Buddha and Buddhism

Sometime around 590 B.C. a seeker after truth arrived at what is now the small town of Bodh Gaya in Bihar. He sat down to and was in guided meditation under a pipal tree and, after some time, achieved Enlightenment. His experience was to have a momentous effect not only on India, but on the whole of Southeast Asia, and in time its echoes were to be heard in most of the rest of the world. Who was this man, and what was his message?

The future Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha, son of Shuddhodana, king of the Shakya people, in Lumbini, on the India-Nepalese border. There is much controversy about his dates; the Mahabodhi Society of lndia believe he was born in 624 B.C., but many scholars prefer a later date, around 540 B.C. Whatever is the case, it is certain that Gautama was born a kshatriya - a member of the warrior caste. The legend is that King Shuddhodana was anxious to keep his son unharmed by the harsh realities of life and ensured that he enjoyed an existence of princely ease and undisturbed comfort within the safety of the palace at Kapilavastu.

In the course of time Gautama married and had a son. But his life of luxurious ignorance was not to last. lie was twenty-eight years old when, while out in his chariot one day, he happened to see in quick succession an old man, a sick man, a corpse being carried to cremation, and, finally, a wandering holy man. So great was the impression made by these intimations of mortality on the young Gautama that he decided there and then to renounce his life of pleasure and seek the Truth. He stole out of the palace in the middle of the night, he proceeded on his own. Gautama spent seven years studying under various spiritual teachers. He experimented with techniques of kriya yoga and hatha yoga, and his fervor was so great that at one stage he nearly fasted to death in pursuit of his goal.

His practices were no unusual for the time. Hatha yoga practices were widely pursued in this area which was even then famed for its Tantra and Kundalini Yoga masters. It is not known if Gautama engaged in tantric practices, or what methods he was taught to raise his kundalini, but it is sure that he had some guidance.

Eventually he decided that such extreme practices were a waste of time, and coming to Bodh Gaya, he vowed not to leave the place until he had realized the Truth. After many hours of solitary meditation, his kundalini energy rose through the 7 primary chakras and he attained supreme Enlightenment (nirvana). Gautama was thereafter known as the Buddha, “the Enlightened One.” He is also referred to as Shakyamuni, “the sage of the Shakya .”

The Enlightened One called his teaching the dharma (Truth), which, he said, was glorious in the beginning, glorious in the middle, and glorious in the end. The Buddha himself was not concerned with establishing a religion. He wished only to create a monastic order (sangha) of individuals who would be able to find out the Truth for themselves. His last words to his followers were “Be a lamp unto yourselves, be a refuge unto yourselves, seek no refuge outside of yourselves.” It is almost certain that Hatha Yoga practices such as asanas and Surya Namaskar were not part of the monks routine. He strongly discouraged any personal adulation, saying that all he had done was to discover a universal truth that was independent of any one person. It was only after his death that his followers began to organize what we call the Buddhist religion, which, as time progressed, became less monastic and more popular worship, increasingly along the lines of the Hinduism the Master had originally rejected.

After the Enlightenment, the Buddha traveled to Sarnath near Banaras. Here he delivered his first discourse that the Buddhists call “the Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Truth.” In this first discourse, often called the Deer Park.. Sermon, the Buddha delineated his message “In its simplicity and clarity that were to become the hallmarks of his teaching. From its very beginning Buddhism had a fresh, translucent quality. It is straightforward and to the point, proceeding logically step by step through an analysis of the human predicament and culminating in the remedy. The dharma is like cool, clear water, which soothes, refreshes, and wakes us up. The Master often likened himself to a doctor who diagnoses the problem and presents the cure. As he himself said: "I show you suffering, and I show you the way out of suffering.”
The first discourse presented “the Four Noble Truths.” These are the basic tenets of Buddhism, as relevant to us today as they were when he expounded them, nearly twenty-six centuries ago.

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