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Articles Blog

Buddhism

Karyn Planett

Who Was Buddha?

Gandhi, Buddha, King. Peacemakers all who sought to still the world’s anger and bring enlightenment to their followers.

What sparked these thinkers? From where did they draw their inspiration? How was their message spread to the masses? How was their wisdom judged?

For the journey ahead, Buddha’s teachings will be almost palpable. But, who was this man called Buddha?

Siddhartha Gautama

Sometime between 563 and 556 BC, a son was born on the rugged slopes of what is now Nepal. He was the child of a young, local prince called Suddhodana who named his son Siddhartha Gautama. This baby boy was raised in a world of riches, his comfortable surroundings lavished with earthly treasures, pleasures, and gifts.

Siddhartha Gautama grew to be a fine young man. At 16, as was the custom, he married a woman named Yasodhara and, before reaching his 30th birthday, fathered a son. Yet, despite being a grown man, Siddhartha Gautama had never strayed beyond the confines of the royal palace walls.

One day, Siddhartha Gautama did venture forth beyond his luxurious palace. A shocking truth assaulted him, for the outside world was not at all as he had imagined. He discovered, instead, sad people who lived in wrenching poverty, peasants who huddled in barren hovels, stooped souls who toiled long and hard in the harsh Nepalese climate. Few seemed barely able to feed their feeble children. Hope, it appeared, faded long, long ago.

Abandoning The Comforts

Siddhartha Gautama was so troubled by these visions that he decided to cast off his noble robes and set forth into the world to learn of its truths. While in the Indian state of Bihar, at a place called Uruvela, he rested in the cool shade of a bo tree. At that very moment he experienced what is known today as “enlightenment” and learned of its “Four Noble Truths.”

*            All existence involves suffering.

*            This suffering is caused by desire.

*            To remove this suffering you must escape desire.

*             To escape desire, you must follow the Eight-Fold Path that directs believers to distance themselves from all desires for world gratification.

Throughout the years, Siddhartha Gautama studied further and lived a simple life, never looking back to his comfortable past. He traveled to India’s holy city of Benares (also known as Varanasi) where a small group of Brahmins joined him as disciples. They referred to him as “The Enlightened One” or “Buddha.” Buddha continued his prayers and teachings until, in his 80s, he died following a meal of poisoned food.

Saffron Robes and Prayer Bowls

The morning sun is far from ushering in the dawn when bronzed temple bells awaken today’s Buddhist monks who have passed peaceful nights in their sacred temples or wats. Dressed in their simple robes, they emerge into the warming light after two hours of meditation and chanting. With brass or black lacquer offering bowls in hand, these monks wander through neighboring streets accepting offerings of food from passers-by who happily supply this morning meal for this act is viewed as a gesture of faith and goodwill. The monks then return to their temples for chores and a midday meal, the last of the day. This abstinence is in keeping with Lord Buddha’s practices, for he took no food in the afternoon or evening.

Widespread Following

Buddhism is practiced today throughout Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia), Vietnam, Tibet, Nepal, China, Korea, Japan, and Sri Lanka, and is considered one of the world’s major religions. Ninety-three per cent of the Thai people are Buddhists, approximately 250,000 of whom are Buddhist monks who live by 227 rules. They are identified by their saffron robes and shaved heads. Few Buddhist nuns remain for their order no longer exists officially. Nuns seen today still wear white robes and shave their heads as well.

Young Thai males of approximately 20 years of age enter the monastery for, on the average, three months. (Some leave sooner, others remain years.) During this period, they gain merit for their parents and complete a passage some deem necessary for marriage.

Buddhist temples dot the landscape with their colorful spires and golden images of Buddha. Thai “spirit houses” can be found on almost every property including residences, office buildings, hotels, and shops. The local people can be seen praying at these spirit houses and presenting their daily offerings of fruits and flowers. It is said the sun’s shadow should never darken these mini-temples, which Somerset Maugham likened to “prizes in a shooting gallery at a village fair in the country of the gods.”