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The Buddha

Who Was The Buddha?

By James Donahue

Buddha means Enlightened One, or Awakened One, which is a perfect description of just who this man was.

His real name was Gautama Siddhatta, the son of King Suddhadana of Sakhyas, and Maya. He was born in 560 B.C. near the city of Kapilavastu, Nepal. His mother, Maya, died of apparent complications only seven days after the delivery, so a sister, Mahapajapati, raised the child.

Shortly after the birth, King Suddhadana called upon a prophet of the time and asked about the boy’s future. This wise man reportedly 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."

The king named Gautama the crown prince and heir apparent of the throne.

During his tutoring, Gautama studied science and trechnology, art and philosophy, religious knowledge under the tuition of famous scholars of the day, and also riding, archery and fencing. A gifted youth, he excelled at everything he tried.

When only 16, Gautama Siddhartha married Yasodhara, and they had a son named Rahula. It seemed that the life of the prince was very good and, in spite of the prophet’s predictions, he was destined to be a ruler of the land.

But something happened. When he was 29, Gautama left the walled palace and walked about in the town, looking at the great poverty that existed outside his protected world. He was struck by a great sadness when he looked upon the sick, poor and dying people. The sight of the real world and its miseries caused him to renounce this world.

Thus Gautama decided to leave forever his luxurious life style and pursue a life of spiritual study. He shaved his head, put on yellow robes and went off toward Raigriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, and lived in a cave. There he studied with the hermits, learned Yogi, practiced severe austerities, and breath control for six years. He also determined to attain supreme peace through self-mortification. Thus he fasted until he was reduced to a skeleton and became very weak.

Gautama decided this was not the correct path after he heard a song by some dancing girls who passed his way. He listened to their song and discovered it contained a message filled with profound spiritual meaning. This was when he decided that it he did not need to torture his body, but instead adopt a happy medium, or middle path.

It was at this time in his life that Gautama reached the point of spiritual enlightenment. As the story is told, he was sitting under a large tree, referred to as the Bo-tree, or tree of wisdom. He was feeling in a dejected mood when a village girl approached him and offered food. "It seems you are very hungry," she explained.

Gautama looked up at her and asked, "What is your name, my dear sister?" She replied that her name was Sujata. And he said: "Sujata, I am very hungry. Can you really appease my hunger?"

The girl, in her innocence, did not understand that Gautama was spiritually hungry. He was thursting to attain supreme peace and self-realization. She placed some food before Gautama and he asked again: "Can this food appease my hunger?"

Gautama ate the food, then sat in a meditative state all that day, from morning to sunset, plunging himself into deep meditation. He determined that he would not leave that place until he reached full illumination.

That night, still seated under the tree, Gautama entered what is called "deep Samadhi" or a superconscious state of mind. He was tempted by an entity that came to him but did not yield. It was then that he attained Nirvana and his face shone with divine splendor. When he rose from his seat he danced in divine ecstasy for seven days and nights around the tree.

After that marvelous event, Gautama became the Buddha. He traveled all over India preaching his doctrine. He said that while under the tree "I thus behold my mind released from the defilement of earthly existence, released from the defilement of sensual pleasures, released from the defilement of heresy, released from the defilement of ignorance."

As he taught, the Buddha gained a following. Eventually he had 60 disciples that were sent off into the land, in different directions, to expand the ministry. Like Jesus, who lived nearly six centuries afterward, the Buddha and his disciples begged food from the people they met.

The ministry reached thousands, both rich and poor. Even royalty and monks from other religious orders of the day accepted his teachings.

At one point the Buddha returned to his native Kapilavastu where he visited his family. There he found his wife, Yasodhara living in severe austerity by choice. When he left, he learned that she had chosen to give up luxury and was eating simple food and sleeping on a mat. This moved the Buddha. When he came to her, she prostrated at his feet the burst into tears. Buddha thus established an order of female ascetics, with Yasodhara becoming the first of the Buddhistic nuns.

He also taught his son, Rahula, what he learned under the Bo-tree, and then initiated him into the order of monks.

According to legend, there also were miracles performed by the Buddha. He once split five hundred logs of firewood by verbal command, turned himself into fire to ward off an attack by a magical serpent, created five hundred vessels with fire in them to warm the Jatilas on a winter night. And when there was a flood, he caused the water to recede and walked on the water.

Buddha continued his ministry for 45 years, traveling from place to place. He died in 380 B.C., at the age of 80, from eating poisoned food accidentally acquired along his way.

The Buddha, then, was a man who achieved spiritual and mental evolution. Through sheer determination he found a way to open the right half of his brain and then devoted his life to teaching others to do the same.

His way was correct in its day. Unfortunately, followers turned him into a deity and from this, a great world religion has risen. It was never his intention.