Buddha and Buddhism

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Published: 17th June 2015
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Buddhism is a philosophy, a moral code, and, for some a religious faith which originated 2,500 years ago in India. It offers a diagnosis of the suffering of mankind and provides a formula for individuals to resolve that suffering. It offers a moral code based on compassion and non-violence, and through meditation a way to achieve spiritual insight. Buddhism provides a path to reach a deeper understanding of the nature of reality. Although it directs us inwards, Buddhism offers a practical way to connect with everyday life and with others. Today, an estimated 500 million people follow one of the many varieties of Buddhism.

How did it evolve and where did it begin?

Buddhism began with the Buddha, but who was he?

Actually, he was born Siddhartha Gautama and the term Buddha was a title meaning "the awakened one", or "the one who knows", and was used from the age of thirty-five.

There are two aspects of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama - the historical way and the legend, which has embroidered the story of this amazing man. We will cover the three main parts of his life, the early years as a prince, his search for the truth, and the years spreading his teaching, and some of the details are no doubt part legend.

The historical fact is that around 563BC, in Lumbini, in Nepal near the present border of Northern India, Siddhartha was born. The family name was Gautama and they were the rulers of a small feudal kingdom of the Sakya clan. Increasing urbanisation and trade meant that that there was increasing affluence in that era. .

His mother died seven days after the birth, and he was raised by his aunt, the King’s second wife.

Legend has it that, soon after Siddhartha was born, he was examined by the holy men, who announced that he would become either, a great political leader and would unify India, or a great religious leader. As the story goes, the king, his father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. So he set about to provide a life of luxury without any hardships for the boy.

Siddhartha wore clothes made of silk, and he grew up in palaces and gardens. Musicians and dancers were there to amuse him. Fearful of the prediction, his father ordered that he be shielded from contact with ugliness, sickness, old age and death.

From about the age of seven, he was trained in athletic skills and was instructed in the spiritual disciplines of the day, and, by the standards of the day, well educated although it is not known whether he could read or write. At that time in India, Hinduism was the orthodox religion, and this was dominated by the Brahmins who controlled the religious process. The teaching was based on the Vedas and ritual was important. The Vedas are a collection of over a thousand hymns, some of which date back to 1200 BC. The Vedas present the world mythologically rather than philosophically. Siddhartha would have been schooled in the Hindu faith and introduced to the many Hindu gods.

When he turned sixteen, the council decided that it was time for him to marry. A young woman named Yasodhara was found and the couple married. Yasodhara soon had a son who was named Rahula.

At this point, he had everything it seemed possible to have in life, but despite all this affluence, Siddhartha in his early twenties, became discontent. The basis for this is a famous legend of the four encounters, or passing sights. If Siddhartha went out of the palace, the king had always first ordered that all those with any disability be hidden from view. The story is told that, one day, Siddhartha saw an old man, bent and trembling, and discovered old age. On the second encounter, he saw a sick man suffering from disease, and on the third journey, he witnessed a funeral procession and a corpse. Finally, on the fourth journey, he met a wandering monk who had an inner tranquillity despite living an austere life, suggesting to Siddhartha that he had come to terms with old age, sickness and death.

The king then called for more festivities to entertain his son, however on the night of his 29th birthday, the young prince renounced his regal life, left his sleeping family, and set out with a servant. Once he was far enough away, he cut off his long black hair, exchanged his fine clothes for simple cloth and sent back his servant and horse.

This decision was not an easy one for Gautama, and in making this choice, he took it upon himself to find out about the origin of suffering and how to overcome it. He did this for his own understanding and for all people.
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