Bodh means wisdom, knowledge, talent, preceptor, revelation etc and Buddha means the one who has comprehended, understood, recognized, perceived and known the Truth. Buddha means the Enlightened One.
It was about 2550 years ago when Prince Siddhartha Gautam left all the worldly pleasures to attain the reality of life, and became the Buddha. It was a state in which the Buddha gained an insight into the deepest workings of life and therefore into the cause of human suffering, the problem that had set Him on his spiritual quest in the first place.
Siddhartha Gautama was born in 563 BC in Lumbini, Nepal as a son of Shuddhodhana, the king of Kapilavastu and his Queen, Mayadevi. Unfortunately, Mayadevi died only seven days after the birth of Siddhartha and so, He was brought up by His stepmother, Gautami. It is interesting to note that when Siddhartha was born, the astrologers had predicted that the prince would renunciate the comforts of the materialistic world and instead, opt for a path of His own. When the King Shuddhodhana came to know about the prediction, he naturally became extremely cautious and tried to prevent a thing that was bound to happen, and he did not let Siddhartha even move out of the palace. It was the deepest desire of the king that his son would fulfill his father's dream one day by becoming a King.
The Turning Point
At the back of his mind, Gautama always wanted to see the world outside his palace. So, one day secretly He moved out of his palace, and saw certain things that changed the entire course of His life. He first saw a very old man who could barely walk, a sick man who was in severe pain, and lastly a corpse. Since, He had never been exposed to pain before, these sights affected him immensely, although His charioteer tried to explain Him that pain and death - both were inevitable.
This entire episode turned His life and His heart compelled Him to evaluate His life completely and then, He began the search for the reason of existence. King Shuddhodhana got perturbed by whatever his son was going through and therefore, he tried everything from his side to keep Gautama's mind engrossed into the worldly sensual pleasures. He selected a beautiful princes Yashodhara to be his wife. Gautama and Yashodhara lived very happily and soon Yashodhara gave birth to a baby boy who was named Rahul. King Suddhodhana was very happy to see Gautama enjoying his life as the prince. But Siddhartha was not able to forget the scenes of pain and suffering that He saw on the street. Finally He made up his mind to find the Truth and on a starry night, left his palace without telling anybody.
Quest for Truth
Siddhartha was only 29, when He had left home. For some time, He moved around the entire country meeting various sadhus and saints in His search for inner peace. It was during this period that Siddhartha lived the life of a hermit and involved Himself in rigorous tapasya in order to comprehend the reason for life and death. A time came when He realized that it was useless to torture one's body while finding the truth, and then, He gave-up the method of tapasya and fast.
After the long journey in search of Truth, one day He reached Bodh Gaya. He was completely exhausted, He took a seat under the shade of a Peepal (Ficus religiosa) tree and closed His eyes. He sat there for about 49 days He felt a divine light coming within Himself. This was the turning point in His quest as He realized that the truth is within every human being and to search for it outside was baseless. From this moment on Siddhartha became 'Tathagata' (Tatha: truth, gata: the one who knows) or 'Buddha' the enlightened one.
The central beliefs of Buddhism are based on Buddha's Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path by which the enlightenment can be attained.
The Four Noble Truths are:
- Dukhha: The Suffering.
- Samudya: Attachment is the origin of Suffering.
- Nirodha: The cessation of Suffering.
- Marga: The path to the cessation of suffering. The Path of cessation of suffering is explained through the Eightfold Path.
- Right Understanding/View
- Right Resolve/Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Meditation
The Right Path and Immortality
For 45 years, Buddha spread His message of spiritual life to not only His disciples but the common people as well. He gave emphasis on the purification of mind, heart and soul. After spreading His message to the world successfully, Buddha died at the age of 80 years in 483 BC. at Kushinagar, India. Today, Buddhism has a strong following in various Asian countries and is gradually finding its feet in some of the western countries as well.