The Buddha


The “Awakened One” - the Buddha of this age; is the honorific name given to prince Siddhattha Gotama who was born in the 6th century BCE, in the small kingdom of Kapilavatthu, in what is today southern Nepal. By tradition it is recorded that this was his final incarnation; a culmination of refinement spanning over countless lifetimes, during which he gradually perfected moral purification and the relinquishment of defilements, to reach the stage of a Bodhisatta; one who is destined to become a Buddha. Shortly after his birth, his father consulted eight Brahmin astrologers to foretell the life of the newborn prince, seven of the Brahmins said that the prince would be a great king if he chose to rule, or, if the Prince renounced the throne for religious purification he would become a Buddha. However,
Koṇḍañña, the eighth and youngest of the astrologers, said that the prince would definitely be the next Buddha. Disturbed by this announcement, the king made every effort to secure Siddhattha’s peace and happiness. But one day, while on a tour of his fathers kingdom, he saw four signs that marked the beginning of his quest for truth, he saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse being prepared for the pyre and he saw an ascetic in meditation under a tree. The first three perplexed him; because of his sheltered life in the palace he had never seen the reality of suffering and death. The last sign, however, kindled in him a resolve to find the way of liberation from these.

For six years he wandered, placing himself under the tutelage of various teachers

In India, at the time that the ascetic Gautama set out on his quest for Truth, there were many that were no longer content with the perfunctory rituals of Brahmanic religion. There were ascetics in northwestern India who tried to extend beyond the Vedic scriptures. The Upaniṣads developed out of this movement with a new emphasis on renunciation and transcendental knowledge. Northeastern India, however, was less influenced by Vedic and Upaniṣadic thought and became the breeding ground of many unorthodox sects.

The first teacher the ascetic Gotama placed himself under was Āḷāra Kālāma who’s ascetic practices had reached the attainment of the ‘sphere of nothingness’ (akiñcaññayatana). The ascetic Gotama memorized this doctrine and through contemplation quickly attained it’s goal of perfection; whereupon he questioned Āḷāra about his own attainment. Āḷāra agreed that Gotama had reached the ‘sphere of nothingness’ and suggested that he remain to help teach others. But Gotama felt dissatisfied with this Dhamma of Āḷāra's; that it did not lead to the extinction of suffering. So he took leave of Āḷāra to continue his search.

Gotama next practiced under was Uddaka Rāmaputta. Uddaka taught him the doctrine which had been realized and proclaimed by his father Rāma, which was the attainment of the state of ‘neither-perception-nor-nonperception’ (nevasaññãnãsaññayatana) . Just as with Āḷāra, Gotama had mastered this doctrine, and Udakka also made him equal by setting him over the other disciples as their teacher. But Gotama also found this doctrine unsatisfactory and not leading to the extinction of suffering; thus he abandoned it to continue his search.

He then encountered five other ascetics who told him that the way to liberation lies in extreme asceticism. So, taking only little food and water and wandering naked in the forest; his body became very emaciated. But after all this it occurred to him that of the practice of austerities, even of all of the ascetics before him, his was the utmost - and yet still he had not reached his goal. He recalled when he was a boy; meditating under a rose-apple tree while his father the king was away - there he entered the first stage of absorption (jhāna) of meditative states. With this memory arose in him a question “Could this be the way to Awakening?...” - then he realized that these extreme ascetic practices would only hinder his ability to attain those rarified states, and with that he abandoned them and took a little food to revitalize his body.

“Then having taken ample food and being nourished and strengthened - completely removed from sensual gratification, removed from unwholesome natures, I entered and abided in the first jhāna – of bliss and pleasure arisen from removal, with sustained thought and examination…

“Sustained thought and examination were calmed. I entered and abided in the second jhāna – of bliss and pleasure arisen from concentration, with one-pointedness of mind, with inward serenity, freed from sustained thought and examination…

“Bliss fell away. I abided in equanimity, mindful and attentive, sensitive to pleasurable feelings of the body. I entered and abided in the third jhāna – which the Noble Ones proclaim, ‘Composed and mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding’…

“Pleasure is abandoned and pain is abandoned, just as before with the disappearance of mental ease and distress. I entered and abided in the fourth jhāna – not pleasure - not pain, purity of equanimity and mindfulness…” [MN.36]

What the Buddha discovered on the night of his Awakening is that liberation is found through the purification of the mind through detachment and restraint, training the mind to see clearly the facts of conditional phenomena and through penetrating these facts with wisdom; seeing their impermanence, intrinsic and subjective decline and un-satisfactoriness and the impossibility of an everlasting self or witness to whom these would belong.

“These are two extremes that are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth: Whatever is committed to sensual gratification, clinging to what is pleasurable; low, common, of the village, ignoble and disadvantageous; Whatever is committed to self mortification: painful, ignoble, and disadvantageous. Without approaching either of these extremes is a Middle Way realized by the Tathāgata, arising in vision, arising in knowledge; leading to peace, to perfect knowledge, to Self Awakening, to Liberation – Nibbāna.

Then what is this Middle Way realized by the Tathāgata, arising in vision, arising in knowledge; leading to peace, to perfect knowledge, to Self Awakening, to Liberation – Nibbāna? It is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely; Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Exertion, Right Mindfulness and Right Development of Mind. Such is this Middle Way realized by the Tathāgata, arising in vision, arising in knowledge; leading to peace, to perfect knowledge, to Self Awakening, to Liberation – Nibbāna.” [SN. 56.11]