About the year 560 B.G.E., a son, Siddhartha Gautama, was born to the ruler of one of the provinces of northern India. Legend has it that seven wise men from the hills came to visit the ruler, and announced that the new baby was so remarkable that he was certain to become a leader of men. "If he stays with the world," they proclaimed, "he will be king of all of India. But if he rejects the world, he will become a redeemer of mankind."
The king was more interested in seeing his son become king, so he did all in his power to keep the growing boy interested in worldly affairs. "I wore garments of silk and the attendants held a white umbrella over me" (Smith, 1959, p. 91), Gautama later recalled of his childhood. As the boy grew older, his father provided him with three palaces and four thousand dancing girls. A marriage was arranged between Prince Gautama and a neighbouring princess Yasodhara, and the wedded couple were later gifted with a son, Rahula.
In spite of royal commands that Gautama be shielded from all knowledge of suffering, at one point in his young life the prince made a startling discovery. One afternoon, while out riding with one of his servants, the young prince saw a man by the roadside. It was an old man with scraggly teeth and very thin hair who was so bent with age that the was resting on a cane. 'Whatever is the matter with this man?" Gautama asked his servant. The servant had to explain that the man was bent with age and that old age comes to all who live long years.
The next day the prince and his servant went riding again, and this time they beheld a man, wracked with illness, lying by the roadside, convulsing with fever. Again Gautama asked, out of deep concern, about the status of the man, and the servant replied that the man was stricken with sickness which comes to most persons in the course of a lifetime. The prince was greatly dismayed at the suffering he was seeing.
On the third day, the prince and his servant beheld a funeral cart carrying a corpse, and a woman and children walking behind it, crying. The young prince asked, and was told, about death. He was horrified to realize that death is something that comes, sooner or later, to everyone. He spent long hours pondering this third disclosure of suffering.
On the fourth day, Prince Gautama and his servant beheld a monk, dressed in saffron robes, with his head shaven, and with a begging bowl in his hand. There was a look of serenity on the face of the monk, as if he had gone beyond the ways of the world and had come to grips with the problem of suffering. The prince realized that he, too, must renounce the world and somehow find answers to the riddle of life.
Thus, one night, when he was twenty-nine years old, Siddhartha Gautama kissed his sleeping wife and son good-bye and departed for the forest for a life of renunciation and a search for the meaning of life and an answer to suffering. Halfway into the forest, he changed clothing with his servant and sent the servant back to the palace. By himself in the forest, Gautama felt the loneliness of solitude.
The six years in the forest that followed are divided into three periods. First, Gautama studied under Hindu hermits until he had learned all that they could teach. Then he tried asceticism - giving up all worldly pleasures and eating only one bean a day to deep alive. In this second period, Gautama became so thin that he could feel his spine by pressing upon his abdomen, and the dirt accumulated so thickly on his body that it could be scraped off in large hunks. Finally, he became so weak that he could no longer think, and if friends had not come to feed him some warm rice gruel, he surely would have died.
Gautama learned from this self-torture that too much deprivation was as harmful as too much luxury, and the beginning of his doctrine of "The Middle Way" was born. The five friends, who had been fasting with him, were disappointed that Gautama had given up their way of life, but he promised them that if he should ever find the answer to the problem of suffering and to the meaning of life, he would come back to them and share his discoveries.
The third phase of Gautama's life in the forest was raja yoga, deep meditation with special body position that is conducive to thought. At the culmination of this period, on one historic night of nights, Gautama sat down under a tree and vowed he would not rise again until he had found enlightenment. Through hour after hour, he sat in deeper and deeper meditation until - in the early hours of the dawn, as the tree rained down red flowers and earth quivered as in the pangs of childbirth, the seeker knew that at last he had been put in touch with the ultimate meaning of life. For 49 days, he sat in a trance at the foot of the tree, completely in awe of his experience. Then he arose, sought out his friends, and began to communicate the meaning he had found. From that point onward, Gautama was known as the Buddha, the "Enlightened One" and the tree under which he had found enlightenment was called the "Bo" or "Bodhi" tree (the Place of Enlightenment).
What was the answer the Buddha had found? It is best seen in the actions of the rest of his life, during which for almost five years he traveled from village to village, ministering to each person in the way he needed help. To some, the Buddha became a listener; to others, he became a provider of food and shelter; to some he gathered to himself as a band of disciples who would learn and minister with him. But all was done in a spirit of selfless compassion, and in a life midway between the extremes of luxury and poverty.
In one of his famous sermons to his followers, Buddha summarized his insight into the problem of suffering by delineating the "Four Noble Truths" and the "Eightfold Path." He also preached a way of life which, though based on his knowledge of Hinduism, denounced the caste system, scorned ritual, and ignored metaphysics. That is, the Buddha disclaimed speculation on the nature or essence of God, but bent all energies toward serving the needs of the world. His new philosophy is summed up in the parable of the man with an arrow in his back. The Buddha said that it is of no use to question who shot the arrow or where the shooter was standing but rather to bend all efforts on removing the arrow.
Finally, when the Buddha was more than 80 years old, he was invited to have dinner with a special friend by the name of Cunda. Cunda prepared mushrooms, the Buddha's favourite food. But, unknowingly, he prepared some which were poisonous. Soon the Buddha realized he was dying.
One his deathbed, the Buddha summoned his followers and, determined to ease Cunda's anguish and guilt feelings, declared: "In all my lifetime, two meals stand out supreme: one was the meal that I ate before I sat under the Bo tree, after which I received enlightenment; the other, tonight, at the home of my dear friend, Cunda, after which I shall receive NiNana." So saying, the Buddha breathed his last and passed into the eternal absence of pain, designated as NiNana.
His followers gathered his sayings and sermons into the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets of Wisdom.
Biography of Buddha: Worksheet 1. What four events caused Siddhartha to reject his princely life? Why?
2. Outline the three periods of Gautama's story in the forest. What did Gautama learn from each of these experiences?
3, What does the name “Buddha” mean? Why does this term apply to Siddhartha Gautama? What was Buddha’s answer?
Why did Gautama reject Hinduism?
5. How did Buddha die? Expalin the meaning of his final saying.