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Essay/Term paper: Buddha

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Biography

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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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