THE HISTORICAL BUDDHA
30.1 The Birth of Shakyamuni
In history, the Buddha, of course, refers to Shakyamuni Buddha.
He was not the almighty god by imagination. He was a lovely baby born
around 565 B.C. in Lumbini Park in the city of Kapilavastu in the
ancient northern India, today's Nepal. His name was Gotama Siddhattha,
which means "he who has accomplished his aim".
Since King Suddhodana had long awaited a child, he and everyone
else in the palace rejoiced at the birth of a son. The King immediately
called a famous wise sage, Asita. Asita told the king, "If he remains
at home, the child will become the Wheel-rolling King. If he leaves
home, he will become the great teacher, the Buddha."
It was unfortunate that Maya died on the seventh day after her delivery
and Maya's sister, Mahapajapati became the step mother of Siddhattha.
The prince grew up in an environment of care and love, respect and
joy. However, he was sometimes unhappy.
At the age of seven, the prince began to study science and technology, art and
philosophy, and of course, religious knowledge under the tuition of famous
scholars. He also learnt riding, archery, fencing, etc.
The prince was outstanding in all intellectual and physical subjects. Putting
faith in the forecast of the sage Asita, his father expected much from his son
and made him crown prince and heir apparent. But this did not please the
young man, who steadily grew to be thoughtful and sad.
To cheer him up, his worried father and foster mother built three
palaces, one for cold weather, one for hot weather, and one for the
rainy season. They appointed many beautiful court ladies to wait on
him and arranged banquets with dancing and music. Furthermore, they
encouraged him to marry the lovely princess Yasodhara. Later, Siddhattha
got a son called Rahula.
30.2 From a prince to a Samana
Hoping to give his son pleasure, King Suddhodana arranged four trips outside
the city of Kapilavastu, one through each of its four gates. On three
occasions, Siddhattha encountered distressing scenes: an aging man, a sick
man and a corpse. Finally, he met a calm, serene ascetic monk, who inspired
Siddhattha to have same kind of life.
Whether the story of these trips is true or not is not significant, the four
gates represent the state of mind of the prince with respect to the suffering
of aging, illness and death. Superficial prosperity in economy and relative
stability in political environment cannot relieve people from worry, fear,
anxiety and suffering and cannot lead them to ultimate happiness.
With his great compassion, the enthusiastic prince decided to give up his
worldly glory and desire, and leave home. He would devote himself to search
for the ultimate truth.
Though his love to his family may have hindered him, the birth of his son,
Rahula, provided a favourable occasion for his departure since with
the birth of his son, Siddattha had fulfilled his duty to his father
and his wife according to the Indian tradition. Departing from the
palace and the wearing coarse clothes, the prince chose to become
30.3 From a Samana to an Enlightened
Siddhatha went to Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, which was the
centre of culture with many orthodox and unorthodox monks. By that
time, the two major disciplines for the sake of enlightenment were
meditation and ascetic austeritics.
Siddhattha practised meditation under two famous teachers, Alara-Kalama
and Uddaka-Ramaputta. The state attained by Alara-Kalama was that
of a much higher formless world where matter no longer exists. Uddaka-Ramaputta
reached an even higher state at which neither thought nor non-thought
existed. However, Siddhatha did not find it difficult to attain both
states. Attaining these states of mind did not ease his mental anxieties,
because once he stopped meditation, he returned to the mental state
of suffering. He knew that the true liberation from the attachment
of ignorance and suffering could be attained only by reaching a state
of absolute tranquillity. He left them and continued his search for
the ultimate truth.
He then practised asceticism, which was very common among Samanas.
They believed that the human suffering was caused by the attachment
to the physical body and the mental spirit. Suffering can only be
freed by detaching the spirit imposed by the body. Therefore, they
tormented themselves for the purpose of weakening the power of the
physical body over the mental spirit, until the body was destructed.
Jainism was considered to be the best in asceticism. Nine of the outstanding
disciples in Jainism starved to death in fasting, and were said to
have attained ultimate freedom. Siddhattha passed through the country
of Magadha to the town of Uruvela, where he settled in a grove of
trees to find enlightenment. Practising austerities for six years,
he was extremely tough to himself and did different things that no
one could tolerate to do. He was so weak that his body comprised virtually
skin and bones only.
Realizing that asceticism had no effect in attaining enlightenment, Siddhattha
decided to give up austerities. He accepted a bowl of milk from a maid
Sugata. He ate and gradually recovered his strength. His five followers
thought that Siddhattha had given up the pursuit for enlightenment, and they
Knowing that neither meditation nor ascetic austerities could lead
to the Enlightenment, Siddhattha stopped following existing methods
but turned to find his own way. He prepared a seat with soft grass
under a Bodhi tree. Sitting in the lotus posture, he made a vow not
to rise until he attained enlightenment. Having struggled with Mara
Papiyan (the Evil King representing all kinds of desires, hatred and
ignorance) in deep meditations in the state of Samadhi, he was finally
enlightened. He discovered the ultimate truth, and understood fully
and completely the reality of universe, and found the path to liberate
beings from suffering of birth and death, and to attain eternal happiness.