BC: Book by J. Blackman Photographs - flickr creative commons
FC: The Life of The Buddha
1: After today's lesson you should be able to show a clear understanding and knowledge of: 1. The key events in the life of Buddha 2. A critical awareness of the issue of historical accuracy 3. How and why Buddhists find inspiration in the story 4. Demonstrate your own responses to the story
2: Context The man we know as the Buddha was born centuries before the beginning of the Common Era. Nothing about his life was written down until centuries afte he had died. Accounts of his life were memorised & repeated by his followers What we know of the Buddha's life is that which the Buddhist community have passed on to us.
3: Did he really exist? Michael Pye argues that it is not possible to explain the beginnings of Buddhism if he did not. However, this does not prove the reality of any of the details in his history.
4: How many Buddhas? Buddhists believe there are many more existences other than this one we have in our human "realm" in our current historical period. If there are other realms and other historical periods there must be many other Buddhas. Buddhis scholars often refer to "The Buddha" as "the historical Buddha" - this signifies that he is the Buddha of our realm and time period and to show that he is one amongst many | our human "realm" in our historical period. There are many other realms and many other historical ages. Therefore there are many other Buddhas. The Buddha is often referred to as the historical Buddha to show that he is the Buddha of our realm and time period and to indicate that he is one amongst others.
5: A man or a god? Different traditions of Buddhism describe the Buddha in different ways. In Theravada Buddhism | (Thailand) he is seen very much like a human being and an example to others on the search for enlightenment. Although there are stories about Buddha which contain supernatural events these are evidence of Buddhas importance, not evidence that he is a god. Buddhists do not believe the story is literal truth, but it illustrates key ideas and gives inspiration.
6: There are many different sources for the traditional account of the life of the Buddha and no authorised versions. There is no one book which contains the whole story. However, certain key events are referred to in many of the scriptures. These are: 1. His birth 2. The four sights 3. The renunciation 4. His enlightenment 5. His decision to teach 6. His death
8: Scholars debate the date of Buddha's birth. It is often given as 563BCE, but historians also argue he could not have been born earlier than 411BCE. He was born in the Lumbini Grove (now Nepal). His parents, Suddhodana & Maya were Kshatriyas & his father was a local ruler.
9: The accounts of his conception & birth both contain miraculous stories. These help to show the significance of Siddhartha's birth. Whilst she was pregnant, Maya, his mother, dreamt that an elephant entered her womb. Elephants were believed to be lucky and so this was a good sign. When she gave birth she did so by giving birth through her side whilst leaning against a tree. This story shows that Siddartha is seen as pure and clean because at this time anything connected with sex and childbirth was seen as polluting. The story continues by saying that as soon as he was born the child walked 7 steps and announced "I was born for enlightenment, and for the good of all that lives. This is my last birth into this world." At Siddartha's naming ceremony a famous holy man predicted that the child would either grow up to be a great leader of his people or a great holy man.
10: Siddartha's father was very disturbed by this and he took many steps to make sure that Siddartha was not exposed to anything which might make him reflect on the meaning of life in a religious way. Siddartha was more or less imprisoned in paradise. He was shielded from sadness; he was surrounded by young healthy people. He never saw anything die, not even an animal or a plant. He had all of his needs and wants met. He married a beautiful princess called Yasodhara and he seemd to be fulfilling the prophecy that he would be a great leader. However, by the time his son, Rahula, was born Siddartha was getting restless and sensed that there must be more in life than he had so far experienced.
11: Siddhartha decided that he could no longer bear his life as it was and he made the decision to go outside the palace. He made 4 journeys and during these he saw 4 sights that were to change his life forever.
12: On his first journey out of the palace Siddhartha saw an old man. Age was a completely new idea to him and he realised for the first time that he and his loved ones | would grow old. On his second journey he saw a diseased man and realised for the first time that people became ill. The third journey however was the most dreadful as he saw the body of someone who had died. For the first time he understood that life was not eternal and that death came for all. On his fourth journey he saw a wandering sadhu, who although old and without possessions, seemed serene and peaceful. Siddartha was inspired by him to give up his life in the palace.
14: The renunciation Renouncing, or giving up family life in order to search for spiritual truth was not uncommon. However, Siddartha as a Kshatriya had responsibilities and this was just the event that his father had been trying to prevent. Siddhartha left the palace and his wife and children behind and he went out into the world in an attempt to find the answer to suffering and to find a way of overcoming it. For 6 years Siddartha lived with a group of 5 ascetics. During this time he tried to supress his bodily needs and desires in order to liberate his soul. He limited the amount of food that he ate and he became so thin that if he pressed on his stomach he could feel his spine. Eventually he realised he would die if he persisted and he began to bathe and eat again. The other ascetics were so disappointed that they left him Siddartha realised he had not found the answer to his question neither when living in luxury in the palace nor when depriving himself. The answer therefore must lie somewhere in the middle
15: Siddartha sat beneath a Banyan tree, vowing to stay there until he had achieved his goal. As he meditated the demon Mara tried to scare him from his quest. Maya's 3 daughters, Thirst, Passion & Desire, also attempted to seduce him from his task, but they failed and as morning approached Siddartha attained enlightenment
16: Buddha's decision to teach At first Buddha was not sure that he would be able to explain what he had discovered - the words we have seemed insufficient to describe what enlightenment meant. However he said that having found the answer of why we suffer and how to free ourself from it then he must help others to do the same. The first people he taught were the 5 ascetics he had lived with in the forest. His first sermon is sometimes called "The Deer Park Sermon" because of where it took place. For the next 35 years the Buddha taught about the truths he had discovered whilst meditating under the tree (now called the Bodhi tree = bodhi means enlightenment). He used stories, parables and metaphors to try to help people understand what could not be explained, only experienced. He gained a huge following, including people from all walks of life. Those who wanted to join the community, or Sangha, took vows and adopted a strict lifestyle.
17: Death It is believed that the Buddha died of food poisoning. He knew that he was dying but continued to receive his followers. Ananda, a close disciple of the Buddha, was worried about what would happen to the community without its leader. The Buddha said that whoever sees the dharma (teachings) sees the Buddha also - implying that the teachings themselves were his successor and also that he and the teachings were one and the same. The Buddha told Ananda not to weep as it was the nature of things to become separated from those we love. His last words were "All conditioned things are perishable. Work out your own salvation with diligence - be a lamp unto yourselves." The Buddha's death could be seem as remarkable in it normality - he died as any other man, without indication that he was in anyway different or special.
18: The Buddha let go of life peacefully and the moment of his death is celebrated in iconography throught the Buddhist world. At the time of his death Buddhists believe he had used up all his karma - they say he had no "karmic attachments" and therefore he was not reborn. The moment of Buddha's death is known as the parinirvana or Mahparnirvana