartha four times left the castle. The first time he encountered a sick person. The second time he met an old person. The third time he saw a dead person. Never having been exposed to this he became distraught. What was the purpose of life if all it led to was sickness, old age and death? The fourth gate held the answer. This time when he left the castle he encountered a wandering monk. He was struck by the fact that although this man had few possessions he exuded a radiance of peace, joy and contentment. Siddhartha knew he had to find the way to achieve this state of being.
At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha Gautama left behind his family and all worldly possessions to begin his search for this answer. Next month I will continue his story. For more information about Buddhism contact me at BudTempChi@aol.com or visit www.budtempchi.org.