The person most of us have heard of by the name of Buddha was also a real person. While there are thousands of sayings attributed to and superstitions held about him, some things are known for certain.
He was born in about 565 BC to the chief of a tribal group called the Sakya in Southern Nepal. His parents were king Suddhodana and queen Maya. After leaving his family to lead a holy and ascetic life he disappeared for a couple of years, only to show up again surrounded by followers. He reached Enlightenment and began to spread a new philosophy in the area of Bihar and Uttar Kadesh. Siddartha became very old, and when he died in his eighties, and left behind him a small group of disciples or bhikkus who continued preaching his word.
After this we soon stray into the domain of legend. Some say that when the child was born, it was foretold that he would either become a great political leader or a poor homeless monk. To prevent him from choosing the religious way, his father ensured that he grew up in luxury and never had any contact with the suffering and death of the outside world. Naturally, fate cannot be fooled in such a way.
Siddartha lived as a young prince should do: He married a beautiful princess, and had a son. Yet he grew restless. He wanted to see the world. Still trying to shield him, his father ordered all sick and decrepit people off the prince's path. He was unable to get rid of them all, however, and Siddartha first happened upon an old man, then a diseased one, and finally a dead. The prince was shocked by all this suffering and eventually, at the age of 29, decided to leave his family behind and become a Hindu monk.
He attempted to live a pure and ascetic life, eating so little he became nothing but skin and bones. After some years of this he realised that killing oneself slowly with nothing was just as bad as drowning in plenty, and settled on the middle way. He accepted a gift of food from a young woman and sat down in peace to meditate under the Bodhi tree. In one night, Siddharta found understanding of all his previous lives, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and also how to end this cycle of infinite sorrow.
Now he was become Buddha, the Awakened. He returned to his family and told them about his newfound wisdom, teaching his son as a monk. From old masters he learned more spiritual techniques and meditation methods. He then started preaching his own. After his first sermon at Benares he wandered through northern India for 45 years spreading the same message. When his body wore out he laid down to rest between two trees, gave up his spirit, and passed into Nirvana.
Buddha's Four Noble Truths
- All human life is suffering
- All suffering is caused by human desire, particularly the desire that impermanent things be permanent.
- Human suffering can be ended by ending human desire.
- Desire can be ended by following the Noble Eightfold Path - right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.