Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. The word "Buddha" means the enlightened one. Gautam Buddha, or Siddharth as he was originally called, was a prince in the royal family of the Sakyas in Nepal, in the 6th century BC.
Ever since childhood he had a philosophical and sensitive temperament and was dissatisfied with his worldly life. Although materialistically, the prince lacked nothing, inwardly he did not feel any happiness.
When Buddha was born, an astrologer
had predicted that he would either become an emperor or a great sage. His
father, the King, was worried by this news, as he did not want his only
son to renounce the kingdom and become a saint. He thus ordered his subjects
not to displease Siddharth in any way, lest the prince turns this back
to the world. If any person was unwell, extremely aged, or deceased, the
Prince was not allowed to hear of it. As soon as Siddharth came of age,
he was married off to a beautiful princess, by the name of Yashodhara.
Within two years, the couple had a son, who they named Rahul.
The Four Great Sights
Prince Siddhartha longed to see a little more of the world, realized that he had never stepped outside the city limits, and early one morning, he got into his chariot and has his charioteer, Channa, to take him as far out as possible. As the two of them rode along, Siddharth saw, by the side of the road, an ailing man. The Prince had never known pain before and inquired after his driver whether disease was peculiar to him. Channa's reply, which was that anyone, rich or poor, could fall ill in his lifetime, upset the prince.
Further on, the chariot passed an old, old man. Siddharth had never seen someone so old, and asked Channa what was wrong with the man. Channa replied that he was an old man, and that everybody, with the passage of time, grew old. This surprised Siddharth, who enquired as to whether he would grow old as well. "Yes, you will, I will, we all will," replied Channa.
The next sight was that of a dead man being carried by weeping relatives. Siddhartha was deeply upset when he saw so many people crying, and even more alarmed to hear that he too would die someday.
He asked Channa to turn the chariot towards the palace, as he was feeling nauseated by now. On the way back, he chanced to see an ascetic meditating under the shade of a tree, peace radiating from his face. "Who is this man?" he asked Channa, who replied that he was a sage who had renounced the world to find the true meaning of life.
It was these sights - that of a sick man, of an old man, of a dying man and of a holy man, that have now come to be known as the Four Great Sights. The last sight of the ascetic transformed Buddha's way of thinking. He too grew determined to find the true meaning of life.
Thus it was that at the age of 29, Siddhartha left his wife and little son and went in search of the Truth. After years of travel and strict penance, he finally achieved enlightenment under the now famous Bodhi tree, in Bodh Gaya in Bihar.
His first sermon was on the banks of the river Ganges in Banaras. He preached that life was full of sorrow and suffering and that was because of desire. One should, therefore, strive to eliminate desire and gain salvation.
Gautama Buddha died at the ripe old age of 80. His followers came to be known as Buddhists and his religion, Buddhism.Although Buddhism originated in India, it very soon virtually died out the country, but became extremely popular in the Far East. It still strongly flourishes in the countries of the Far East, particularly Burma, China, Japan, Korea and Thailand, where a majority of the population is Buddhist.
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