The Story of Buddha


   This princely youth, Gautam Sakyamuni, had achieved Enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree, or the Tree of Awakening (bodhi means “awakening”), which, as the axial tree at the center of the turning world, is equivalent to that in Saint Brendan’s voyage of the Paradise of Birds: there came to him from the four quarters of the earth, the four guardian kings of those quarters, each with a gift of a begging bowl; and those four bowls became fused into a single bowl of stone, which, like the Celtic Grail, or the cauldron of Manannan, was an inexhaustible vessel.  The Buddha came to his realization only after years of trial and seeking, finally coming to the so-called Immovable Spot of the paradisial tree.  We are not to seek this place in the world; we are to seek it in our own will.   It is the place where the will is moved neither by the quest for life nor by the fear of death; the Buddha, seated there, had been approached by the antagonist, the Tempter, as Christ had been, in the desert.  The Tempter, in his character of the Lord of Desire, Kama, displayed before the seated one his three voluptuous daughters (whose names, by the way, were Desire, Fulfillment, and Regrets); but the prince, who had already left behind the delusions of ths senses, was unmoved.  The next temptation was that of the fear of death, the Tempter now in his character of Mara, the lord of Death himself.  But again the prince unattached to ego, was unmoved.  Then finally, in his character of Dharma, lord of the duties of life imposed on one by society, the master of delusion commanded the meditating prince to give up his seat on the Immovable Spot and return to his princely throne.  The one seated there only moved his right hand to touch with his fingertips the earth, and the very goddess of the earth, of the tree, and of the all-enclosing sphere of the sky, with a voice of thunder that resounded from the whole horizon, declared the unmoved and immovable prince to have already so given of himself in compassion to the world that there was in fact no historical person there anymore, and he was eligible for that seat.  With that, the deluding ruler of the world – the lord Kama, of lust; Mara, of the fear of death; and Dharma, of socially imposed duty – was humbled, his power broken, and the prince, that night, achieved the Enlightenment, which he then, for fifty years, made known as the Middle Way of releasing humankind from delusion.   RG 84

“The Way of Buddha is to know yourself.”

                                                                               -- Dogen

Buddha[1], whose birth name is Siddhartha Gotema, was born in April 563[2] BCE as the prince of the Shakya kingdom where Nepal now is.  When he was born, a hermetic sage named Asita prophesied that Siddhartha would become either a great king who would rule the world or become its saviour.  Siddhartha’s father (Suddhodana) wanted him to be a king.  So much so, that he created the most luxurious life for Siddhartha imaginable, hoping that Siddhartha would not be tempted to become a religious man.  Siddhartha’s father had three palaces[3] built for him hoping that their extreme luxuriousness would content Siddhartha’s mind enough so that he would not desire to see the outside world.  His father wanted Siddhartha to solely concentrate on becoming a great king.  In the process, Siddhartha was sheltered from seeing all negativity in life in order to keep him happy and his mind trouble free.  Siddhartha had always been inquisitive about what was outside the palace walls, but he was such a devoted son and pupil that he did as he was instructed.  When he was 28 though his mind became so agitated and anxious to see what was outside of the palaces, that he would no longer take no for an answer, and absolutely insisted to his father that he had to see the kingdom that he would one-day reign over.  His father reluctantly agreed, but did his best to have everything in Siddhartha’s path cleaned up and adjusted so that his son would only see beautiful things.   

              The Four Sightings

During his journey Siddhartha met a sick person for the first time and he asked his cousin/attendant Ananda: what is wrong with this person?  Ananda replied; he is sick.  Naively Siddhartha asked, what is sick?  Ananda explained sickness, and in reply Siddhartha asked “Even kings?”  Ananda replied; no man can go through life without incurring sickness, and Siddhartha was shaken. 

Then they saw some old people, and Siddhartha had never seen old people before.  He asked Ananda what was wrong with them and Ananda said:  They are old my Lord.  It is something all humans must face.  He also saw a dying woman in terrible pain, which was something else Siddhartha had never experienced as well. 

He saw a corpse at the side of a river during a cremation ceremony.  Siddhartha had no idea of death until this moment and he was traumatized by it.

The fourth sighting was a monk

‘Coincidentally’, this experience also fell on the same day that his first and only child (Rahula) was born.  Inspired by the love he had for his son coupled with the suffering he had just witnessed, he reconciled to go out into the world and find a way to overcome suffering so that he could teach the whole world how to avoid this catastrophic experience.  He kissed his sleeping son goodbye, left the palace in the middle of the night, and "went West". 

Soon after, Siddhartha met some ascetics, but quickly developed to higher levels than they had achieved, and knew he could not attain enlightenment by these methods, so he moved on.  Then he met some more teachers, but learned their highest teachings quite quickly again and moved on.  This happened quite a few times until he met one final group of ascetics who adhered to a mindset of extremism in order to vanquish suffering.  He connected with them and quite soon after became their leader.  By confronting suffering he believed he could overcome suffering.  He slept on the forest ground, ate only one piece of rice and one sesame seed[4] each day and he drank water from puddles in the mud.  In the sixth year after the time he left the palace he was so unhealthy and had pushed himself to such limits that he was about to die. 

        The Turning Point

What happened to Siddhartha, that fostered his enlightenment, was:

when he was lying by a river, near death from his struggle, a man and a young girl were traveling by and the girl was playing a stringed instrument.  The man said to her:

 if the string is too loose it won’t play, and if it is too tight, it will snap. 

That moment was the Scintillae - Siddhartha discovered The Middle Way, which became the core of his philosophy for teaching the way out of suffering - Dhamma[5].  His realization changed his approach, understanding that the practice of extremism was the wrong path.

He tried to explain that The Middle Way was the path to enlightenment to his ascetic friends, but they believed he had broken his vows as well as let them down, and would not follow him any longer

Now knowing the missing link to his quest, and with renewed strength and determination, he sat down at the base of a Bodhi tree and said:

"Blood may become exhausted, flesh may decay, bones may fall apart, but I will never leave this place until I find the way to Enlightenment.”

On the 49th day,[6] Siddhartha Gotema achieved Enlightenment, and became Buddha.

“Leaving aside all preconceptions, he examined himself to discover the true nature of the physical  and mental structure.  Starting from the level of superficial, apparent reality, he penetrated to the subtlest level, and he found that the entire physical structure, the entire material world, is composed of subatomic particles, called in Pāli attha kalāpā. And he discovered that each such particle consists of the four elements – earth, water, fire, air – and their subsidiary characteristics.  These particles, he found, are the basic building blocks of matter, and they are themselves constantly arising and passing away,  with great rapidity – trillions of times within a second.  In reality there is no solidity in the material world; it is nothing but combustion and vibrations.  Modern scientists have confirmed the findings of the Buddha, and have proved by experiment that the entire material universe is composed of subatomic particles which rapidly arise and pass away.[8]                                               

He then spent the rest of his life until the age of 81 teaching Dhamma – the philosophy of the cessation of suffering

When Buddha was first enlightened, what was it that was enlightened?

It was his own mind.  He sat at the base of the Bodhi tree for 49 straight days battling his own mind.  His own mind kept trying to play tricks on him, but his resolution prevailed and he defeated all of his enemies[9]. 

Who were his enemies? 

His enemies were the defilements of his mind.  The personification of the dark side of the mind in his culture is called Mara.  In our culture it’s the devil.  So by defeating his own mind, he defeated the devil.  The devil sent many enemies to Buddha because Buddha was winning. 

His second final test was lust, which in the later courses of Buddha had said; if there was one more obstacle as difficult to overcome as lust, I might not have made it[10]. 

Siddhartha’s final test was when Mara sat down in front of him and congratulated Siddhartha on his diligence.  Mara then offered him a seat at his side so that they could rule the universe as partners[11].  Buddha turned him down and said, I don’t need you, you’re not real, and then Mara disappeared defeated.  His mind had become so strong that he had unshakeable peace and was now immune to failing these tests.  This is what makes meditation so difficult for you; your mind (ego) wants you to stop trying to take control. ‘It’ wants to take full control.  And whatever you don’t take control of is left in its hands[12]. 

Buddha consciousness means getting to know you are Buddha consciousness, in a society that keeps telling you that you aren’t.

   St. Paul wrote, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”  What did he mean?  Jesus of Nazareth, the separate incarnation, had already ascended to the galaxies.  Did Paul think that Jesus had come back to live in him?  Of course not.  You have two aspects in this figure – one is the temporal incarnation Jesus, and the other is the eternal principle Christ, the second person of the blessed trinity, transcendent of time, who is present and true yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  One characteristic bit of dogma of the Christian tradition is that Jesus is the only living being who was identical to Christ.  Now, the great Buddhist idea is that we are all Buddha beings, only we don’t know it, or don’t act as though we are.  So when Paul says, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in men,” what he’s really saying is what every Buddhist says.

   There’s a wonderful story in a paper by Daisetz Suzuki.  The young student said to his master, “Am I in possession of Buddha consciousness?”  The master said, “No.”  The student said, “Well, I’ve been told that all things are in the possession of Buddha consciousness.  The rocks, the trees, the butterflies, the birds, the animals, all beings.”  The master said, “You are correct.  All things are in possession of Buddha consciousness.  The rocks, the trees, the butterflies, the bees, the birds, the animals, all being – but not you.”  “Not me?  Why not?”  Because you are asking this question.”   If you’ve put your identification of yourself with this rational problem, you are not getting the message.  The Buddha is one who wiped that out, got the message, and now is living out of the message.  

     The Four Sacred Sites

Lumbini: Where Buddha was born
Bodghaya: Where Buddha was Enlightened
Sarnath:  Where Buddha gave his first sermon
Kushinagar; Where Buddha passed away

[1] Buddha is a title (like Christ), it means awakened one.

[2] Many different schools have many different ideas of this date. 

[3] One for each season (summer, winter, rainy)

[4] There are quite a few different versions of what he ate, but all demonstrate extremism. 

[5] Dhamma or Dharma has several interpretation, but basically means the path, the way, the teaching, etc. 

… the word dharma comes from the root dhr, which means “support.”  P2B 55

[6] One source puts the date at December 06, 528BCE

[7] Which is best translated as blowing out, like a candle being blown out.  In this sense, it is to awake from the illusion of the world around us.

[8] Cont’d – However, these scientists have not become liberated from all misery, because their wisdom is only intellectual.  Unlike the Buddha, they have not experienced truth directly, within themselves.  When one experiences personally the reality of one’s own impermanence, only then does one start to come out of misery.”  TDS – page 14. 

[9] Ref: The armies of Mara page 54.

[10] The Teachings of Buddha

[11] Matthew 4:9
And the Devil said to him, 'This whole realm has been granted to me, and I can give it to whomever I wish. If you worship me, it shall all be yours.'

[12] Refer to ‘Two wolves’ page XX – ego/spirit