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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha

Gautama, whose personal name was Siddhartha, was born in the city of Lumbini and was raised in Kapilavastu. The traditional story of his life is as follows; Born a prince, his father, King Suddhodana, was said to have been visited by a wise man shortly after Siddhartha was born. The wise man said that Siddhartha would either become a great king or a holy man (Sadhu). Determined to make Siddhartha a king, the father tried to shield his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Despite his father's efforts, at the age of 29, he discovered the suffering of his people, first through an encounter with an elderly man. On subsequent trips outside the palace, he encountered various sufferings such as a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and a monk. These are often termed 'The Four Sights.

Gautama was deeply depressed by these four sights and sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Gautama escaped his palace, leaving behind this royal life to become a mendicant. For a time on his spiritual quest, Buddha "experimented with extreme asceticism, which at that time was seen as a powerful spiritual practice...such as fasting, holding the breath, and exposure of the body to pain...he found, however, that these ascetic practices brought no genuine spiritual benefits and in fact, being based on self-hatred, that they were counterproductive."

After abandoning asceticism and concentrating instead upon meditation and, Anapanasati (awareness of breathing in and out), Gautama is said to have discovered the Middle Way—a path of moderation that lies mid-way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl and then, sitting under a pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), also known as the Bodhi tree, in Bodh Gaya he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. His five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained bodhi, also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment". After his attainment of bodhi he was known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha and spent the rest of his life teaching his insights (Dharma). He passed away at the age of 80 in Kushinara.

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