Siddhartha Guatama

The Buddha

c. 560-480 B.C.

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The Buddha ("enlightened one"), Indian philosopher and the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini, Nepal. A prince of a small kingdom spanning northern India and Nepal, who was known as Sakyamuni, which means "the silent sage of the Sakya tribe," and Gautama, his clan name. His personal name was Siddhartha, "he who will accomplish."

All the surviving accounts of the Buddha's life were written many years after his death by idealizing followers rather than by objective historians. Consequently, it is difficult to separate facts from the great mass of myth and legend in which they are embedded. The core of accepted beliefs derive from traditions current during the reign of the Buddhist emperor Asoka about three centuries after the Buddha's life. The legend begins with divine conception. His mother, Maya, dreamed of a white elephant that entered her womb. She gave birth after ten months and died seven days later. A sage prophesied that the child would either become a great monarch or a Buddha.

Siddhartha apparently showed an early inclination to meditation and reflection, displeasing his father, who wanted him to be a warrior and ruler rather than a religious philosopher. His father, seeking to prevent the child from becoming Buddha, allowed him to experience only pleasure. Yielding to his father's wishes, he married at an early age and participated in the worldly life of the court. Siddhartha found his carefree, self-indulgent existence dull, and after a while he left home and began wandering in search of enlightenment. One day in 533, according to tradition, he encountered an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse, and he suddenly and deeply realized that suffering is the common lot of humankind. He then came upon a mendicant monk, calm and serene, whereupon he determined to adopt his way of life and forsake family, including his newborn son, wealth, and power in the quest for truth. This decision, known in Buddhism as the Great Renunciation, is celebrated by Buddhists as a turning point in history. He was then 29 years old, according to tradition.

Wandering as a mendicant over northern India, he first investigated Hinduism. He took instruction from some famous Brahman teachers, but he found the Hindu caste system repellent and Hindu asceticism futile. He continued his search, attracting but later losing five followers. After 6 years of ascetic self-mortification, he resolved to sit in meditation until he attained enlightenment. About 528, while sitting under a pipal tree near Gaya, in what is now Buddh Gaya in the state of Bihar, he experienced the Great Enlightenment, which revealed the way of salvation from suffering. Shortly afterward he preached his first sermon in the Deer Park near Benares (now Varanasi). This sermon, the text of which is preserved, contains the gist of Buddhism. Many scholars regard it as comparable, in its tone of moral elevation and historical importance, to Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount.

Buddha worried that his insights were too deep for ordinary human beings, but a high deity (Brahma) prevailed on him to delay his entry into nirvana and share his insight. He accepted lay disciples (male and female) and converted his former ascetic companions as the first monks. Buddha's ministry continued for 45 years, after which, at the age of 80, he entered final nirvana. His body was cremated.


The foundation of the Buddhas's teachings are the Four Noble Truths:

1. The condition of all existence is suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by selfishness.
3. Selfishness can be overcome.
4. Suffering can be alleviated by the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right understanding.
2. Right purpose.
3. Right speech.
4. Right conduct.
5. Right livelihood.
6. Right effort.
7. Right awareness.
8. Right meditation.

Five Precepts

1. No killing or hurting any creature.
2. No stealing.
3. No wrong indulgence in sexual pleasure.
4. No lying.
5. No use of intoxicants.

The two main branches of Buddhism are Theravada and Mahayana, which includes Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. Theravada Buddhist doctrine takes the story of Siddhartha literally, and places him in a series with several earlier Buddhas and one Buddha, Mettayya (or Maitreya), yet to come. From this view, Buddhahood endures only as long as life itself. In Mahayana Buddhist doctrine, this story is the tale of one historical manifestation of an eternal, ultimate Buddha. Manifestations of Buddha are called bodhisattva. The historical Buddha was a bodhisattva in the period before his enlightenment. According to the Mahayana view, Buddhahood is a transcendental state of being of which the historical Buddha and other bodhisattvas partook. Siddhartha adopted the bodhisattva ethic--refusing to enter nirvana until all are saved. Chan (Ch'an), or Zen Buddhism, pursues this logic to its ultimate conclusion. In Zen, all beings equally partake of this Buddha-nature and are as much Buddha as Siddhartha himself. Thus it denies the distinction between nirvana and samsara, or ordinary life.

Buddha was one of the greatest human beings, a man of noble character, penetrating vision, warm compassion, and profound thought. Not only did he establish a great new religion, but his revolt against Hindu hedonism, asceticism, extreme spiritualism, and the caste system deeply influenced Hinduism itself. His rejection of metaphysical speculation and his logical thinking introduced an important scientific strain heretofore lacking in Oriental thought. Buddha's teachings have influenced the lives of millions of people for nearly 2500 years.

Quotations on/about Buddhism

"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."
- Albert Einstein

"Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike, there was one thing about them that always perplexed me; I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art... No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The medieval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different than that."
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Romance of Orthodoxy"

"By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference -- Tibet. By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation -- Christendom."
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Romance of Orthodoxy"

"Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; by non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is an Eternal Law."
-Dhammapada 5

"To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind -- this is the teaching of the Buddhas."
- Dhammapada 183

"Indeed, the saving truth has never been preached by the Buddha, seeing that one has to realize it within oneself."
- Sutralamakara

"Whether you believe in God or not does not matter much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life."
- The Dalai Lama

"For my own part, I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity)."
- C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Christian Apologetics"

"Both [Buddhism and Christianity] belong together as nihilistic religions -- they are religions of decadence -- but they differ most remarkably... Buddhism is a hundred times more realistic than Christianity... The concept of 'God' had long been disposed of when it arrived. Buddhism is the only genuinely positivistic religion in history... it no longer says 'struggle against sin' but, duly respectful of reality, 'struggle against suffering.' Buddhism is profoundly distinguished from Christianity by the fact that the self-deception of the moral concepts lies far behind it. In my terms, it stands beyond good and evil."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 20

"Buddhism presupposes a very mild climate, customs of great gentleness and liberality, and the absence of militarism; moreover, the movement had to originate among the higher, and even the scholarly, classes. Cheerfulness, calm, and freedom from desire are the highest goal, and the goal is attained."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 21

1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.

Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.
Soccio, Douglas J., Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.

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