About Shakyamuni Buddha
He could no longer repress the resolve he felt to go out in search of a solution to the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death.
Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born in India approximately 2500 years ago. Shakyamuni Buddha was the son of Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakyas, a small tribe whose kingdom was located in the foothills of the Himalayas south of what is now central Nepal fifteen miles from Kapilavastu. Shakya of Shakyamuni is taken from the name of this tribe and muni means sage or saint. His family name was Gautama (Best Cow) and his given name was Siddhartha (Goal Achieved).
Seven days after his birth, his mother, Maya, died and he was raised by his mother's younger sister Mahaprajapati. His mother's death may have been a great influence upon the delicate youth who later became very perplexed by the question of mortality. His father took good care of his introspective, quiet-mannered son, and gave him special training in literature and the martial arts.
As a boy, Shakyamuni was deliberately shielded from the many realities of life, having been brought up amid the pleasures of the royal palace. It was natural for his family to expect that he would take over as the leader of his tribe and succeed his father.
Although his family had such expectations for him, Shakyamuni was extremely introspective and quiet as a youth, possessing a sharp sense of justice, seeking the answers to life's perplexing questions. It is said that he ventured out of the palace compounds on a number of occasions as a youth and each time was confronted with the sufferings of life. On one such occasion he came upon a very old man. On another venture he met a sick man, frail and burning with fever. On yet another journey, he was impressed when he met a wandering monk (bhikshu) who had renounced the world to lead an austere life in search of spiritual enlightenment. And again on another occasion he saw a person dead in the street. These events are recounted in the Buddhist scriptures as the four meetings. He was said to have been deeply moved by these confrontations with human suffering.
Knowing his son's tendency toward deep introspection and his desire to seek a spiritual path, his father sought to tie him down to life within the confines of the palace and their land. Marriage seemed a way to dissuade the young prince from pursuing the life of an ascetic, so at the age of sixteen, the young prince married the beautiful Yashodhara who bore him a son, Rahula.
Following the birth of his son, Shakyamuni could no longer repress the resolve he felt to abandon the secular world and go out in search of a solution to the four inescapable sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
Siddhartha renounced secular life and his princely status around the age of nineteen and began living a religious life. Having left the palace of the Shakyas at Kapilavastu he traveled to Rajagriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, where he studied with various ascetics, however, after following their disciplines, he still could not find the answers to his questions. He then left Rajagriha and proceeded to the bank of the Nairanjana River near the village of Uruvilva, where he began to practice various austerities in the company of other ascetics. He subjected himself to disciplines of extreme severity, surpassing the efforts of his companions, trying to reach emancipation through self-mortification, but after six years he rejected these practices as well. To restore his strength from having fasted for such a long time he accepted milk curd offered to him by Sujata, a girl of the village. Then, near the town of Gaya, he sat under a pipal tree and entered meditation. There he attained enlightenment at the age of thirty. The pipal tree was later called the bodhi tree because Shakyamuni gained bodhi or enlightenment under this tree, and the site itself came to be called Bodhgaya.
After his awakening, Shakyamuni remained for a while beneath the Bodhi tree rejoicing in his emancipation. Shakyamuni contemplated how he should communicate his realization to others. It is said he questioned whether or not he should attempt to teach others what he had achieved. He finally resolved to strive to do so, so that the way to liberation from the sufferings of birth and death would be open to all people.
First he made his way to the Deer Park in Varanasi, where he preached the Four Noble Truths to five ascetics who had once been his companions. Over the next fifty years from the time of his awakening until his death, Shakyamuni continued to travel through many parts of India disseminating his teachings. During his lifetime his teachings spread not only to central India but also to more remote areas and people of all social classes converted to Buddhism.
At the age of eighty, Shakyamuni passed away. The year before his death he stayed at Gridhrakuta (Eagle Peak) in Rajagriha. He set out on his last journey from Gridhrakuta proceeding northward across the Ganges River to Vaishali. He spent the rainy season in Beluva, a village near Vaishali. There he became seriously ill, but recovered and continued to preach in many villages. Eventually he came to a place called Pava in Malla. There he again became ill after eating a meal. Despite his pain, he continued his journey until reaching Kushinagara. There in a grove of sal trees he calmly lay down and spoke his last words. He admonished his disciples, saying, "You must not think that your teacher's words are no more, or that you are left without a teacher. The teachings and precepts I have expounded to you shall be your teacher" It is said that his final words were, "Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work out your salvation with diligence.”