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Gautama BuddhaGautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher in the ancient Indian subcontinent and the historical founder of Buddhism. He is universally recognised by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha of our age. The time of his birth and death are unclear, most modern books still date his lifetime between 563 BCE and 483 BCE, but more recent research points to a date about a century later than this. By tradition, he was born with the name Siddhartha Gautama and, after a quest for the truth behind life and death, underwent a transformative spiritual change that led him to claim the name of Buddha. He is also commonly known as Sakyamuni and as the Tathagata.
Gautama is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules were summarized after his death and memorized by the sagha. Passed down by oral tradition, the Tripi?aka, the collection of discourses attributed to Gautama, was committed to writing about 400 years later.
BirthSiddhartha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, under the full moon of the sixth lunar month, in the spring. His father was Suddhodana , of the Katriya vara, was the chief (raja, or king) of the Sakya nation, one of several ancient tribes on the margins of the growing state of Kosala . His mother was Mayadevi, King Sudhodhana's wife.
The day of the Buddha's birth is widely celebrated in Buddhist countries as Vesak. Gautama was born a prince, destined to a luxurious life, with three palaces. All traditions agree that the Buddha's mother died at his birth or a few days later. During the birth celebrations, the seer Asita announced that this baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. His father, King Suddhodana, wishing for Gautama to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering.
MarriageWhen the young Prince Siddhartha Gautama was still a baby, an ascetic named Kaladevala went into the heaven of the Thirty-three gods and predicted that the young prince would become the Buddha. As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yasodhara , a cousin of the same age. In time, she gave birth to a son, Rahula. Gautama spent 29 years of his life as a prince in Kapilavastu, a place now situated in Nepal. Although his father ensured that Gautama was provided with everything he could want or need, Gautama was troubled and dissatisfied.
The Great DepartureWhile venturing outside of his palace, Gautama saw an old crippled man (old age), a diseased man (illness), a decaying corpse (death), and an ascetic. These four scenes are referred to as the four sights, or the four heavenly messengers (Pali: devaduta). Gautama was inspired by these sights he sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Gautama soon left his home, his possessions, and his entire family at age 29, to take up the lonely life of a wandering monk.
Abandoning his inheritance, he dedicated his life to learning how to overcome suffering. He meditated with two hermits, and, although he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, he was still not satisfied with his path. Gautama then chose the robes of a mendicant monk and headed to Magadha in what is today Bihar in India. He began his training in the ascetic life and practicing vigorous techniques of physical and mental austerity. Gautama proved quite adept at these practices, and surpassed even his teachers. However, he found no answer to his questions. Leaving behind his caring teachers, he and a small group of close companions set out to take their austerities even further. Gautama tried to find enlightenment through complete deprivation of worldly goods, including food, and became a complete ascetic. After nearly starving himself to death (some sources claim that he nearly drowned), Gautama began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season's plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing.
After leavingAfter discarding asceticism and concentrating on meditation, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata. Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. At the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment; according to some traditions, this occurred approximately in May, and according to others in December. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Perfectly Self-Awakened One", the Samyaksambuddha.
He stated that he had realized complete Awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering which was ignorance, along with steps necessary to eliminate it. These truths were then categorized into the Four Noble Truths; the state of supreme liberation possible for any being was called Nirvana.
The Great PassingAccording to one of the stories in the Ayacana Sutta , a scripture found in the Pali and other canons, immediately after his Enlightenment, the Buddha was wondering whether or not he should teach the Dharma. He was concerned that, as human beings were overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, they would not be able to see the true dharma, which was subtle, deep and hard to understand. However, a divine spirit, Brahma Sahampati, interceded and asked that he teach the dharma to the world, as "there will be those who will understand the Dharma". With his great compassion, the Buddha agreed to become a teacher. At the Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares) in northern India, he set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the group of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment. They, together with the Buddha, formed the first sa?gha, the company of Buddhist monks. The Buddha emphasized that he was not a god, he was simply enlightened. He stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine; distant gods are subjected to karma themselves in decaying heavens; and the Buddha is solely a guide and teacher for the sentient beings who must tread the path of Nirvana themselves to attain the spiritual awakening called bodhi and see truth and reality as it is. The Buddhist system of insight, thought, and meditation practice was not revealed divinely, but by the understanding of the true nature of the mind, which could be discovered by anybody. For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha traveled in the Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India, teaching his doctrine and discipline to an extremely diverse range of people from nobles to street outcaste sweepers, including many adherents of rival philosophies and religions. The Buddha founded the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation after his Parinirvana or "complete Nirvana", and made thousands of converts. His religion was open to all races and classes and had no caste structure. On the other hand, Buddhist texts record that he was reluctant to ordain women as nuns: he eventually accepted them on the grounds that their capacity for enlightenment was equal to that of men (and the Lotus Sutra, in Chapter 12, contains a description of the dragon king's daughter attaining enlightenment in her present body), but he gave them certain additional rules (Vinaya) to follow. According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon enter Parinirvana or the final deathless state abandoning the earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal, which, according to different translations, was either a mushroom delicacy or soft pork, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ananda to convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with his passing and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit. Ananda protested Buddha's decision to enter Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kusinara (Pali: Kusinara) of the Mallas. Buddha, however, reminds Anand how Kushinara was a land once ruled by a righteous king that resounded with joy.
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