In the sixth century before the Christian era, religion was forgotten in India. The lofty teachings of the Vedas were thrown into the background. There was much priest craft everywhere. The insincere priests traded on religion. They duped the people in a variety of ways and amassed wealth for themselves. They were irreligious to say the least. In the name of religion, people followed in the footsteps of these cruel priests and performed meaningless rituals. They killed animals and performed various sacrifices. The country was in great need of a reformer. At such a critical period, when there were cruelty, degeneration, and unrighteousness everywhere, a reformer was to be born to save the people, and disseminate the message of equality, unity and cosmic love everywhere.
Buddha was born in 560 B.C. and died at the age of eighty in 480 B.C. . Buddha’s father was Suddhodana, king of the Sakhyas. Buddha’s mother was named Maya. The place of his birth was a grove known as Lumbini, near the city of Kapilavastu, at the foot of Mount Palpa in the Himalayan ranges within Nepal. This small city Kapilavastu, stood on the bank of the little river Rohini, about a hundred miles north-east of the city of Varnasi. As the time grew near for Buddha to enter the world, the gods themselves prepared the way before him with celestial portents and signs. Flowers bloomed and gentle rains fell although out of season. Heavenly music was heard, and delicious scents filled the air. On the body of the child bore at birth, were thirty-two auspicious marks (Mahavyanjana) which indicated his future greatness, besides secondary marks (Anuvyanjana) in large numbers. Guatama?s mother Maya died seven days after her son’s birth. He was brought up by his aunt Mahaprajapati, who became his foster- mother.
On the birth of the child Siddhartha, astrologers made predictions to his father Suddhodana. “The child, on attaining manhood, would become either a universal monarch (Chakravarti), or abandoning house and home, would assume the robe of a monk and become a Buddha, a perfectly enlightened soul, for the salvation of mankind”. Then the king said: “What shall my son see to make him retire from the world?” The astrologer replied: “Four signs”. “What four?” asked the king. “A decrepit old man, a diseased man, a dead man and a monk – these four will make the prince retire from the world” replied the astrologers.
In fear that he might lose his precious son, Suddhodana tried his level best to make him attached to earthly objects. He surrounded him with all kinds of luxury and indulgence, in order to retain his attachment for pleasures of the senses and prevent him front undertaking a vow of solitariness and poverty. He got him married and put him in a walled place with gardens, fountains, palaces, music, dances, etc. Countless young women attended on Siddhartha in hopes of keeping him cheerful and happy. In particular, the king wanted to keep Siddhartha away from the ‘four signs’ which would move him to enter into the ascetic life. “From this time on” said the king, “let no such persons be allowed to come near my son. It will never do for my son to become a Buddha. What I would wish to see is my son exercising sovereign rule and authority over the four great continents and the two thousand attendant isles, walking through the heavens surrounded by a retinue thirty-six leagues in circumference”. To ensure that Guatama would never enter the ascetic life, Suddhodana put guards in each of the four directions, in order that none of the four kinds of men might come within sight of his son.
Siddhartha spent his boyhood at Kapilavastu and its vicinity. He was married at the age of sixteen. His wife’s name was Yasodhara. Siddhartha had a son named Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha Gautama suddenly abandoned his home to devote himself entirely to spiritual pursuits and Yogic practices. A mere accident turned him to the path of renunciation. One day he managed, somehow or the other, to get out of the walled enclosure of the palace. He roamed about in the town along with his servant Channa to see how the people were getting on. The sight of a decrepit old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk finally induced Siddhartha to renounce the world. He felt that he too would become a prey to old age, that he too would fall victim to disease and that he too would inevitably die. Upon the encounter with the monk, he took notice in the monk?s serenity and dynamic personality. Let me go beyond the miseries of this Samsara (worldly life) by renouncing this world of miseries and sorrows. This mundane life, with all its luxuries and comforts, is absolutely worthless. I also am subject to decay and am not free from the effect of old age. Worldly happiness is transitory”.
Gautama left forever his home, wealth, dominion, power, father, wife and the only child. He shaved his head and put on yellow robes. He marched towards Rajgriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. There were many caves in the neighboring hills. There were many hermits that had lived in those caves. Siddhartha took Alamo Kalamo, a hermit, as his first teacher. He was not satisfied with his instructions. He left him and sought help, of another recluse named Uddako Ramputto, for spiritual instructions. Still disappointed, at last he determined to undertake Yogic practices. He practiced severe Tapas (austerities) and Pranayama (practice of breath control) for six years. He determined to attain the supreme peace by practicing self-mortification. He abstained almost entirely from taking food, although he did not find much progress by adopting this method. He was reduced to a skeleton and became exceedingly weak. At that moment, some dancing girls were passing his way singing joyfully as they played on their guitar. Buddha heard their song and found in it sincere relief. The song the girls sang had no real deep meaning for them, but for Buddha it was a message full of profound spiritual significance. It was a spiritual pick-me-up to take him out of his despair and infuse power, strength and courage. The song was:
“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
The string overstretched breaks, the music dies,
The string overslack is dumb and the music dies,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.”
It was then that Buddha realized that he should not go to extremes in torturing the body by starvation. He decided should adopt a middle path by avoiding extremes. He began to eat food in moderation. He gave up the earlier extreme practices and took to the middle path.
Once Buddha was in a dejected mood as he did not succeed in his Yogic practices. He knew not where to go and what to do. A village girl noticed his sorrowful face. She approached him and said to him in a polite manner: “Revered sir, may I bring some food for you ? It seems you are very hungry”. Gautama looked at her and said, “What is your name, my dear sister?” The maiden answered, “Venerable sir, my name is Sujata”. Gautama said, “Sujata, I am very hungry. Can you really appease my hunger?”
The innocent Sujata did not understand Gautama. Gautama was spiritually hungry. He was thirsting to attain supreme peace and Self-realization. He wanted spiritual food. Sujata placed some food before Gautama and entreated him to take it. Gautama smiled and said, “Beloved Sujata, I am highly pleased with your kind and benevolent nature. Can this food appease my hunger?” Sujata replied, “Yes sir, it will appease your hunger. Kindly take it now”. Gautama began to eat the food underneath the shadow of a large tree, thenceforth to be called as the great ‘Bo-tree’ or the tree of wisdom. Gautama sat in a meditative mood underneath the tree from early morning to sunset, with a fiery determination and an iron resolve: “Let me die. Let my body perish. Let my flesh dry up. I will not get up from this seat till I get full illumination”. He plunged himself into deep meditation. At night he entered into deep Samadhi (superconscious state) underneath that sacred Bo-tree (Pipal tree or ficus religiosa). He was tempted by Maya in a variety of ways, but he stood adamant. He did not yield to Maya’s allurements and temptations. He came out victorious with full illumination. He attained Nirvana (liberation). His face shone with divine splendour and effulgence. He got up from his seat and danced in divine ecstasy for seven consecutive days and nights around the sacred Bo-tree. Then he came to the normal plane of consciousness. His heart was filled with profound mercy and compassion. He wanted to share what he had with humanity. He traveled all over India and preached his doctrine and gospel. He became a saviour, deliverer and redeemer.
Buddha gave out the experiences of his Samadhi: “I thus behold my mind released from the defilement of earthly existence, released from the defilement of sensual pleasures, released from the defilement of heresy, released from the defilement of ignorance.”
In the emancipated state arose the knowledge: “I am emancipated, rebirth is extinct, the religious walk is accomplished, what had to be done is done, and there is no need for the present existence. I have overcome all foes; I am all-wise; I am free from stains in every way; I have left everything and have obtained emancipation by the destruction of desire. Myself having gained knowledge, whom should I call my Master ? I have no teacher; no one is equal to me. I am the holy one in this world; I am the highest teacher. I alone am the absolute omniscient one (Sambuddho). I have gained coolness by the extinction of all passion and have obtained Nirvana. To found the kingdom of law (Dharmo) I go to the city of Varnasi. I will beat the drum of immortality in the darkness of this world”.
Lord Buddha then walked on to Varnasi. He entered the ‘deer-park’ one evening. He gave his discourse there and preached his doctrine. He preached to all without exception, men and women, the high and the low, the ignorant and the learned – all alike. All his first disciples were laymen and two of the very first were women. The first convert was a rich young man named Yasa. The next were Yasa’s father, mother and wife. Those were his lay disciples.
Buddha argued and debated with his old disciples who had deserted him when he was in the Uruvila forest. He brought them round by his powerful arguments and persuasive powers. Kondanno, an aged hermit, was converted first. The others also soon accepted the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Buddha made sixty disciples and sent them in different directions to preach his doctrine.
Buddha told his disciples not to enquire into the origin of the world, into the existence and nature of God. He said to them that such investigations were practically useless and likely to distract their minds.
SPREADING THE DOCTRINE
The number of Buddha’s followers gradually increased. Nobles, Brahmins and many wealthy men became his disciples. Buddha paid no attention to caste. The poor and the outcastes were admitted to his order. Those who wanted to become full members of his order were obliged to become monks and to observe strict rules of conduct. Buddha had many lay disciples also. Those lay members had to provide for the wants of the monks.
In the forest of Uruvila, there were three brothers – all very famous monks and philosophers. They had many learned disciples. They were honoured by kings and potentates. Lord Buddha went to Uruvila and lived with those three monks. He converted those three reputed monks, which caused a great sensation all over the country.
Lord Buddha and his disciples walked on towards Rajgriha, the capital of Magadha. Bimbisara, the king, who was attended upon by 120,000 Brahmins and householders, welcomed Buddha and his followers with great devotion. He heard the sermon of Lord Buddha and at once became his disciple. 110,000 of the Brahmins and householders became full members of Lord Buddha’s order and the remaining 10,000 became lay adherents. Buddha’s followers were treated with contempt when they went to beg their daily food. Bimbisara made Buddha a present of Veluvanam – a bamboo-grove, one of the royal pleasure-gardens near his capital. Lord Buddha spent many rainy seasons there with his followers.
Every Buddhist monk takes a vow, when he puts on the yellow robe, to abstain from killing any living being. Therefore, a stay in one place during the rainy season becomes necessary. Even now, the Paramahamsa Sannyasins (the highest class of renunciates) of Sankara’s order stay in one place for four months during the rainy season (Chaturmas). It is impossible to move about in the rainy season without killing countless small insects, which the combined influence of moisture and the hot sun at the season brings into existence.
Lord Buddha received from his father a message asking him to visit his native place, so that he might see him once more before he died. Buddha accepted his invitation gladly and started for Kapilavastu. He stayed in a forest outside the city. His father and relatives came to see him, but they were not pleased with their ascetic Gautama. They left the place after a short time. They did not make any arrangement for his and his followers’ daily food. After all, they were worldly people. Buddha went to the city and begged his food from door to door. This news reached the ears of his father. He tried to stop Gautama from begging. Gautama said: “O king, I am a mendicant – I am a monk. It is my duty to get alms from door to door. This is the duty of the Order. Why do you stop this ? The food that is obtained from alms is very pure”. His father did not pay any attention to the words of Gautama. He snatched the bowl from his hand and took him to his palace. All came to pay Buddha their respects, but his wife Yasodhara did not come. She said, “He himself will come to me, if I am of any value in his eyes”. She was a very chaste lady endowed with Viveka (discrimination), Vairagya (dispassion) and other virtuous qualities. From the day she lost her husband she gave up all her luxuries. She took very simple food once daily and slept on a mat. She led a life of severe austerities. Gautama heard all this. He was very much moved. He went at once to see her. She prostrated at his feet. She caught hold of his feet and burst into tears. Buddha established an order of female ascetics. Yasodhara became the first of the Buddhistic nuns.
Yasodhara pointed out the passing Buddha to her son through a window and said, “O Rahula! That monk is your father. Go to him and ask for your birthright. Tell him boldly, ‘I am your son. Give me my heritage’”. Rahula at once went up to Buddha and said, “Dear father, give me my heritage”. Buddha was taking his food then. He did not give any reply. The boy repeatedly asked for his heritage. Buddha went to the forest. The boy also silently followed him to the forest. Buddha said to one of his disciples, “I give this boy the precious spiritual wealth I acquired under the sacred Bo-tree. I make him the heir to that wealth”. Rahula was initiated into the order of monks. When this news reached the ears of Buddha’s father, he was very much grieved because after losing his son, he now lost his grandson also.
Buddha performed some miracles. A savage serpent of great magical power sent forth fire against Buddha. Buddha turned his own body into fire and sent forth flames against the serpent. Once a tree bent down one of its branches in order to help Buddha when he wanted to come up out of the water of a tank. One day five hundred pieces of firewood split by themselves at Buddha’s command. Buddha created five hundred vessels with fire burning in them for the Jatilas to warm themselves on a winter night. When there was flood, he caused the water to recede and then he walked over the water.
Ananda, one of Buddha’s cousins, was one of the principal early disciples of Buddha and was a most devoted friend and disciple of Buddha. He was devoted to Buddha with a special fervour in a simple childlike way and served him as his personal attendant till the end of his life. He was very popular. he was a very sweet man with pleasant ways. He had no intellectual attainments, but he was a man of great sincerity and loving nature. Devadatta, one of Ananda’s brothers, was also in the Order. Devadatta became Buddha’s greatest rival and tried hard to oust Buddha and occupy the place himself. A barber named Upali and a countryman called Anuruddha were admitted into the Order. Upali became a distinguished leader of his Order. Anuruddha became a Buddhistic philosopher of vast erudition.
Buddha went to Sravasti, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala. Here a wealthy merchant gave him for residence an extensive and beautiful forest. Buddha spent many rainy seasons there and delivered several grand discourses. Thus Lord Buddha preached his doctrine for over forty-five years traveling from place to place.
Buddha died of an illness brought on by some error in diet. He became ill through eating Sukara-maddavam, prepared for him by a lady adherent named Cundo. The commentator explains the word as meaning ‘hog’s flesh’. Subadhara Bhikshu thinks it means something which wild boars are fond of and says that it has something of the nature of a truffle. Dr. Hoey says that it is not boar’s flesh but Sukarakanda or hog’s root, a bulbous root found chiefly in the jungle and which Hindus eat with great joy. It is a Phalahar that is eaten on days of fasting.
Buddha said to Ananda, “Go Ananda, prepare for me, between twin Sal trees, a couch with the head northward. I am exhausted and would like to lie down”. A wonderful scene followed. The twin Sal trees burst into full bloom although it was not the blossoming season. Those flowers fell on the body of Buddha out of reverence. Divine coral tree flowers and divine sandalwood powders fell from above on Buddha’s body out of reverence.
Buddha’s original name was Siddhartha. It meant one who had accomplished his aim. Gautama was Siddhartha’s family name. Siddhartha was known all over the world as Buddha, the Enlightened. He was also known by the name of Sakhya Muni, which meant an ascetic of the Sakhya tribe.