Life of the Buddha

April is the month in which many Buddhists celebrate the birth of the Buddha. Born over 2,500 years ago in northern India, Siddhartha Gautama of the Shakya clan was the son of a king. Over the centuries fact and legend have become entwined.

As was the custom, Queen Maya was returning to her home village to give birth to her child. Along the way she and her servants passed Lumbini’s Garden. Wishing to admire the beautiful flowers Queen Maya stopped to rest. Surrounded by these flowers she gave birth to her son. Legend says that the birds began to sing and a sweet rain fell. Queen Maya then returned to the castle. Sadly, she died shortly thereafter. Her sister assumed the role of mother for young Siddhartha.

Prior to Siddhartha’s birth a seer told the king that his son would either be a great ruler or a revered holy man. Not wanting his son to become a holy man, the king surrounded him with luxury. Siddhartha was sheltered from the outside world and was schooled in all the warrior arts. However, as he grew to adulthood he three times left the castle unattended. On these three trips he encountered sickness, old age and death. Having been shielded during his young life this troubled him deeply. Siddhartha wondered what was the purpose of a life that ended this way? His answer came on his fourth trip outside the castle. This time he saw a wandering holy man. Clothed in rags, with only a begging bowl, this man’s face shone with joy and contentment. Siddhartha knew he must find the source of this inner peace.

At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha Gautama left his family and worldly possessions to begin his quest. For the next six years he mastered many of the religious practices of the time. His final practice in which he deprived himself of food and all comforts had brought him close to death. Luckily a passing maiden offered him a bowl of rice milk. Siddhartha decided to end his fasting and accepted this gift. His strength somewhat renewed he vowed to sit in meditation under a pipal tree under he either died or attained enlightenment. For six days he sat. Visions of demons and temptations constantly appeared. Finally, on the morning of the seventh day, he realized his awakening. The cause of his suffering was his ignorance. He had been looking at the world through his ego driven self. Stripping away this ego he saw that all things are impermanent. Our attachment to what we think is permanent is the cause of our misery.

During the next forty-five years Gautama Buddha traveled throughout northern India sharing the teachings, the Dharma. His first teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path outlined the cause of our suffering and the means by which it is overcome. Millions of people worldwide still practice this way of life.

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