Today is the full moon Poya day of Vesak in the Buddhist year 2552, as well as the 19th day of May 2008 as per the Gregorian calendar – the day on which the birth, the englightenment and the final passing away of the Buddha occurred within a span of 80 years over two and half millennia ago, exactly 2632 years ago today.
A noble prince who was destined to be the greatest religious teacher of the world was born on the full moon Poya day of Vesak in the year 623 BC at Lumbini Park at Kapilavattu on the Indian borders, to the King Suddhodana of the aristocratic Sakya clan, the ruler of the sakyas (in the modern Nepal) and the queen Maha Maya of the Koliya clan.
On the fifth day after the birth of the prince he was named Siddhartha which means ‘wish fulfilled’. On the seventh day Queen Maha Maya breathed her last. Then the Queen Maha Prajapathi Gothami, the other consort of the King as well as the younger sister of the queen Maha Maya gave her own son Nanda to a nurse and brought up Prince Siddhartha as her own son.
He was given a very good education. His teacher was Sarva Mitra. As a scion of the warrior class he received special training in the art of warfare too.
According to the customs of the time, he married at the young age of 16, Princess Yasodara. She was his cousin of the same age. They spent a very luxurious life. But all of a sudden, confronted with the reality of life and the suffering of mankind he murmered to himself: "Why do I, being subject to birth, decay, death, sorrow and impurities, thus search after things of like nature?"
So he decided to find the solution – the way out of this universal suffering.
Soon after the birth of his only son Rahula, he left his Kingdom and became an ascetic in search of this solution at the age of 29.
He wandered about the valley of Ganges for six years meeting famous religious teachers such as Alara Kalam and Uddaka Ramaputta, studying and following their systems and methods and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices. Any of them did not satisfy him. He abandoned all those traditional religious practices and methods and went his own way.
He felt that his quest for highest truth was not achieved. He had gained complete mastery of his mind, but his ultimate goal was not far ahead. He was seeking for the highest, the Nibbana, the complete cessation of suffering, the total eradication of all forms of craving.
He understood that his spiritual aspirations were far higher than those under whom he was studying. Further he understood that there was none capable enough to teach him what he yearned for – the highest truth. Ultimately he realized that the highest truth is to be found within oneself and ceased to seek external aid.
He, the ascetic Gothama, wandered through the district of Magadha and arrived at Uruwela, the market town of Senani. There he resolved to settle down to achieve his desired object.
The five ascetics – Kondanna, Baddiya, vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji – having heard the renunciation of the Prince Siddhartha, renounced the world and joined his company. Ascetic Siddhartha Gothama made a superhuman struggle practising all forms of severest austerity. His delicate body was reduced to almost a skeleton.
The more he tormented his body the farther his goal receded from him. The colour of his skin impaired owing to lack of food.
After all that he understood that prolonged painful austerities proved utterly futile. One day he fainted. Then a shepherd came and gave him some milk and that made him better. Then he realied that enlightenment could not be gained with such an utterly exhausted body. Physical fitness was essential for spiritual progress. So he decided to nourish the body sparingly and began to take more milk and food both hard and soft.
At this juncture his favourite five ascetic friends who were attending on him with great hopes thinking that whatever truth the ascetic Gothama would comprehend, that would he impart to them, felt disappointed at this unexpected change of method and leaving him and place too, went to Isipathana, saying that the ascetic Gothama had become luxurious, had ceased from striving, and had returned to a life of comfort. The ascetic Gothama was not discouraged when his companions deserted him at a time their assistance was most welcome.
After giving up austerities, eating moderately to maintain his body strength, he sat under an "Asatu" tree, later which came to be known as "Bodhi" tree, with the firm resolution "let my skin and sinews become dry, let all the flesh and blood dry up, but never will I stir from this seat until I attain the supreme status of Buddhahood."
At the age of 35, after a stupendous struggle of six strenuous years he, unaided and unguided by any supernatural agency and solely relying on his own efforts and wisdom, eradicated all defilements, ended the process of grasping and realising things as they truly are, by his own intuitive knowledge, became a Buddha – an enlightened or awakened one under the Bodhi tree at Buddha Gaya, exactly 2597 years ago, today. Thereafter he was known as Gauthama Buddha, one of a long series of Buddhas who appeared in the past and will appear in the future. He was not born a Buddha, but became a Buddha by his own efforts. Prior to his enlightenment, he was known as Bodhisatta which means one who is aspiring to attain Buddhahood.
The Buddha had no teacher for his enlightenment. "Na me achariyo atthi" – A teacher have I not – are his own words. He did receive his mundane knowledge from his lay teachers, but teachers he had none for his supramundane knowledge which he himself realised by his own intuitive wisdom.
The Buddha was neither a god, nor a son of a god, not an incarnation of a god, not a prophet sent by such an agency. He was a human being, a Prince of Skaya clan.
He spent seven weeks under the Bodhi tree and its neighbourhood after his enlightenment. Thereafter he proceeded to deer park in Benares where he met the five ascetics who were his former companions during the period he was struggling to attain Buddhahood. There the Buddha preached them the Dhammackkappawattana sutta which deals with the Four Noble Truths. It was the first discourse he delivered. Hearing it Kondanna, the eldest ascetic attained the first stage of sainthood. On hearing the Anattalakkana sutta which deals with soullessness all the five ascetics attained arahatship, the final stage of sainthood. The five monks who thus attained Arahanttship and became Buddha’s five disciples were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. Of the Brahmana clan they were also known as Pasvaga Mahanun. This noble order of Bhikkus, which stands to this day is the oldest historic body of celibates in the world.
The number of Bhikkus became 60 when Yasa and his 54 friends came to Isipathana and became the disciples and attained Arahantship after hearing the Dhamma of the englightened one.
The Buddha after spending three months of training at Isipathana deicded to propagate his sublime Dhamma to those who wish to hear.
The Buddha decided to send his 60 monks as messengers of truth to teach his Dhamma to all without any distinction. Before sending them to preach the Dhamma he exhorted them as follows; "Free am I, O Bhikkus, from all bonds, whether divine or human.
'Go forth, O Bhikkus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach, O Bhikkus the Dhamma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, both in the spirit and in the letter. Proclaim the holy life, altogether perfect and pure."
After sending them as messengers of truth he too proceeded to Uruwela in Senanigama, in order to preach Dhamma.
Thus the Budhha was the first religious teacher to send his disciples to propagate the Dhamma, out of compassion for others.
On the way to Uruwela, the Buddha met 30 young men with their wives who were there to amuse themselves. When they saw the Buddha, they all forgot their objective and answered the questions posed by him and attentively listened to the Dhamma and entered the Sangha.
At Uruwela three Jatila ascetics known as Uruwela Kassapa, Nadi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa, all brothers living separately with 500, 300 and 200 disciples respectively, came across the Budhha who preached them the Aditttapriaya sutta. There all the Jatilas attained Arahantship,eradicating all defilements.
It was at that time that Upatissa and Kolitha entered the Sangha. They were Reverent Sariuth and Mugallan respectively who rose to positions of the first and the second disciples in the Sangha.The Buddha’s ministry lasted 45 years from his age of 35, the year of his enlightenment till his final passing away in Kusinara in 543 BC on the full moon Poya daya of Vesak. Exactly 2552 years ago today.