Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Buddha

Siddartha Gautama was born about 2,500 years ago into a royal family. His father was the ruler of a kingdom located in northern India close to the border of what is now Nepal. As the crown prince, he lived a life of decadent luxury surrounded by riches and beautiful women. However, even as a youth he realized that he would get no lasting satisfaction from such a lifestyle.

He began to see that all human existence is unavoidably subject to illness, old age and death. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy the fleeting material pleasures of a Royal household. At the age of 29, and inspired by the sight of a calm and dignified hermit, he decided to forgo his luxurious lifestyle. He left his wife and child in the good hands of the royal family to seek the answers to lasting happiness. It was an unprecedented historic renunciation; for he renounced not in his old age but in the prime of manhood, not in poverty but in plenty.

After 6 years of wandering and severe ascetic practices, he realized that neither a decadent lifestyle nor extreme ascetism will lead him to the answers he sought. He decided to pursue the 'Middle Way' between these two extremes.

One happy morning, while He was deeply absorbed in meditation, unaided and unguided by any supernatural power and solely relying on His efforts and wisdom, He eradicated all defilements, purified Himself, and, realizing things as they truly are, attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood) at the age of 35. From then on, the Prince became known as the Buddha which means literally, the 'Awakened One'. He was not born a Buddha, but he became a Buddha by his own striving. As the perfect embodiment of all the virtues he preached, endowed with deep wisdom commensurate with his boundless compassion. He devoted the remainder of his precious life to serve humanity both by example and precept, dominated by no personal motive whatever.

The Buddha then spent the next 45 years of his life teaching what he finally came to understand. He founded a community of monks known as the Sangha, and Buddhism spread throughout northern India. Kings, nobles, merchants and peasants became his disciples and followers, and even now countless people everywhere benefit from his Teachings.

The Buddha was a human being. As a man he was born, as a man He lived, and as a man His life came to an end. Though a human being, He became an extraordinary man (Acchariya Manussa), but He never arrogated to Himself divinity. The Buddha laid stress on this important point and left no room whatever for anyone to fall into the error of thinking that he was an immortal divine being.

The Buddha exhorts his disciples to depend on themselves for their deliverance, for both purity and defilement depend on oneself. Clarifying his relationship with his followers and emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving, the Buddha plainly states: "You should exert yourselves, the Tathagatas (Buddha) are only teachers."

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