Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Chapter 1 - Life
and Nature of the Buddha
Founder of Buddhism
Buddha, the founder of what came to be known as Buddhism, lived in
Northern India in the 6th century B.C. His personal name was
Siddhartha, and family name Gotama. The name 'Buddha' was given to Him
after He attained Enlightenment and realized the Truth. It means the
'Awakened' or the 'Enlightened One'. He generally called Himself the
Tathagata, while His followers called Him Bhagava, the Blessed One. Others
spoke of Him as Gotama or Sakyamuni.
He was born a prince who
seemed to have everything. He had a luxurious upbringing and His family
was of pure descent on both sides. He was the heir to the throne,
extremely handsome, inspiring trust, stately and gifted with great beauty
of complexion and fine presence. At sixteen He married His cousin named
Yasodhara who bore Him a son whom they called Rahula. His wife was
majestic, cheerful day and night, and full of dignity and grace.
this, He felt trapped amidst the luxury like a bird in a golden cage.
During a visit to the city one day, He saw what is known as the 'Four
Sights', that is , an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy recluse.
When He saw the sights, one after another, the realization came to Him
that, 'it is subject to age and death'. He asked, 'Where is the realm of
life in which there is neither age nor death?' The sight of the recluse,
who was calm for having given up the craving for material life, gave him
the clue that the first step in His search for Truth was Renunciation.
Determined to find the way
out of these universal sufferings, He decided to leave home to find the
cure not for Himself only, but for all mankind. One night in His
twenty-ninth year, He bade His sleeping wife and son a silent farewell,
saddled His great white horse, and rode off toward the forest.
His renunciation is
unprecedented in history. He left at the height of youth, from pleasures
to difficulties, from certainty of material security to uncertainty, from
a position of wealth and power to that of a wandering ascetic who took
shelter in the cave and forest, with His ragged robe as the only
protection against the blazing sun, rain and winter winds. He renounced
His position, wealth, promise of prestige and power, and a life filled
with love and hope in exchange for the search for Truth which no one had
For six long years, He
labored to find the Truth. He studied under the foremost masters of the
day, and learned all these religious teachers could teach Him. When He
could not find what He was looking for, He joined a band of ascetics and
tortured His body so as to break its power and crush its interference,
since it was believed that Truth could be found this way. A man of
enormous energy and will power, He outdid other ascetics in every
austerity they proposed. While fasting, He ate so little that when He took
hold of the skin of His stomach, He actually touched His spine. He pushed
Himself to the extent that no man had done and yet lived. He, too, would
have certainly died had He not realized the futility of
self-mortification, and decided to practise moderation instead.
On the full moon night of
the month of Vesakha, He sat under the Bodhi tree at Gaya, wrapped in deep
meditation. It was then that His mind burst the bubble of the universe and
realized the true nature of all life and all things. At the age of 35
years, He was transformed from an earnest truth seeker into the Buddha,
the Enlightened One.
For nearly half a century,
the Buddha walked on the dusty paths of India Teaching the Dhamma so that
those who heard and practised could be ennobled and free. He founded an
order of monks and nuns, challenged the caste system, raised the status of
women, taught religious freedom and free inquiry, opened the gates of
deliverance to all, in every condition of life, high or low, saint or
sinner, and ennobled the lives of criminals like Angulimala and courtesans
He was towering in wisdom
and intellect. Every problem was analyzed in component parts and then
reassembled in logical order with the meaning made clear. None could
defeat Him in dialogue. An unequaled teacher, He still is the foremost
analyst of the mind and phenomena even up to the present day. For the
first time in history, He gave men the power to think for themselves,
raised the worth of mankind, and showed that man can reach to the highest
knowledge and supreme Enlightenment by his own efforts.
Despite His peerless
wisdom and royal lineage, He was never removed from the simple villager.
Surface distinctions of class and caste meant little to Him. No one was
too little or low for Him to help. Often when an outcast, or poor and
dejected came to Him, his self-respect was restored and he turned from the
ignoble life to that of a noble being.
The Buddha was full of
compassion(karuna)and wisdom(panna), knowing how and what to teach each
individual for his own benefit according to his level and capabilities. He
was known to have walked long distances to help one single person.
affectionate and devoted to His disciples, always inquiring after their
well-being and progress. When staying at the monastery, He paid daily
visits to the sick wards. His compassion for the sick can be seen from His
advice, 'He who attends the sick, attends on me.' The Buddha kept order
and discipline on the basis of mutual respect. King Pasenadi could not
understand how the Buddha maintained such order and discipline in the
community of monks, when he as a king with the power to punish, could not
maintain it as well in his court.
The Buddha did
not claim to have 'created' worldly conditions, universal phenomena, or
the Universal Law which we call the 'Dhamma'. Although described as
lokavidu or 'knower of the worlds', He was not regarded as the sole
custodian of the Universal Laws. He freely acknowledge that the Dhamma,
together with the working of the cosmos, is timeless, it has no creator
and is independent in the absolute sense. Every conditioned thing that
exists in the cosmos is subject to the operation of Dhamma. What the
Buddha did (like all the other Buddhas before Him) was to rediscover this
infallible Truth and make it known to mankind. In discovering the Truth,
He also found the means whereby one could ultimately free oneself from
being subjected to the endless cycle of conditioning, with its attendant
evils of unsatisfactoriness.
After forty-five years of
ministry, the Buddha passed away at the age of eighty at kusinara, leaving
behind thousands of followers, monks and nuns, and a vast treasure store
of Dhamma Teaching. The impact of His great love and dedication is still
In the Three
Greatest Men in History, H.G. Wells states, 'In the Buddha you see
clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for light, a vivid
universal in character. Many of our best modern ideas are in closest
harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he
taught, to selfishness. Before a man can become serene he must cease to
live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a greater being.
Buddhism in a different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500
years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. He
was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ and
less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality.
Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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Update : 01-11-2002