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He was born in Lumbini garden, under a Sal-tree, when His mother Queen Mahamaya-devi was on her way to her parents’ home. It is said she washed herself in the pond Puskarni, before giving birth to the Bodhisatta, while holding a brunch of Sal-tree with her right hand and her left hand resting on her hips. The Queen passed away one week after His birth. As a prince, He was named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha means every wish fulfilled. Siddhartha was brought up by His mother’s sister, Mahaprajapati. His father had three pavilions built for Him, one for Spring, one for Autumn, and one for the Rainy Season. As a youth he immersed himself in this glittering world of sense pleasure with music, dancing and so on. His ears were bigger than normal because he was wearing big ear rings since he was a child. The pointed stuff you see on the Buddha statue signified fire which would dispel darkness.
When Siddhartha was born, Asita, a hermit from the nearby mountain saw radiance from the palace. He visited the palace and was shown the child. He predicted that prince, if he remained in the palace, would become a great king when he grew up, and subjugate the whole world. But if he forsake the court to embrace a religious life, he would become a Buddha. The Indians already knew about the level of attainment called Buddhahood before Siddhartha was born.
He lived from 566 to 486 BC. His teachings were passed down orally and they were only committed to writing, on ola leaves, in Sri Lanka around the middle of the first century BC. The Buddha taught for a period of forty five years. They consisted of three baskets or divisions called Pitaka, which are the over 10 000 Discourses, the Monastic regulations, and the Abhidhamma. In all they consisted of 84 000 chapters, about 5000 of them are the Discourses (Suttas). Another group of scholars estimated that there were over 10 000 Suttas. I would say the claim to the over 5000 Suttas was genuine because after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, new Suttas were sprouting. Only the Suttas delivered by the Buddha were the genuine ones. It has been estimated by scholars that if all the main points of the three baskets were listed in book form, that set of books would be equivalent to 360 volumes of our average encyclopedia today.
If a person wishes to become a Buddhist, no initiation ceremony is needed. There is no need for baptism. If a person understands the Buddha’s teaching, is convinced that His teaching is the right Path, and does his best to follow it. Then he is a Buddhist.
The four sacred Buddhist places are: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara. Lumbini, now in Nepal, was the birthplace of Sakyamuni Buddha. Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara are in India. Bodh Gaya was the place where Sakyamuni was enlightened, after He moved from place to place in India practicing meditation for seven years. At Deer Park, Sarnath , near Benares, He carried out His first teaching, (turning of the Dharma Wheel) to the five ascetics, with these discourses : Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, (Four Noble Truths & The Eightfold Path); and Anattalakkhana Sutta, ( Soulless). Kusinara was the place of His final Nibbana. The Buddha personally said that Buddhists who visit these four places would travel to higher states.
He was born as an average person. This was a good sign because it means you and I can also become a Buddha. You don't need to be the most intelligent ones in the nation like the top 0.000001% of the population to be able to understand the Dharma to become a Buddha. If He was very intelligent, He would have attained Nibbana earlier, because as a child (aged 7) He sat under a rose-apple tree (Bodhi Tree, Botanical name: ficus religiosa) watching His father carrying out the opening ceremony for the annual ploughing festival, He crossed legs and went on meditation and was believed to have reached the first Jhana. He could have continued and practised harder and successfully attain Buddhahood without spending the six years which He did later on. It was said that as the child sat under the tree, the tree-shade remained protecting him even though the position of the sun on the sky had changed. So you see, the devas protect the good people.
During meditation, when you see lots of shining spots moving around you, just transmit loving kindness to them. They are the devas. They live on the subtle levels either in terrestrial or heavenly realms.
Mahapandaka and Culapandaka were two brothers. Mahapaddaka was very smart, Culapandaka was very dumb, both of the became Arahants.
During his youth, Siddhartha learned from Brahmin holy men regarding meditation and ascetic practices, until he achieved perception of rupture arising from intense concentration. Beyond that level is the attainment of equanimity. The next level is the perception of emptiness. After he had mastered all these states of Jhanas, he left home to pursue meditation on his own.
As a young prince, the turning point in his life was when he observed a frog being swallowed by a snake, and at that moment, a hawk swooped down and carried both the snake and the frog away.
How could an almighty creator allow his creatures to be preyed upon by others, and to live in constant fear? All creatures either hunt or are hunted by others. Herbivorous animals are also the victims of other animals, including human beings.
During one of his outings, Prince Siddhartha came across a recluse, dressed in yellow rope, holding a bowl in his hand, looking very calm and perfect. The Prince stopped the chariot and asked Channa, with curiosity: “What is this man? I like very much to know him.”
That recluse approached the Prince and said: “Prince, I am a holy man, a recluse. Seeing the world full of miseries, I have left it, wandering in search of Truth and Peace.”
The recluse immediately retired and was out of sight. It is believed that person was a deva.
In the evening, as usual, a party of dancing girls came to entertain the Prince. Prince Siddhartha heard them and saw them but could not pay attention to them. He sat on the couch and was soon asleep. The entertainers stopped to rest. As night advanced, they too were asleep.
Later that night, the Prince woke up and looked around. The dancing girls lay scattered all over the floor like dead bodies. Some had their eyes fully shut, and some half-shut, appearing repulsive. Saliva flew from their mouths. The noses were blowing. Many of them were snoring, with their saree neglectfully disordered. Some were biting their teeth, or muttering in their dreams. The whole scene looked more like a cemetery ground.
The Prince walked out of the hall to wake up the horse-groom Channa, and said: “Get my horse ready. I will go out.”
The Prince galloped on and on, crossing the river Anoma, left his jewels, sword and garments, cut his hair, took the yellow rope and a begging bowl, to enter the forests searching for Truth and Peace. His horse, the snow-white Kanthaka, and all the other items He discarded were brought back to the palace by Channa. He remained seven days at Anupiya Mango Groove near River Anoma, and then proceeded to Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha kingdom, ruled by king Bimbisara. King Bimbisara came personally to see this mysterious recluse and also wanted to offer half the kingdom to this recluse. The Prince rejected the offer but promised the king that when he find the Truth and Peace he would come back to visit the king.
It is believed Siddhartha went as far as the Dhammaka Mountain in the Himalayas to meditate. During his search, Siddhartha received training from many teachers, the most outstanding ones were: Asita, Alara Kalama, and Uddaka Ramaputta, but did not find the Truth and Peace. Alara and Uddaka, who practiced Yoga at that time actually attained the third and fourth stages of Arupa (Formless) Jhana, which are Sphere of Nothingness (Akincannayatana) and Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-perception (Neva-Sanna-nasannayatana) respectively. But Siddhartha rejected them as they would not reach the ultimate release, Nibbana, because these Yogis concluded the views that the world was either eternal or subject to complete annihilation. And what the Yogis were doing actually increased the bondage and added fuel to the fires of craving. These ascetics were most likely practicing Sankhya Yoga system which was introduced by Kapila, who lived a century earlier, in the same region of India as the Buddha.
He left the two teachers to continue His quest alone. Near Uruvela, he came across five ascetics who were practising asceticism. Siddhartha joined them, fasting for months continuously, burning the body under midday sun during summer and spending cold and frosty winter nights, dipped in water. They used very rough clothing, and pricked thorns in their own body to conquer the temptation of touch, believing that could annihilate the physical and gain the real blissful nature of the soul. He gradually reduced His intake of food every day. His body was reduced to skeleton, and his hair all fell off. The skin shrank until he looked like a very old man.
One day, he got fainted and yet could not find the Truth. After six years of practice, it was then clear to him that asceticism was a wrong method. He then remembered the string tension of the Sitar which must be neither low nor high to produce the correct pitch. He began to take food and gradually gained strength. The other five ascetics: Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji, were unhappy with him and left him.
Then the Prince was alone. He sat under a Bodhi tree, on eight handfuls of grass (kusa) offered by a Brahmin grass dealer named Sotthiya, by the side of River Neranjara, in the area of Uruvela (now Phalgu) to continue meditation, with one posture for one week, facing the east because in May the afternoon sun in India was very strong. A village girl, Sujata, daughter of a chieftain, offered him some milk-rice. Before accepting the alms, Siddhartha asked her if her alms included the dish. Sujata confirmed it included both the food and the dish. After this meal he went to the river saying: “If I am to succeed in becoming a Buddha today, let this dish go upstream; but if not, let it go down stream.”
He threw the dish into the water. It floated to the middle of the river, and moved upstream for eighty cubits (37 meters) and sank in a whirlpool. He returned and continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree, but was besieged by all the lures of Mara, who came and tried to frighten him with storms and armies of demons. It was not successful. Mara then sent his three beautiful daughters to seduce him. It failed again. Siddhartha continued to meditate, using the breathing process as the subject of calm meditation and the foundation of insight. He remembered all the virtues he had done to perfection during his past lives: giving, morality, renunciation, wisdom, endurance, truthfulness, resolution, kindness, and equanimity. Within the same night, the Great Enlightenment dawned on him at about four o’clock in the morning before sunrise. It is believed all the previous Buddhas also attained Nibbana at about this time in the morning, He discovered ignorance was the root of all evils, and that with the cessation of ignorance, emancipation would be obtained, and one would be free from Samsara. He traced the world of miseries, and found twelve links called Nidanas. He called them “Paticca Samuppada” which means “Dependent Origination”, i.e., depending on this, that originates. The process can be traced back and there was no beginning, or a first cause.