Siddhartha Gautama Buddha is the central figure of Buddhism, a sage on whose teachings this religion has been founded. It is worth noting that he didn’t leave any written works, and his ideas were passed down in oral tradition, and first appeared in written form several centuries after his death (probably about four hundred years later). Still, Buddhists believe that the accounts of his life and wisdom he imparted to his followers were memorized well enough to survive for several centuries without distortions.
One should also mention that “Buddha” is not a name as it is often thought to be. Buddha means “the awakened one”; it is a status, not a name. Yet when this word is said, people usually mean Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
What Is Really Known About Gautama Buddha
In fact, there is not much, due to the aforementioned lack of written sources. Historical Gautama Buddha is believed to have lived somewhere in between 563 BC and 483 BC, with different historians disagreeing with each other wildly as to where exactly the dates of his birth and death should be placed. Needless to say, he is not mentioned in any written sources of his time, nor for several centuries afterwards. Everything that we know about this person comes from a number of traditional biographies written centuries after his death, emphasizing different aspects of his life and sometimes contradicting each other.
The things that most biographies have in common are as follows:
- Siddhartha was born as a Kshatriya, i.e., a member of the caste of noblemen, with his father being either a king or an elected leader of his clan.
- He was prophesied to become either a great ruler or a great holy man.
- He lived through his earlier years shielded from outside world and any knowledge of human suffering.
- One day he ventured outside his palace and saw an old man, a diseased man, a rotting corpse and an ascetic. Greatly depressed, he decided to battle old age, disease and death by following the path of asceticism.
- Then he embarked upon a quest for enlightenment and, after a long an arduous path, achieved the status of Buddha, i.e., “the awakened one”.
What Is Buddha’s Significance?
Gautama Buddha is considered to be the Supreme Buddha of the current age, the symbol of Awakening and Enlightenment which can be achieved by any living person who really wants to reach this status and leave the wheel of deaths and rebirths. Traditional biographies mention his life not only in his last incarnation, but also the fact that his path to the Awakening went through countless previous rebirths. Many incarnations before he met a Buddha and was so impressed by his serenity that decided to take an oath to eventually become a Buddha himself. In his final life, he went from opulent life as a nobleman and an heir to the throne to wandering beggar to an esteemed teacher to, finally, the Awakened One, thus giving an example of sacrifice and ability to achieve the Enlightenment no matter where and how you start.
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