The figure who is loved and revered today as the Buddha began life as a young prince called Siddartha Gautama around the sixth century BC. As a young child he showed great interest in the spiritual life, but his father, anxious that his young son succeed him to the throne, decided to surround him with a life of total luxury and conceal any religious influences from him. All forms of suffering, whether it be sickness or old age or death, was concealed from the young prince so that he had no knowledge of them. He married and had a son, and lived until the age of 29 in luxury in the three palaces provided for him.
However one night out of curiosity, he left the palace to go exploring with his charioteer and best friend, Channa. He saw a man coughing and asked what was the matter, as he had never seen this before. Channa explained that the man was sick and it was something that happened us all from time to time. Next he saw an grey haired lady walking with great difficulty, he also was amazed as he had never seen such a thing before, and he expressed gladness that he would never look like that. ‘We all end up like that someday, my lord’, the charioteer said. The two walked further and came across a crowd of people weeping over a body. The young prince did not understand why this body was not moving and commanded him to get up. ‘That man is dead, my lord’, the charioteer said. The young Siddhartha did not understand what this meant, and Channa had to explain to him that the human body is a frail and transient thing, and that we all have to die sometime. At seeing all this suffering, Siddartha grew very despondent and full of despair. but then they came across a yogi sitting under a tree. The charioteer explained he was meditating, trying to release himself from this cycle of birth and death. At the sight of this the young Siddartha resolved to also meditate until he had obtained liberation for himself and all sentient beings.
He travelled from place to place visiting various teachers, and finally he went into the forest and came across five sages meditating. At first they would not accept him because of his royal background, but they relented and soon he was outshining them in meditation and became the leader of the little group. At first he lived a very austere life, accepting no food, and he soon became very thin indeed. However one day he could hear a boat sailing down the river. There was two musicians on the same boat, and the more experienced one was telling the other one, that is the strings on his lute were tuned too loose, the sound would be wrong, but if they were tuned too tight they would break. It was then that Siddartha realised the same was true of the spiritual life – that one must live life according to the ‘middle path’, not going to extremes either of luxury or asceticism. He then resumed eating and before long his body regained its normal strength. Seeing this, the five sages decided that Siddartha had left the path of Truth and left him in disgust.
Siddartha then sat down at the base of a tree and resolved not to get up until he had attained enlightenment. After 49 straight days of meditation, the evening came where he attained his enlightenment. Through the strength of his concentration, he broke the final snares of fear and attachment to worldly pleasures and attained the supreme blissful state. He could see the cycle of rebirth, and saw all of his past lives leading up to this one. It was on this night that Siddartha became the Buddha, or the enlightened one.
He realised that his love for humanity meant he had to spread this light to whoever would accept it, and so he left the tree and went back into the world. Attracted by his serene and radiant bearing, people came to learn from him, including the five sages who derided him for leaving the ascetic life. His wife and child also joined him as his students. Wherever he went the Buddha taught that all suffering stemmed from desire and an unclear way of seeing things, and taught the means to escape the human web of craving and suffering through meditation and right action. He advocated an approach to spirituality which avoided metaphysical trappings and appealed directly to human experience.
The Buddha is still remembered today for his compassion for all living creatures. His cousin Devadatta, who had nursed a grievance against him since childhood, tried many times to kill him, yet in the end the Buddha’s forgiveness prevailed. The notorious brigand Angulimal also tried to kill him, and ended up becoming his student. The Buddha attracted people from all classes and walks of life, and established a thriving spiritual community, or Sangha, to keep the light of the teachings alive.
Until he was eighty years old, the Buddha travelled the length and breath of the land, inspiring everyone he met to lead a more spiritual life. One day he became very ill after eating some food. However, even as he lay dying, he was still giving advice to his dearest student, Ananda, telling him to not blame the blacksmith that gave him the food, and to not grieve for him as all things are impermanent. The Buddha then entered Parinirvana, the final deathless state.
By: Shane Magee
 Siddartha becomes the Buddha, by Sri Chinmoy