Introduction to Gautama the Buddha

Sanderson Beck

Siddartha Gautama (563-480 BC) was born as a prince in a small state in northern India in what is now Nepal. According to legend, several soothsayers predicted that if he stayed home he would become a universal king, but if he left he would become a Buddha. His mother died after one week, and Siddartha was brought up by her sister. His father surrounded him with every luxury. At the age of 16 Siddartha married Yasodhara, his cousin of the same age, and spent his time in the pleasure gardens of the palace.

When Gautama was 29 he saw the four signs which led to his renunciation of the world---first, an old person, then a sick person, then a corpse being carried to a funeral, and finally a begging monk in a yellow robe. Gautama began to contemplate the meaning of life with its inevitable decay, suffering, and death; like the monk he too must find a solution to these problems. Therefore he decided to renounce everything, and he left the palace immediately after the birth of his first son.

For a while he sought enlightenment by mortifying the flesh; fasting and eating only one seed a day, he became so thin that his bones stuck out. Weak from hunger, he fainted and almost died. Then he decided that this was not the way to enlightenment. He began to beg for food and concentrated on meditation. When he gave up the austerities, his five companions in spiritual aspiration left him in disgust.

One day when he was 35 he sat under a banyan tree with the resolve not to get up until he was enlightened. Perceiving that Siddartha wanted to pass beyond his control, the tempter Mara and his armies attacked him in various ways, but each time Gautama concentrated on the ten perfections (charity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truth, determination, universal love, and equanimity) and received divine protection. Mara tried to persuade him to give up his struggle and live.

However, Gautama identified the ten armies of Mara as follows: lust, dislike for the spiritual, hunger and thirst, craving, laziness, cowardice, doubt, inflexibility, glamour, and finally exalting oneself while despising others.

Gautama said that by conquering these one could attain bliss and that he would rather die than be defeated. Mara retired, and Gautama went into deeper meditation, realizing his former lifetimes, becoming clairvoyant, and intuiting the psychological insights that became his principal teachings.

At first people did not know what to call him and asked him if he was a god, a devil, an angel, a person or what. Gautama replied simply, "I am awake." Thus he became known as the Buddha, which means the awakened one or the enlightened one.

The first sermon included here are the words of the Buddha when he spoke in the deer park at Benares as recorded in the SAMYUTTA-NIKAYA V:420, one of the collections of the SUTTA PITAKA, the largest of the "three baskets" of early Buddhist texts.

Hearing this brief discourse, the five previous companions, who were at first skeptical of Buddha's new claims, were convinced and became the first five "perfected ones" in his order.

The order of monks or disciples grew, and soon the Buddha was sending out 60 of them in different directions to spread the teachings. The Buddha fulfilled his promise to return to talk with King Bimbisara after his enlightenment, and he was converted also. Although his father, King Suddhodana, did not like the idea of the Buddha begging for food, he accepted it, and many of his relatives became followers as well. Some of the wealthy built monasteries for the order.

Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and closest disciple, pleaded that women be allowed to join the order, and finally the order of nuns was established. Another cousin, Devadatta, wanted to become the Buddha's successor; but when he was rejected, he tried three times to kill Gautama but failed. Then Devadatta tried to split the order. However, two of the greatest disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, were able to persuade those who had followed him to return to the Buddha. Devadatta became ill, and as he was dying the Buddha forgave him.

When he was about 80 years old the Buddha became seriously ill himself, but felt that he should not die until he had prepared the order for his departure. Thus he fought off the illness.

Ananda asked for instructions, but the Buddha said that he had not presented "the closed fist of the teacher." In other words, he had not held back any of the teachings. Not even Sariputta nor Moggallana were to be his successor; rather everything was to be decided by majority vote. He suggested that they take refuge in the teachings, but they might abolish minor rules if they wished.

Finally the Buddha instructed a friend named Cunda to prepare him a meal, which was either pork or mushrooms trodden by pigs; the leftovers were to be buried, and the other monks were to be given something else. Soon after eating this meal, the Buddha became very sick with violent pains. The Buddha declared that Cunda was to be honored as equal to the one who had given him the last meal before his enlightenment. Finally he asked the monks three times if they had any questions, but none of them spoke. Then the Buddha said his last words, "Transient are all conditioned things. Work out your salvation with diligence." The body of Gautama was cremated a week later, and an argument over the relics of the Buddha was settled peacefully by dividing them into eight portions.

Source:   Apr 30, 2006