sixth century before the Christian era, religion was forgotten in India.
The lofty teachings of the Vedas were thrown into the background. There
was much priest craft everywhere. The insincere priests traded on
religion. They duped the people in a variety of ways and amassed wealth
for themselves. They were quite irreligious. In the name of religion,
people followed in the footsteps of the cruel priests and performed
meaningless rituals. They killed innocent dumb animals and did various
sacrifices. The country was in dire need of a reformer of Buddha’s type.
At such a critical period, when there were cruelty, degeneration and
unrighteousness everywhere, reformer Buddha was born to put down
priest craft and animal sacrifices, to save the people and disseminate
the message of equality, unity and cosmic love everywhere.
Buddha’s father was Suddhodana, king of the Sakhyas. Buddha’s mother was
named Maya. Buddha was born in B.C. 560 and died at the age of eighty in
B.C. 480. The place of his birth was a grove known as Lumbini, near the
city of Kapilavastu, at the foot of Mount Palpa in the Himalayan ranges
within Nepal. This small city Kapilavastu stood on the bank of the
little river Rohini, some hundred miles north-east of the city of
Varnasi. As the time drew nigh for Buddha to enter the world, the gods
themselves prepared the way before him with celestial portents and
signs. Flowers bloomed and gentle rains fell, although out of season;
heavenly music was heard, delicious scents filled the air. The body of
the child bore at birth the thirty-two auspicious marks (Mahavyanjana)
which indicated his future greatness, besides secondary marks (Anuvyanjana)
in large numbers. Maya died seven days after her son’s birth. The child
was brought up by Maya’s sister Mahaprajapati, who became its
birth of the child, Siddhartha, the astrologers predicted to its father
Suddhodana: “The child, on attaining manhood, would become either a
universal monarch (Chakravarti), or abandoning house and home, would
assume the robe of a monk and become a Buddha, a perfectly enlightened
soul, for the salvation of mankind”. Then the king said: “What shall my
son see to make him retire from the world ?”. The astrologer replied:
“Four signs”. “What four ?” asked the king. “A decrepit old man, a
diseased man, a dead man and a monk – these four will make the prince
retire from the world” replied the astrologers.
Suddhodana thought that he might lose his precious son and tried his
level best to make him attached to earthly objects. He surrounded him
with all kinds of luxury and indulgence, in order to retain his
attachment for pleasures of the senses and prevent him front undertaking
a vow of solitariness and poverty. He got him married and put him in a
walled place with gardens, fountains, palaces, music, dances, etc.
Countless charming young ladies attended on Siddhartha to make him
cheerful and happy. In particular, the king wanted to keep away from
Siddhartha the ‘four signs’ which would move him to enter into the
ascetic life. “From this time on” said the king, “let no such persons be
allowed to come near my son. It will never do for my son to become a
Buddha. What I would wish to see is, my son exercising sovereign rule
and authority over the four great continents and the two thousand
attendant isles, and walking through the heavens surrounded by a retinue
thirty-six leagues in circumference”. And when he had so spoken, he
placed guards for quarter of a league, in each of the four directions,
in order that none of the four kinds of men might come within sight of
Buddha’s original name was Siddhartha. It meant one who had accomplished
his aim. Gautama was Siddhartha’s family name. Siddhartha was known all
over the world as Buddha, the Enlightened. He was also known by the name
of Sakhya Muni, which meant an ascetic of the Sakhya tribe.
Siddhartha spent his boyhood at Kapilavastu and its vicinity. He was
married at the age of sixteen. His wife’s name was Yasodhara. Siddhartha
had a son named Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha Gautama
suddenly abandoned his home to devote himself entirely to spiritual
pursuits and Yogic practices. A mere accident turned him to the path of
renunciation. One day he managed, somehow or the other, to get out of
the walled enclosure of the palace and roamed about in the town along
with his servant Channa to see how the people were getting on. The sight
of a decrepit old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk finally induced
Siddhartha to renounce the world. He felt that he also would become a
prey to old age, disease and death. Also, he noticed the serenity and
the dynamic personality of the monk. Let me go beyond the miseries of
this Samsara (worldly life) by renouncing this world of miseries and
sorrows. This mundane life, with all its luxuries and comforts, is
absolutely worthless. I also am subject to decay and am not free from
the effect of old age. Worldly happiness is transitory”.
left for ever his home, wealth, dominion, power, father, wife and the
only child. He shaved his head and put on yellow robes. He marched
towards Rajgriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. There were many
caves in the neighbouring hills. Many hermits lived in those caves.
Siddhartha took Alamo Kalamo, a hermit, as his first teacher. He was not
satisfied with his instructions. He left him and sought the help of
another recluse named Uddako Ramputto for spiritual instructions. At
last he determined to undertake Yogic practices. He practiced severe
Tapas (austerities) and Pranayama (practice of breath control) for six
years. He determined to attain the supreme peace by practicing
self-mortification. He abstained almost entirely from taking food. He
did not find much progress by adopting this method. He was reduced to a
skeleton. He became exceedingly weak.
moment, some dancing girls were passing that way singing joyfully as
they played on their guitar. Buddha heard their song and found real help
in it. The song the girls sang had no real deep meaning for them, but
for Buddha it was a message full of profound spiritual significance. It
was a spiritual pick-me-up to take him out of his despair and infuse
power, strength and courage. The song was:
goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
The string overstretched breaks, the music dies,
The string overslack is dumb and the music dies,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.”
realized then that he should not go to extremes in torturing the body by
starvation and that he should adopt the golden mean or the happy medium
or the middle path by avoiding extremes. Then he began to eat food in
moderation. He gave up the earlier extreme practices and took to the
Buddha was in a dejected mood as he did not succeed in his Yogic
practices. He knew not where to go and what to do. A village girl
noticed his sorrowful face. She approached him and said to him in a
polite manner: “Revered sir, may I bring some food for you ? It seems
you are very hungry”. Gautama looked at her and said, “What is your
name, my dear sister ?”. The maiden answered, “Venerable sir, my name is
Sujata”. Gautama said, “Sujata, I am very hungry. Can you really appease
my hunger ?”
innocent Sujata did not understand Gautama. Gautama was spiritually
hungry. He was thirsting to attain supreme peace and Self-realization.
He wanted spiritual food. Sujata placed some food before Gautama and
entreated him to take it. Gautama smiled and said, “Beloved Sujata, I am
highly pleased with your kind and benevolent nature. Can this food
appease my hunger ?”. Sujata replied, “Yes sir, it will appease your
hunger. Kindly take it now”. Gautama began to eat the food underneath
the shadow of a large tree, thenceforth to be called as the great
‘Bo-tree’ or the tree of wisdom. Gautama sat in a meditative mood
underneath the tree from early morning to sunset, with a fiery
determination and an iron resolve: “Let me die. Let my body perish. Let
my flesh dry up. I will not get up from this seat till I get full
illumination”. He plunged himself into deep meditation. At night he
entered into deep Samadhi (superconscious state) underneath that sacred
Bo-tree (Pipal tree or ficus religiosa). He was tempted by
Maya in a variety of ways, but he stood adamant. He did not yield to
Maya’s allurements and temptations. He came out victorious with full
illumination. He attained Nirvana (liberation). His face shone with
divine splendour and effulgence. He got up from his seat and danced in
divine ecstasy for seven consecutive days and nights around the sacred
Bo-tree. Then he came to the normal plane of consciousness. His heart
was filled with profound mercy and compassion. He wanted to share what
he had with humanity. He traveled all over India and preached his
doctrine and gospel. He became a saviour, deliverer and redeemer.
gave out the experiences of his Samadhi: “I thus behold my mind released
from the defilement of earthly existence, released from the defilement
of sensual pleasures, released from the defilement of heresy, released
from the defilement of ignorance.”
emancipated state arose the knowledge: “I am emancipated, rebirth is
extinct, the religious walk is accomplished, what had to be done is
done, and there is no need for the present existence. I have overcome
all foes; I am all-wise; I am free from stains in every way; I have left
everything and have obtained emancipation by the destruction of desire.
Myself having gained knowledge, whom should I call my Master ? I have no
teacher; no one is equal to me. I am the holy one in this world; I am
the highest teacher. I alone am the absolute omniscient one (Sambuddho).
I have gained coolness by the extinction of all passion and have
obtained Nirvana. To found the kingdom of law (Dharmo) I go to the city
of Varnasi. I will beat the drum of immortality in the darkness of this
Buddha then walked on to Varnasi. He entered the ‘deer-park’ one
evening. He gave his discourse there and preached his doctrine. He
preached to all without exception, men and women, the high and the low,
the ignorant and the learned – all alike. All his first disciples were
laymen and two of the very first were women. The first convert was a
rich young man named Yasa. The next were Yasa’s father, mother and wife.
Those were his lay disciples.
argued and debated with his old disciples who had deserted him when he
was in the Uruvila forest. He brought them round by his powerful
arguments and persuasive powers. Kondanno, an aged hermit, was converted
first. The others also soon accepted the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Buddha
made sixty disciples and sent them in different directions to preach his
told his disciples not to enquire into the origin of the world, into the
existence and nature of God. He said to them that such investigations
were practically useless and likely to distract their minds.
number of Buddha’s followers gradually increased. Nobles, Brahmins and
many wealthy men became his disciples. Buddha paid no attention to
caste. The poor and the outcastes were admitted to his order. Those who
wanted to become full members of his order were obliged to become monks
and to observe strict rules of conduct. Buddha had many lay disciples
also. Those lay members had to provide for the wants of the monks.
forest of Uruvila, there were three brothers – all very famous monks and
philosophers. They had many learned disciples. They were honoured by
kings and potentates. Lord Buddha went to Uruvila and lived with those
three monks. He converted those three reputed monks, which caused a
great sensation all over the country.
Buddha and his disciples walked on towards Rajgriha, the capital of
Magadha. Bimbisara, the king, who was attended upon by 120,000 Brahmins
and householders, welcomed Buddha and his followers with great devotion.
He heard the sermon of Lord Buddha and at once became his disciple.
110,000 of the Brahmins and householders became full members of Lord
Buddha’s order and the remaining 10,000 became lay adherents. Buddha’s
followers were treated with contempt when they went to beg their daily
food. Bimbisara made Buddha a present of Veluvanam – a bamboo-grove, one
of the royal pleasure-gardens near his capital. Lord Buddha spent many
rainy seasons there with his followers.
Buddhist monk takes a vow, when he puts on the yellow robe, to abstain
from killing any living being. Therefore, a stay in one place during the
rainy season becomes necessary. Even now, the Paramahamsa Sannyasins
(the highest class of renunciates) of
Sankara’s order stay in one place for four months during the rainy
season (Chaturmas). It is impossible to move about in the rainy season
without killing countless small insects, which the combined influence of
moisture and the hot sun at the season brings into existence.
Buddha received from his father a message asking him to visit his native
place, so that he might see him once more before he died. Buddha
accepted his invitation gladly and started for Kapilavastu. He stayed in
a forest outside the city. His father and relatives came to see him, but
they were not pleased with their ascetic Gautama. They left the place
after a short time. They did not make any arrangement for his and his
followers’ daily food. After all, they were worldly people. Buddha went
to the city and begged his food from door to door. This news reached the
ears of his father. He tried to stop Gautama from begging. Gautama said:
“O king, I am a mendicant – I am a monk. It is my duty to get alms from
door to door. This is the duty of the Order. Why do you stop this ? The
food that is obtained from alms is very pure”. His father did not pay
any attention to the words of Gautama. He snatched the bowl from his
hand and took him to his palace. All came to pay Buddha their respects,
but his wife Yasodhara did not come. She said, “He himself will come to
me, if I am of any value in his eyes”. She was a very chaste lady
endowed with Viveka (discrimination), Vairagya (dispassion) and other
virtuous qualities. From the day she lost her husband she gave up all
her luxuries. She took very simple food once daily and slept on a mat.
She led a life of severe austerities. Gautama heard all this. He was
very much moved. He went at once to see her. She prostrated at his feet.
She caught hold of his feet and burst into tears. Buddha established an
order of female ascetics. Yasodhara became the first of the Buddhistic
Yasodhara pointed out the passing Buddha to her son through a window and
said, “O Rahula! That monk is your father. Go to him and ask for your
birthright. Tell him boldly, ‘I am your son. Give me my heritage'”.
Rahula at once went up to Buddha and said, “Dear father, give me my
heritage”. Buddha was taking his food then. He did not give any reply.
The boy repeatedly asked for his heritage. Buddha went to the forest.
The boy also silently followed him to the forest. Buddha said to one of
his disciples, “I give this boy the precious spiritual wealth I acquired
under the sacred Bo-tree. I make him the heir to that wealth”. Rahula
was initiated into the order of monks. When this news reached the ears
of Buddha’s father, he was very much grieved because after losing his
son, he now lost his grandson also.
performed some miracles. A savage serpent of great magical power sent
forth fire against Buddha. Buddha turned his own body into fire and sent
forth flames against the serpent. Once a tree bent down one of its
branches in order to help Buddha when he wanted to come up out of the
water of a tank. One day five hundred pieces of firewood split by
themselves at Buddha’s command. Buddha created five hundred vessels with
fire burning in them for the Jatilas to warm themselves on a winter
night. When there was flood, he caused the water to recede and then he
walked over the water.
one of Buddha’s cousins, was one of the principal early disciples of
Buddha and was a most devoted friend and disciple of Buddha. He was
devoted to Buddha with a special fervor in a simple childlike way and
served him as his personal attendant till the end of his life. He was
very popular. he was a very sweet man with pleasant ways. He had no
intellectual attainments, but he was a man of great sincerity and loving
nature. Devadatta, one of Ananda’s brothers, was also in the Order.
Devadatta became Buddha’s greatest rival and tried hard to oust Buddha
and occupy the place himself. A barber named Upali and a countryman
called Anuruddha were admitted into the Order. Upali became a
distinguished leader of his Order. Anuruddha became a Buddhistic
philosopher of vast erudition.
went to Sravasti, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala. Here a wealthy
merchant gave him for residence an extensive and beautiful forest.
Buddha spent many rainy seasons there and delivered several grand
discourses. Thus Lord Buddha preached his doctrine for over forty-five
years traveling from place to place.
died of an illness brought on by some error in diet. He became ill
through eating Sukara-maddavam, prepared for him by a lady
adherent named Cundo. The commentator explains the word as meaning
‘hog’s flesh’. Subadhara Bhikshu thinks it means something which wild
boars are fond of and says that it has something of the nature of a
truffle. Dr. Hoey says that it is not boar’s flesh but Sukarakanda
or hog’s root, a bulbous root found chiefly in the jungle and which
Hindus eat with great joy. It is a Phalahar that is eaten on days of
said to Ananda, “Go Ananda, prepare for me, between twin Sal trees, a
couch with the head northward. I am exhausted and would like to lie
down”. A wonderful scene followed. The twin Sal trees burst into full
bloom although it was not the blossoming season. Those flowers fell on
the body of Buddha out of reverence. Divine coral tree flowers and
divine sandalwood powders fell from above on Buddha’s body out of
spirit of Ahimsa (non-violence) was ever present with Gautama from his
very childhood. One day, his cousin Devadatta shot a bird. The poor
creature was hurt and fell to the ground. Gautama ran forward, picked it
up and refused to hand it over to his cousin. The quarrel was taken up
before the Rajaguru who, however, decided in favor of Gautama to the
great humiliation of Devadatta.
wanderings, Gautama one day saw a herd of goats and sheep winding their
way through a narrow valley. Now and then the herdsman cried and ran
forward and backward to keep the members of the fold from going astray.
Among the vast flock Gautama saw a little lamb, toiling behind, wounded
in one part of the body and made lame by a blow of the herdsman.
Gautama’s heart was touched and he took it up in his arms and carried it
saying, “It is better to relieve the suffering of an innocent being than
to sit on the rocks of Olympus or in solitary caves and watch
unconcerned the sorrows and sufferings of humanity”. Then, turning to
the herdsman he said, “Whither are you going, my friend, with this huge
flock so great a hurry ?”. “To the king’s palace” said the herdsman, “We
are sent to fetch goats and sheep for sacrifice which our master – the
king – will start tonight in propitiation of the gods.” Hearing this,
Gautama followed the herdsman, carrying the lamb in his arms. When they
entered the city, word was circulated that a holy hermit had brought the
sacrifices ordered by the king. As Gautama passed through the streets,
people came out to see the gracious and saintly figure of the youth clad
in the yellow robes of a Sadhu (renunciate) and all were struck with
wonder and awe at his noble mien and his sweet expression. The king was
also informed of the coming of the holy man to the sacrifice. When the
ceremonies commenced in the presence of the king, there was brought a
goat ready to be killed and offered to the gods. There it stood with its
legs tied up and the high priest ready with a big bloodthirsty knife in
his hand to cut the dumb animal’s throat. In that cruel and tragic
moment, when the life of the poor creature hung by a thread, Gautama
stepped forward and cried, “Stop the cruel deed, O king!”. And as he
said this, he leaned forward and unfastened the bonds of the victim.
“Every creature” he said, “loves to live, even as every human being
loves to preserve his or her life”. The priest then threw the knife away
like a repentant sinner and the king issued a royal decree throughout
the land the next day, to the effect that no further sacrifice should be
made in future and that all people should show mercy to birds and beasts
Kisagotami, a young woman, was married to the only son of a rich man and
they had a male child. The child died when he was two years old.
Kisagotami had intense attachment for the child. She clasped the dead
child to her bosom, refused to part with it, and went from house to
house, to her friends and relatives, asking them to give some medicine
to bring the child back to life. A Buddhist monk said to her: “O good
girl! I have no medicine. But go to Lord Buddha. He can surely give you
a very good medicine. He is an ocean of mercy and love. The child will
come back to life. Be not troubled”. She at once ran to Buddha and said,
“O venerable sir! Can you give any medicine to this child ?”. Buddha
replied, “Yes. I will give you a very good medicine. Bring some mustard
seed from some house where no child or husband or wife or father or
mother or servant had died”. She said, “Very good, sir, I shall bring it
in a short time”.
Carrying her dead child in her
hands, Kisagotami went to a house and
asked for some mustard seed. The people of the house said, “O lady, here
is mustard seed. Take it”. Kisagotami asked, “In your house, has any son
or husband or wife, father or mother or servant died ?”. They replied,
“O lady! You ask a very strange question. Many have died in our house”.
Kisagotami went to another house and asked the same. The owner of the
house said, “I have lost my eldest son and my wife”. She went to a third
house. People of the house answered, “We have lost our parents”. She
went to another house. The lady of the house said, “I lost my husband
last year”. Ultimately Kisagotami was not able to find a single house
where no one had died. Viveka and Vairagya dawned in her mind. She
buried the dead body of her child. She began to reflect seriously on the
problem of life and death in this world.
Kisagotami then went to Lord Buddha and prostrated at his lotus feet.
Buddha said to her, “O good girl! Have you brought the mustard seed ?”.
Kisagotami answered, “I am not able to find a single house where no one
has died”. Then Buddha said, “All the objects of this world are
perishable and impermanent. This world is full of miseries, troubles and
tribulations. Man or woman is troubled by birth, death, disease, old age
and pain. We should gain wisdom from experience. We should not expect
for things that do not and will not happen. This expectation leads us to
unnecessary misery and suffering. One should obtain Nirvana. Then only
all sorrows will come to an end. One will attain immortality and eternal
peace”. Kisagotami then became a disciple of Buddha and entered the
Order of Nuns.
Buddha went to the house of a rich Brahmin with bowl in hand. The
Brahmin became very angry and said, “O Bhikshu, why do you lead an idle
life of wandering and begging ? Is this not disgraceful ? You have a
well-built body. You can work. I plough and sow. I work in the fields
and I earn my bread at the sweat of my brow. I lead a laborious life. It
would be better if you also plough and sow and then you will have plenty
of food to eat”. Buddha replied, “O Brahmin! I also plough and sow, and
having ploughed and sown, I eat”. The Brahmin said, “You say you are an
agriculturist. I do not see any sign of it. Where are your plough,
bullocks and seeds ?”. Then Buddha replied, “O Brahmin! Just hear my
words with attention. I sow the seed of faith. The good actions that I
perform are the rain that waters the seeds. Viveka and Vairagya are
parts of my plough. Righteousness is the handle. Meditation is the goad.
Sama and Dama – tranquility of the mind and restraint of the Indriyas
(senses) – are the bullocks. Thus I plough the soil of the mind and
remove the weeds of doubt, delusion, fear, birth and death. The harvest
that comes in is the immortal fruit of Nirvana. All sorrows terminate by
this sort of ploughing and harvesting”. The rich arrogant Brahmin came
to his senses. His eyes were opened. He prostrated at the feet of Buddha
and became his lay adherent.
Based upon an
and the book “Lives Of Saints”
by Swami Sivananda