Buddha was a spiritual teacher who was born in Lumbini, a place
situated between modern Nepal and the state of Bihar in India. He
spent most of his time in Northern India, approximately 563 BCE
to 483 BCE, preaching his knowledge. Born as Siddhartha Gautama
(Sanskrit: "descendant of Gautama whose aims are achieved /
who achieves aims effectively") he became "the Buddha"
after embarking on a quest for spiritual meaning. He is universally
recognised by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha (literally Enlightened
One or Awakened One) of our age. He is also commonly known as Shakyamuni
or Sakyamuni ("sage of the Shakya clan") and as the Tathagata
is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses,
and monastic rules were summarized after his death and memorized
by the sangha. Passed down by oral tradition, the Tripitaka was
committed to writing about four hundred years later. Hindus regard
Gautama as an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Few
of the details of the Buddha's life can be independently verified,
and it is difficult to determine what is history and what is myth.
Therefore this article will describe the life of Siddhartha Gautama
as told in the earliest available Buddhist texts.
Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini that was a part of ancient
Indian Sakya Kingdom and is now situated in modern Nepal, under
the full moon of the sixth lunar month, in the spring. His father
was Suddhodana, a King among the Kshatriya caste. His mother was
Maya Devi, one of Suddhodana's wives. The day of the Buddha's
birth is widely celebrated in Buddhist countries as Vesak. Gautama
was born a prince, destined to a life of luxury.
to legend, before his birth Gautama had visited his mother during
a vision, taking the form of a white elephant. During the birth
celebrations, a seer announced that this baby would either become
a great king or a great holy man. His father, King Suddhodana,
wishing for Gautama to be a great king, shielded his son from
religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering.
When the young Prince Siddhartha Gautama was still a baby, an
ascetic named Kaladevala went into the heaven of the 33 Gods of
the Vedas, and predicted that the young prince would become the
Buddha. As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged
his marriage to Yashodhara, a cousin of the same age. In time,
she gave birth to a son, Rahula. Gautama lived up to the age of
29 as a prince in Kapilavastu, a place situated now in Nepal.
Although his father ensured that Gautama was provided with everything
he could want or need, Gautama was constantly troubled and internally
In venturing outside of his palace, Gautama saw an old crippled
man (old age), a diseased man (illness), a decaying corpse (death),
and an ascetic. These four scenes are referred to as the four
sights. Gautama was inspired by these sights - he sought to overcome
old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.
Gautama soon left his home, his possessions, and his family at
age 29, to take up the life of a wandering monk.
his inheritance, he dedicated his life to learning how to overcome
suffering. He pursued the paths of Yoga and meditated with two
Brahmin hermits, and although he achieved high levels of meditative
consciousness, he was not satisfied with this path.
Gautama then chose the robes of a mendicant monk and headed to
north-east India. He began training in the ascetic life and practicing
vigorous techniques of physical and mental austerity. Gautama
proved adept at these practices, and was able to surpass his teachers.
he found no answer to his questions. Leaving behind his teachers,
he and a small group of companions set out to take their austerities
even further. Gautama attempted to find enlightenment through
complete deprivation of worldly goods, including food, and became
a complete ascetic. After nearly starving himself to death (some
sources claim that he nearly drowned), Gautama began to reconsider
his path. Then he remembered a moment in childhood in which he
had been watching his father start the season's plowing, and he
had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state which
was blissful and refreshing.
After discarding asceticism and concentrating on meditation, Gautama
discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of
moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
He accepted a little buttermilk from a passing goatherder, Sumedha.
Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree,
he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. At the age
of 35, he attained Enlightenment; according to some traditions,
this occurred approximately in May, and according to others in
December. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Perfectly
Self-Awakened One", the Sammasambuddha.
stated that he had realized complete Awakening and insight into
the nature and cause of human suffering, along with steps necessary
to eliminate it. These truths were then categorized into the Four
Noble Truths; the state of supreme liberation—possible for
any being—was called Nirvana.
to one of the stories in the Ayacana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1),
a scripture found in the Pcli and other canons, immediately after
his Enlightenment, the Buddha was wondering whether or not he
should teach the Dharma. He was concerned that, as human beings
were overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, they would not
be able to see the true dhamma which was subtle, deep and hard
to understand. However, a spirit, Brahma Sahampati, interceded
and asked that he teach the dharma to the world, as "there
will be those who will understand the Dharma". With his great
compassion, the Buddha agreed to become a teacher.
At the Deer Park near Benares in northern India he set in motion
the Wheel of Dhamma by delivering his first sermon to the group
of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment.
They, together with the Buddha, formed the first Sangha, the company
of Buddhist monks.
Buddha emphasized that he was not a god, he was simply enlightened.
He stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the
divine; distant gods are subjected to karma themselves in decaying
heavens; and the Buddha is solely a guide and teacher for the
sentient beings who must tread the path of Nibbana themselves
to attain spiritual awakening and see truth and reality as it
is. The Buddhist system of insight, thought, and meditation practice
was not revealed divinely, but by the understanding of the true
nature of the mind, which could be discovered by anybody.
the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha traveled in the
Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India, teaching his doctrine and
discipline to an extremely diverse range of people— from
nobles to street outcaste sweepers, including many adherents of
rival philosophies and religions. The Buddha founded the community
of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation
after his Parinibbana or complete Nibbana, and made thousands
of converts. His religion was open to all races and classes and
had no caste structure. On the other hand, Buddhist texts record
that he was reluctant to ordain women as nuns: he eventually accepted
them on the grounds that their capacity for enlightenment was
equal to that of men (and the Lotus Sutra, in Chapter 12, contains
a description of the dragon king's daughter attaining enlightenment
in her present body), but he gave them certain additional rules
(Vinaya) to follow.
The Great Passing
The death of the Buddha, or parinirvana, Gandhara 2-3rd century.
At the age of eighty, the Buddha ate his last meal, which, according
to different translations, was either a mushroom delicacy or soft
pork, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named
Cunda. Falling violently ill, possibly from mesenteric infarction,
the Buddha realized that his end was approaching fast. He told
his attendant Ananda to prepare a bed between two Sal trees at
Kushinagar, and then finally passed away. The Buddha's final words
were, "All composite things pass away. Strive for your own
salvation with diligence."
Buddha's body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments
or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the
The Buddha as presented in the Buddhist scriptures is notable
for such characteristics as:
comprehensive education and training in those fields appropriate
to a warrior aristocrat, such as martial arts, agricultural management,
and literature, and also a deep understanding of the religious
and philosophical ideas of his culture.
Athletic and fit throughout his life, competent in martial arts
such as chariot combat, wrestling, and archery, and later easily
hiking miles each day and camping in the wilderness. (Images of
a fat "Jolly Buddha" or Laughing Buddha are actually
depictions of either Maitreya, The future Buddha, or a 10th century
Chinese monk, sometimes called Hotei, Hoti, or Milefo.)
A superb teacher, with a fine grasp of the appropriate metaphors,
and tailoring his teachings to the audience at hand.
Fearless and unworried at all times, whether dealing with religious
debators, royalty, or murderous outlaws. He was never past exasperation
when monks of his order misrepresented his teachings.
Temperate in all bodily appetites. He lived a completely celibate
life from age 29 until his death. He was indifferent to hunger
and environmental conditions.
is perhaps one of the few sages for whom we have mention of his
rather impressive physical characteristics. He was at least six
feet tall and had a strong enough body to be noticed by one of
the Kings and was asked to join his army as a general. Although
the Buddha was not represented in human form until around the
1st century CE, his physical characteristics are described in
one of the central texts of the traditional Pali canon, the Digha
Nikaya. They help define the global aspect of the historical Buddha,
his physical appearance is described by Buddha's wife to his son
Rahula upon Buddha's return in the scripture of the "Lion
Like the full moon is His face; He is dear to Gods and men; He
is like an elephant amongst men; His gait is graceful as that
of an elephant of noble breed. That, indeed, is your father, lion
He is of Aryan (aristocratic nobility) lineage, sprung from the
warrior caste; His feet have been honoured by Gods and men; His
mind is well established in morality and concentration. That,
indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Long and prominent is His well-formed nose, His eye-lashes are
like those of a heifer; His eyes are extremely blue ; like a rainbow
are His deep blue eyebrows. (The word used is "adhi nila",
meaning "very blue", nila is used for the word blue
sapphire.) That, indeed, is your father, lion of men.
Round and smooth is His well-formed neck; His jaw is like that
of a lion; His body is like that of king of beast; His beautiful
skin is of bright golden colour. That, indeed is your father,
lion of men.
may vary, and the reliability of the Sutras may be questioned.
The description above is indicative of a typically Indo-Aryan
body type. This can also be related to the tradition describing
the historic Buddha as a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior
The teachings of the Buddha are covered in the articles on Buddhism
and Buddhist philosophy. Many Buddhist sects disagree as to what
the Buddha actually taught. There seems to be major agreement
on these points:
Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an inherent part of existence;
that suffering is caused by attachment(craving); that craving
can be ceased; and that following the Eightfold Path will lead
to the cessation of craving (and suffering).
The Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought,
right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
mindfulness, and right concentration.
The law of dependent causation: that events are not predestined,
nor are they random, but that events are caused by the actions
that preceded them.
Rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture: teachings
should not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experiences.
Anicca (pronounce as "anatesa"): That all things are
Anatta: That the perception of a constant "self" is
as viewed by other religions
Bahá'ís believe that Buddha was a "Manifestation
of God," or one in a line of prophets who have revealed the
Word of God progressively for a gradually maturing humanity. In
this way, Buddha shares an exalted station with Abraham, Moses,
Zoroaster, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and the founder
of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh.
However, the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith
caution believers that, as is the case with many Manifestations,
it is difficult to say which Buddhist teachings that have come
down through history are authentic and which have been corrupted.
Abdul Bahá, one of the Central Figures, said, "The
founder of Buddhism was a wonderful soul. He established the Oneness
of God, but later the original principles of His doctrines gradually
disappeared, and ignorant customs and ceremonials arose and increased
until they finally ended in the worship of statues and images."
(Some Answered Questions, p. 165)
Some Hindu denominations regard Buddha as the ninth avatar of
Lord Vishnu. Buddhists in general do not consider the Buddha to
be God or an avatar of any god. The general decline of Buddhism
in India has been attributed to the development of Vedanta philosophy
which began challenging Buddhism's philosophically strong image.
Some Muslims believe that Siddharta Gautama is the same person
who is referred to in the Koran as Dhul-Kifl, and that he was
therefore a prophet of Islam. The meaning of Dhul-Kifl is unclear,
but, according to this view, it means "the man from Kifl",
where Kifl is the Arabic pronunciation of Kapilavastu, where the
Buddha spent thirty years of his life. More common views, however,
hold that Dhul-Kifl was a different person and not a prophet at
all, or that he was the prophet called Ezekiel in the Bible.
The legend of "Barlaam and Josaphat", written down by
St. John of Damascus some time around the 7th century, bears a
close resemblance to the story of the Buddha. Barlaam and Josaphat
found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and
into the Greek calendar (26 August).