Now that we've explored the nature
of a Buddha, we can consider the specific person known
to history as the Buddha.
Miracles and legends
The story Buddha’s life, like that of most great
religious teachers, has been adorned with miracles and
legends. But from these myths and allegories an historical
core can be found, and even some mythical elements should
not be dismissed as just as pure fantasy, since much of
it contains important messages at the doctrinal level.
The previous lives of the Buddha
Although historically the story of the Buddha begins with
his birth, from the traditional perspective the story goes
back much further, eons into
the past. For every Buddha arrives at his high attainment though
a career spanning many lives. During this period
he is called a bodhisattva — a being bound for
complete enlightenment. And in his successive lives
as a bodhisattva, he works to perfect in himself certain
virtues that come to maturity with his attainment of buddhahood.
In the Theravadan tradition these virtues (paramis)
or the sublime perfections are generosity, moral discipline,
renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination,
loving kindness and equanimity.
Buddhahood is a totalistic accomplishment, a complete,
all-embracing accomplishment. And all the
qualities that enter into this complete perfection can
only be acquired gradually in bits and pieces over many
The early years
The Buddha’s given name was Siddhartha; his family
name was Gotama. Buddhists know him as the Buddha Gotama
or Buddha Shakyamuni, the sage of the Sakya
clan. The dates now recognized by scholars for the Buddha’s
life are from 563 BC to 483 BC, although other dates are
The future Buddha took birth as the son of King Soddhodana
and Queen Maya among the Sakyan people in a small kingdom
of northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas and
he grew up in the capital city, Kapalavatu.
His birth was, according to the texts, attended by many
miracles and wonders. Soon after he was brought to
the palace, a great ascetic, a sita, came
to the palace and worshipped the newborn child.
Since the father, a ruler himself, wanted Siddhartha
to become a ruler, the proper heir to his throne,
he went to great length to shield him from the sufferings
of the world. He built three palaces, one for each season – each
with pleasure gardens, ponds flower beds, attended by musicians,
dancers, singers. When he reached, manhood
his father arranged marriage with beautiful princess Yosotera,
and he lived with his wife in the palace
But when he reached his 29th year he became more and more
reflective and thoughtful. He began to wonder if pleasure,
power and fame, which were all transient and unreliable,
were the ultimate goals of human life or if there was something
more beyond this, something eternal and unchanging.
His first encounter with the hard facts of life is told
in the texts in the form as a myth — a myth that
expresses a real and powerful psychological awakening.
According to this myth, up to his 29th year Siddhartha
had lived in a totally illusory world in which the hard
facts of life were completely hidden from him.
When he reached maturity curiosity burned in him and so
he ordered his charioteer to take him out beyond the walls
of the palace. There he saw four sites that determined
his future destiny.
Old age The first site was of an old
man by the side of the road, bent over, leaning
on a walking stick, his hair gray, his teeth falling
is that?” he asked. “That
is an old man” the driver responded. “What
is an old man?” Siddhartha asked. "All
of youth eventually leads to old age. No one remains
young forever. As
the years go by, eventually the hair turns gray, the
skin wrinkles, one reaches such a state" he was
told. When he asked if he too was subject again his
driver responded, ”You
and everybody else, we’re all subject to old
Sickness Then he saw a sick man by
the side of a road, his body covered by sores, trembling,
shaking, vomiting. unable to control his limbs. Again the
same kind of exchange took place. Now he saw
for himself, for the first time, the fact of sickness.
Death Then he saw a funeral procession,
pall bearers carrying a coffin. Inside the coffin he
saw the corpse, the body lying still and lifeless, This
was his encounter with the fact of death
These sights aroused in him an understanding that
shattered all his illusions. He realized that, even though
he now enjoyed he glory of youth, youth ends in old
age. He saw that health becomes to sickness, that
life ends in death, and as these thoughts bore into his
mind, his satisfaction with the luxury of the palace life
fell away, and he became inwardly very discontent, dissatisfied.
Then he saw a fourth sight — an aesthetic
walking very peacefully and serenely carrying an alms
bowl. He approached him and asked him who he was and
how he was different from other men. “I am
a recluse, I live in the forest. I lead a life of meditation,
a way to enlightenment, a way to deliverance from suffering."
when he heard these words, the prince now
knew the direction he had to move. And so he decided
to leave the palace and to follow the quest for spiritual
truth, seeking a way out of the round out of suffering,
of aging and death, by entering the life of an aesthetic.