Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha,or simply the Buddha, after the title of Buddha, was an ascetic (śramaṇa) and sage,on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of Ancient India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the śramaṇa movement common in his region. He later taught throughout other regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kosala.
Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism. He is recognized by Buddhists as an enlightened or divine teacher who attained full Buddhahood, and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering. Accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.
Conception and Birth
The Buddhist tradition regards Lumbini, in present-day Nepal to be the birthplace of the Buddha.He grew up in Kapilavastu.The exact site of ancient Kapilavastu is unknown.It may have been either Piprahwa, Uttar Pradesh, present-day India,or Tilaurakot, present-day Nepal.Both places belonged to the Sakya territory, and are located only 15 miles apart.
Gautama was born as a Kshatriya,the son of Śuddhodana, “an elected chief of the Shakya clan”,whose capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing Kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha’s lifetime. Gautama was the family name. His mother, Maya (Māyādevī), Suddhodana’s wife, was a Koliyan princess. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side,and ten months laterSiddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a sal tree.
The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated in Theravada countries as Vesak.Buddha’s Birthday is called Buddha Purnima in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India as he is believed to have been born on a full moon day. Various sources hold that the Buddha’s mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhattha), meaning “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great sadhu.By traditional account, this occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita’s hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. Suddhodana held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight Brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. Kondañña, the youngest, and later to be the first arhat other than the Buddha, was reputed to be the only one who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.
While later tradition and legend characterized Śuddhodana as a hereditary monarch, the descendant of the Suryavansha (Solar dynasty) of Ikṣvāku (Pāli: Okkāka), many scholars think that Śuddhodana was the elected chief of a tribal confederacy.
Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest, which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the human condition. The state of the Shakya clan was not a monarchy, and seems to have been structured either as an oligarchy, or as a form of republic.The more egalitarian gana-sangha form of government, as a political alternative to the strongly hierarchical kingdoms, may have influenced the development of the śramanic Jain and Buddhist sanghas, where monarchies tended toward Vedic Brahmanism.
Early Life and Marriage
Siddhartha was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati.By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince, and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built for him. Although more recent scholarship doubts this status, his father, said to be King Śuddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, is said to have shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering.
When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā (Pāli: Yasodharā). According to the traditional account,she gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal.
Renunciation and ascetic life
The Victory of Buddha
The “Great Departure” of Siddhartha Gautama, surrounded by a halo, he is accompanied by numerous guards, maithuna loving couples, and devata who have come to pay homage; Gandhara, Kushan period
Prince Siddhartha shaves his hair and becomes an ascetic. Borobudur, 8th century
At the age of 29 Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.
Accompanied by Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. It’s said that, “the horse’s hooves were muffled by the gods”to prevent guards from knowing of his departure.
Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara’s men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimbisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.
He left Rajagaha and practised under two hermit teachers of yogic meditation. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama (Skr. Ārāḍa Kālāma), he was asked by Kalama to succeed him. However, Gautama felt unsatisfied by the practice, and moved on to become a student of yoga with Udaka Ramaputta (Skr. Udraka Rāmaputra).With him he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, and was again asked to succeed his teacher. But, once more, he was not satisfied, and again moved on.
Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practising self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha was rescued by a village girl named Sujata and she gave him some payasam (a pudding made from milk and jaggery) after which Siddhartha got back some energy. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s ploughing. He attained a concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing, the jhāna.
According to the early Buddhist texts,after realizing that meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, or the Noble Eightfold Path, as described in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is regarded as the first discourse of the Buddha.In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata.Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.
Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth.Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment,and became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”).
According to some sutras of the Pali canon, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the Four Noble Truths, thereby attaining liberation from samsara, the endless cycle of rebirth, suffering and dying again.According to scholars, this story of the awakening and the stress on “liberating insight” is a later development in the Buddhist tradition, where the Buddha may have regarded the practice of dhyana as leading to Nirvana and moksha.
Nirvana is the extinguishing of the “fires” of desire, hatred, and ignorance, that keep the cycle of suffering and rebirth going.Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.
According to a story in the Āyācana Sutta — a scripture found in the Pāli and other canons — immediately after his awakening, the Buddha debated whether or not he should teach the Dharma to others. He was concerned that humans were so overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred that they could never recognise the path, which is subtle, deep and hard to grasp. However, in the story, Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some will understand it. The Buddha relented, and agreed to teach.
Formation of the sangha
After his awakening, the Buddha met Taphussa and Bhallika — two merchant brothers from the city of Balkh in what is currently Afghanistan — who became his first lay disciples. It is said that each was given hairs from his head, which are now claimed to be enshrined as relics in the Shwe Dagon Temple in Rangoon, Burma. The Buddha intended to visit Asita, and his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, to explain his findings, but they had already died.
He then travelled to the Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first saṅgha: the company of Buddhist monks.
All five become arahants, and within the first two months, with the conversion of Yasa and fifty four of his friends, the number of such arahants is said to have grown to 60. The conversion of three brothers named Kassapa followed, with their reputed 200, 300 and 500 disciples, respectively. This swelled the sangha to more than 1,000.
Travels and teaching
For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain, in what is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to servants, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka. Although the Buddha’s language remains unknown, it’s likely that he taught in one or more of a variety of closely related Middle Indo-Aryan dialects, of which Pali may be a standardization.
The sangha traveled through the subcontinent, expounding the dharma. This continued throughout the year, except during the four months of the Vāsanā rainy season when ascetics of all religions rarely traveled. One reason was that it was more difficult to do so without causing harm to animal life. At this time of year, the sangha would retreat to monasteries, public parks or forests, where people would come to them.
The first vassana was spent at Varanasi when the sangha was formed. After this, the Buddha kept a promise to travel to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, to visit King Bimbisara. During this visit, Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were converted by Assaji, one of the first five disciples, after which they were to become the Buddha’s two foremost followers. The Buddha spent the next three seasons at Veluvana Bamboo Grove monastery in Rajagaha, capital of Magadha.
Upon hearing of his son’s awakening, Suddhodana sent, over a period, ten delegations to ask him to return to Kapilavastu. On the first nine occasions, the delegates failed to deliver the message, and instead joined the sangha to become arahants. The tenth delegation, led by Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Gautama’s (who also became an arahant), however, delivered the message.
Now two years after his awakening, the Buddha agreed to return, and made a two-month journey by foot to Kapilavastu, teaching the dharma as he went. At his return, the royal palace prepared a midday meal, but the sangha was making an alms round in Kapilavastu. Hearing this, Suddhodana approached his son, the Buddha, saying:
“Ours is the warrior lineage of Mahamassata, and not a single warrior has gone seeking alms.”
The Buddha is said to have replied:
“That is not the custom of your royal lineage. But it is the custom of my Buddha lineage. Several thousands of Buddhas have gone by seeking alms.”
Buddhist texts say that Suddhodana invited the sangha into the palace for the meal, followed by a dharma talk. After this he is said to have become a sotapanna. During the visit, many members of the royal family joined the sangha. The Buddha’s cousins Ananda and Anuruddha became two of his five chief disciples. At the age of seven, his son Rahula also joined, and became one of his ten chief disciples. His half-brother Nanda also joined and became an arahant.
Of the Buddha’s disciples, Sariputta, Maudgalyayana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha are believed to have been the five closest to him. His ten foremost disciples were reputedly completed by the quintet of Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna.
In the fifth vassana, the Buddha was staying at Mahavana near Vesali when he heard news of the impending death of his father. He is said to have gone to Suddhodana and taught the dharma, after which his father became an arahant.
The last days of buddha teachings
The king’s death and cremation was to inspire the creation of an order of nuns. Buddhist texts record that the Buddha was reluctant to ordain women. His foster mother Maha Pajapati, for example, approached him, asking to join the sangha, but he refused. Maha Pajapati, however, was so intent on the path of awakening that she led a group of royal Sakyan and Koliyan ladies, which followed the sangha on a long journey to Rajagaha. In time, after Ananda championed their cause, the Buddha is said to have reconsidered and, five years after the formation of the sangha, agreed to the ordination of women as nuns. He reasoned that males and females had an equal capacity for awakening. But he gave women additional rules (Vinaya) to follow.
According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandon his earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ānanda to convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with his passing and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit as it provided the last meal for a Buddha. Mettanando and von Hinüber argue that the Buddha died of mesenteric infarction, a symptom of old age, rather than food poisoning.
The precise contents of the Buddha’s final meal are not clear, due to variant scriptural traditions and ambiguity over the translation of certain significant terms; the Theravada tradition generally believes that the Buddha was offered some kind of pork, while the Mahayana tradition believes that the Buddha consumed some sort of truffle or other mushroom. These may reflect the different traditional views on Buddhist vegetarianism and the precepts for monks and nuns.
Waley suggests that Theravadin’s would take suukaramaddava (the contents of the Buddha’s last meal), which can translate literally as pig-soft, to mean “soft flesh of a pig” or “pig’s soft-food”, that is, after Neumann, a soft food favoured by pigs, assumed to be a truffle. He argues (also after Neumann) that as “(p)lant names tend to be local and dialectical”, as there are several plants known to have suukara- (pig) as part of their names,and as Pali Buddhism developed in an area remote from the Buddha’s death, suukaramaddava could easily have been a type of plant whose local name was unknown to those in Pali regions. Specifically, local writers writing soon after the Buddha’s death knew more about their flora than Theravadin commentator Buddhaghosa who lived hundreds of years and hundreds of kilometres remote in time and space from the events described. Unaware that it may have been a local plant name and with no Theravadin prohibition against eating animal flesh, Theravadins would not have questioned the Buddha eating meat and interpreted the term accordingly.
According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha died at Kuśināra (present-day Kushinagar, India), which became a pilgrimage center.Ananda protested the Buddha’s decision to enter Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra of the Malla kingdom. The Buddha, however, is said to have reminded Ananda how Kushinara was a land once ruled by a righteous wheel-turning king and the appropriate place for him to die.
The Buddha then asked all the attendant Bhikkhus to clarify any doubts or questions they had and cleared them all in a way which others could not do. They had none. According to Buddhist scriptures, he then finally entered Parinirvana. The Buddha’s final words are reported to have been: “All composite things (Saṅkhāra) are perishable. Strive for your own liberation with diligence” (Pali: ‘vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā’). His body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the present. For example, The Temple of the Tooth or “Dalada Maligawa” in Sri Lanka is the place where what some believe to be the relic of the right tooth of Buddha is kept at present.
According to the Pāli historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, the Dīpavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa, the coronation of Emperor Aśoka (Pāli: Asoka) is 218 years after the death of the Buddha. According to two textual records in Chinese (十八部論 and 部執異論), the coronation of Emperor Aśoka is 116 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore, the time of Buddha’s passing is either 486 BCE according to Theravāda record or 383 BCE according to Mahayana record. However, the actual date traditionally accepted as the date of the Buddha’s death in Theravāda countries is 544 or 545 BCE, because the reign of Emperor Aśoka was traditionally reckoned to be about 60 years earlier than current estimates. In Burmese Buddhist tradition, the date of the Buddha’s death is 13 May 544 BCE.whereas in Thai tradition it is 11 March 545 BCE.
At his death, the Buddha is famously believed to have told his disciples to follow no leader. Mahakasyapa was chosen by the sangha to be the chairman of the First Buddhist Council, with the two chief disciples Maudgalyayana and Sariputta having died before the Buddha.
While in the Buddha’s days he was addressed by the very respected titles Buddha, Shākyamuni, Shākyasimha, Bhante and Bho, he was known after his parinirvana as Arihant, Bhagavā/Bhagavat/Bhagwān, Mahāvira,Jina/Jinendra, Sāstr, Sugata, and most popularly in scriptures as Tathāgata.
Recollection of nine virtues attributed to the Buddha is a common Buddhist meditation and devotional practice called Buddhānusmṛti. The nine virtues are also among the 40 Buddhist meditation subjects. The nine virtues of the Buddha appear throughout the Tipitaka, and include:
- Buddho – Awakened
- Sammasambuddho – Perfectly self-awakened
- Vijja-carana-sampano – Endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct.
- Sugato – Well-gone or Well-spoken.
- Lokavidu – Wise in the knowledge of the many worlds.
- Anuttaro Purisa-damma-sarathi – Unexcelled trainer of untrained people.
- Satthadeva-Manussanam – Teacher of gods and humans.
- Bhagavathi – The Blessed one
- Araham – Worthy of homage. An Arahant is “one with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the true goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge.”