Life of the Buddha

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Asvaghosa’s Buddharcarita, The Life of the Buddha, is a valuable read which captures the events in the last life of the Buddha which illustrate basic Buddhist concepts, values, and attitudes. From the beginning of his birth, the world became exceedingly peaceful as “birds and deer muffled their cries” and “rivers flowed with calm waters.” It was over time that a young prince would define himself as a Buddha and discover his inner peace. As remembered in Buddhist texts, the life of the Buddha is not a record of historical events, but a way of demonstrating the Buddhist teachings.

Suffering, one of the Four Noble Truths, are stages that one must experience during their lifetime. Queen Maya expresses suffering shortly after giving birth to her prince, as she was “overcome with fear and joy, like a stream of hot and cold water mixed; both because her son was other than human, and because of a mothers natural weakness” (Canto 1, 29). Although the queen was filled with delight due to the fact that she had born a Buddha, she could not escape the pain and exhaustion it brought.

One day, the prince is struck with curiosity when he sees another man gripped by old age. He turns to his driver for explanation, “Who is this man, my dear charioteer, with white hair and walking stick in hand. Brows covering the eyes, body sagging and bent? Is it a transformation? Is it his natural state? Or is it simply chance” (Canto 3, 28)? When people get old, they tend to have aches and pains more regularly and also find it hard to get around. At this point, the Buddha slowly begins to learn that old age is suffering and also considered pervasive in ordinary human life.

It is not long while on the same journey, the young prince is brought upon a lifeless man. He is confused to see the man being carried by four others while they weep for him. The charioteer explains to the prince, “This is the last act of all men. Whether lowly, middling, or noble, death is certain for all in this...
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