Life of Buddha
Gautama was born circa 583 BC in the area around modern day Nepal. His father was Suddhodhana, king of the Shakya clan. His mother, Maya, died just after childbirth. In Gautama’s childhood, a holy man predicted that the prince would either become a spiritual guru, or a military conqueror. King Suddhodhana decided to groom Gautama as a warrior and prevented him from gaining exposure to human suffering and religion.
Exposure to Suffering
When Gautama was 29 years old, he decided one day to venture out of the palace. He saw sad sights such as a corpse, a diseased man, and an old person. Gautama was shocked by life’s realities which compulsorily include disease, old age and death. Gautama also came across a renunciant who was detached from the material world.
Gautama was tormented by life’s realities. He no longer took pleasure in dancing girls and musicians, who were part of palace life. Gautama decided that luxurious palace life no longer held any attractions for him. So he shaved his hair, wore a renunciant’s clothes and took leave of the palace forever. Thus, began his search for enlightenment.
Search for Knowledge
Gautama consulted many gurus and learnt many meditation techniques and religious philosophies. But, his mind was not satisfied. Then, he began to undertake rigorous fasting, even starving himself. His body became skin and bones. Yet, Gautama still remained unsatisfied. He had merely exchanged pleasure and luxuries for self-mortification and pain. Now, Gautama sought a middle path between the two extremes.
Gautama remembered a childhood experience, when he had felt deep peace. He realized liberation could only be obtained by disciplining the mind. Therefore, he gave up starving himself and decided to eat for nourishment.
Gautama sat under a Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) and started to meditate. His mind was assaulted by a demon named Mara, who stood for worldly passions and delusions. Mara tried to terrorize, tempt and distract Gautama’s meditation. But, the demon was not successful. Finally, Gautama’s mind overcame all illusion and delusion, and attained enlightenment.
Buddha, the Teacher
After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha did not initially want to share his experiences and knowledge with others. Direct knowledge can only be experienced. Besides, he thought his teaching would be misunderstood by people. But, compassion for others overcame him and the Buddha started teaching practical methods to attain peace of mind, self-knowledge and enlightenment. Even today, his teachings are a beacon to the troubled mind.