Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, was born as a royal prince in a place called Lumbini, which was originally in northern India, but is now part of Nepal. His exact lifetime is uncertain, yet most historians date his lifetime from 563 BC to 483 BC. The meaning of the word Buddha is “The Enlightened One”, or “The Awakened One”, and refers to one who has become enlightened. Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of all eras.
Gautama enjoyed a comfortable upbringing, and when he reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to his cousin. According to tradition, she gave birth to a son. Siddhartha Gautama was provided with everything he could want or need. However, he was not satisfied with his life, and felt that material wealth was not his life’s goal. One day, he left the palace to see the world outside, and was confronted with the sufferings of life, which he never knew before. Troubled by the emptiness of a life of luxury when others suffered, at the age of twenty-nine, he left the palace to lead an ascetic life, with the determination to find the answer to the problem of human suffering.
For six years, Siddhartha Gautama followed ascetic practices, studying and following different methods of meditation, with various religious teachers. However, he was not satisfied, and felt that he had not found any real answer to the problem of human suffering. Next, he took his austerities even further, and tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food. After nearly starving, he decided that extreme asceticism didn’t work for him, and adopted the path of moderation, which the Buddhists call “the Middle Way”.
According to tradition, it is said that at the age of 35, Siddhartha Gautama sat under a tree, known as the Bodhi tree, and vowed not to get up until finding the truth. He sat and meditated, and after 49 days he attained Enlightenment. From that time, Siddhartha Gautama became known as the Buddha, “The Enlightened One”. Following this experience, Buddha dedicated the rest of his life to teaching others how to also become enlightened. Since he lived to be eighty years old, his teachings and quotes over the 45 years he taught are voluminous. These were carried down through oral tradition until approximately 150 years after his death when the first writings on his life and teachings were produced.
Buddha taught that the way to happiness or bliss was to control the mind through meditation and to live a loving and “mindful” life. The goal is to reach “Nirvana” which contrary to some people’s idea is not a state of oblivion but actually a unification of personal consciousness with universal consciousness.
Nirvana in fact is similar or identical to what other religions call “the Godhead.” Though it is not viewed as a personal entity it has all of the attributes associated with God: permanent, stable, imperishable, immovable, ageless, deathless, and unborn. It is also power, bliss and happiness, the secure refuge, the shelter, and the place of unassailable safety. It is the real truth and the supreme reality, the Good, the supreme goal and the one and only consummation of our life, the eternal, hidden and incomprehensible Peace.
The Buddha realized that the cause of human suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it come from within. He travelled the land and lived simply, teaching people to seek their own truth and to follow no individual or institution including himself unless they verify the teachings with their own common sense and experience. He continually emphasized that you must be your own authority but pointed to love and understanding as the way to Nirvana.
During his lifetime, Buddha took strong issue with the dominant religion and religious teachers of his day. He believed that they were mainly interested in their own self aggrandizement and profit and that they mislead the common man with external rituals, and trappings that were a distraction from true spiritual progress. He believed people must listen to their own inner guidance when choosing a path of worship and belief, not the rigid and oppressive beliefs foisted on men by religious authorities. In fact he did not believe in formal religions and creeds and prevented his followers from organizing in this way as well as in their attempts to worship him as something apart from them.
Some of Buddha’s sayings include “He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.” “To forgive others is to be good to yourself.” “Look within, thou art the Buddha.” “What we think, we become.” “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think… With our thoughts, we make our world.” “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
By the example of a life dedicated to others, and his teachings which emphasized love, understanding and the seeking of Enlightenment, Buddha has the clear stamp of one aligned with his own Divinity. He did not seek that title for himself, neither wishing to be worshipped by his followers or believed beyond the test of their own reason and common sense, but rather he sought to point the way for ALL people to reach the same heights of inner peace and Enlightenment as he.
For more on Buddha’s Universal Message see the Understanding Reality Course.
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