Birth of the Buddha
Buddhism is one of the major religions in the world. It began around 2,500 years ago in India when Siddhartha Gautama discovered how to bring happiness into the world. He was born around 566 BC, in the small kingdom of Kapilavastu. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya.
Seven days after his birth. Queen Maya died. Her sister, Prajapati, raised him as her own child.
A mystic foretold that the prince would be a great king or a Buddha. Now the king, wanting his son to be a king, raised him amid song and dance He kept him in the palace, cut off from the misfortunes of life.
As a prince, Siddhartha was trained in warfare and educated in the arts and sciences of the time. Soon he blossomed into a young man of great strength, beauty, and wisdom. At the age of nineteen, he won his beautiful wife, Yashodara, in an archery contest. Passing the days in riches and happiness, he knew nothing of poverty or suffering.
19 years old
At age 29, Siddhartha took three trips beyond the palace gates. Along the way, he saw the world that his father had hidden from him–an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. He asked, “How can I lie happily on silk cushions and not ease this suffering? But how?”
On the last ride, he saw a wondering monk who was seeking happiness among human suffering. “This I must do,” Siddhartha said. So, he gave up his wealth, his royal title and all that he loved. He said goodbye to Yashodara and secretly fled the palace into the misty night.
29 years old
For six years, Siddhartha wandered in the forest. He learned deep meditation from wise teachers, and practiced fasting and austerity with five yogis. Thinking this was the way to everlasting happiness, he endured the most pain of all, but found no answers. He said, “I did not find peace in palace life. Nor did I find peace in an austere life. There must be a middle way.”
Near death, he accepted a bowl of rice-milk from a young girl and regained his strength. When the five yogis saw Siddhartha eat the rich and delicious food, they thought he had given up, so they left him.
35 years old
Going alone, he sat under a Bodhi tree and became enlightened, a Buddha. He understood the cycle of birth and death and how to ease suffering. He saw his true nature and that of all living beings. This was the end of his spiritual quest.
Remembering the five yogis, he found them in the Deer Park near Benares and taught them the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, the pillars of Buddhism. They formed the first order of Buddhist Monks, called the Sangha.
35-80 years old
The Buddha Teaches
The Buddha spent the next forty-five years spreading his teachings throughout India. He was the first religious leader to accept women and untouchables who are the lowest caste. Rich and poor, men and women, king and slaves, young and old—all were equal in his community.
Two years after his awakening, the Buddha visited his family in Kapilavastu. The king became a disciple of the Buddha and many members of the royal family joined the Sangha, including the Buddha’s son, Rahula. After the king’s death, the Buddha’s aunt Prajapati became the first Buddhist nun. She then ordained Yashodara and hundreds of other women as part of the Sangha.
80 years old
The Last Years
In his own day, the Buddha became the best known and loved of all the spiritual teachers in India. He never set himself up as an authority, but was a wise and kind friend to all.
At age eighty, he gathered his disciples around him. He told them to not follow another leader, but to take the Dharma as their master. His last words were, “All things in life end. Work diligently for your own enlightenment.” Closing his eyes, the Buddha passed into the final state of nirvana.