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The Buddha’s Life

from

Approaching the Buddhist Path

Volume 1 of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and
Ven. Thubten Chodron

Wisdom Publications

The Buddha’s Life

Buddhism in our world began with Śākyamuni Buddha, who in the view common to all Buddhists, was born Siddhārtha Gautama, a prince from the Śākya clan, most likely in the fifth century BCE near what is today the India-Nepal border.

His kind heart and great intelligence were evident from childhood. Despite a sheltered life in the palace, he ventured into the town, where for the first time he saw a sick person, an old person, and a corpse. This prompted him to reflect on the suffering living beings experience, and after seeing a wandering mendicant, he aspired to be free from the cycle of constantly recurring problems called saṃsāra.

Disillusioned with the pleasures of palace life and seeking liberation, at the age of twenty-nine he left his family and royal position, shed his elegant clothing, and adopted the lifestyle of a wandering mendicant.

He studied and mastered the meditation techniques of the great teachers of his time, but he saw that they did not bring freedom from cyclic existence.

For six years he practiced severe asceticism, but realizing that torturing the body doesn’t tame the mind, he relinquished this for the middle path of keeping the body healthy without indulging in sensual pleasure.

Seated gold Buddha

Awakening

Sitting under the bodhi tree in what is present-day Bodhgaya, India, he determined to arise only after attaining full awakening. On the full moon of the fourth lunar month—the Buddhist holiday of Vesak (Saka Dawa)—he completed the process of cleansing his mind of all obscurations and developing all good qualities and became a buddha, a fully awakened one.

Thirty-five years old at that time, he spent the next forty-five years teaching what he had discovered through his own experience to whomever came to hear. The Buddha taught men and women of all ages, races, and social classes—royalty, beggars, merchants, officials, thieves, farmers, musicians, and prostitutes.

Many of his students chose to relinquish the householder’s life and adopt the monastic life, and thus the saṅgha community of ordained beings was born. As his followers attained realizations and became skilled in teaching the Dharma, he asked them to share with others what they had realized “for the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world; for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans” (AN 1.170).

Thus the Dharma spread, and still exists in our world to this day.


 

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