Who was Buddha or Siddhartha Gautama?
The Buddhist faith and way of life is a direct reflection of the doctrines and teachings of a single man. Siddhartha Gautama became better known as Guatama Buddha following his own personal bodhi, or enlightenment. He used this newly acquired knowledge to instruct others in his faith on the means to reach both bodhi and Nirvana, which is the end of all suffering.
As Buddha lived over 2,500 years ago, by most accounts, it is challenging for historians to verify independent accounts of his life, and thus most information known about the man come from the sangha and Tripikata, the texts and written accounts of the Buddhist faith.
Conception and BirthThe mythological accounts of Gautama’s conception involve a dream his mother had about an elephant with six tusks that came down from heaven and entered her womb on the right side. Following this story, Buddha was born at the exact moment his mother looked toward the heavens in the garden of Lumbini. He took seven steps in each direction of heaven while a lotus flower grew at each step, and then declared that he would not be born again, as Buddhists believe in reincarnation.
Most historical depictions of Gautama’s conception and birth show his mother dying during or shortly after childbirth, and a seer, Asita, announcing that the young price would be either a great king or a great holy man. Gautama’s father shielded his son from religion and human suffering in hopes that Gautama would indeed grow to be a great king rather than a holy man.
MarriageDespite predictions that Gautama would be the Buddha while still a baby, his father arranged a marriage at the age of sixteen. Gautama married a cousin of the same age and produced a son. Despite being a wealthy prince for twenty-nine years, however, Gautama was not satisfied with his life and was generally unhappy.
The Great DepartureAt the age of twenty-nine, while wandering outside his palace, Gautama encountered an old crippled man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic, or holy man. These sights are now referred to as the four heavenly messengers. The inspiration of these four sights caused Gautama to leave his family, wealth, and inheritance behind and begin life anew as an ascetic in hopes of ending the suffering of old age, disease, and death.
Despite meditation and deprivation, Gautama was unable to find the satisfaction and purpose he was looking for, but after nearly starving to death, remembered the peaceful bliss of a naturally concentrated state, and decided to purse this course.
LeavingHaving made this discovery, Gautama left the asceticism and meditation behind and focused on The Middle Way, a path away from all extremes. History tells that Gautama then accepted some rice pudding, sat beneath a papal tree and refused to arise until he had discovered the truth. At the age of thirty-five, or six years after beginning his quest, Gautama obtained enlightenment.
Gautama, now Buddha, then conceded to become a teacher and instructed monks and other followers in the ways of Nirvana, or the shedding of suffering, and bodhi, the pathway to enlightenment, among many other lessons and concepts. Buddha was very clear to emphasize that he was not a god, but rather an enlightened man. He shared his teachings for another forty-five years, and then passed to Parinivana, or the final deathless state, fully abandoning the human body. His teachings have lived on, however, and become the fourth largest organized religion in the world today.