I take refuge in the Buddha. Truly it is my vow that together with multitudinous beings, I will understand (with my whole being) the great path and give rise to the unsurpassed heart.
The Historical Buddha
The reason we study the life of any person is because that life has captivated, educated, inspired or motivated us to discover our shared humanity. The life of the historical Buddha is no different. Although born as Siddhartha Gautama, he will later become better known as Sakyamuni Buddha. Whereas his life is sometimes portrayed in fantastic terms, sharing the humanity that was his life and helping us to explore the potential of our own is why the life story of the Buddha continues to be told, as it is handed down from generation to generation with reverence. We find the story immediately captivating because the hero is a man who was born into royalty but gives up everything that most of us blindly strive for—power, fame and fortune—in order to achieve happiness. This approach of his is educational because it forces us to reflect on the things we either don’t want to see because of denial, or fail to see because we take life for granted. His life story inspires us because we discover that our lives can make a difference through the choices that we make. Finally, in coming to understand that we can achieve the same state of acuity and understanding, calm and gentleness that emanated from the Buddha, we are motivated to seek out the path leading us towards wisdom and compassion ourselves. It is a story that makes each of us want to become a Buddha.
The Buddha’s underlying humanity and the potential for our own lives is shared within the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha. With that in mind, we will explore the stories surrounding the Buddha’s birth, his search for meaning, his enlightenment, and his death. Through these stories of his life, we are reminded that the Buddha experienced the same suffering, physically and emotionally, that we continue to create and experience; and he was ultimately able to overcome it. These stories also help us to see how deeply revered the Buddha was. It is through this reverence that the Buddhist tradition has continued to try to help all people to understand their potential in becoming a Buddha themselves.
Each of the sections that describe these major life events of the Buddha begins with an English translation of how these events have been recorded in the sacred Buddhist scriptures and is followed with a brief discussion of how we might understand the significance of the event in our lives.
Following these traditional stories of the Buddha’s life, we will continue our exploration with a discussion of how the Buddha’s Enlightenment was understood to continue to exist by introducing the concept of the “Three Bodies of the Buddha” and by introducing the ideal of Amida Buddha; or how Buddhism helps us to see that wisdom and compassion is part of an achievable human ideal .