Background of Gautama and Buddhism
By Let Us Reason Ministries
Buddhism began as a reformation movement within Hinduism. Its founder was Siddhartha Gautama, who was born about 563 B.C. in the ruler warrior caste of Hinduism. (Died in 483.) His father, Suddhodana, was a Raja a chieftain of the Sakya clan, a family of the Kshatriya (warrior-nobility) caste of ancient Bharata. His father reigned over (Kapilavastu), a small district on the slope of the Himalayas on the Indian that borders between India and Nepal. His mother’s name was Maya. When Gautama was 16 or 19, he married the princess Yasodharma and later had a son named Rahula. Gautama grew up surrounded by a life of luxury, but he grew dissatisfied in his 20s.
It is not easy to give an accurate historical account of the life of Gautama, since no biography was recorded until hundreds of years after his death. Today, much of his life story is clouded in myths and legends which arose after his death. The best historians of our day have several different and even contradictory accounts of Gautama’s life. The biography of Siddhartha Gautama was not recorded during his lifetime. These teachings were orally passed down to future generations of Buddhist monks within various Buddhist communities in India. The earliest available accounts of his life were collected some three hundred years or more after his death. four centuries later, in about 80 B.C., Buddhist scribes finally compiled the teachings of the Buddha on paper, which became the Pali Canon. Both the historical and legendary descriptions of his life have been included in the Pali Canon and Sanskrit accounts. It has become indistinguishable to know where to draw the line between history and legend. Whether the stories about Siddhartha Gautama are true or myth, his life has been and still is an inspiration and model for all Buddhists. Buddhist scriptures and sayings attributed to Gautama written about four centuries after Buddha’s death. There is no way to be sure these are really Gautama’s words. By the time they were written Buddhism was split into opposing sects. The question of authority is an important issue that needs answering in the Buddhist system.
At birth Gautama (his family name) received the name of Siddhartha, meaning “he who has accomplished his objectives.” Later in life he became known as the Buddha (“the Enlightened One” or ‘awakened one”).
During Siddhartha’s infancy, the sage Asita visited King Suddhodana’s court and had prophesied that Siddhartha would become either a great ruler like his father if he remained within his father’s palace or a Buddha if he went out into the world. His father King Suddhodana believed that if his son observed human misery in the world, Siddhartha would leave his home of luxury to seek for truth. The king naturally wanted his son to inherit his throne and kingdom after his death. So he issued strict orders to his subjects that the young prince was to be kept from seeing any form of evil or suffering. Gautama’s Father sheltered his son from the outside world confining him to the palace. so he lived his life surrounded with pleasures and wealth. Despite his father’s efforts, Gautama one day finally saw the darker side of life by taking a trip outside the palace walls.
The legend of the Four Passing Sights tells how he became aware of the world’s suffering in spite of his parents’ efforts to keep him away from seeing the world of evil and suffering. Siddhartha decided to elude the royal attendants and was able to leave his father’s palace where he rode his chariot four times through the city. During his journey He saw an old man, a person suffering from a disease(a leper), a dead man, and a beggar (an ascetic) shaven monk ( Other accounts say he merely envisioned these four states of humanity.) Going outside he saw for the first time that great suffering exists with the people. He realized from his observations that life was full of sorrows and that happiness was an illusion. It was from these sights of suffering he became Deeply distressed. He decided to leave the luxury of palace life and begin a quest to find the answer to the problem of pain and human suffering. and chose a path of renunciation.
It is said on the same night in which Yashodara gave birth to their son Rahula, Siddhartha who was 29 at the time abandoned his family and kingdom compelled to seek the truth that was hidden from him all his life. This was of course not such an easy decision and he certainly anguished over his decision to leave everything he loved, but now that his son, whose name means “hindrance,” was born and could continue the royal line. He was free to begin his spiritual quest that was burning inside himself. He took his faithful servant Channa and his devoted horse Kanthaka to the forest, where he shaved off his hair and changed his robes in search of wisdom and enlightenment.
His journey began by seeking communion with the supreme cosmic spirit, He first subjected himself to Hindu masters and began a pilgrimage of inquiry and asceticism as a poor beggar monk. For six or seven years He studied the Hindu scriptures under Brahmin hermit priests, and then in the company of five monks. but became disillusioned with the teachings of Hinduism. He then devoted himself to a life of extreme asceticism in the jungle such as fasting. . Other physical austerities included sleeping on brambles to mortify the desires of his body and abstaining from sitting by crouching on his heels to develop his concentration. Legend has it that he eventually learned to exist on one grain of rice a day which ended up reducing his body to a skeleton. His practice of self-mortification had brought him closer to the point of death instead of enlightenment. One day while swimming he almost drowned being so weak. He soon concluded, however, that asceticism did not lead to peace and self realization but merely weakened the mind and body.
Despite all these efforts, Siddhartha did not succeed in attaining truth. Finally, in a moment of profound insight he realized that his life as an ascetic was of no greater value than his previous life as a prince living in luxury. Self-torture was vain and fruitless; depriving oneself was no better than pleasure. He understood then the importance of what he called the Middle Way. Abandoning a life of extreme austerities, Siddhartha began to eat solid food. This act angered his fellow monks, who felt Siddhartha had weakened and succumbed to his physical needs. They promptly deserted him, thoroughly disgusted with his seeming worldliness.
Gautama eventually turned to a life of meditation. On the wide bank at a major city in northeast India, While deep in meditation under a fig tree known as the Bohdi tree (meaning, “tree of wisdom”), Gautama experienced the highest degree of God-consciousness called Nirvana. There Mara, the evil one, tried to thwart Siddhartha from becoming the Buddha, luring him with worldly temptations during his meditations. Siddhartha withstood all the challenges presented and experienced the revelation of liberating awareness. The way that provides escape from the cruel causality of samsara (the cycle of rebirths). He discovered the Four Noble Truths, which became known as the wisdom of Realization. Gautama then became known as Buddha, the “enlightened one.” He believed he had found the answers to life’s most puzzling questions the answer of why there is pain and suffering.
Gautama’s approach to religion was quite different from the Hinduism out of which he had come from. Hinduism had degenerated to empty philosophical speculations and disputes, to polytheism, rituals, magic, and superstition. Authority for truth was the exclusive ownership of the highest caste. Gautama attacked the caste system and rejected their forms of speculation, ritual, and occultism. Interesting that Tibetan Buddhism has become much of what Gautama rejected. Some compare Buddhas break to Martin Luther’s reformation in Christianity. He believed everyone was equally capable of the highest spiritual development.
The Buddha was 80 when Cunda the blacksmith served him pig’s flesh or some claim mushrooms. He became extremely ill and died. Before he passed away, he sent a message to Cunda saying that he should not feel guilty for being the cause of his death, for it was destined to be. Just before his death, he exhorted his disciples not to grieve. His last recorded words were: “Decay is inherent in all omponent things! Work out your own salvation with diligence.” (Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism, p.41.)
By the time of his death at age 80, Buddhism had become a major force in India. Three centuries later it had spread to all of Asia. Buddha never claimed to be deity but rather that he was an enlightened human being, a “way- shower.” Strangely enough seven hundred years later, some of the followers of Buddha began to worship him as deity despite his not teaching this.
Since Gautama’s death, many sects have developed within Buddhism. These sects can sometimes be like comparing two different religions. Many have developed their own unique concept of God. Some are pantheistic in their view of God, others are atheistic. Still others have developed a polytheistic system of gods (like its originator Hinduism). Some have combined pantheism and polytheism. Several sects have elevated Gautama (or Buddha) to the level of a savior or divine being although it is clear he never claimed to be a deity. Other sects have tried to synchronize together some of the doctrines of God from other religions with Buddhism . As there are some Churches that adopt some Buddhist teachings into Christianity. While there are general similarites in some ethics and moral teachings Buddhism is not condusive to Christianity. The two are mutually exclusive, they both can’t be right at the same time, nor can the two be blended together
The two differ in there concept of God. For Buddhists in general, their is no Absolute which has a purpose in our daily living. Gautama said little about any concept of God. Buddha was monistic in his view of the Absolute as an impersonal force made up of all living things but denied the existence of a personal God. The Bible teaches of a God who rules the universe, is personal and sovereign and wants to have communion with man. Therein lies a vast difference in these religions teachings.