The Life of Buddha – Version 3 – Part 1

Plate1a

1. The Birth of the Bodhisatta.
On a full-moon day in the month of May (Visakha) 2600 years ago was born a Prince named Siddhattha. His birth took place at Lumbini (modern Rumindei in Nepal), where his mother Mahamaya, the chief queen consort of King Suddhodana of Kapilavatthu, rested with her royal retinue, on her way to her parental home in Devadaha. In the picture Queen Mahamaya stands under a flowering sala tree holding on to one of its branches.

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2. Life as a Prince.
Manifold was the variety of all the sensuous delights within the palace, the music and song that filled the palace halls by night and day; the beauty and grace of its dancing girls; the fragrance of subtle perfumes; the finest silks and priceless gems for jewellery and adornment; and rare delicacies and foods for the royal table. And yet, day after day, seated amidst all this luxury the Prince remains unmoved. Ever in thoughtful mood, with a far-away look in his beautiful eyes he muses on the fleeting nature of life’s so called pleasures and its doubtful delights.

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3. The realities of life.
All King Suddhodana’s efforts to protect his son from the four sights of old-age, disease, death and a recluse are of no avail. On a certain occasion, on his way to the royal pleasure gardens the Prince is confronted by each one of these very sights, and is filled with doubts and deep misgiving. Soon after this he meets a wandering ascetic, impressed by the sombre garb and quiet demeanour of the homeless recluse the Prince looks long and hard at him, and then, makes up his mind to leave the palace for a life of homelessness.

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4. The Great going forth.
On the day of the Esala full-moon (July) the Crown Prince receives the news brought from the palace, of the birth of a son to his wife, the beautiful Princess Yasodhara. Alarmed at this fresh development, this new fetter to bind him closer to the world, the Prince decides to leave the palace that very night. For the sake of his father, his queen, his son, for the sake of all mankind, he would leave the world to seek a way to save the world from all suffering. This is the Great Renunciation.

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5. Experiment with Asceticism.
For six long years the ascetic Gotama, as Prince Siddhattha was now known, wanders along the highways and byways of India. He goes to Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta two of its greatest religious teachers, who teach him everything from their store of knowledge and wisdom. But the ascetic Gotama is not satisfied, for their teachings do not lead to the cessation of suffering. With unrelenting energy he undergoes rigorous ascetic discipline, both bodily and mental, seeking a way to the cessation of suffering through further suffering. In the end he becomes lean and emanciated and a mere skeleton.

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6. Enlightenment.
Discarding both extremes of luxurious living and self mortification, the Bodhisatta Prince chooses the Middle Path of moderation based on the practice of virtue (sila), concentration of the mind (samadhi), and the intensive analysis of all psycho-physical phenomena that finally leads to full understanding of things as they really are (panna). Seated under the Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya he attains Samma Smabodhi and becomes the Supreme Buddha.

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7. The First Discourse.
Having realized the Four Noble Truths – the Noble Truth of Suffering; the Cause of Suffering; the Cessation of Suffering; and the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering – by himself, the Buddha now decides to teach them to the five ascetics who had earlier served him at Uruvela, in Buddhagaya. At the end of this First Discourse, which is known as the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta” and given to the five ascetics who were now living at Isipatana in Benares, the oldest of them, Kondanna realises the first path and fruition of the Stream-winner (Sotapanna), or one who goes against the stream of Samsara (the recurring cycle of life and death).

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8. Go now and wander for the welfare of the many.
The Buddha stays on at Isipatana for the rainy season. However, before that, within the first week of His giving of the Dhammacakkappavattna Sutta, all five ascetics reach the highest fruition of Sainthood and thus become the first five Arahant disciples of the Buddha. Before the rainy season is over fifty five others have followed suit. The Buddha now exports His sixty disciples: – ‘Go forth ye bhikkhus, for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare and happiness of gods and men’. Accordingly the disciples set forth to spread the new teaching.

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9. The law of Causation or Dependent Arising.
After His Enlightenment under the Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya, the Buddha reflects on the law of Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppada). He ponders as to how things come into being due to past and present conditions to cause suffering. Next He muses on the cessation of these very things when their cause has been removed. Then he reflects on both the arising and the cessation of all things conditioned and inter dependent, in the present, the past and the future.

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10. The Philosophy of change.
The Buddha teaches that all conditioned things are in a state of flux or change, and thus impermanent. The ever changing nature of both mind and matter proves the insubstantiality of life, and the instability of existence. Knowing this, Khema the consort of King Bimbisara avoided going to see the Buddha: for being very beautiful, she was afraid the Buddha would disparage her self-conscious awareness of her loveliness. As she went into his presence one day, the Buddha creates the illusion of a beautiful young woman before her, who gradually grows old before her very eyes and collapses at the feet of the Master. Alarmed and ashamed she realises the impermanence of the human body.

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11. Unsatisfactoriness of Life.
According to the Buddha, whatever is impermanent is subject to suffering, and the world rests on this basic factor of suffering (Dukkha). However, having accepted this fact, He goes on to teach man how to gain his release from all suffering. The tragic story of Patacara who loss her whole family within a matter of a single day and night, points out only too well how suffering besets the unsuspecting worlding. After listening to the Buddha she gains peace and sanctity.

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12. Buddha teaches that all Phenomena is soulless.
When a thing is impermanent, as all conditioned things are, and thus susceptible to change, there can be no overlord or Self. Helpless in arranging things according to its wishes there can be no soul as master over mind and body. The Buddha explains the soullessness of beings to the five bhikkhus at Isipatana in Benares, in the discourse on soullessness (Anattalakkana Sutta).

* Part 1 ends, please see part 2.