Lesson
2

Zen's Roots

2 of 10

The Buddha

Realizing that no amount of comfort or luxury could save him, or anyone else, from the travails of life, Siddhartha Gautama renounced his wealth, power and family and set out in search of the truth, seeking to understand mortality and human suffering. After years of study and practice with the greatest teachers of his time had not helped him resolve his doubt about the meaning of life, he then subjected himself to all manner of severe austerities, After about five years of this life Siddhartha was close to death from starvation and exhaustion, but still he could not resolve his doubt.

Finally he concluded that the meaning of life was not to be found through extreme asceticism, and he abandoned this practice. Profoundly frustrated by his own failure, Siddhartha suddenly remembered a time during his childhood when, seated one day beneath a tree in the palace garden, he spontaneously experienced a state of perfect harmony and peace with life. With renewed determination he now sat down beneath a nearby tree and resolved not to get up again until his doubt about the meaning and purpose of life had been completely satisfied.

How miraculous! All living beings are intrinsically enlightened as to the meaning of life and death, they are perfectly endowed with the wisdom and compassion . . .

Day passed into night, and night gave way to dawn. Then, according to the version of the story favored in Zen, the morning star rose over the horizon. Seeing it, Siddhartha suddenly realized that he had never lacked for the answer to his doubts. Life and death were just passing phenomena on the stage of the Unborn which was nothing other than himself. "How miraculous!" he exclaimed. "All living beings are intrinsically enlightened as to the meaning of life and death, they are perfectly endowed with the wisdom and compassion of the Awakened Ones, but because of their delusive thinking they fail to perceive this." Realizing this truth, his doubt was resolved, and Siddhartha Gautama became Shakyamuni Buddha.

The truth he discovered was so simple, yet subtle, that he doubted anyone would be capable of understanding. However, on reflection, he realized that at least a few people would be ready to respond to his teaching and he set out on a teaching career that was to last nearly forty years, the reverberations of which are felt to this day.