The word means "enlightened one." It is used today as a title to the one who has given us more religious beliefs than almost any other human who lived in this world. However, he was not given this name at birth; he had to earn it for himself by undergoing long, hard hours of meditation and contemplation. has changed the lifestyles of many cultures with new, never-before asked questions that were explained by his search for salvation. He began an entirely new religion that dared to test the boundaries of reality and go beyond common knowledge to find the answers of the mysteries of life.
During the sixth century BC, India was a land of political and religious turmoil. It was an era of great brutality with the domination of Northwest India by Indo-Aryan invaders. Many people, influenced by the Aryan civilization, began to question the value of life and it's true meaning. Schools were opened because of this curiosity where teachers would discuss the significance of existence and the nature of man and held programs to reconstruct one's spiritual self. (Pardue, page 228)
Near the town of Kapilavastivu, today known as Nepal, lived King Suddhodhana and Queen Maya of the indigenous tribe known as the Shakyas. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 687) Queen Maya soon became pregnant and had a dream shortly before she gave birth. In this dream a beautiful, white elephant with six tusks entered her room and touched her side. This dream was soon interpreted by the wisest Brahmin, or Priest of Brahmanism, that she was to give birth to a son that would, if he were to remain in the castle, become the wisest king in the world, but if he were ever to leave the castle he would then become the wisest prophet far into future generations. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 410)
In around the year 563 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of pure luxury. (Wangu, page 16) His father wanted to make sure that his son was well taken care of as he grew to prevent him from desiring to leave the palace. Suddhodhana, listening to the prophecy, kept Siddhartha away from the pain of reality so that he could follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a well respected leader.
As Siddhartha grew, he became very curious about the world outside of the palace walls. He felt a great need to undergo new experiences and learn the truth of reality. Siddhartha was married to a woman named Yasodhara who gave birth to a boy, Rahul. Even after his marriage, Siddhartha was still not completely satisfied with his life; he decided that it was necessary for him to see the lives of those outside the castle.
The Four Meetings
One day, Siddhartha called for his charioteer to take him to the park. When the King heard of this, he ordered the streets to be cleared of everything except beauty. As the Prince rode by, the people cheered and threw flowers at him, praising his name and Siddhartha was still clueless to the suffering of life until a god, disguised as a poor, old man stumbled before the chariot. Siddhartha was curious to this man's condition and he asked the charioteer about his appearance. The charioteer replied that all men must endure old age and that even the prince could not escape this fate. Siddhartha then returned to the palace to contemplate about old age which caused him to want to see more.
The next day, Siddhartha decided to venture on to the streets again which were, by the King's request, once more cleared of all evil and ugliness. This time, Siddhartha encountered a sick man and again, returned to the palace to reflect on sickness. On his third trip to the park, Siddhartha approached a funeral in a garden and was educated by the charioteer about how every man must experience death. Finally, on the fourth day, the young prince saw a shaven- headed man wearing a yellow robe. He was amazed and impressed by how peaceful the man seemed; he carried with him only a begging bowl and had left all other possessions to try to find spiritual deliverance. At that moment, Siddhartha knew his destiny was to discover how this man has avoided these acts of suffering. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, page 270)
Later that night, Siddhartha kissed his wife and son, and left with his charioteer away from the palace of riches and pleasure. He left behind his life of pure desire to understand the true meaning of life. To symbolize his renunciation from civilization, Siddhartha cut his long hair and beard with his jeweled sword, traded his silk robes for a yellow robe, and gave away all of his possessions.
The Journey to Moksha (Salvation)
Siddhartha wandered from place to place gathering as much information as he could from countless teachers. His main beliefs revolved around the Hindu religion and the theory of transmigration which means that the human soul, or Atman, is entrapped in an endless cycle of rebirths called Samsara. After the soul has died, it is reborn into a different state, depending on the deeds done in former lives which is known as karma. The ultimate goal is to obtain complete salvation from this cycle. (Pardue, page 228)
Siddhartha also practiced the art of yoga and self mutilation. Yoga is a system of inward, ascetic discipline over the body, mind, and motivations. In other words, yoga is gaining control over one's desires and even their needs such as breathing or eating. It can be accomplished by long, concentrated hours of meditation. (Pardue, page 228) It is designed to end the torturous cycle of transmigration and all sources of karma. Self mutilation is putting one's own body through acts of torment and pain to learn to cope with problems that occur such as diseases and to eliminate all feeling of despair and suffering. Siddhartha would experience the limits of his body by practicing long periods of fasting and skin torture; he devoted his time to learning the nature of his self.
Finally, Siddhartha settled near the banks of the Nairanjana River and began deep meditation, determined to gain salvation. Through harsh weather conditions, he survived with the minimum of food that the body needs to live. He remained here, in this state for six years with little strength and power. Soon Siddhartha was joined by five other men who were almost as determined to gain redemption. They continued these acts for about a year until one day, the young voyager realized that he had only weakened his body and mind; he finally understood that with these long years of self mutilation, he has not yet achieved his goal. He did, however, manage to survive with very little of the necessities that people need daily which was in itself a large accomplishment. Unfortunately, the other men had realized that Siddhartha Gautama was giving up, so they left and saw him as a failure. With great disappointment on his mind, Siddhartha gathered all the rest of his strength to crawl into a pool to bathe, but found that his energy had been used and he was just too tired to climb out. Before the young man's life was taken from him, he noticed a tree branch hanging near his reach; he grabbed them and was pulled out. An old milk maid noticed Gautama's frail body and brought him milk to aid his hunger. Gaining back his health, Siddartha decided to abandon the ...