Is life made for enjoyment or for enlightenment?

Siddharta Gautama

Historical personality
Surname Siddharta Gautama
Lifetime born 563? B.C., died 483? BC
relationship Shakya clan
Function, office Itinerant preacher
comment Founder of Buddhist teaching; is venerated as Buddha Śākyamuni (Japanese: Shaka 釈 迦)

Siddharta Gautama (563 BC - 483 BC, controversial dates of life) was an Indian prince of the Shakyas clan and later worked as an itinerant preacher, especially in northern India. He founded the teachings of Buddhism and is venerated today as Buddha Śākyamuni (Japanese Shaka 釈 迦).

Life of Siddharta

The Buddhist texts are the only historical documents dealing with Siddharta's life. These sources are to be used with caution, as the original oral tradition has probably been embellished and abridged and enriched with Buddhist ideas from the time the texts were written. The texts are rather a legendary representation of Siddharta, comparable to that of Jesus of Nazareth in the Bible, than an actual representation of the life of the historical figure.

Siddharta was born as the son of the royal couple of the Shakya tribe in a part of northern India, now part of Nepal. At a naming ceremony (similar to baptism), five wise men said the boy would either become "the king of kings, or should he tread the path of religion, the wisest of all sages" [1]. The prince lived in wealth and carefree, since he never left the walls of the palaces and did not come into contact with the people outside. In the long run, however, Siddharta found this life unbearable and he wished to see how the people lived outside the palace. During his visits to the city, Siddharta came into contact with old age, death and illness for the first time. He was shocked and confused by the suffering of the people. On his fourth visit, Siddharta met a monk. After that, he decided to go down the same path in search of deliverance from all the suffering he saw. He tried to find answers in the Vedic teachings prevalent at the time. However, this did not lead him to his desired goal and he devoted himself to meditation. At the age of 35, he attained full enlightenment after 49 days of meditation. According to the later teachings of the Buddhists, with Buddhahood he achieved salvation from the eternal circle of rebirths and his existence was extinguished after his death with the rise in nirvana. Siddharta, now a Buddha, began to teach his teachings on a life in the middle between asceticism and luxury. In doing so, he ignored the prevailing caste classifications and presented his teachings to anyone who wished to hear them. Siddharta allegedly died at the age of eighty while traveling back to his homeland. He told his accompanying monks, "They should not follow any teacher, but only his teaching, the Dharma" [2].

Belief in the Buddha Śākyamuni

According to the later Buddhist doctrine, Siddharta Gautama was not the first Buddha. It is said that there were already 27 others before him who achieved perfect enlightenment without the help of teachers. Śākyamuni attained Buddhahood in his existence as Siddharta Gautama and was thereby able to attain Parinirvana. He was the last person so far who was able to break through the circle of reincarnations in his rebirth as a human being. Hence, he is revered as the Buddha of the present. The next one who will climb the last step to complete enlightenment in a rebirth as a human being on earth without the help of a teacher is Bodhisattva Maitreya, who is already revered today as the Buddha of the future.



This article was originally written for the sister project Hachiman-no-pedia.