Buddha (also known as Gautama Buddha and Śākya Muni) is one of the very few religious leaders of the world who have revolutionised the life of a very large mass of people for generations, influencing their religion, philosophy and culture including many aspects of arts and sciences.
Born on a Vaiśākha pūrṇimā day, as the only son of Śuddhodana (the king of Kapilavāstu) and Māyādevī (at Lumbiṇī, now in Nepal), he was named Siddhārtha. He lived an easy and protected life as the beloved prince and heir to the throne up to the age of 29 years. He was married to the princess Yaśodharā and had a son (Rāhula) by her. One day (for the first time in his life), he went out to see the city. The sight of an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk made a deep impression on his mind. He then realized that life was full of suffering and decided to become a monk to discover the path to blessedness, totally free of all suffering. He renounced the world on a Vaiśākha pūrṇimā day, retired to a forest and practised very severe austerities but to no avail. He then sat under a tree on the bank of the river Nairāñjanā in Gayā vowing that he would not get up from his seat until he realized the truth. Soon, he was enlightened and it was again on a Vaiśākha pūrṇimā day. The tree came to be known as ‘Bodhivṛkṣa’ and he became the Buddha, the enlightened one. He then went to Vārāṇasī (Kāśī) and gave his first sermon there. This sermon came to be known as dharmacakrapravartana or the discourse of setting in motion, the wheel of dharma. He was 35 at that time. He lived up to 80. For a long period of 45 years he roamed about the country teaching his doctrines of spiritual wisdom to one and all. He established a Saṅgha or a religious order of his monastic disciples to propagate his teachings. He passed away, again, on a Vaiśākha pūrṇimā day. Hence this day is called the thrice-blessed day.
As regards the period of Buddha’s life the dates vary from 624 B.C.-544 B.C. up to 557 B.C.-477 B.C. It may be safely assumed that he lived during the sixth century B.C.
Buddha’s teachings may be summarized as follows:
Buddha teaches ‘catvāri āryasatyāni,’ the four noble truths. They are:
He calls the last as the ārya-aṣṭāṅgika-mārga, or the eightfold noble path. These eight steps are: samyag-dṛṣṭi (right views), samyak-saṅkalpa (right resolve), samyag-vāk (right speech), samyak-karmānta (right conduct), samyag-ājīva (right livelihood), samyag-vyāyāma (right effort), samyak-smṛti (right mindfulness) and samyak-samādhi (right concentration).
Buddha calls the state of enlightenment as nirvāṇa which, literally, means extinction (of all sorrow and suffering).
Compilation, preservation and elaboration of Buddha’s teachings (leading to several schools of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy) took place over centuries through several Buddhist Councils. The Vinaya Piṭaka and the Sutta Piṭaka containing the rules for guiding the monks and the direct teachings of Buddha were compiled during the first Buddhist Council held immediately after Buddha’s demise. The Abhidhamma Piṭaka was compiled during the third Council conducted by the emperor Aśoka (3rd century B.C.). The work is abstruse and philosophical and contains the teachings of Buddha’s disciples and scholars of the tradition.
The three works together are known as the Tripiṭaka or the Tipiṭaka and are the canonical works of Buddhism.
See also BUDDHISM.