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Essay/Term paper: Buddha

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Buddha


The word Buddha means "enlightened one." It is used today as a title to
the one who has given us more religious beliefs than almost any other human who
lived in this world. However, he was not given this name at birth; he had to
earn it for himself by undergoing long, hard hours of meditation and
contemplation. Buddha has changed the lifestyles of many cultures with new,
never-before asked questions that were explained by his search for salvation.
He began an entirely new religion that dared to test the boundaries of reality
and go beyond common knowledge to find the answers of the mysteries of life.

India
During the sixth century BC, India was a land of political and religious
turmoil. It was an era of great brutality with the domination of Northwest
India by Indo-Aryan invaders. Many people, influenced by the Aryan civilization,
began to question the value of life and it's true meaning. Schools were opened
because of this curiosity where teachers would discuss the significance of
existence and the nature of man and held programs to reconstruct one's spiritual
self. (Pardue, page 228)

Background
Near the town of Kapilavastivu, today known as Nepal, lived King
Suddhodhana and Queen Maya of the indigenous tribe known as the Shakyas.
(Encyclopedia Americana, page 687) Queen Maya soon became pregnant and had a
dream shortly before she gave birth. In this dream a beautiful, white elephant
with six tusks entered her room and touched her side. This dream was soon
interpreted by the wisest Brahmin, or Priest of Brahmanism, that she was to give
birth to a son that would, if he were to remain in the castle, become the wisest
king in the world, but if he were ever to leave the castle he would then become
the wisest prophet far into future generations. (Encyclopedia Americana, page
410)
In around the year 563 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of
pure luxury. (Wangu, page 16) His father wanted to make sure that his son was
well taken care of as he grew to prevent him from desiring to leave the palace.
Suddhodhana, listening to the prophecy, kept Siddhartha away from the pain of
reality so that he could follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a well
respected leader.
As Siddhartha grew, he became very curious about the world outside of
the palace walls. He felt a great need to undergo new experiences and learn the
truth of reality. Siddhartha was married to a woman named Yasodhara who gave
birth to a boy, Rahul. Even after his marriage, Siddhartha was still not
completely satisfied with his life; he decided that it was necessary for him to
see the lives of those outside the castle.

The Four Meetings
One day, Siddhartha called for his charioteer to take him to the park.
When the King heard of this, he ordered the streets to be cleared of everything
except beauty. As the Prince rode by, the people cheered and threw flowers at
him, praising his name and Siddhartha was still clueless to the suffering of
life until a god, disguised as a poor, old man stumbled before the chariot.
Siddhartha was curious to this man's condition and he asked the charioteer about
his appearance. The charioteer replied that all men must endure old age and
that even the prince could not escape this fate. Siddhartha then returned to
the palace to contemplate about old age which caused him to want to see more.
The next day, Siddhartha decided to venture on to the streets again
which were, by the King's request, once more cleared of all evil and ugliness.
This time, Siddhartha encountered a sick man and again, returned to the palace
to reflect on sickness. On his third trip to the park, Siddhartha approached a
funeral in a garden and was educated by the charioteer about how every man must
experience death. Finally, on the fourth day, the young prince saw a shaven-
headed man wearing a yellow robe. He was amazed and impressed by how peaceful
the man seemed; he carried with him only a begging bowl and had left all other
possessions to try to find spiritual deliverance. At that moment, Siddhartha
knew his destiny was to discover how this man has avoided these acts of
suffering. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, page 270)
Later that night, Siddhartha kissed his wife and son, and left with his
charioteer away from the palace of riches and pleasure. He left behind his life
of pure desire to understand the true meaning of life. To symbolize his
renunciation from civilization, Siddhartha cut his long hair and beard with his
jeweled sword, traded his silk robes for a yellow robe, and gave away all of his
possessions.

The Journey to Moksha (Salvation)
Siddhartha wandered from place to place gathering as much information as
he could from countless teachers. His main beliefs revolved around the Hindu
religion and the theory of transmigration which means that the human soul, or
Atman, is entrapped in an endless cycle of rebirths called Samsara. After the
soul has died, it is reborn into a different state, depending on the deeds done
in former lives which is known as karma. The ultimate goal is to obtain
complete salvation from this cycle. (Pardue, page 228)
Siddhartha also practiced the art of yoga and self mutilation. Yoga is a
system of inward, ascetic discipline over the body, mind, and motivations. In
other words, yoga is gaining control over one's desires and even their needs
such as breathing or eating. It can be accomplished by long, concentrated hours
of meditation. (Pardue, page 228) It is designed to end the torturous cycle of
transmigration and all sources of karma. Self mutilation is putting one's own
body through acts of torment and pain to learn to cope with problems that occur
such as diseases and to eliminate all feeling of despair and suffering.
Siddhartha would experience the limits of his body by practicing long periods of
fasting and skin torture; he devoted his time to learning the nature of his self.

Finally, Siddhartha settled near the banks of the Nairanjana River and
began deep meditation, determined to gain salvation. Through harsh weather
conditions, he survived with the minimum of food that the body needs to live.
He remained here, in this state for six years with little strength and power.
Soon Siddhartha was joined by five other men who were almost as determined to
gain redemption. They continued these acts for about a year until one day, the
young voyager realized that he had only weakened his body and mind; he finally
understood that with these long years of self mutilation, he has not yet
achieved his goal. He did, however, manage to survive with very little of the
necessities that people need daily which was in itself a large accomplishment.
Unfortunately, the other men had realized that Siddhartha Gautama was giving up,
so they left and saw him as a failure. With great disappointment on his mind,
Siddhartha gathered all the rest of his strength to crawl into a pool to bathe,
but found that his energy had been used and he was just too tired to climb out.
Before the young man's life was taken from him, he noticed a tree branch hanging
near his reach; he grabbed them and was pulled out. An old milk maid noticed
Gautama's frail body and brought him milk to aid his hunger. Gaining back his
health, Siddartha decided to abandon the teachings that he had learned thus far
and walked to a Bo-Tree where he would meditate until enlightenment or death.

Enlightenment
While Siddartha meditated, he was visited by the God of Evil, Mara, who
saw the attempt of the prince to reach his goal. Mara attacked Siddartha with
several demons, but there was a force of goodness surrounding him, preventing
any weapons thrown from hitting his body. The evil god then sent two incredibly
beautiful women to tempt Siddartha away from his goal, but he had the strength
to ignore his lusts and enter into a deeper stage of thought. At this point,
Siddartha is able to recall all of his previous lives and gains the knowledge of
the cycle of birth and death. He now casts off the ignorance which has led him
to great passion for his self and bounded him to the suffering of Samsara. This
marks the beginning of Buddhism, when Siddhartha becomes the Buddha and his
suffering and desires come to an end; he can now enter Nirvana.
"There is a sphere which is neither earth, nor water, nor fire,
nor air...which is neither this world nor the other world, neither
sun nor moon. I deny that it is coming or going, enduring death
or birth. It is only the end of suffering."
-Buddha (Wangu, page
24)

Buddhism
When the Buddha finally reached his ultimate goal, he made a great
sacrifice to all human kind and gave up his Nirvana so that he could teach his
enlightenment to others. Even though Siddhartha could have stayed in perfect
harmony in paradise, he chose to spread the practices that he had experienced to
all of man, so that they may learn to end their cycle of rebirths also.
Siddartha traveled to Saranath where he found the five men who
previously joined him on his quest for release. These men were drawn to the
Buddha with a phenomenal power that they could not explain. They immediately
felt a great love and loyalty towards Siddhartha and they became the Buddha's
first disciples. With some grains of rice, he drew a picture of a wheel that
represented the cycle of Samsara. The first of his ceremonies is known as the
Deer Park Sermon; he began "setting in motion the wheel of doctrine." (Wangu,
page 25)
Thus began the beginning of Buddha's teachings of the Middle Way of life
which says that one should not lead a life of desire of pleasure or materials,
but that they should also not mistreat their body. The Middle Path was between
the Upper Path, which is when someone has luxury and wealth such as Siddhartha
had when he was living with his family, and the Lower Path, which he also
experienced when he performed self mutilation. On the Middle Path, one would
have to follow the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. The Four Noble
Truths are open to all human kind despite race, sex, or caste.

The Four Noble Truths
1. Duhkha -This explains that all life is suffering and that man is
bound to the earth by Samsara.

2. A person suffers because they believe they are important
when in fact they are insignificant. This is caused by
ignorance of the nature of reality and desires.

3. The rejection of desire will break the chain of Samsara and
bring salvation.

4. The Eight Fold Path must be followed to gain enlightenment.

The Eight Fold Path
1. Think right thoughts 5. Have right
intentions
2. Say right words 6. Live the right way of life
3. Perform right deeds 7. Perform right efforts
4. Have right aspirations 8. Perform right meditations

Many people are not ready to give up their lives yet and they must
subsist as many lives as they need until they feel that it is the right time.
The Buddha did, however, develop five principles to be able to gain salvation in
the next life.
Buddha's Five Principles
1. Refrain from taking life
2. Refrain from taking what is not given
3. Refrain from sexual misconduct
4. Refrain from false speech
5. Refrain from intoxicating things that cloud the mind
(Wangu, page 29)

Spread of Buddhism
The Buddha began attracting followers from all over India. Stories of
his deeds began to spread even throughout other nations. The pupils of Buddhism
were called monks and they developed a community called a Sangha were Buddha's
rules of conduct were followed. The Sangha was created for monks to preserve
the teachings karma and to let the monks concentrate on the goal to reach
Nirvana. A monk agrees to give total commitment to Buddhism and to withdraw
from the world to gain enlightenment; all men who were committed could enter a
Sangha. Their only possessions that were allowed were a beggar's bowl, a needle,
a razor, a strainer, a staff, a toothpick, and a robe. Those who have perfected
Buddha's teachings are called Arahats which means perfected ones.
Buddhism began to spread worldwide and conflicted with the Hindu
religion. Buddha's rejection to the idea that Brahmin's should be the supreme
leader and to the caste system, won him many supporters. It was evident that
Buddhism would be a long-lasting religion. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 689)

The Buddha's Departure
The Buddha had preached until he felt the end of his life coming. At the
age of 80, he decided that he had completed his tasks and he began to meditate
to once again attain Nirvana. He had no written books of his teachings, but
they would still live on through his followers. Siddartha's death was tragic,
but his students knew that his life was complete. He left behind his legacy to
the world and shaped the cultures of people for centuries to come.

Buddha's Contributions
Much of what the world believes today have originated from the teachings
of Buddha. Even within other religions, it is evident that they were in some
ways influenced by him. Ideas, such as the Middle Path, are clearly
communicated in many values of today. Buddhism has even had a major effect on
politics in Asia. Tibet used to be controlled a system of theocracy ruled by a
Buddhist Priest, or the Dalai Lama. In China and Japan, Zen Buddhism has been
used in the practices of Yoga that many people study everyday.

He was one of the greatest prophets ever to walk the earth and his
teachings will be remembered for generations. He has sacrificed his total
salvation so that mankind could be taught of the path to enlightenment. The
Buddha has proven to be one of the wisest and giving men who touched the lives
of so many millions of people. Buddhism will live on as a major impact on the
cultures of the world and the Buddha will never be forgotten.
"Everything that has been created is subject to decay
and death. Everything is transitory. Work out your own salvation
with diligence."
-Buddha (Wangu, page 31)


Bibliography

"Buddha and Buddhism." Encyclopedia Americana. 1990.

Cohen, John Lebold. Buddha. Mary Frank, 1969.

Pardue, Peter A. "Buddha." Encyclopedia of World Biography.
McGraw Hill, 1973.

"The Buddha and Buddhism." The New Encyclopedia Britannica.
1990.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Buddhism. New York: Facts On File, 1993.


 

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