Sri Gautama Buddha

By Walpola Rahula

The Buddha, whose personal name was Siddhartha, and family name Gautama, lived in North India in the 6th century B.C. His father Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas (in modern Nepal). His mother was queen Maya. According to the custom of the time, he was married quite young, at the age of sixteen, to a beautiful and devoted young princess named Yasodahara. The young prince lived in his palace with every luxury at his command. But all of a sudden, confronted with the reality of life and the suffering of mankind, he decided to find the solution – the way out of this universal suffering.

At the age of 29, soon after the birth of his only child, Rahula, he left his kingdom and became an ascetic in search of his solution. For six years the ascetic Gautama wandered about the valley of Ganges, meeting famous religious teachers, studying and following their systems and methods, and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices. They did not satisfy him. So he abandoned all traditional religions and their methods and went his own way.

It was thus that one evening, seated under a tree (since then known as the Bodhi- or Bo-tree, the “Tree of Wisdom”), on the bank of the river Neranjara at Buddha-aya (near Gaya in modern Bihar), at the age of 35, Gautama attained enlightenment, after which he was known as the Buddha, ‘The Enlightened One’.

After his Enlightenment, Gautama the Buddha delivered his first sermon to a group of five ascetics, his old colleagues, in the Deer Park at Isipatana (modern Sarnath) near Benares. From that day, for 45 years, he taught all classes of men and women – kings and peasants, Brahmins and outcasts, bankers and beggars, holy men and robbers – without making the slightest distinction between them. He recognized no differences of caste or social groupings, and the Way he preached was open to all men and women who were ready to understand and follow it. At the age of 80, the Buddha passed away at Kusinara (in modern Uttar Pradesh in India).

Today Buddhism is found in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, Laos, Formosa, in some parts of India1, Pakistan and Nepal, and also in Soviet Union. The Buddhist population of the world is over 500 million.

1  Buddha is a Sage from India and is considered an Incarnation of God. That is the kind of respect Hindus have for Buddha. It is said that excessive zeal of some followers and misrepresentation of Hinduism led Buddhism to be less prevalent.