Siddhartha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from ancient India and he is the founder of Buddhism. In Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.” The time of his birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as around 563 BCE to 483 BCE.
Gautama, also known as sage of the Shakyas, is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, conversations, and simple rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings were qualified to Gautama were passed down by oral tradition, and first committed to writing about 400 years later.
Siddhartha is also a minor figure in other religions: in some Hindu texts, he is described as an avatar of the god Vishnu who attempted to take in humans away from the Vedic religion, and he is regarded as a prophet in the Baha’i faith.
Siddhartha was a prince and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) especially built for him. His father, King Śuddhodana, wishing for Siddhartha to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. Siddhartha was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati.
As Siddhartha reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yaśodharā, a cousin of the same age. According to the traditional account, in time, she gave birth to a son, Rahula. Siddhartha spent 29 years as a Prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.
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Accompanied by his followers, Buddha traveled all over India, teaching his doctrines, which were recorded by his contemporary followers. His teachings also spread northward into Tibet, China, Korea and Japan, southward to Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. During 1900, his teaching spread to Europe, Australia and USA.
Some of the fundamentals of the teachings of Gautama Buddha are:
• The Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an inherent part of existence; that the origin of suffering is ignorance and the main symptoms of that ignorance are attachment and craving; that attachment and craving can be ceased; and that following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of attachment and craving and therefore suffering.
• The Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
• Dependent origination: that any phenomenon ‘exists’ only because of the ‘existence’ of other phenomena in a complex web of cause and effect covering time past, present and future. Because all things are thus conditioned and transient, they have no real independent identity.
• Rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture: Teachings should not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and are praised by the wise. See the Kalama Sutta for details.
• Anicca: That all things are impermanent.
• Dukkha: That all beings suffer from all situations due to unclear mind.
• Anatta: That the perception of a constant “self” is an illusion.
However, in some Mahayana schools, these points have come to be regarded as more or less subsidiary. There is some disagreement amongst various schools of Buddhism over more esoteric aspects of Buddha’s teachings, and also over some of the disciplinary rules for monks.
According to tradition, the Buddha emphasized ethics and correct understanding. He questioned the average person’s notions of divinity and salvation. He stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine; distant gods are subjected to karma themselves in decaying heavens; and the Buddha is solely a guide and teacher for the sentient beings who must tread the path of Nirvāṇa themselves to attain the spiritual awakening called bodhi and see truth and reality as it is. The Buddhist system of insight and meditation practice is not believed to have been revealed divinely, but by the understanding of the true nature of the mind, which must be discovered by personally treading a spiritual path guided by the Buddha’s teachings.
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