was born into the royal family of a small kingdom on the Indian-Nepalese
border. According to the traditional story he had a cloistered upbringing,
but was jolted out of complacency on understanding that life includes
the harsh facts of old age, sickness, and death.
left home to follow the traditional Indian path of the wandering
holy man, a seeker after Truth. He practised meditation under various
teachers and then took to asceticism. Eventually he practised austerities
so severe that he was on the point of death - but true understanding
seemed as far away as ever.
decided to abandon this path and to look into his own heart and
mind. He sat down beneath the pipal tree and vowed that 'flesh may
wither, blood may dry up, but I shall not rise from this spot until
Enlightenment has been won.' After forty days, the Buddha finally
believe he attained a state of being that goes beyond anything else
in the world. If normal experience is based on conditions - upbringing,
psychology, opinions, perceptions, and so on - Enlightenment is
Unconditioned. It was a state in which the Buddha gained Insight
into the deepest workings of life and therefore into the cause of
human suffering, the problem that had set him on his spiritual quest
in the first place.
the remaining 45 years of his life he travelled through much of
northern India, spreading his teaching of the way to Enlightenment.
The teaching is known in the East as the Buddha-dharma - 'the teaching
of the Enlightened One'. Travelling from place to place, the Buddha
taught numerous disciples, many of whom gained Enlightenment in
their own right. They, in turn, taught others and in this way an
unbroken chain of teaching has continued, right down to the present
Buddha was not a God and he made no claim to divinity. He was a
human being who, through tremendous efforts, transformed himself.
Buddhists see him as an ideal and a guide who can lead one to Enlightenment
Happened After the Buddha's Death? Buddhism died out in India a
thousand years ago (though it has recently revived). It spread south
to Sri Lanka and South East Asia, where the Theravadin form of Buddhism
continues to flourish, and north to Tibet, China, Mongolia, and
Japan. The Mahayana forms of Buddhism are still practiced in these
countries, although in the last century they have suffered greatly
from the effects of communism and consumerism. In the last century
Buddhism has emphatically arrived in the West, and hundreds of thousands
of westerners have become Buddhists.