Siddhārtha Gautama (2/5)

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As explained in the previous post, the title Buddha signifies someone who has awakened to the true nature of their individual reality. According to Buddhist text, the foundation of Buddhism is based on the journey of Siddhārtha Gautama becoming the Buddha, and this second post of the series focuses on this very root of Buddhism. 

Siddhārtha Gautama was born, in present day Nepal, around 2500 years ago and according to Buddhist texts, a prophecy was given at his birth where it was predicted he would either become a great king or a spiritual leader. Siddhārtha was born into a life of luxury and his father wanted him to one day take up the mantle of King. In order to prevent Siddhārtha from being drawn towards a holy life it is said that he bathed his son in luxury and concealed all evidence of suffering, the thought being such a lifestyle would prevent him from joining a spiritual path.

As Siddhārtha grew older he felt his life of luxury did not result in his happiness and instead led to a sense of emptiness. According to certain texts, he left the walls of his palace at the age of 29 where he experienced suffering for the very first time. He is said to have encountered, what is now known as, the four sights: an elderly person, an ill person, a deceased person and a holy person. Having seen these sights Siddhārtha understood that he too could become ill, he too would eventually grow old and he too would one day die. Furthermore, Siddhārtha understood the fourth individual, the ascetic who had detached himself from worldly possession, was seeking truth and the cause of human suffering. Reflecting upon this he understood everything he held dear would one day be lost and the idea of such loss was unbearable. Accepting such an eventuality, understanding his father would never allow him to follow such a path and having a wife and son who would also prevent him from leaving – one night he decided to disregard all his fine possessions, put on the robes of an ascetic and depart the palace in search for the truth behind suffering.

Many have considered whether it was possible for Siddhārtha to have gone through life without having experienced illness, an elderly person or death. Therefore, it has been argued the four signs are symbolic in nature rather than literal, where they represent an existential crisis within himself. Nevertheless, according to many scholars the four signs represent Siddhārtha’s recognition of a profound understanding of the true reality of life, and his conviction that peace is possible despite such eventualities. 

According to various texts Siddhārtha approached numerous teachers in search for an understanding of suffering however the teachings were not able to quench his state of suffering. He exposed himself to many harsh realities, forcing himself into a state of extreme suffering in order to understand suffering. He followed many meditative practices, many yogic practices and many spiritual practices however time and again, he was not able to understand the root cause of suffering. History explains after many years Siddhārtha sat himself under the Bodhi Tree (located in present day Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India) and vowed to remain there until he understood the ability to live without suffering.

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The teachings of Buddhism are based on the realisation by Siddhārtha under the Bodhi Tree, a realisation which is now referred to as the Three Universal Truths:

1. Annica, which refers to idea that nothing lasts whereby everything is in a constant flux and the only constant is change and impermanence itself. The idea of change can range from the world to nature, from personal to professional life, or age, relationships, happiness, sadness, joy, anger etc. The teachings around this truth are based on accepting change thus letting go of things that will eventually cease to exist with or without your input.

2. Dukkha, which is commonly referred to as suffering but is perhaps more accurately translated to a sense of being unsatisfied. This can be derived from sadness, confusion, boredom, anger, jealously, embarrassment etc. The teachings around this truth are based on accepting a life that will never be perfect and striving for such a feat is likely to result in what you are trying to avoid, suffering.

3. Anatta, which means no self or perhaps better explained, no matter how we view the world or its events, some of which include us and some of which don’t, none of it’s who we really are because it’s simply a mental construct we have created of ourselves which in reality doesn’t exist other than to ourselves. 

Buddhism is not based on theism and there is no worship of a central figure. The teachings of the Buddha are based on the Three Universal Truths which is practically summarised by the Four Noble Truths (which we will discuss in the next post) which have one aim – to liberate people from suffering. 

For those who have visited Asia you will have noticed a lot of visual narrative surrounding Buddhism. However, the first written narrative or biography of Siddhārtha Gautama didn’t appear until around 5 centuries after his death. Thus, increasing the scope for interpretation thus questioning one’s ability to confidently distinguish fact, but does this really matter?

Please here to see the previous post and click here to see the next post in the series.


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