'Birth and Yout at Court.
An overview of Buddha's life makes his teachins relevant today. Approximately 2,450 years ago, he was born into a royal family in Northern India. Several centuries earlier, during one of several mass migrations, his ancestors from the Shakya clan colonized the area, coming from what is today Ukraine and center Russia. The Buddha belonged to the Warrior caste and the texts describe him as tall and very strong. His parents' kingdom lay at the southern border of what is today Nepal, near Lumbini in the region called Kapilavastu. The area at that time was rich and not overpopulated. Excavations show that there was an underground sewage system, as well as central heating between the double walls of some houses, meaning that local culture was well developed at that time. Buddha himself was certainly of no virgin birth. He was the very last chance for his parents to have a child and thus a successor to the throne.
At an age when she had already given up hope, his mother had a powerful dream announcing her pregnancy. Standing in a grove fifteen miles from the palace, she gave birthto a strong and beautiful boy. His parents were ecstatic. They gave him the name Siddhartha Gautama and expected him to become a powerful king. Without a strong general at their helm, kingdoms at that time quickly disappeared.
Gradually however, his parents noticed signs that hinted at something different. Wherever the boy went, flowers appeared. "Is he a poet, a dreamer, a philosopher?" they asked. To find out, his parents invited three meditators to predict their son's future. After thorougly examining him, all said the same thing: "The boy is truly special. If he is kept from the pain and dissatisfaction of the world, he will accomplish your every wish. A perfect warrior and hero, he will conquer all neighboring kings and you will be proud of him. If however, he discovers that the world is conditioned and cannot bring any lasting happiness he will renounce everything. He will develop a new and enlightening view and bring this into the world."
Since they wanted a ruler and not an artist or a dropout, Buddha's parents acted quickly. They surrounded the growing prince with everything a healthy young man likes: five hundred select women, opportunities for sports, excitement, and above all, the important combat training that he completely mastered. They also provided the best conditions for his intellectual training and in this too he soon excelled. His every wish was met and for the first twenty nine years of his life, he experienced only shifing aspects of joy. As his store consciousness contained nothing disturbing from former lives, there were no unpleasant impressions from within that could surface. Everything that was potentially painful had been kept from the young prince. Then suddenly, his world turned upside down.
Disillusionment and Search for Meaning.
Leaving the castle on three successive days at the age of twenty nine, he met with suffering in the most immediate aspect. He saw someone desperately sick, someone wrecked with age, and finally someone dead. Returning to his palace, young Prince Siddhartha had a terrible night. He was beyond thinking of himself, but the awareness that pain strikes everyone gave him no rest. Wherever he looked, he found nothing that he could offer his dear ones as a refuge from it. There was nothing that could be relied upon. Fame, family, friends, and possessions, everything would go away. He discovered only impermanence. Nothing was real or lasting in the external or internal world.
The next morning, feeling like a question mark with his mind wrapped up in this dilemma, the prince walked past a meditator who sat in deep absorption. When their eyes met and their minds linked, Siddhartha stopped, mesmerized. This man might be showing him what he was looking for, a true and real refuge. His state displayed a mirror behind the images, an ocean underneath the waves, mind's eternal awareness through all its appearing, changing, and dissolving images. The future Buddha had a sudden insight that there might be something unchanging and conscious between and behind all ideas and impressions.
"This might be it!" he thought. Trusting the experiencer but not the changing experiences seemed utterly reasonable. Meeting that man gave the future Buddha a first and enticing taste of mind, which he knew he had to experience himself for the good of all. In a flash, he realized that the perfection he had been seeking outside must be within mind itself.
At the time there were no tools or teachings for using an exciting life to ride the tiger of direct experience to enlightenment. So the prince decided to renounce his rich but distracting private life in order to limit the number of disturbing impressions reaching his mind. He fled his palace during the night and disappeared into the clearings and woods of Northern India. He had to realize the mightiest of goals: mind's timeless essence.
Passionately wanting to know mind fully and inspired by all beings' wish for lasting happiness, no exercise was too difficult or unpleasant for the future Buddha. The following six years were hard, but he matured in every aspect. Wherever he went, he learned without fear or pride. When he was fed the dualistic teaching that the body is bad, he first fasted himself down to nearly a skeleton. But when he discovered that his physical weakness confused him rather than strenghtening his clarity of mind, making it impossible to help others or himself, he began eating again and quickly regained his strength.
All of today's known schools of thought were already present in Northern India at that time, and Siddhartha learned from the most eminent teachers of them all. Soon outpacing them, he was disappointed that they all showed him mind's potential but not mind itself. Their dualistic explainations brought him no closer to his goal. Knowing nothing of any experiencer, they could not confirm anything lasting in which he could put his trust. He therefore thanked them and took his leave.
In all non-Buddhist cultures, even the most highly gifted teachers imagined gods and other unprovable causes for the world and its events. Among them only Buddha, and his great contemporary Heraclitus in Greece, came to the unique, logical, and conclusive view that space is itself pregnant and brings forth all outer and inner worlds: that it is joyfully at play and that all possibilities reside within it.
Conditions in Northern India 2,450 Years Ago.
An unusual spiritual openness reigned in India in Buddha's time, similar to that in ancient Greece, the Italian Renaissance, and the 1960's in the West. In comparison to the freedoms enjoyed today, in part because of modern hygiene and methods of birth control, life at Buddha's time was more prudish. With regard to the depth of their motivation and the clarity of their philosophy of life, however, many of his students were more aware and much less distracted than people are today. The dominant viewpoints of materialism, nihilism, existentialism and transcendentalism were as prevalent then as they are now. Above all, however, the Indians of that time expected spirituality to influence their daily lives in positive ways and they were much less spoiled.
In Buddha's time people were not yet stigmatized by absolutism or totalitarian religions. They expected more from worldview than the wishes of personal gods who gave dogmas of faith but still had self declared imperfections like jealousy, pride, and anger. For people then to accept a philosophy of life, it had to go beyond anything personal and provide access to timeless truth. The teachings had to have a logical basis, possess useable methods, and demonstrate a reachable goal. At the same time, claims to truth were dealt with very responsibly. If during a public debate, someone advocated a point of view that someone else could refute, the loser was expected to become the winner's student. Intellectual honesty demanded it.
During his six years of learning and meditating in the then forested and pleasant plains of Northern India, the young price's promises from countless past lives matured. He only wanted to recognize mind's essence and bring the greatest of gifts to all. To achieve this, he chose a seat near a stream in a place now called Bodhgaya.
Today Bodhgaya is a village of many Buddhist temples, situated two-thirds of the way from Delhi to Calcutta. The nearest town, Gaya, lies in the now hopelessly overpopulated state of Bihar. Despite tourists, beggars, and the usual Indian confusion, the site still possesses an immense power field. Over recent years, the region around the vast Buddhist stupa and the village has become quite dangerous. The holy places, like the caves of six-armed protector to the right of road to Gaya, can only be visited during the day, in large groups, and with weapons. People are killed there by the villagers, sometimes merely for their clothes.
At Bodhgaya, sitting down under a spread out leafy tree near a brook, the future Buddha decided to remain in meditation until he knew mind and could benefit all beings. After spending six rich and eventful days and nights cutting through mind's most subtle obstacles, he reached enlightenment on the full moon morning of May, approximately 2,425 years ago, a week before he turned thirty five. As is known, he died on the same day forty five years later. At the moment of full realization, all veils of mixed feelings and stiff ideas dissolved and Buddha experienced the all encompassing here and now. All separation in time or space disappeared. Past, present, and future, near and far, melted into one radiant state of intuitive bliss. Thus he became timeless, all pervading awareness. Through every cell of his body he knew and was everything.
For the first seven weeks after his enlightenment, the newly Awakened One, the fourth of a thousand buddhas to manifest while there is intelligent life on earth, remained under his tree in Bodhgaya. He needed to get his body accustomed to the intense streams of energy filling it. Here, the main Hindu gods like Mahadeva and Brahma came to Buddha and requested him to teach, received instructions and took refuge, which some of them still remember and others forgot. Like the brightest people that came later, many gods did not experience Buddha as a man, a god, or something outer, but rather as a mirror to their own essential nature. His example showed them truly reliable values.'
-- Quoted from 'The Way Things Are' by Lama Ole Nydahl,
first published in 2008 - current version published in 2011.
Blog author's comments.
Buddha's life did not end with enlightenment, he was giving lessons till his death.
His lessons were written by his students, are available even today in many books.
Different lessons are for different beings, on different stages of development, with different Karma.