Buddha’s Early Life
The Buddha’s whose real name is Siddharth Gautama, Buddha means teacher in Pali was born in the sixth century BCE. His father was a king. Therefore Buddha was a member of the soldier caste. His birth mother had a dream before Buddha was born that her son would change the world. Unfortunately, his birth mother Mahamaya died and his aunt Parapati raised him.
The Buddha was educated in all fields of study befitting a future king including meditation. The cultivation of his mind through meditation created a peaceful disposition in the young man that caused him to believe in non-violence. His belief in non-violence will lead to his later spiritual journey.
As a member of the soldier caste, Buddha was obligated to fight in wars. The declaration of war was decided democratically by the majority of caste members. When the Buddha was twenty-nine years old, such a declaration was made to secure water rites from another tribe. Buddha made a passionate plea to no go to war, but could not dissuade the majority of caste members. Because the Buddha did not want to violate his principles he decided to go into exile. He explained his decision to his family that included a son and wife named, Yeshodhara. Buddha left with their consent and support.
He begins his spiritual journey by going to an Ashram, which is a community of other spiritual seekers. After being there a short while, five men who were practicing extreme deprivation arrived. They informed the Buddha that his tribe never actually went to war. After he left the tribe reconsidered their position, and came to a peace agreement with the tribe they were going to attack. The Buddha was free to return if he wanted. After strong consideration, the Buddha decided to stay on his journey. He felt he had to find the root of human suffering and a way to alleviate it and decides to practice extreme deprivation, asceticism, with the five fellows.
For the next six years, the Buddha undergoes the most extreme trials. He eats so little he stays near starvation and baths so infrequently that dirt falls off of him. When nights are cold, he stays outside with no shelter. Instead of cutting his hair he plucks all the hair from his beard and scalp. Yet, he realizes he is no closer to finding the end of suffering. He sits under a Banyan tree, a passerby sees him and gives him food. The taking of food until satisfied ended his experiment with asceticism.
He decides to have one more go at enlightenment. He gathered forty days worth of food and returns to the Banyan tree. He decides to stay there in meditation until he finds a way out of human suffering. After having many mystical experiences, he finally sees the answer. His early life of luxury and indulging every want was one extreme. His recent journey is asceticism of denying all wants was another extreme. The way to live is the middle path. Not deprivation or indulgence. A person must overcome lustful craving to reveal the genuine bodily needs. Satisfying bodily needs is acceptable. After Buddha found enlightenment, the tree was renamed the Bodhi tree.
How the Buddha Taught
The decision to teach others the Dharma came after much deliberation and soul-searching. He began by teaching the five men that practiced asceticism with him. He gave his first sermon detailing all the aspects of the middle path. These aspects included foundational Buddhist concepts such as the noble eightfold path. After the sermon, the five ascetics were so moved they joined his new community. They became the first monks also known as Bikkhus.
Together they traveled all over Northern India spreading the Dharma. As Buddha’s of old, he begged for food and owned no property. These wandering preachers became famous all over India and their ranks swelled. Eventually, the Buddha’s father gets word of this and asks his son to return home. The Buddha grants the request.
Upon returning home, he reunites with his family. His father asks him to assume the throne, but the Buddha refuses. Eventually, the Buddha’s mother, wife, and son become monks. The Buddha never settled in his hometown, to do so would not keep in the tradition of the Buddha’s of old. However, he returned frequently to connect with family and teach the people of his hometown.
What the Buddha Taught
The Buddha taught Dhamma, not religion. Religion focuses on man’s relationship with a god and how to obtain paradise after death. Dhamma chiefly focuses on how man relates to other men. Dhamma has a closer relationship with ethics than religion. Religion only contains ethics to regulate interactions between adherents and the outside world to please a god.
Dhamma is a tool to create a more equitable society. By equitable, it is meant that social barriers are removed, and a pure meritocracy is established. Society stops granting status due to birth, status is granted because people have earned it. Working for the social good is fundamental to Dhamma, it is not a side effect.
The world and the state man currently finds himself in is the result of Kamma. Kamma is another name for causation, meaning that the actions of individuals, society, or past generations leads to punishment and reward in the present day. The teaching of karma is in line with modern-day sociology. It is not the belief that past lives of an individual cause his present state.
In fact, the Buddha did not believe in an essential essence that last for infinity, otherwise known as the soul. He believed that the elements that create a person would go back into space and eventually re-emerge as a new, different person. What the Buddha taught conflicted with the Brahmanic idea of reincarnation of the same soul in a new body. What the Buddha taught was called rebirth.
The Buddha never proclaimed to have any divine or exalted position. He claimed to be a man that created his Dhamma from reason and evaluation. There is also no infallible text, although there are sutras which are a historical record of the life and teachings of Buddha. Again what the Buddha taught was very much in line with modern science.
Who the Buddha Taught
The community started by the Buddha include people of all occupations, classes, castes, and both genders. The Buddha had two types of people in the Buddhist Sangha, householders and monks. The goal of the group was not to isolate oneself and obtain perfection. The goal was to improve the world.
Women were not allowed to be monks at first. The reason was not that the Buddha thought they were inferior, but they were so vital in building the home. To have women renounce house-holding would be impractical. Many of the monks asked him to reconsider the position. His mother Parapati with a large contingent of women in his hometown asked to become monks. He turned them down at first. These women undaunted by the denial cut their hair and began living as monks. Eventually, the Buddha relented. Hundreds women from his hometown joined the community as monks including Parapati and Yeshodhara.
The Buddha’s End
As time progressed, the Buddha and his family grew old. His mother and wife died on the same day of old age. Many confidants and critiques also grew old and passed on. Many in his community wanted the Buddha to choose a successor. The fear was if there is conflict in the future and nobody can make a final decision the community could break into factions.
The Buddha considered this and decided not to pick a successor. Compromise and consensus should settle disputes. Having someone picked to dictate beliefs goes against the spirit of Dharma.
In 583 BC the Buddha ended his journey. He was around eighty years old. Followers and admirers surrounded him.
The writer of this article is not a monk or certified Dharma teacher. The goal of this post is to summarize the book. Questions on Buddhism will not be answered in the comments. For more on Buddhism contact a local Vihara. For the full-text click on the link below: