The life of the Buddha

  • Created by: mckenj99
  • Created on: 07-01-18 17:18

Summary of the Buddha's life

Queen Maya dreamed that a white elephant came down from the sky and circled her three times before striking her in her right side and entering her body. The baby emerged not from her womb but her right side, with no blood or birth waters. Once Siddhartha was born he took several steps in each of the four directions of the compass. 

Siddhartha received good education and excelled in everything he did. All possible luxuries were provided to ensure Siddhartha was satisfied with his life as a prince. However, he grew restless and left the palace where he was met with the four sights; an old man, a sick man, a funeral and a monk. 

He practiced mortification of the body, he fasted, held his breath for long periods, stayed out in the burning sun and bathed in icy water. He was confronted by wordly temptations from the demon Mara where he was meditating by the Bodhi tree. Mara told him that no one would believe him and in response Siddhartha touched the Earth and called for the Earth goddess as his witness and the Earth shacked in reply - Mara fled. 

Continuing to sit under the tree Siddhartha deepened his mediation and reached a state of great even-mindedness, mental brightness and purity. Then at each of the three watches of the night, he had three distinct insights; 1. He saw countless numbers of his own precious lives. 2. He understood the causes for the birth and death of beings in the universe. 3. He attained omniscience and understood the true nature of all things. 

His first teaching was on the four noble truths in the deer park. 

The Buddha was unwell for several months before he died, but he continued to wander on foot and teach. He died at the 80. However, for Buddhists he did not die in the ordinary sense, rather, he attained the supreme nibbana or parinibbana which is deathless. 

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Four Noble Truths

In his first sermon, the deer park sermon, the Buddha explained what he had discovered in terms of the four truths which function as a kind of physician's diagnosis of the human condition; 

  • The truth of suffering (Dukkha)
  • The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudaya)
  • The truth of the removal of suffering (Nirodha)
  • The truth of the path to the removal of suffering (Magga)

The Buddha is often compared to a physician. In the first two Noble Truths he diagnosed the problem (suffering) and identified its cause (the three root poisions). The third noble truth is the realisation that there is a cure (to renounce attachement). The fourth is the prescription, the way to achieve a release from suffering (the eightfold path). 

The fourth noble truth, Magga, is the Buddha's precription to end suffering. This is a set of principles called the Eightfold path. The Eightfold path is also called the middle way; it involves both indulgence and severe asceticism, neither of which the Buddha found helpful in his search to enlightenment.

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Personal qualities - Angulimala

The Buddha was passing through a deserted town and was stopped by a serial killer, Angulimala. The Buddha looked him straight in the eye like a friend or brother. The Buddha explained that he had learned to stop harming and causing suffering toher others, Anguilmala was cynical and excalimed "human beings don't love each other. They are cruel and deceptive. Why should I love other people?" The Buddha explained how you can transform cruelty into kindness, Angulimala stated that it was too late for himself, the Buddha assured him it was never too late. Angulimala became ordained as a monk and treid hard to practice mediation correctly. 

What qualities of the Buddha does this story show? 

  • Brave
  • Calm
  • Sees the good in everyone
  • Doesn't give up on people
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Personal qualities - Sunita

Sunita was a homeless 'untouchable' who survived by sweeping the streets. One day, he was busy sweeping the road when he saw the Buddha approaching with a group of monks. He looked in vain for a place to stand aside from them, but the best he could do was to flatten himself against a wall. The Buddha came straight up to him and spoke to him in a friendly way. He asked Sunita whether he would like to give up his job as a sweeper and follow him instead. Sunita was astonished and delighted, the Buddha ordained him there and then, he became a respected and educated monk. 

What qualities of the Buddha does this story show?

  • Respectful
  • Offers to help all
  • Kind
  • Compassionate
  • Doesn't judge people based on their class
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Importance of the life story

The life story of the Buddha may not be important to all Buddhist traditions, for example, Pure Land Buddhism is based on devotion to Buddha Amitabha and to achieve rebirth in his pure land. The main practice of Pure Land Buddhism is to recite the name of Amida Bddha, recite Mahayana sutras, paying respect to statues and singing Buddha Amidas praises. 

Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra and not the historical Buddha. They believe that the title of the Lotus Sutra, 'Namu myoho renge kyo' encompasses the essence of the whole teaching and was the only way to achieve enlightenment. 

Some may argue that the Buddha's life story is essential for understanding Buddhism as it is an accessible way of understanding difficult teachings, the Buddha can be an inspiration to others and it helps you to understand what the Buddha was like and his personal qualities. 

However, others argue that the Buddha was only one example of an enlightened being, many traditions focus very little on the life story of the Buddha (e.g. Nichiren and Pure Land), also Tibetan Buddhism focuses on a range of mythical creatures, the four noble truths are also more important if the Buddha is understood to be human. Sometimes it is also suggested that the life story should be understood as a hagiography - an idolising biography about the lives of saints. 

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