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Gautama Buddha

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Gautama Buddha was an Indian spiritual leader who lived between approximately 563 BC and 483 BC. Born Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit, Siddhattha Gotama Pali), he later became the Buddha (lit. Enlightened One). He is also commonly known as Shakyamuni or Sakyamuni (lit. "The sage of the Shakya/Sakya clan") and as the Tathagata (lit. thus-gone one), emphasizing the nature of a Buddha to go about in the world without adding or subtracting anything from his experience.)

The Buddha is the key figure in the religion of Buddhism. Accounts of his life, discourses and monastic rules were summarized shortly following his passing and memorized by his disciples. Passed down by oral tradition, the holy Tipitaka was first written roughly a hundred years after his death in the Magadhi (Pali) language spoken by Gautama.

Biographical sketch

Under the full moon month of May was born in Lumbini (now modern day Nepal) an infant to the Kshatriya caste of warrior-aristocrats. During the celebrations, a seer announced that this baby would become either a successful emperor, or a Buddha. Siddhartha would be the heir to the position of "prince" of the Shakya clan's village of Kapilavatthu (or Kapilvastu) in the foothills of the Himalayas.

At age 29, while still living lavished in luxury, he would become deeply unsatisfied with worldly life. Upon being escorted by his attenant Channa, he came across four sights: an old crippled man, diseased man, a decaying corpse, and finally a mendicant (austere monk). Abandoning his inheritance with the disgust of knowing his fate was in the first three sights, he chose the robes of a mendicant monk and headed for the forests of ancient India for spiritual discipline. He began training in the ascetic life and practicing vigorous austere practices. After 6 years, and at the brink of death, he found that the severe ascetic practices did not lead to greater understanding. Once discarding them and concentrating on meditation, he discovered the middle way, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Under the fig, now know as the Bodhi tree, he vowed never to leave the position until he found Truth. At 35, he attained Enlightenment under the full moon month of May; now known as Gautama Buddha, or simply "The Buddha". He claimed he had realized complete Awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering along with the steps necessary to eliminate it. This supreme Awakening, possible to any being, is called the state of Bodhi and at this point, he won Nirvana.

He emphasized that he was not a God but that the position of Buddhahood is reserved for the human, in whom possesses the greatest potential for Enlightenment). Explained by Gautama Buddha, he also stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine; distant gods and God are subjected to karma themselves in decaying heavens. The Buddha is solely a guide and teacher for those sentient beings who must tread the path themselves, attain spiritual Awakening, and see truth & reality as it is. The Buddhist system of insight, thought and meditation practice was not divinely-revealed, but rather, the understanding of the true nature of the human mind which could be discovered by anyone for themselves. Penetration of this reality accompanies the shocking truth that ignorance can be eliminated.

For the remaining 45 years of his life, he traveled the Gangetic Plain of central India (region of the Ganges/Ganga river and its tributaries), teaching his doctrine and discipline to an extremely diverse range of people, from nobles, street sweepers, outcastes, and including many adherents of rival philosophies and religions. He founded the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation after his Paranirvana or complete Nirvana.

Gautama Buddha realised that his bodily end was fast approaching. He told his disciple Ananda to prepare a bed between two Sal trees. Just before his passing, a 120 year-old mendicant monk named Subhadra, walked by. Being earlier turned away by Ananda, Buddha overheard this and called the Brahmin to his side. He was admitted to the Sangha (Buddhist order) and immediately after, Gautama passed away on that full moon day in May.

After intermittent illness, Gautama Buddha passing at Kushinagar under the full moon month of May, India at the age of 80. His last meal was a mushroom or truffles delicacy which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith. Vegetarianism is for Buddhists an ideal rather than a mandate, and monks and nuns in particular are enjoined to accept all offerings of food made to them (unless they see, hear, or suspect an animal has been killed especially to satisfy hunger). The Buddha's final words were, "All conditioned things are subject to impermanence. Strive on with diligence".

Personality and character

The Buddha as presented in the Buddhist scriptures is notable for such characteristics as:

  • Both a comprehensive education and training in those fields appropriate to a warrior aristocrat, such as martial arts, agricultural management, and literature, and also a deep understanding of the religious and philosophical ideas of his culture.
  • Gautama Siddharta was reported to have been athletic and fit throughout his life, competent in martial arts such as chariot combat, wrestling, and archery, and later easily hiking miles each day and camping in the wilderness. Images of a fat "Jolly Buddha" or Laughing Buddha are actually depictions of a different character.
  • A superb teacher, with a fine grasp of the appropriate metaphor, and tailoring his teachings to the audience at hand.
  • Fearless and unworried at all times, whether dealing with religious debate, a patricidal prince, or a murderous outlaw. He was not, however, past exasperation when monks of his order misrepresented his teachings.
  • Completely temperate in all bodily appetites. Lived a completely celibate life from age 29 until his death. Indifferent to hunger and environmental conditions.

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