On Buddha Śâkyamuni
"All compounded things are
About 2500 years ago,
Siddhârtha Gautama (ca. 563 - 483 BCE) was born to a life of privilege &
wealth in a town called Lumbinî, near Kapilavastu, just inside the borders
of Nepal. This was the home of the capable Śâkya clan and Siddhârtha ("one
who has accomplished his goal"), as he was probably called, was the son of Śuddhodana, a warrior of
wealth and power, and Mâyâdevî, a woman of refinement. Alternative
research suggests he was born ca. 450 or ca. 485 BCE. In 2013, at one of
Buddhism's most revered pilgrimage sites at Lumbinî (the Mâyâ Devî Temple) an excavation
revealed a previously unknown timber shrine, evidencing Buddha lived in
the sixth century BCE. But scholars like Gombrich dismisses the evidence
as "self-serving hype, more worthy of a politician than of an academic"
(Website of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies,
december 2013). We know emperor Aśoka sent various missionaries abroad. In
the Southern (Singhalese) tradition Aśoka came to the throne 218 years
after Buddha's death. Correlating this ascension with Hellenistic rulers
puts it at 268 BCE, giving 486 BCE for the death of the Buddha. But some
(like Gombrich) place Aśoka's ascension 136 years after Buddha's death ...
Scholars tend to place the death of the Buddha nearer to 400 than 500 BCE.
The truth is, we do not know.
Short Biography of Siddhârtha Gautama the Buddha
The short story-line of Buddha's biography served as the archetypal model for Buddhists over the centuries and can be summarized as follows (cf. the Buddhacarita, postdating the Buddha by 500 years !) :
533 - 528 BCE : to enlightenment : the first teacher he took was Âlâra Kâlâma. Soon he mastered his teaching, entering the four levels of concentration on form ("dhyânas") one after the other. Offering him joint leadership, Gautama refused because, although blissful and serene, one eventually exited these concentrations on form and returned to the fundamental problems of waking consciousness : birth, sickness, old age and death. Then he found Uddaka Râmaputta, who had mastered the four formless ("ârûpya") absorptions ("samâpattis"). But the fourth, or most sublime state of mind possible in the formless realm, was again not the goal he sought. Râmaputta wished to become his disciple, but Gautama refused. Next, he turned to austerities, aimed to subdue the desire nature. Neither did these self-mortifications produce the result he was seeking ! Emaciated, his hair began to fall out. He was unable to sit upright. After six years of hard austerities, he spontaneously realized extremes of any kind were unproductive. When the cord of the bow is too stretched it may snap, when it is too loose, one cannot play it. Moreover, only one criterion should persist, namely direct personal knowledge (hearsay, tradition, intellectual speculation & the ways of honourable ascetics are rejected). So "Know for Yourselves !" sums it up. This measured asceticism was designated as "the Middle Path" ;
April/May 528 BCE : enlightenment : in the course of a single night, seated beneath a large tree, later kown as the Bodhi tree (Ficus Religiosus), Gautama attained a complete state of awakening or enlightenment and was henceforth called "the Buddha" (the awakened one). He acquired the power to remember all his previous lives, became clairvoyant, knew he had rooted out ignorance, clinging & aversion once and for all and put an end to his own rebirth. Staying at Bodh Gayâ for seven weeks, Buddha Śâkyamuni pondered his future. Considering humanity too gross to benefit from his teachings, he decided to remain silent about his profound realization. Only after the "pure ones", like Brahmâ Sahampati & Indra, came down from the highest planes of existence begging him to teach the Dharma, did the Buddha decide to help and teach those with only "little dust in their eyes" ;
528 - 483 BCE : the
Turning of the Wheel of Dharma
: arriving in the royal deer park near Vârânasî, he was welcomed by
the group of five ascetics who had earlier turned their backs on him for
rejecting the path of austerities. He proclaimed himself a "Tathâgata", a
word etymologically meaning "a speaker of the Truth", but also "one who
has attained what is really so" or "one who is thus gone" (remarkably,
"tathâ âgata" means "one who is thus come") and gave his First Sermon,
called "Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma".
483 BCE : physical death : when he was 80 and in failing health, the Buddha continued his travels on foot, eliminating the effects of his infirmity with his mental powers. He did not appoint a successor, for none was needed. After his physical demise, the Dharma would be the only guide. On matters of doctrine, so he told his disciples, each person should make up his or her own mind, cross-referencing views and opinions against the teachings. In Kuśinagarâ, lying on his right side between two Sal trees, the physical body of the Buddha died. His last words were : "All compounded things are ephemeral. Work diligently on your salvation." ;
483 BCE : final enlightenment : dying serene and self-composed, the Buddha passed through several levels of meditative absorption, entering "parinirvâna", often equated with the state of "nirvâna" after physical death. Entering this state did not annihilate him, nor did it sustain him. The "Dharmakâya" is beyond conceptual affirmation & denial. The Buddha is the First Jewel of the Triple Gem.
Wim van den Dungen
firstname.lastname@example.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography
Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.
initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 09 VII 2020 - version n°2