For the past 9 years, I lived in Asia, 7 of those years in Buddhist Asia. I love the openness and welcoming feeling in a temple. There’s just something magical there. I don’t know if I am a Buddhist, but certainly the Buddha’s teachings resonate with me. I’m a fan. I’ve been following his story from one temple and culture in Asia to the next. I’ve learned from monks, plaques, wall murals, statues, and passersby who start conversations, “Where do you come from?” I’ve read a bit about the Buddha and Buddhism too. It’s interesting how everyone emphasizes different facts from the story. Here’s the gist of how I’ve been told Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha.
Photos are from my last year in Myanmar.
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Siddhartha the Prince
The Lord Buddha was born as a prince to Queen Mayadevi and King Shuddhodana in what is now Lumbini, Nepal He was named Siddhartha Gautama. When he was very young, it was prophesied that he would be a great leader. Either he would be a great king and lead his soldiers to notorious victories or he would become a leader of the people and spread influential beliefs.
The Buddha’s father really wanted the first prophecy to be true so he made a rule that Siddhartha could never leave the palace walls. He wanted Siddhartha only to know the splendors of palace life and the importance of official palace affairs. This technique worked for quite some time.
Until one day Siddhartha became curious to see what was beyond the great walls. One night, he snuck out of the palace with the help of his charioteer. On his first excursion out, he saw a very old man for the first time. He was very surprised to learn that everyone grows old. On his next trip away from the palace, he saw a sick man, riddled with disease. This was also a surprising sight for our prince who was accustomed to palace life where everyone and everything was well cared for. On his third trip out of the palace, Siddhartha saw a deceased man. This was a big lesson on human frailty and impermanence for him. After seeing these sights, he came to the conclusion that life is suffering.
On his fourth trip from the palace, the prince saw an ascetic. The charioteer explained this man had renounced worldly pleasures in favor of a release from suffering. Siddhartha felt inspired by this man, wishing to follow in his footsteps. The prince announced his intention to leave the palace.
Since his father was determined to have Siddhartha become a great king, he arranged for extra riches to be given to Siddhartha, and a marriage for him to Yasodhara. He hoped the lavish life would change Siddhartha’s mind. However, on the night of the birth of his new son, Prince Siddhartha escaped from the palace with the help of the charioteer. A short distance from the palace, he asked the charioteer to leave. Siddhartha cut off his hair and took on the robes of a religious man.
Life of Austerity
Siddhartha followed in the footsteps of the ascetic. He tried a life of austerity for 6 years with ascetics in the forest. Their way of living with as little as possible didn’t feel right to him. One day, he accepted a bowl of rice from a little girl. The other ascetics left him behind, thinking he no longer believed in their way of life.
Alone, Siddhartha found a place to meditate under the Bodhi tree (near Bodhgaya, India). He hadn’t enjoyed the luxurious life of a prince or the austere life of an ascetic. He sat to think and look within. As he sat, Devaputra Mara, the leader of demons, threw weapons and tried to distract him. When this didn’t work he manifested temptation in the form of women and luxuries to distract him, but the prince could not be phased. He continued to meditate on and on
Enlightenment and the Middle Way
As he sat, from his dissatisfaction with austerity and with luxury, he found the middle way. He became the Buddha, “he who is awake,” a fully enlightened being.
He continued to sit, reveling in the meditative glow. The monsoons came and the serpent king Muchilinda shielded him from the water so he could continue meditating.
He gave his first sermon near Sarnath, India then spent 45 years teaching around India. The Buddha encouraged students to question his teachings and test them through their own experiences which is still a part of Buddhism today.