June 2001 past paper- the life of the buddha, part a

a sample answer for a past part a question on the life of the buddha. approximate grade B

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June 2001The Life of the BuddhaTopic 1
a) Explain the historical background of the life of Gautama the Buddha
The life of the Buddha is divided into ten acts. These are the ten main events in his life that Buddhists
focus on.
The first act is conception. Siddhartha was conceived through a dream, where a white elephant
entered Queen Maya's side. The conception was marked by earthquakes and there was a prediction,
by Sunita, who said Siddhartha would grow up to be a great king or a religious leader. This is
important to Buddhists because it shows that Siddhartha was destined to become the Buddha, from
The second act is Siddhartha's physical birth. It is said that Queen Maya gave birth to Siddhartha in
Lumbini, now a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists worldwide. She gave birth standing up, and the
baby came from her side, with no blood or birth waters. At birth, Siddhartha stood up and took four
steps in the direction of each point on the compass. This is symbolic of word spreading, and the birth
was also marked with earthquakes. King Suddodana, Prince Siddhartha's father, did not want
Siddhartha to become a religious leader so tried to shield him from all triggers of spiritual yearnings
and trying to satisfy him with a life of luxury in the palace.
The third act is Siddhartha's accomplishment in worldly skills. He was endeared by everyone and was
good at everything. He was able to fall naturally into states of meditation, which occurred for the
first time at a ploughing festival in Tilaurakot, under a rose-apple tree. Here he observed a farmer
working hard in the field and spotted a bird eating a worm which had come to the surface as the
farmer was ploughing. This led Siddhartha to question why humans live the way they do. He was
overcome by compassion and entered into a natural state of deep meditation for the first time. This
is known as the first Jana.
The fourth act of the Buddha is his youth. He led a life of pleasure and indulgence as a way of trying
to shield him from all triggers of spiritual yearning. His father ensured he has the best teachers, who
gave him one-to-one tuition. He married a beautiful young woman, Yasodhara, who later gave birth
to their son, Rahula.
The fifth act is leaving the palace. Following four trips out of the palace where he witnessed old age,
sickness, death, and a wandering ascetic, also known as the four sights, he decided to leave the
palace to find a solution to human suffering. The four sights are a very controversial concept in
Buddhism. Some people are willing to accept the literal interpretation of the story, and believe
Siddhartha did journey out of the palace four times. However, not everyone is willing to accept this
view. Richard Gombrich from Oxford University expresses his view that the four sights are non literal:
`it should be treated as allegory. It is not plausible for a 29 year old to grow up without
realising that suffering is an inescapable factor of life.' He feels that the four sights represent the
moment that he realised they were going to happen to him. Peter Harvey from Sunderland
University shares the view that the four sights are a story way of putting the existential realisation
that one day he is going to grow old, get sick and eventually die. Peter says that `the four sights
symbolise a shift from an intellectual understanding of old age, sickness and death, to a
profound psychological or emotional effect.' Siddhartha left the palace with the view that
complacency cuts people off from the nature and meaning of life.
The sixth act is life as an ascetic. When Buddha left the palace, he renounced the luxury and
indulgence he had experienced. He joined a group of ascetics and followed ascetic practice for six
years. This involved denying the body its physical needs and taking it to an extreme level. However,
after six years of starvation and self harm, he was close to death when a girl offered him a bowl of
rice pudding. Buddha accepted the food as he realised that denying the body its needs is not what it
takes. The ascetics rejected him after this as they thought that he had given up on his quest.
Siddhartha, having experienced both extremes of a life of luxury at the palace, and a life following
ascetic practices, he decided that there had to be a middle ground between the two extremes.
In a final attempt to complete his quest he decided to meditate alone, under a Bodhi tree. This leads
us to the seventh act, victory over Mara. When meditating individually, Mara sent an army of demons

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June 2001The Life of the BuddhaTopic 1
to Siddhartha, however they could not harm Siddhartha and so this attempt by Mara failed. Then
Mara tried to influence him by sending Siddhartha desire, in the form of his three daughters- lust,
passion and virtue. However, Siddhartha refused to be tempted by him.…read more


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