The word Buddha means "enlightened one." It is used today as a title to the one who has given us more religious beliefs than almost any other human who lived in this world. However, he was not given this name at birth; he had to earn it for himself by undergoing long, hard hours of meditation and contemplation. Buddha has changed the lifestyles of many cultures with new, never-before asked questions that were explained by his search for salvation. He began an entirely new religion that dared to test the boundaries of reality and go beyond common knowledge to find the answers of the mysteries of life.
During the sixth century BC, India was a land of political and religious turmoil. It was an era of great brutality with the domination of Northwest India by Indo-Aryan invaders. Many people, influenced by the Aryan civilization, began to question the value of life and it's true meaning. Schools were opened because of this curiosity where teachers would discuss the significance of existence and the nature of man and held programs to reconstruct one's spiritual self. (Pardue, page 228)
Near the town of Kapilavastivu, today known as Nepal, lived King Suddhodhana and Queen Maya of the indigenous tribe known as the Shakyas. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 687) Queen Maya soon became pregnant and had a dream shortly before she gave birth. In this dream a beautiful, white elephant with six tusks entered her room and touched her side. This dream was soon interpreted by the wisest Brahmin, or Priest of Brahmanism, that she was to give birth to a son that would, if he were to remain in the castle, become the wisest king in the world, but if he were ever to leave the castle he would then become the wisest prophet far into future generations. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 410)
In around the year 563 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of pure luxury. (Wangu, page 16) His father wanted to make sure that his son was well taken care of as he grew to prevent him from desiring to leave the palace. Suddhodhana, listening to the prophecy, kept Siddhartha away from the pain of reality so that he could follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a well respected leader.
As Siddhartha grew, he became very curious about the world outside of the palace walls. He felt a great need to undergo new experiences and learn the truth of reality. Siddhartha was married to a woman named Yasodhara who gave birth to a boy, Rahul. Even after his marriage, Siddhartha was still not completely satisfied with his life; he decided that it was necessary for him to see the lives of those outside the castle.
The Four Meetings
One day, Siddhartha called for his charioteer to take him to the park. When the King heard of this, he ordered the streets to be cleared of everything except beauty. As the Prince rode by, the people cheered and threw flowers at him, praising his name and Siddhartha was still clueless to the suffering of life until a god, disguised as a poor, old man stumbled before the chariot. Siddhartha was curious to this man's condition and he asked the charioteer about his appearance. The charioteer replied that all men must endure old age and that even the prince could not escape this fate. Siddhartha then returned to the palace to contemplate about old age which caused him to want to see more.
The next day, Siddhartha decided to venture on to the streets again which were, by the King's request, once more cleared of all evil and ugliness. This time, Siddhartha encountered a sick man and again, returned to the palace to reflect on sickness. On his third trip to the park, Siddhartha approached a funeral in a garden and was educated by the charioteer about how every man must experience death. Finally, on the fourth day, the young prince saw a shaven- headed man wearing a yellow robe. He was amazed and impressed by how peaceful the man seemed; he carried with him only a begging bowl and...
Bibliography: "Buddha and Buddhism." Encyclopedia Americana. 1990.
Cohen, John Lebold. Buddha. Mary Frank, 1969.
Pardue, Peter A. "Buddha." Encyclopedia of World Biography.
McGraw Hill, 1973.
"The Buddha and Buddhism." The New Encyclopedia Britannica.
Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Buddhism. New York: Facts On File, 1993.
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