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Who was the Buddha

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Who was the Buddha
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5/13/14 8:10 AM
People can get quite confused when they first hear about the Buddha: was he a god, was he a man, was he the only Buddha, are just a few of these questions I hope to answer.

As a spoiler for those in a hurry: he was no god, he was born as a human and he wasn't the only Buddha...

As a little aside: stories about and from the Buddha often have things in them that you might or might not believe. Things like a time span which makes the age of our universe laughable short, stories about other worlds, other beings. You can ignore them, enjoy the mythological atmosphere of these stories or you can believe them. It's up to you and I've tried to keep this post a bit more 'believable' for people  who are new to all of this. I found it quite impossible to filter out all these elements completely, so take them or ignore them as you wish...
At the bottom of the post I collected some links you might find interesting. I've done my best to look for links from respected websites, but I can't guarantee everything is correct. Just take them as a start for your explorations.

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There is quite a bit of discussion about when exactly the Buddha was born. Certainly, news like the recent discovery of a shrine that might or might not be buddhist aids to that confusion, see links below.

If this shrine is buddhist, it would put the Buddha's date of birth approximately in the sixth century B.C. Some traditions though claim he was born around 400 B.C.
Most teachers say he was born some 2500 or 2600 years ago.

What we do know is that the Buddha was born near India, in Nepal, Lumbini to be precise.

The Buddha was not born with this name. In Pali (the language that most resembles the language the Buddha spoke) he was called Siddhattha Gotama. He himself often referred to himself, after his Awakening, as the Tathagata or 'thus gone', which might refer to the fact that he considered himself as being incomparable to other human beings, as there never had been a self taught Awakened human in the history of men before.

He was born in the Shakaya clan, a warrior clan, as a son of the chief (some say the king) of this clan. His father was very wealthy and he made sure Siddhattha was surrounded by the most perfect and beautiful servants and objects possible. Siddhatta lived in three different castles, one for each season. All his servants were female and he was kept away from old age, sickness and death. (For a description of his wealth from the Buddha himself, see for instance the Sukhamala Sutta, see link below. A sutta, by the way, is a discourse, a teaching,  from the Buddha)
As his mother - Queen Mahâmâyâ - had died a week after Siddhattha was born, he was raised by his mother's younger sister  Maha Pajapati.

This is a very basic story about the Buddha, but there are many stories about his birth, his many previous lives (if you believe in rebirth) and about the 32 physical characteristics he supposedly had. For instance, webbed toes and fingers and 40 teeth. Allegedly he was born from his mothers hip and stood up immediately after his birth. See links below for more on this.

So, a wealthy and spoiled prince; what happened that made him renounce this good life?
You'll often hear the story of how Siddhatta went out and for the first time in his life saw:
a very sick person
an old person
a corpse (very common in that era)
and finally a monk passing by, looking very peaceful.
These four are often called the four heavenly messengers, as the first three people in this condition were a shock to Siddhattha and made him realize, no one - not even himself - would be able to escape sickness, old age and death. And the monk's way of life – he knew for sure - would be the path to where he would find an ultimate peace and happiness, an escape from death; Enlightenment.
But according to Andrea Fella – a well respected teacher from the Insight Meditation Center – she was unable to find evidence in the suttas that the Buddha ever told about the monk (the fourth heavenly messenger) as a fact from his own life. Apparently the Buddha told this story about a previous Buddha. Well, this is certainly news to me, because this story is often told. See link below.

Anyway, before his thirtieths birthday he decided to lead a 'homeless life' and would learn how he could escape the suffering of sickness, old age and death. He renounced his wealth, shaved of his hair (why we see so many pictures with the Buddha having hair is a puzzle to me) and left his parents, who were very, very upset. Not only that, worse, he left his wife and their newborn son, Rahula, too.

In his lifetime there were many spiritual traditions. And so he met Alara Kalama, a wise ascetic who teached him meditation. This teacher was very pleased with Siddhatta and finally told him he had nothing more to teach him and would he please join him as an equal, to teach the students together. But Siddhata realized he still hadn't discovered how to escape human suffering and went in search of a new teacher. At last he found the great teacher, Uddaka, and asked him to practice under his guidance. Unfortunately, even this wise man couldn't help him and so Siddhattha left him as well.
After these years with his teachers he experimented to find out how to find enlightenment. You'll find his story in the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, see link below.
Unfortunately, these methods  didn't work either and when he tried to starve himself completely – so the Buddha told – the devas intervened, out of fear that he was going to kill himself. Devas are non human beings, beautiful and from another world, but that is a story for another thread.
So, Siddhatta was getting out of options and regained his strength by eating again. So much had he tried, so many years searched for the ultimate truth and still he hadn't found what he was looking for.
But suddenly he recalled something from his youth. He remembered he had spontaneously entered jhanas, while resting under a rose-apple tree. And he realized that he had known happiness then, which had nothing to do with the senses, nothing to do with unskilful actions. And he realized that this was the way to Enlightenment.
So, as soon as he had regained his strength, he sat down under a tree and entered the four jhanas. When his mind was calm and concentrated, he directed his attention to the recollecting of his past lives.  He saw hundreds of thousands of lives he had lived and where he had lived, what his name was, how he had lived and died. This was his first knowledge that led to his Awakening.
In the second part of the night he directed his mind to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings. He saw how they lived and died, how beautiful or ugly they were, what they did and how people occupied good and bad otherwordly destinations. In short, he realized what kamma was, how peoples fate was decided on their actions and that they couldn't get out of samsara - the endless cycle of birth and death – unless their actions were absolutely pure and good. That was his second knowledge.
After this, in the final part of the night, he directed his mind to the knowledge of the ending of the mental sufferings. He realized what was suffering, how suffering was caused, that there was an end to suffering and how one could end this suffering once and for all. In short, the all important Four Noble Truths. With this third knowledge he knew 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.' And he woke up as the Buddha, the Awakened one.

After his Awakening he was very unsure whether he would be able to explain his wisdom to other people, but in the end he realized that some people would be able to understand all this and would be able to practice to become enlightened themselves.

The Buddha ended up teaching for the rest of his final life, some 45 years in all. After that, he died. Yes, even the Buddha couldn't escape death of his final and physical body. He chose a beautiful way to die, though; he entered the jhanas and somewhere around the fourth jhana (I believe), he passed away.

The Buddha made it clear that there are more worlds than this one, both good and evil worlds, that rebirth exists (which is something else than reincarnation, which I hope will be talked about in a future thread) and that life in all forms has existed for such a long time that we can't possibly comprehend it. He talked about hundreds and hundreds of billions of years. If you're interested in this, search the internet for 'kalpas'.
In this light it might make more sense to you that the Buddha talked about many other Buddha's in other times. The next Buddha in our own time and place is sometimes called 'the sitting Buddha' and will be called Metteyya.

List of related links:


Discussion about birth date Buddha:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131125-Buddha-birth-nepal-archaeology-science-lumbini-religion-history/

Birth place Buddha:

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Lumbini+Nepal,+Western+Region,+Nepal&hl=en&ll=27.644606,83.540039&spn=24.465819,45.263672&sll=52.369561,5.250213&sspn=0.26496,0.707245&oq=lumbini+nepa&hnear=Lumbini,+Western+Region,+Nepal&t=m&z=5

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/666

Nepal or India?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/15/Buddha-birthplace-nepal-india_n_3923499.html

Who was Buddha:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel433.html

http://www.Buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/bud_ltc.htm

See also A sketch  of the Buddha's Life, Readings from the Pali Canon:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/Buddha.html


A book regarding this subject:

The Life of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1992), which I haven't read myself (yet), but I've heard good things about it.

Stories about the Buddha's many previous lives are generally called Jataka tales:

http://www.Buddhanet.net/bt_intro.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/kawasaki/index.html

No four heavenly messengers:
http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/transcribed-talks/buddhism-101-part-1/

Sukhamala Sutta about the Buddha's upbringing:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.038.than.html

The Buddhas teachers Maha-Saccaka Sutta (MN 36)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html

Another link about the Buddhas life, The Life of Shakyamuni Buddha:
http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/life_shakyamuni_Buddha.html

RE: Who was the Buddha
Answer
6/20/14 11:32 PM as a reply to No-Second-Arrow Z.
"Recollecting past lives", or more precisely, bringing them into the present and viewing them against that background, noting differences (then is not now) and discharging the held-on importances/energies until the past moves out of the present.    Doing this fully, as Buddha apparently did, brings great serenity, but I think is only the beginning.   A preparation.

Thank you for informing me about his use of Jnana to help him hold fast with his processing --  that and his obvious strong intention.

RE: Who was the Buddha
Answer
6/20/14 5:11 PM as a reply to No-Second-Arrow Z.
You might find this interesting too - a documentary claiming to have found some of the bones of the Buddha.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn3lk6xTF24