“Get up, do not be thoughtless. Follow the law of virtue.
He who practises virtue lives happily in this world as well as in the world beyond.”
The Buddha (Dhammapada, v. 168)
Siddharta Gautama was born in Lumbini, near Kapilavastu. The date of His birth has been suggested as 563 BC but recent research, based upon the Dipavamsa, suggests a date of c.485 BC. He was a member of the Sakya clan and His father, Suddhodana, was a warrior and member of the ruling oligarchy. His mother was Mayadevi. At His birth, the seer Asita predicted that Siddharta was destined for either political or spiritual empire. Like Manifestations before Him, Siddharta came from royal roots and was a descendant of previous Manifestations. He describes His ancestry thus:
“Long ago . . . King Okkaka, wanting to divert the succession in favour of the son of his favourite queen, banished his elder children. . . . And being thus banished they took up their dwelling on the slopes of the Himalayas on the borders of a lake where a mighty oak plantation grew. Okkaka the king burst forth in admiration: “Hearts of Oak (Sakya) are those young fellows! Right well they hold their own!” “That is the reason . . . why they are known as Sakyas. Verily he is the progenitor of the Sakyas.”
(From the Digha-nikaya, quoted in “the God of Buddha” by Jamshed Fozdar, p. 17)
Okkaka is the Pali equivalent of Ikshvaku, who is mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita. Ikshvaku was the ancestor of Dasa-Ratha (or Ikshvaku Virudhaka), King of Ayodhya, who is the king referred to in this verse. This story related by Buddha is the story of the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic. Dasa-Ratha, at the instigation of Queen Kaikeyi, diverted the succession from the heir, Rama, to her own son, Bharata. Rama was sent into exile. He was accompanied by His wife, Sita, and brothers: Lakshmana and Satrughna. The Sakya dynasty was descended from Lava, Rama’s eldest son. Lava founded and ruled Sravasti, which was a short distance from Kapilavastu, Buddha’s birthplace. Other kingdoms were founded by Rama’s second son and the sons of His brothers. Satrughna had two sons: Suvahu and Satrughati. Suvahu, nephew of Rama, became the king of Mathura, which was later associated with Krishna. Buddha was thus a descendant of the renowned Rama, the seventh Hindu Avatar. (see: Fozdar, pp. 17-18) (see: John S. Strong, "The Buddha - A Short Biography", p. 37)
The dynasty was concerned with maintaining purity of lineage. They usually married members of the their own family. Eventually, they consented to intermarry with the Koliyas, a neighbouring tribe who were desended from a Sakya princess. Many generations after the time of Rama, there was a Sakya king named Simhahanu. He reigned in Kapilavastu, while one of his relatives, Suprabuddha, reigned in Devadrsa. Simhahanu had four sons: (1) Suddhodana, (2) Suklodana, (3) Dronodana and (4) Amrtodana. He also had four daughters: (1) Suddha, (2) Sukla, (3) Drona and (4) Amrtika. The mother of Siddharta, named Mahamaya or Mayadevi, was the daughter of Suprabuddha. (see: Strong, pp. 37-38)
At the age of 16, Siddharta married His cousin Yasodhara. In some accounts Siddharta’s wife is named Gopa, the daughter of His maternal uncle Dandapani. In this account He has to prove His worthiness to marry Gopa by wrestling, archery, and bending the great bow of His grandfather. In some traditions He has three wives: Yasodhara, Gopika and Mrgaja. It was around this time that the young Siddharta saw the ‘four sights’ (an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a wandering mendicant). His father, Suddhodana, wanted to shelter Siddharta from the sufferings of life. But some time in His early twenties He realised the miseries of life: disease, old age and death.(see: Skilton, “A Concise History of Buddhism”, pp. 19-21) (see: Fozdar, pp. 2) (see: Strong, pp. 45-46)
The final event that led Him to pursue the ‘Noble Quest’ was the birth of His son, Rahula. At the age of 29, without the knowledge of His parents or wife, He left behind pleasure and privilege to became a parivrajaka (‘wanderer’). On the banks of the river Anoma, He took off His ornaments, which He gave to His charioteer, Channa, along with His horse. He cut His flowing locks and exchanged His princely attire with a passer-by. He travelled south, towards Rajagrha, where He met King Bimbisara of Magadha. (see: Skilton, pp. 21-22) (see: Fozdar, pp. 6)
Siddharta’s first teacher was Alara Kalama, who taught Him a form of meditation called akimcanyayatana (‘the sphere or state of nothingness’). He eventually equalled His teacher in attainment. Alara Kalama offered Him co-leadership of his pupils, but Siddharta left in search of further guidance. His next teacher was Udraka Ramaputra, who taught Him another form of meditation. Siddharta was still unsatisfied. He then became an ascetic and for five or six years lived at Uruvilva, on the Nairañjana River. He lived with five other ascetics, later His pupils. He practiced holding His breath for long periods and reducing food intake. Realising that this practice was ultimately wasteful, He began to take normal amounts of food again. His ascetic pupils abadoned Him and went to the deer park at Isipatana. (see: Skilton, pp. 22-23)
“But with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?'
"I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities -- I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?' Then, following on that memory, came the realization: 'That is the path to Awakening.' I thought: 'So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?' I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, but it is not easy to achieve that pleasure with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice & porridge.' So I took some solid food: some rice & porridge. Now five monks had been attending on me, thinking, 'If Gotama, our contemplative, achieves some higher state, he will tell us.' But when they saw me taking some solid food -- some rice & porridge -- they were disgusted and left me, thinking, 'Gotama the contemplative is living luxuriously. He has abandoned his exertion and is backsliding into abundance.'
"So when I had taken solid food and regained strength, then -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation... My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance... Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose -- as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute." (Maha-Saccaka Sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
It was then, at the age of 35, that Siddharta sat beneath the Bodhi Tree on the banks of the Nairañjana. Under this tree He attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha, ‘one who has awoken’. This experience is similar to the Burning Bush of Moses, the visions of Zoroaster, the Baptism of Christ and the Siyáh-Chal of Bahá’u’lláh. It is the moment when Siddharta became the Buddha, the Manifestation of God for His age. He spent several weeks in Bodh Gaya (the area of the Bodhi Tree), a period similar to Moses’s stay on Mount Sinai, Christ’s wandering in the wilderness following His Baptism and Bahá’u’lláh’s time as a dervish in the mountains of Kurdistan. The brahma or high deity, Sahampati, entreated Buddha to deliver His Message to the world. (see: Skilton, p. 23) One day, two merchants passed by with a caravan of carts. Their names were Trapusa and Bhallika. They stopped their carts and offered Buddha a sweet rice dish. In gratitude, the Buddha taught them some of the teachings of Dharma. They took refuge in the Buddha and the Dharma (the Sangha or community of monks did not yet exist) and became His first disciples. (see: Strong, pp. 78-79)
Buddha then went to the deer park and taught His five former ascetic companions the new Message. He delivered His first discourse, teaching the Middle Way and the Four Noble Truths. The Middle way is the path to liberation, which I have described below. The Four Noble Truths are: (1) that life is ultimately unsatisfactory and full of suffering; (2) that the origin (samudaya) of this suffering is desire, which leads us to become attached to possessions, persons and life; (3) that freedom from this suffering is possible by eliminating the thirst for material attachments; and (4) that the way in which this can be achieved is by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path (marga). The eldest of the five disciples, Kaundinya, immediately recognised the truth in the Buddha’s teachings. He was ordained by the Buddha and became the first Buddhist monk. The other four eventually came to recognise these truths. This was the beginning of the Buddhist community or ‘Sangha’. (see: Strong, pp. 81-84)
Having succeeded in this, He taught a further fifty-five young men. He exhorted this group of sixty to wander throughout the land and teach the great Insight. The community of His followers, the Sangha, grew quickly, whilst the Buddha taught His Message throughout the major cities of the land.
Hearing of His fame, the Buddha’s father sent messengers to find his son. Eventually the Buddha returned to His native city of Kapilavastu. He met His father Suddhodana and other relatives including Yasodhara (His wife), Rahula (His son), Nanda (His half-brother), Mahaprajapati (His stepmother), Ananda, Aniruddha, and Devadatta (His cousins) and His uncles. Suddhodana was upset to see His son going from house to house to beg for food. This did not befit a Sakya of His station. The Buddha said that the ascetic’s robe and beggar’s bowl was the manner of His race. (see: Strong, pp. 91-92) Suddhodana asked: “What race?” The Buddha replied:
“The Buddhas who have been and who shall be; Of these am I and what they did, I do, And this, which now befalls, so fell before, that at his gate, a king in warrior mail should meet his son, a prince in hermit weeds.” (Digha-nikaya, pp. 103-4, quoted in Fozdar, p. 15)
Suddhodana came to believe in His son. He gave up his throne, which passed to his nephew, Sakyaraja Bhadrika, the son of Suklodana. In other accounts, Suddhodana remains a king, while looking out for the interests of the Sangha. The Buddha’s stepmother, Mahaprajapati eventually became the leader of the first Buddhist order of nuns (bhikshunis). Suddhodana remained a layman, but roughly five hundred Sakyas became monks, including Ananda, Devadatta, Aniruddha, Bhadrika and Nanda. According to the Mahavastu (‘Great Story’), Suddhodana ordered that in a family with several sons, one should be a layman and the other a monk. Of the two sons of Amrtodana, Aniruddha decided to become a monk and Mahanaman remained a layman. In order to show a departure from the old caste system, Upali, the Sakyas’ low-caste barber, was ordained first. (see: Strong, pp. 92-94)
In one story, Yasodhara tells her son, Rahula, to go and ask his father for his inheritance. The Buddha decides instead to give His son a spiritual inheritance and instructs Sariputra to ordain Rahula as a novice. Yasodhara herself eventually joins the Sangha. (see: Strong, pp. 97-98)
At the age of eighty He left this world after eating a meal receieved from a metal-worker named Cunda. He passed away among a grove of trees at Kusinagara. On His deathbead a very old wandering ascetic named Subhadra approached the Buddha. The Buddha taught him the Dharma and Subhadra became the Buddha’s last personal disciple. (see: Strong, p. 139) His final words were vayadhamma samkhara, appamadena sampadetha ('All compounded things are liable to decay; strive with mindfulness’). (see: Skilton, pp. 23-24)
The Buddha described the world as being characterized by three laksanas or qualities: anitya (‘transitory’ or ‘impermanent’), duhkha (‘painful’ or ‘unsatisfactory’), and anatman (‘that devoid of a self’ or ‘essence’). His path to liberation was the aryastangikamarga (‘the Eightfold Path of the Noble Ones’). This consists of three parts: prajña (‘wisdom’): (1) Right Understanding, (2) Right Resolve; sila (‘ethics’): (3) Right Speech, (4) Action, and (5) Livelihood; and samadhi (‘meditation’): (6) Right Effort, (7) Mindfulness and (8) Concentration. This seems to echo the ‘good thoughts, good words, good deeds’ of the Prophet Zoroaster. The Buddha’s moral teachings include the dasakusalakarmapatha (‘the path of ten skillful actions’): abstention from killing and the cultivation of loving kindness; to avoid taking what is not given and the cultivation of generosity; abstention from sexual misconduct and the cultivation of physical contentment; abstention from telling lies, harsh speech and slander, and from frivolous and senseless speech and the cultivation of speech that is truthful, kindly and gracious, helpful and harmonious; to avoid covetousness and to cultivate tranquillity of mind; abandonment of malevolence and the cultivation of compassion; and the abandonment of false views and the cultivation of wisdom. Other teachings include abstention from all mind-clouding intoxicants and the cultivation of mindfulness. (see: Skilton, pp. 33-34) These moral principles are upheld in all religions.
Like all religions, the Buddha taught the Straight Path. He says: “This is the path; there is none other that leads to the purifying of insight. You follow this (path).” (Dhammapada, vv. 274, quoted in Fozdar, p. 34) The world is charectarised by anitya (‘impermanence’). The Buddha advises His followers to “Look upon the world as a bubble: look upon it as a mirage. Him who looks thus upon the world the king of death does not see.” (Dhammapada, v. 170, see: Fozdar, p. 37) He also taught the Golden Rule, which is manifested in all faiths: “practice the truth that thy brother is the same as you.” (Questions of King Milinda, quoted in Fozdar, p. 128)
Believers could consider themselves members of the Sangha by taking refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha (the spiritual Exemplar), the Dharma (His Teaching), and the Sangha (the spiritual community of the Buddha). Believers entered the path of the Buddha by thrice repeating this formula (in Pali): buddham saranam gacchami, dhammam saranam gacchami, sangham saranam gacchami (‘I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Dharma, I go for refuge to the Sangha’). (see: Skilton, pp. 39-40)
It is often said that Buddhism is atheistic, in that it does not recognise God, although many sects of Buddhism worship various gods which were created many years after the religion began. However, the Buddha did uphold the Oneness of God. He often referred to God as the Uncreated. For instance, He says: “The man who is free from credulity, who knowes the uncreated, who has severed all ties, who has put an end to all occasions, who has renounced all desires, he, indeed, is exalted among men.” And: “O Brahmin, cut off the stream, be energetic, drive away desires. Knowing the destruction of all that is made you will know the uncreated, O Brahmin.” (Dhammapada, v. 97 and 383, quoted in Fozdar, pp. 134, 135). He also refers to God as the Uncreated and the Causeless Cause: “The Tathagata sees the triple world (the world of the Uncreated and the Causeless Cause, the world of the Spirit-Mind and the world of matter) as it really is: ‘It is not born, it dies not; it is not conceived; it springs not into existence; it moves not in a whirl, it becomes not extinct; it is not real, nor unreal, it is not existing nor non-existing; it is not such, not otherwise, nor false. The Tathagata sees... in His position no laws are concealed.” (The Lotus Sutra, Ch. XV., quoted in Fozdar, p. 140) He also calls God the Unborn, the Unoriginated and the Unformed:
“There is O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not, O monks, this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed.” (Udana, 80-81, quoted in Fozdar, p. 154)
Buddha said that there had been Buddhas before Him, and there will be another Buddha after Him:
“In this auspicious aeon three leaders have there been. Kakasandha, Konagamana and the leader Kassapa too. I am now the perfect Buddha; And there will be Metteyya too before this same auspicious aeon runs to the end of its years.” (Anagata-Vamsa, p. 34, quoted in “the God of Buddha” by Jamshed Fozdar, p. 16)
The names mentioned in this quote are the Pali versions of Krakacchanda, Kanakamuni, Kasyapa and Maitreya (which means ‘Kindness’). These are the ‘five Buddhas’ of Buddhism, similar to the ten Avatars of Hinduism. Gautama Buddha is Himself the Return of Krishna. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita (4.7): yada yada hi dharmasya / glanir bhavati bharata / abhyutthanam adharmasya / tadatmanam srjamy aham (“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendent of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself”)
Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is Maitreya Buddha, the fifth Buddha of this kalpa or ‘age’. Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, states: “He alone is meant by the prophecy attributed to Gautama Buddha Himself, that "a Buddha named Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship" should, in the fullness of time, arise and reveal "His boundless glory."” (Shoghi Effendi: “God Passes By”, Pages: 95)
This necessary corruption of religious principles reflects the Buddha’s teaching of anitya (‘impermanence’). In each age, it is necessary for a new Enlightened or Awakened One to come to re-establish these principles and reinvigorate the Dharma.
“The founder of Buddhism was a wonderful soul. He established the Oneness of God, but later the original principles of His doctrines gradually disappeared, and ignorant customs and ceremonials arose and increased until they finally ended in the worship of statues and images.
“Now, consider: Christ frequently repeated that the Ten Commandments in the Pentateuch were to be followed, and He insisted that they should be maintained. Among the Ten Commandments is one which says: "Do not worship any picture or image."* At present in some of the Christian churches many pictures and images exist. It is, therefore, clear and evident that the Religion of God does not maintain its original principles among the people, but that it has gradually changed and altered until it has been
entirely destroyed and annihilated. Because of this the manifestation is renewed, and a new religion established. But if religions did not change and alter, there would be no need of renewal.” (`Abdu'l-Bahá: “Some Answered Questions”, p. 165-166)
* Cf. Exod. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-9.
According to the Buddha, the Tathagata (‘He Who has fully arrived’ or the ‘Perfect One’) is not an ordinary human being. He says: “Do not call the Tathagata by His name nor address Him as ‘friend’, for He is the Buddha, the Holy One. The Buddha looks with a kind heart equally on all living beings, and they therefore call Him ‘Father’. To disrespect a father is wrong; to despise him is wicked.”
(Mahavagga, I.6, quoted in Fozdar, p. 12)
“Of those beings who live in ignorance, shut up and confused, as it were, in an egg, I have first broken the egg-shell of ignorance and alone in the universe obtained the most exalted, universal Buddhahood. Thus, O disciples, I am the eldest, the noblest of beings.” (Parajika Suttavibhanga, I.1, 4 quoted in Fozdar, p. 21)
“Rarely, O monks, do Tathagatas appear in the world. To the extent that they understand the rarity of a Tathagata’s appearance, to that extent they will wonder at His appearance, and sorrow at His disappearance, and when they do not see the Tathagata, they will long for the sight of Him.”
(Saddharmapundarika, XV.268-72, quoted in Fozdar, p. 21)
“Subdued have I all, all knowing am I now. Unattached to all things, and abandoning all. Finally freed on the destruction of all craving. Knowing it Myself, whom else should I credit? There is no teacher of mine, nor is one like Me; There is none to rival Me in the world of men and gods; Truly entitled to honour am I, a teacher unexcelled. Alone am I a Supreme Buddha, placid and tranquil, To found the kingdom of righteousness, I proceed to Kasi’s capital, Beating the drum of immortality in the world enveloped by darkness.” (Ariyaparyesana Sutta (Majjhima-nikaya), quoted in Fozdar, p. 23)
“Those only who do not believe call me Gotama, but you call Me the Buddha, the Blessed One, the Teacher. And this is right, for I have in this life entered Nirvana, while the life of Gotama has been extinguished. Self has disappeared and the truth has taken its abode in Me. This body of Mine is Gotama’s body and it will be dissolved in due time, and after its dissolution no one, neither god (deva) nor man, will see Gotama again. But the truth remains. The Buddha will not die; the Buddha will continue to live in the holy body of the law.”
(Digha-Nikaya, I.46, quoted in Fozdar, p. 23)
It is best to take advantage of this short, fleeting life and follow the teachings of the Buddha. These teachings are manifested in every age, and every religion, and are taught by every Prophet and Messenger.
“The eschewing of all evil, the perfecting of good deeds, the purifying of one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” (Dhammapda, v. 183, quoted in Fozdar, p. 46)
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