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Gautam Buddha – An Ascetic and Spiritual Teacher

The ascetic and spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, Siddhattha Gotama, Shakyamuni, and Sakkamuni, lived in ancient India around the sixth or fifth century BCE. Buddhists venerate him as the creator of Buddhism and a fully enlightened man who revealed the way to Nirvana—the escape from ignorance, craving, rebirth, and misery. The Buddha originally sang to high-born fathers of the Shakya dynasty in Lumbini, present-day Nepal, but he later abandoned his father to lead an ascetic life of travelling.

Birth and early life

Born in 563 BC Siddharta was a prince of the Sakhya tribe. A sage told his father King Suddhodhana that Siddharta would either be a great king or a renowned saint. Wanting him to be a king, Suddhodhana brought up Siddharta to love the palace with all its luxuries. He was even married at the age of sixteen. Any kind of suffering and knowledge of religion etc. was assiduously kept away from him.

But Destiny would not be denied. If Siddharta was made king, the world would lose one of its greatest saints. It happened that one day, on a sudden impulse, Siddharta got into a chariot and rode around the city. And it was that ride that changed his life.

Prince Siddharta had never seen life the way it really was. For the first time he came across the aged with their infirmity and degeneration, the diseased with their suffering and irreparable illness, and the dead, borne away to be disposed of and never to return. Having always been shielded from the realities of life, what he saw appalled him. He questioned his charioteer closely about what he had seen. With a heavy heart, he realised that what he had just seen was an inevitable part of living. Distress and existence seemed to live together.

He then came across a sage, who though poor, was at peace with himself. Attracted by the contentment on the ascetic s face, Siddharta stopped the chariot and spoke to him. The sage told him that one could get peace by renouncing the passions of the world. The scenes of suffering that he had seen and the tranquillity that the sage exuded haunted Siddharta. He now knew that palace with its luxuries or the kingdom and its administration could no longer play any role in his life. That very night, he cast away his luxuries and walked away from all he had to start a new life.

Ascetic life and awakening

He started practising extreme austerities. He denied himself adequate food, water, sleep, and normal breathing. For six long arduous years, he punished his body in every way he could. But he found though his body suffered continuously and was close to death, his mind was not illuminated. He now knew that torturing the body did not lead to wisdom. He cast off his austerities. He ate and slept in a healthy manner.

He came to realize that keeping the mind free of passion and sensual desire could alone bring peace. In controlling the mind and spurning worldly attachments lay true wisdom. To always resist the desire and keep the mind steadfast in its aim was the answer to all problems.

What did Buddha teach?

With this knowledge, Siddharta was acknowledged as Buddha or the enlightened one. He wanted to share his knowledge with the masses and ease their pain in life. His first sermon was at The Deer Park. He explained that the two extreme paths of either revelling in passion or austere self-torture were both useless and base. It was the middle path that brought knowledge and ultimately led to enlightenment and bliss. The path to happiness lay in right living and right thinking.

Buddha s individual aim in life was to spread his teachings to benefit mankind. He became one of the most excellent teachers ever, treading new paths and new philosophies. He zealously sent monks and missionaries to every kingdom possible and also to a few neighbouring countries as well. All his teachings were taught in the local language so that the common person could understand and benefit.

Buddha died at the age of eighty. He had accomplished his mission on earth.

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