Buddhism: Life of Buddha

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Gautama Buddha [563 BCE – 483 BCE].

Also known as Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha, Historical Buddha, or simply the Buddha.

Buddha attained Enlightenment at the age of 35, in 598 BC, under a Bodhi tree in Both Gaya.

His teachings lead to the founding of Buddhism.

Before Enlightenment Buddha was named as Siddhartha Gautama. He sought to find an end to human suffering. He first engaged in extreme austerities as practiced by mendicants and ascetics of his time. After several years of these practices, Siddhartha concluded that this extreme path was not the correct route to perfect understanding (enlightenment). Rather, he proposed that a middle way between extreme austerity and extreme indulgence was the path to wisdom and freedom from suffering. The Buddha declared that he would meditate under a banyan tree until he achieved enlightenment. This phenomenal event occurred at Bodh Gaya in the contemporary state of Bihar, which is one of Buddhism’s great pilgrimage sites.





PERSONAL NOTE:  As a kid, I have spent many summer vacations at Bodh Gaya. It is my maternal grandparents place. I still have many relatives living there. So I have special affinity with Gaya. Now, living in Chicago,  I wanted to dig deeper into my favorite childhood vacation destination.  Bodh Gaya is the birth place of Buddhism. Buddha was born in Lumbini [Nepal], but Buddhism was born in Bodh Gaya.   But I get boggled by the so many terms associated with Buddhism:  like the Four Sights, Four Noble Truths, Eight-Fold Path and Four Holy Pilgrim Sites. Then  Buddhist Iconography is full of symbolism associated with different mudras and objects. Also, there are various Schools of Buddhism. And then,  the concept of Bodhisattva, and the names like Avalokitesvar, Tara, and Maitreya. I  needed a better understanding of these names, terms and concepts.  So a few posts covering these aspects.

Basic Understanding of Buddhism:
Life of Buddha.. click here..
Schools of Buddhism and Bodhisattva.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Aniconic and Iconic representation of Buddha.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Mudras and Auspicious Symbols.. click here..

This post is on the life of Buddha.




Buddha was born in 563 BC in Lumbini, which is now in Nepal. Before enlightenment, his name was Siddhartha, and family name was Gautama.

Siddhartha was the son of Suddhodhana, “an elected chief of the Shakya clan”, whose capital was Kapilavastu, which is presently in the Tarai region of Nepal. His mother Mahamaya, a Koliyan princess, was the Chief queen of Suddhodhana.

Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side, and ten months later Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a sal tree. The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated. Buddha’s Birthday is called Buddha Purnima in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India as he is believed to have been born on a full moon day. Various sources hold that the Buddha’s mother died seven days after his birth. His mother’s sister and Step-mother Mahapraapati Gautami brought him up.. The infant was given the name Siddhartha, meaning “he who achieves his aim”.

During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king [chakravartin] or a great sadhu.

King Suddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, is said to have shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering.When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yashodhara. According to the traditional account, she gave birth to a son, named Rahula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu.




Four  Sights / Life of Buddha

Four Sights – Old Man, Sick Man, Dead Body, and an Ascetic / Life of Buddha



Old Man, Sick Man, Dead Body, and an Ascetic

After leading a sheltered existence surrounded by luxury and pleasure in his younger years, Prince Siddhartha ventured out of his palace for the first time at the age of 29. He set off from the palace to the city in a chariot, accompanied by his charioteer Channa. On this journey he first saw an old man, revealing to Siddhartha the consequences of aging. When the prince asked about this person, Channa replied that aging was something that happened to all beings. The second sight was of a sick person. The third sight was of a dead body. After seeing these three sights, Siddhartha was troubled in his mind and sorrowful about the sufferings that have to be endured in life.

After seeing these three negative sights, Siddhartha came upon the fourth sight; an ascetic who had devoted himself to finding the cause of human suffering. This sight gave him hope that he too might be released from the sufferings arising from being repeatedly reborn, and he resolved to follow the ascetic’s example.

After this incident and realizing the true nature of life after observing the four sights, Siddhartha left the palace on his horse Kanthaka, accompanied only by Channa. He sent Channa back with his possessions and began an ascetic life, at the end of which he attained enlightenment as Gautama Buddha.




Left panel: Siddhartha leaving his wife and son / Main panel: Sujata offering rice pudding to Siddhartha practicing austerities and self-mortification / Life of Buddha.




At the age of 29  Siddhartha left his palace, for the life of a mendicant. He was accompanied by Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka,  It’s said that, “the horse’s hooves were muffled by the gods” to prevent guards from knowing of his departure. He sent Channa back with his possessions and began an ascetic life, at the end of which he attained enlightenment as Gautama Buddha.

Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara’s men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimbisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.

Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have taken austerities to find enlightenment, through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, and practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. A village girl named Sujata gave him some payasam [a pudding made from milk, rice and jaggery] after which Siddhartha got back some energy. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path.



Enlightenment / Life of Buddha.

Enlightenment / Life of Buddha.




According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditation was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, or the Noble Eightfold Path, as described in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is regarded as the first discourse of the Buddha.

Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree — now known as the Bodhi tree — in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left.  After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One” [“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”].

According to some sutras of the Pali canon, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the Four Noble Truths, thereby attaining liberation from samsara, the endless cycle of rebirth, suffering and dying again. According to scholars, this story of the awakening and the stress on “liberating insight” is a later development in the Buddhist tradition, where the Buddha may have regarded the practice of dhyana as leading to Nirvana and moksha.



As a result of his attainment of enlightenment, the prince Siddhartha Gautama was now truly the Buddha, the Enlightened One. He is also called as Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakya clan. He achieved Enlightenment in 528 BC, at the age of 35.


Buddha gave his First Sermon in SARNATH

After Enlightenment, Buddha travelled to the Deer Park in Sarnath, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first Sangha [Buddhism] – the company of Buddhist monks.









The Buddha distilled the principles of enlightenment into a doctrine known as The Four Noble Truths.


Dukkha, Samudya, Nirodha and Magga.

Four Noble Truths:
[I] Dukkha [pain, suffering]:  Life is suffering.
[II] Samudya [desire or craving]: Suffering is caused by desire, and by clinging to the notion of self.
[III] Nirodha [end of suffering]:  It is possible to end suffering. To end the suffering caused by desire and ego, one must eliminate the cause.
[IV] Magga [path to liberation from suffering]:  Suffering can be ended by following the Noble Eightfold Path, a set of resolutions characterized by a concern for morality, concentration, moderation, positive action, and wisdom.
Though it evades easy definition, and it varies according to the particular branch of Buddhism, the ultimate goal of most Buddhists is to reach nirvana, a state of bliss in which human desire, ego, and suffering are extinguished.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha first taught the four noble truths in the very first teaching he gave after attaining enlightenment, as recorded in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta [“The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth”].


The Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Path or Middle Way, is the  path to achieve spiritual enlightenment and cease suffering.

The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices:
Right view, Right resolve, Right speech, Right conduct,
Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is often represented by means of the dharma wheel (dharmachakra), whose eight spokes represent the eight elements of the path.




Abandon his earthly body.

At the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandon his earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ānanda to convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with his passing and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit as it provided the last meal for a Buddha. The Buddha died at Kushinagar, which became a pilgrimage center.









Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana

In the eras following the ‘Mahaparinirvana’ of Lord Gautam Buddha, His disciples got divided into different sects and spread all over the world. This led to the foundation of numerous monasteries all around the world.  Three principal divisions are: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. For more.. click here..




The four Holy Sites of Buddhist Pilgrimage

LUMBINI – where he was born in 563 BC
BODH GAYA – where he attained enlightenment in 528 BC, at the age of 35;
SARNATH – where he first turned the wheel of dharma; and
KUSHINAGER – where at the age of eighty, he passed from this world in 483 BC.

Lumbini is in present-day Nepal, while Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar are in India. Bodhgaya is in Bihar; where as Sarnath and Kushionagar are located in Uttar Pradesh.

There are other important sites as well, such as those where the Buddha performed his great miracles and those where he and the sangha held their rain retreats. But the “Four Great Wonders,” as they are known, remain the primary places of Buddhist pilgrimage.


Three Jewels
1. I take refuge in the Buddha 2. I take refuge in the dharma (truth or teachings) 3. I take refuge in the sangha (monastic community).


The Early Pilgrims

The early Buddhist pilgrims endured tremendous hardship, and some of them changed the course of history. The first historical record of Buddhist pilgrimage belongs to the great Indian emperor Ashoka, who embarked on his pilgrimage in the third century BCE, approximately two hundred years after the Buddha’s passing. Being emperor and possessing tremendous devotion, he did more than merely visit the sacred sites. He erected the very stupas, temples, and monuments that marked these sacred sites and gave them their grandeur.

While there is evidence of pilgrimage before Ashoka, the force of his imperial patronage clearly sanctioned the sacred geography and fostered the practice of Buddhist pilgrimage in India. This tradition was perpetuated by sages such as Faxian (Fa-hsien) in the fifth century and Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang) in the seventh, who were instrumental in introducing Buddhism to China, and by the eleventh-century Tibetan master Marpa the Translator, who established the Kagyu lineage in Tibet (also known as the New Translation School of Buddhism). This practice of pilgrimage played an important role in the spread of Buddhism across Asia.

Xuanzang remains the most renowned pilgrim of all time and one of the most important figures in the history of Buddhism in China. Traveling on horseback, camelback, by elephant, and on foot, he crossed the tallest mountains and harshest deserts of the world. He covered an astonishing ten thousand miles on a pilgrimage that lasted sixteen years. Even today his name is a household word through much of Asia, and his pilgrimage is one of the great adventure stories of all time. The famous Chinese novel Monkey is based on his journey.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these early pilgrims. Ashoka created the stupas and monuments that helped mark the sacred Buddhist sites, and Faxian and Xuanzang left detailed records that would provide the map for rediscovering and reestablishing these sacred sites. And they would need to be rediscovered, because in the thirteenth century Buddhism disappeared from the land of its birth, and by the nineteenth century many historians doubted that the Buddha Shakyamuni was anything more than legend and myth.






Places of Worship: Churches & more.. click here..
Places of Worship: Temples & more.. click here..

Life of Buddha.. click here..
Schools of Buddhism and Bodhisattva.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Aniconic and Iconic representation of Buddha.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Mudras and Auspicious Symbols.. click here..




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1 Comment to “Buddhism: Life of Buddha”

  1. Hello, I am going to use your pictures for my biography of Buddha powerpoint. I will cite them in APA format. Hope that is ok.

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