Nang Mo Fundamental Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha


Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born in India 3,000 years ago. There are various opinions concerning the exact dates of his birth and death, but according to Buddhist tradition, he is said to have been born April 8, 1029 BC and died on February 15, 949 BC, although other Buddhist scholars place his birth five hundred years later. No definite conclusion has been reached.

Shakyamuni Buddha was the son of Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakyas, a small tribe whose kingdom was located in the foothills of the Himalayas south of what is now central Nepal fifteen miles from Kapilavastu. Shakya of Shakyamuni is taken from the name of this tribe and muni means sage or saint. His family name was Gautama (Best Cow) and his given name was Siddhartha (Goal Achieved) though some scholars say this is a title bestowed on him by later Buddhists in honor of the enlightenment he attained.

Shakyamuni was said to have been born in the Lumbini Gardens, located in what is now the village of Paderia in southern Nepal. This was a fertile and peaceful land where the inhabitants led an agricultural life. Rice harvesting took place in this area and is alluded to by his father's name, Shuddhodana, which means "pure milk-rice."

Seven days after his birth, his mother, Maya, died and he was raised by his mother's younger sister Mahaprajapati. His mother's death may have been a great influence upon the delicate youth who later became very perplexed by the question of mortality. His father took good care of his introspective, quiet-mannered son, and gave him special training in literature and the martial arts.

As a boy, Shakyamuni was deliberately shielded from the many realities of life, having been brought up amid the pleasures of the royal palace. It was natural for his family to expect that he would take over as the leader of his tribe and succeed his father. All was not peaceful in Kapilavastu though, in spite of the agricultural nature of Shakyamuni's homeland. Kapilavastu suffered from turbulent political conditions. It was not a completely independent country but bound to give tribute to the neighboring power, Kosala. Seeing the precarious state of his small and powerless tribe, Shakyamuni, as the prince of his declining clan, was expected to fulfill the clan's great need for leadership. Although his family had such expectations for him, Shakyamuni was extremely introspective and quiet as a youth, possessing a sharp sense of justice, seeking the answers to life's perplexing questions. It is said that he ventured out of the palace compounds on a number of occasions as a youth and each time was confronted with the sufferings of life. On one such occasion he came upon a very old man. On another venture he met a sick man, frail and burning with fever. On yet another journey, he was impressed when he met a wandering monk (bhiksu) who had renounced the world to lead an austere life in search of spiritual enlightenment. And again on another occasion he saw a person dead in the street. These events are recounted in the Buddhist scriptures as the four meetings. He was said to have been deeply moved by these confrontations with human suffering.

Knowing his son's tendency toward deep introspection and his desire to seek a spiritual path, his father sought to tie him down to life within the confines of the palace and their land. Marriage seemed a way to dissuade the young prince from pursuing the life of an ascetic, so at the age of sixteen, the young prince married the beautiful Yashodhara who bore him a son, Rahula.

Following the birth of his son, Shakyamuni could no longer repress the resolve he felt to abandon the secular world and go out in search of a solution to the four inescapable sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

According to Buddhist tradition in China and Japan, Siddhartha renounced secular life and his princely status at the age of nineteen and began living a religious life. Having left the palace of the Shakyas at Kapilavastu he traveled to Rajagriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, where he studied with various ascetics. Among those he encountered were six leading figures who had begun to challenge the established value system of Brahmanism. After following their disciplines, he still could not find the answers to his questions. He then left Rajagriha and proceeded to the bank of the Nairanjana River near the village of Uruvilva, where he began to practice various austerities in the company of other ascetics- He subjected himself to disciplines of extreme severity, surpassing the efforts of his companions, trying to reach emancipation through self-mortification, but after six years he rejected these practices as well. To restore his strength from having fasted for such a long time he accepted milk curds offered to him by Sujata, a girl of the village. Then, near the town of Gaya, he sat under a pipal tree and entered meditation. There he attained enlightenment at the age of thirty The pipal tree was later called the bodhi tree because Shakyamuni gained bodhi or enlightenment under this tree, and the site itself came to be called Buddhagaya.

After his awakening, Shakyamuni remained for a while beneath the Bodhi tree rejoicing in his emancipation. Shakyamuni contemplated how he should communicate his realization to others. It is said he questioned whether or not he should attempt to teach others what he had achieved. He finally resolved to strive to do so, so that the way to liberation from the sufferings of birth and death would be open to all people.

First he made his way to the Deer Park in Varanasi, where he preached the Law to five ascetics who had once been his companions. After that, his propagation efforts advanced rapidly. In Varanasi he converted Yashas, the son of a rich man and about sixty others. Then he returned to Buddhagaya where he converted three brothers. At the same time, the brothers' one-thousand followers also became the Buddha's disciples.

Along with his disciples he traveled to Rajagriha in Magadha and converted King Bimbisara as well as Shariputra and Maudgalyayana who were followers of Sanjaya, one of the six non-Buddhist teachers. Together with Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, all of Sanjaya's followers, numbering 250, forsook him and entered the Buddhist Order. Mahakashyapa became another of the Buddha's disciples in Rajagriha shortly thereafter.

The Buddha made several trips to his home which resulted in the conversion of many people including his half-brother Nanda, his son Rahula, his cousins Ananda, Aniruddha and Devadatta, and a barber named Upali. Shakyamuni's father, Shuddhodana, and his former wife, Yashodhara, also embraced the Buddha's teachings.

In the fifty years (some scholars indicate forty-five) from the time of his awakening until his death, Shakyamuni continued to travel through many parts of India disseminating his teachings. During his lifetime his teachings spread not only to central India but also to more remote areas and people of all social classes converted to Buddhism. Also, the Buddha had ten eminently capable disciples who devoted themselves to propagating the Buddha's teachings.

The spread of Buddhism can be understood by examining the society of India at that time. Brahmanism, the prominent religion of India, established a rigid caste system with the Brahmans supposedly acting as the only rightful intermediaries between man and God. The system divided all Indians into four classes or castes, and prohibited the mingling of members of different castes. The social establishment planted the roots of an impassive and resigned attitude deeply in the hearts of the people. The Buddha's teachings were totally against class domination and taught that all people were fundamentally equal. Buddhism also taught the universal law of causality and taught that one is not just resigned to his fate. Thus, due to its democratic and reasonable, yet profound teachings, Buddhism received the support of commoners and kings, the poor and the wealthy, resulting in the spread of Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings. The old Brahmanic order did not receive the spread of Buddhism passively. Shakyamuni personally underwent opposition termed the "nine great ordeals:' These were ceaseless challenges fomented by the Brahmans and also by a movement against him headed by his own cousin, Devadatta. But he persevered through all such adversities and continued to preach, expounding the Law in various ways according to the capacity and circumstances of those who gathered.

During the last eight years of his life, Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra which is the highest of all his teachings. In this sutra he taught that there is no essential difference between a common mortal of the nine worlds and a Buddha, and that the potential fort enlightenment is inherent in everyone.

At the age of eighty, Shakyamuni passed away. The year before his death he stayed at Gridhrakuta (Eagle Peak) in Rajagriha. He set out on his last journey from Gridhrakuta proceeding northward across the Ganges River to Vaishali. He spent the rainy season in Beluva, a village near Vaishali. There he became seriously ill, but recovered and continued to preach in many villages. Eventually he came to a place called Pava in Malla. There he again became ill after eating a meal. Despite his pain, he continued his journey until reaching Kushinagara. There in a grove of sal trees he calmly lay down and spoke his last words. He admonished his disciples, saying, "You must not think that your teacher's words are no more, or that you are left without a teacher. The teachings and precepts I have expounded to you shall be your teacher" His final words it is said were, "Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work out your salvation with diligence. His body was received by the Mallas of Kushinagara and cremated seven days later. The ashes were divided into eight parts and eight stupas were erected to enshrine them. Two more stupas were built to house the vessel used in the cremation and the ashes of the fire. In the same year, the First Buddhist Council was held in the Cave of the Seven Leaves (Skt. Saptaparnaguha) near Rajagriha to compile his teachings.



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