Buddhism, a religion that is practiced by most Indian communities, is named after Gautama Buddha. He was a religious teacher, and his work began in the north of India. The dates for his birth and death have been subject to discussion as they are not certain. Different researchers have indicated different dates, but they all range at around the mid BCE. Information that concerns and illustrates the life of Buddha is mainly contained in his writings and texts. The Buddha had monks who were his followers, and during his life he spent time with the monks conversing and reviewing his knowledge on spirituality. His monks were very loyal, and after the Buddha's death they thrived to conserve and maintain his teachings and made accounts of his life and his death and his general lifestyle. Each monk was given a portion of the research work to establish it in his own wordings, and this was a successful ordeal.
To do this the monks used legends and tales that could be easily remembered as compared to complex theories and myths (Karen 2001).
After the monks the teachings of Buddha have been preached and told over geographical areas, but at that time they were often told verbally. It is after a long period of time after Buddha's death that his teachings were preserved in written forms. To come up with the written forms the monks had to edit and include some of their own understanding of teachings, and they also expressed their praises about Buddha. These edited pieces of material were then incorporated into one. Due to the Indian tendency of not preferring content to chronologies, written documents about the Buddha were mainly focused on values and beliefs and not on dates of the occurrences. This could be the reason as to why the dates of birth and death of the Buddha are not well known. In the content of the documents was the history of the Indian culture and includes the Buddha's earliest experience that was of significance to the Indians (Heinz 1996).
Birth of Gautama BuddhaGautama Buddha was born in a small town that is called Nepal in this present day and time. At the point in time that Buddha was born, the overriding customs were those of the Vedic and the divisions of the states of prehistoric India were known as janapadas. Chiefs who owned chiefdoms, which had very limited social divisions into strata, ruled the states. According to research on the archeological structures, it was believed that then the ancient India was ruled as a form of a republic. It was not a kingdom and neither was it structured fully as an oligarchy (Carrithers 1986).
Gautama Buddha was born to a King called Suddhodana and his mother queen Maya Maha. His father ruled the kingdom of Kosala at the lifetime of the Buddha and the name Gautama was the kinship name. His mother was a princess before Buddha was conceived. During this ancient time, dreams were very significant and the interpretation very essential. At the time that Buddha was conceived, the mother had a dream about a pallid elephant, which had six purely white tusks, and a few months later Buddha was born. During the pregnancy the mother moved to the father's kingdom, which was in accordance to the customs. Buddha was born under a tree in a small village known as Lumbini. Unfortunately a few days after Buddha's birth his mother died. His birthday is celebrated even today by many Indian cultures. His name means, the one who attains the aspired. After his birth a ceremony was held with the fortunetellers present who predicted that Buddha would either become a great king or a very influential spiritualist. One out of the fortunetellers predicted that he would become a Buddha, which came to be the true prediction (Thapar 2002).
Early Life & Marriage of BuddhaDuring his life Buddha felt that riches and affluence is not the ultimate indicator and influence of a good life. After the prediction that he could become a great man, his father strived to keep him safe and secure at all times and gave him everything that he could ever require. Buddha lived unaware of suffering and any kind of spiritual teachings. He lived a lavish life, with cyclic palaces depending on his trips and journeys. His mother's sister raised him. At the age of sixteen, Buddha's father set and approved a wedding between Buddha and his cousin, who gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. He lived as the prince of his father's kingdom for twenty-nine years (Shriram 1987).
The Great DepartureAs said earlier Buddha had not been exposed to a life of problems and any kind of suffering; therefore at some point in time he had traveled to see to it that some issues were dealt with. In the course of this travel, he met the sick, the suffering aged people, and he was moved. He had no idea that people would eventually grow old, and this really devastated him. As he progressed with his trip, the prince kept seeing diseased people and the dead, and he felt enthused. Moving on the king came across an ascetic. An ascetic is a person who has set his life apart to deny himself worldly things and follow religion. An ascetic lives the kind of lifestyle that involves self-restraint from all kinds of worldly delight, particularly when it comes to alcohol and sexual doings (Hamilton 1996).
The Buddha was touched by the ascetic lifestyle and felt deeply humbled by the suffering of the poor and the aged, and he decided to become an ascetic. He ran away from his royal home on his horse, and he hoofed it so that it could not make any noise. He left his luxurious life and he started living like a peasant. This movement and abscond by the prince is what is famously known as 'The Great Departure'. The great Buddha started his abstinent life by begging from the streets. Those who knew him offered him their palaces, but he declined their offers; he was truly determined to be ascetic. The Buddha then became a student listening to the teachings of great teachers known then. He skillfully mastered the skills taught by the teachers, and at some point he was requested to succeed the teacher, yet he declined the offer since he did not like the teachings and did not see those skills going down through the generations. After his dissatisfaction with these first teachings, he moved on to another teacher, but still this did not influence him in any way, and he left the teachers. After moving away from these two teachers, the Buddha formed a group of five who had as much vigor as him, to spread spirituality and together they gave each other strength to further their teachings (Thapar 2002). They all strived to deny themselves worldly desires and went to the extent of fasting food. Due to this, at some point he was so weak he fainted in a watercourse while taking a bath and he nearly went under. He then reconsidered his ways but he still kept himself abstained from all the worldly things. However, he kept eating food at least in reasonable contents. The Buddha could meditate and do the breath in and out practices in his search for the truth (Heinz 1996).
EnlightenmentAfter the Buddha was done with the contemplations and the deliberations as a means to finding the truth, it is said that it is at this stage in his life that he discovered the way individuals seeking spirituality should behave. In his path, it involved aspects of self-indulgence but not to the extremes that he had individually gone through. At this point of his life, a little girl from the community where he had made his new home gave him a snack as a gift of appreciation because she thought he had been the one who had granted her wish. While he took the snack he sat at the bottom of a tree and he vowed to himself that he would not rise up until he got answers to his spirituality mysteries (Shriram 1987).
This tree is now known as the Bodhi tree and is taken as a sacred tree by the Indians even today. His group members who saw him just sitting under the tree doing nothing were devastated, and they left him and indulged themselves with other activities that were not documented in the Buddha documentaries. At this time the Buddha was thirty-five years old. He sat under that tree for forty-nine days, and at that point in time is when he received the enlightenment. This point of enlightenment got him his name, The Buddha, which means the "stimulated one" or the "enlightened one" or the "awakened one". The Buddha got enlightenment on aspects of human suffering, and he got answers as to why humans suffer so much, and he realized that it is because the lack of knowledge. He even came up with procedures that he thought were essential in elimination of ignorance and later human suffering (Karen 2001).
The Buddha came up with what he called the Four Noble Truths and the Nine Characteristics, which are practiced and taken into action by all the Buddhists today. In the four truths of suffering, the Buddha explained the nature of suffering, the origin of suffering, suffering cessation, and how to end the suffering. The nine characteristics of a Buddha are: should be worthy, should be self-enlightened, should have perfect knowledge and contact, should be incomparable, should know the world; should have qualities of a leader; should be a teacher; and should be the chosen one or the blessed one. These characteristics and noble truths are found in the teachings of Buddhism and are taught daily in monasteries. By the time the Buddha attained the age of eighty years he declared to the people that he is about to rest and to discard the material body (Hamilton 1996).
Buddha consumed his last meal and he died of an illness that was caused by old age. Before his death he asked his followers if they needed any clarifications and they had none, so he said his last words and he passed on. His body was cremated and the ashes were retained and it is believed that some of them are still available presently. The actual death of the Buddha is not precise but there are estimates of about 486BCE (Thapar 2002).
Buddha's PhilosophyThere have been different points of view from different schools of thought regarding Gautama Buddha's teachings, but the following are taken as the general teaching of the Buddha: The Four Nobel Truths: In the four truths of suffering, the Buddha explained the nature of suffering as a natural part of life; the origin of suffering being human ignorance and lack of know how; suffering cessation- he explained with the correct knowledge suffering can be ended; and how to end the suffering - that suffering can only be ended if people follow the path of noble truth, that involves self indulgence and asceticism. In his teachings he also explained the nine characteristics of a Buddha as: should be worthy- that in order for someone to be a Buddha they should be worth of praises; should be self-enlightened; should have perfect knowledge and contact; should be incomparable meaning that can not be equal to any one else; should know the world; should have qualities of a leader- should be in charge; should be a teacher; and should be the chosen one or the blessed one. The Buddha inspired people to lead a divine life and in accordance to the teachings and to discover and understand the true nature of life and strive to live spiritually. He emphasized the concept of ethics and that people should do what is right to attain full enjoyment and reduced suffering (Carrithers 1986).
Work CitedArmstrong Karen, (2001), Buddha, New York: Penguin Books.
Bechert, Heinz, (1996) When Did the Buddha Live? The Controversy on the Dating of the Historical Buddha. Delhi: Sri Satguru.
Lopez (1995), Buddhism in Practice, Princeton University Press.
Michael Carrithers, (1986) The Buddha, Found in Founders of Faith, Oxford University Press.
Romila Thapar, (2002), The Penguin History of Early India: From Origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books, page 146.
Sathe, Shriram, (1987) Dates of the Buddha. Bharatiya Itihasa Sankalana Samiti, Hyderabad.
Sue Hamilton, (1996), Identity and Experience, LUZAC Oriental.