Though the term “Buddha” is often used to describe one who has reached Enlightenment, it is more often used to describe the historical founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama. While his teachings have been extensively studied and are known all over the world, little is still known about the teacher. “Accurately reconstructing the precise details of the Buddha’s life and teaching has proven difficult. The first biographies of his life did not appear until centuries after his death, and it is often impossible to ascertain exactly where the biographies reconstruct the Buddha’s life according to ideal patterns as opposed to historical realities” (Williams, Buddha). What we do know though allows us to concluded that Siddhartha lived an extraordinary life, and has helped shaped the way we all view life and religion. Siddhartha was an Indian prince, and was said to have lived circa 560–480 BCE, while more-recent scholarship suggests the later dates of circa 485–405 BCE (Keown, Date of Buddha). It was also stated by Kerena Marchant that he was born in Lumbini (known as present-day Nepal), at the Lumbini Grove, underneath a bodhi tree (6). It’s also stated that his mother died a few days after his birth (Marchant 6). But according to tradition, just prior to his birth, his mother had a dream of a white elephant coming into her womb, which led soothsayers, predictors of the future, to believe that he would become a great religious leader (William, Buddha). Siddhartha’s farther, the king, had decided that Siddhartha was to become a great king, so he shielded him from any religion or human suffering, as to not be tempted to become a holy man. As Siddhartha grew up, it became certain he would become king, while he still had only experienced the youth, health, happiness, and luxury of life. He was smart and skilled, married Princess Gopa Yasodhara at 16, and later had a son (Penny 6). It seemed he had everything in life. But he named his son Rahula, which means “chain”, and was often unhappy. He always felt as if there should be something more to life (Williams, Buddha). When he was 29, he snuck out of his kingdom, and according to tradition, he encountered “four signs”, which would forever change his life. The first three he saw were an old man, a sick man, and a funeral. Each of these things had disturbed him greatly as he realized that he too would grow old and wither away (Marchant 7). He then saw a holy man, who had given up everything he had so he could search for the answers to the suffering in the world (Penny 6). Siddhartha was so influenced by what he saw, that he too decided to find the answers to the suffering. He shaved his head, exchanged his royal robes for the simple clothes holy men wore, and left the palace.
For the next several years, Siddhartha traveled across India. He sought out two famous teachers, Udraka Rāmaputra and Alāra Kālāma. He studied with them for some time, but soon became dissatisfied with their teachings (Marchant 8). As stated by Marchant: “He became more determined than ever to reach Enlightenment and find the answers, so he decided to retreat to the forest to live as an ascetic, a life of self-denial (8). Impressed by his determination, five other monks joined him in his search. They fasted and meditated for several years, and it was said that they would also whip themselves, burn their bodies, and stand for weeks on end. After all this, he had still not found Enlightenment, and was near death. It was at this time he concluded that a life of self deprivation would not help anyone achieve anything but death, and so he went back to eating and drinking. Shocked by this judgment, the other five monks believed that Siddhartha had given up on reaching Enlightenment, and left him (Penny 7). Alone, Siddhartha traveled to a village called Bodh Gaya, where he sat under a Bodhi tree, and said that he would not rise until he reached Enlightenment (Marchant 9). It is not said how long he had meditated under the tree, but on his 35th birthday, 6 years after he left his palace, he had found the answer to the suffering, and was freed from it himself. Siddhartha became Buddha. For the next 45 years of his life, he devoted himself to helping others, and set out across India to teach what he had learned (Marchant 9). Shortly after reaching Enlightenment (known as Nirvana), he decided to share what he had learned with his five companions from before. He found them in a place called Sarnath, and it was here that he first preached his first sermon in Deer Park (William, Buddha). At the end, they decided that he truly had reached Enlightenment, and that they all would also follow the Dharma, known as the path to enlightenment. He had gained many followers, including his farther and all of his nobles. Ha had established the Buddhist community called sangha, and constructed viharas, places of hospitality and comfort for those following the Dharma (Marchant 12). At 80 years of age, he felt his life draw near, but did not fear it. He set out to Kusinagara, where there was a vihara. Here his followers all came, for they too knew he was dying. He preached here for his longest and final time, and then laid on a couch, facing North, and passed away. This day is now known as Parinirvana Day, the day when Siddhartha reached Parinirvana, the state when the body of Buddha ceases to live, and the spirit is freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth (Fundamental Buddhism). Siddhartha’s life was complete.
Williams, Joseph."Buddha." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 2 Jan. 2012 . Williams, Joseph. "Buddhism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 2 Jan. 2012 . Keown, Damien. "Date of the Buddha." A Dictionary of Buddhism. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 2 Jan. 2012 < http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O108-dateoftheBuddha.html >. "Buddha | Siddhartha Gautama." Fundamental Buddhism | Buddhist Teachings. Web. 02 Jan. 2012. . Marchant, Kerena. The Buddha and Buddhism. North Mankato, Minnesota: Smart Apple Media, 2003. Print. Penny, Sue. Buddhism. Chicago, Illinois: Heinemann Library, 2001. Print.