Life of the Buddha


I.  Buddhas and The Buddha


There are many Buddhas: Buddha = awakened one. One who has woke up.  Siddhartha is only the latest in a series of Buddhas.


The Buddha Shakyamuni Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 B.C.E.):

Shakyamuni = sage of the shakyas, Gautama = family lineage, Siddhartha = "success." NE India

      Birth: 563 BCE, Lumbini Grove

      Enlightnement: 528 BCE Bodh Gaya

      First Sermon: Deer park near Sarnath (near Banaras)

      Death: 483 BCE Kusinagara (from rancid food)

II. Important Historical Points


Asoka Maurya: Mauryan dynasty 270-230 B.C.E.

         Missionaries, ambassadors > Central Asia, along silk route to China

         To Sri Lanka: Pali scriptures written down

Post Asokan period: 200 B.C.-500 B.C.E. -- Development of Ther/Maha/Vajra

6th century: To China: Bodhidharma

8th century: first monastary in Tibet

13th century: Chinese teachers settling in Japan.  Dogen.


III. Life of Buddha Shakyamuni: Buddhacarita (by Ashvagosha)


1.    Birth of the Buddha: Father is King Suddhodana - Kshatriya.  Maya is mother.  Impregnated when a white elephant enters her womb to destroy evils, came from side = miraculous birth.  Prophetic signs: Foot marked with a wheel, fingers and toes webbed, circle of hair b/eyebrows

2.    Asista's prophesy:

a.    a heavenly voice has been heard by me in the heavenly path, that thy son has been born for the sake of supreme knowledge. /  He will deliver by the boat of knowledge the distressed world, from the ocean of misery which throws up sickness as its foam, tossing with the waves of old age, and rushing with the dreadful onflow of death.

b.    Suddhodana says: (agitated) Is the hoard of my fame free from destruction?  Is the chief prize of my family secure? Shall I ever depart happily to another life? / Surely this young shoot of my life is not born barren, destined only to whither. [Dharma]

c.    Maya cannot sustain the joy of seeing her new son, she goes to heaven so that she might not die.

3.    Buddha's youth and marriage: 

a.    They brought him as presents form the houses of his friends costly unguents of sandalwood, and strings of gems exactly like wreaths of plants, and little golden carriages, and carts gay with silver and gold.

b.    Father's anxious care: turned the prince to sensual pleasures. Marriage.

c.    To prevent his mind from being disturbed, Siddhartha is kept away from the people, in the recesses of the palace

4.    The awakening:

a.    Siddhartha longs to see the forest-groves of the city, beloved by the women.

b.    Father arranges pleasure outing: no afflicted persons - heaven forbid that the prince with his tender nature should even imagine himself to be distressed.

c.    The gods send an old man to stir the heart of the prince.  This is the first of the three sightings

d.    Quotations from Ashvagosha:

II:28. [Old Age]  Who is this man that has come here, O charioteer, with white hair and his hand resting on a staff, his eyes hidden beneath his brows, his limbs bent down and hanging loose -- is this a change produced in him or him natural state or an accident?

II:30.  That is old age by which he is broken down -- the ravisher of beauty, the ruin of vigor, the cause of sorrow, the destruction of delights, the bane of memories, the enemy of the senses.

II:31. He too once drank milk in his childhood, and in the course of time he learned to grope on the ground; having step by step become a vigorous youth, he has step by step in the same way reached old age. Old age strikes down everyone, even the King's son.

e.    II:41. [Sickness] Yonder man with a swollen belly, his whole frame shaking as he pants, his arms and shoulders hanging loose, his body pale and thin, uttering plaintively the word "mother," when he embraces a stranger - who, pray, is this?

II:57 [Death] This is some poor man who, bereft of his intellect, senses, vital airs and qualities, lying asleep and unconscious, like mere wood or straw, is abandoned alike by friends and enemies after they have carefully swathed and guarded him. / This is the final end of all creatures; be it a mean man, a man of middle state, or a noble, destruction is fixed to all in this world.

5.    Withdrawal from the World:

IV: 86.  Old age, disease, and death -- if these three things did not exist, I too should find my enjoyment in the object that please the mind.

IV: 97. I am fearful and exceedingly bewildered, as I ponder the terrors of old age, death, and disease; I can find no peace, no self-command, much less can I find pleasure, while I see the world as it were ablaze with fire.

a.    The first rejection of Hindu tradition (flight from the palace):  Father says wait until the appropriate life stage (Sanyasa), posts guards to insure that he does not leave.  Siddhartha rejects this tradtion (caturashramas) and departs.

6.    The Buddha as Sanyasi:  Six years of self-mortification: emaciated body, grasp backbone through abdomen.

a.    The second rejection of Hindu Tradition:  Ending his ascetic practice

                                              i.     The life of a sanyasi – of hunger, fatigue, thirst -- prevents calmness of mind, cannot pursue knowledge. Contemplation, meditation, is the true path to knowledge and liberation.  Must eat.

                                            ii.     Middle Way between pleasures of worldly life, and the asceticism of the forest dwellers

                                          iii.     Mind fixed on perfect knowledge and liberation, he sits under the Bodhi tree. I will not rise from this position on the earth until I have obtained my utmost aim.

                                          iv.     The defeat of Mara: Attempts to seduce, terrify, convice him.


7.    The Enlightenment: four watches

a.    Remembers all his previous lives > compassion for all people.  Again and again they must leave the people they regard as their own, and must go on elsewhere, without ever stopping.

b.    Acquires heavenly eye and looks on entire world.  Sees rebirth of beings according to their actions.  No security in samsara.  Nothing to hold on to, death is ever-present.

c.    Sees why people wear themselves out, only to be born again and again.

d.    [At dawn] Reaches the state of total knowledge of: Nirvana (enlightenment).

e.    First inclined to pass out of existence, from compassion vows to bring all beings to enlightenment. [Bodhisattva]