Let’s explore the journey of a teacher who lived near eastern India during the 5th century BC…Siddhartha Gautama. Historians have argued exactly where and when he was born, but the impact of his lessons is undisputed. It was known he was born a prince and his teachings are meant to help people find a path to fulfillment.
Siddhartha Gautama was the Buddha, or “the enlightened one.”
When he was a child, his father shielded him from all religious influences and knowledge of anguish. He wished Siddhartha to become a “great king,” providing him with every material desire to prepare him for the throne. At the age of 29 Siddhartha left the palace and saw a decaying corpse for the first time. He also saw an aged man, and a diseased man. He wondered why people grew old and became sick. He wondered why people suffered. And he wondered how he could enjoy his luxuries when this existed. He then saw a man who gave up all earthly possessions to live a life of meditation…to find a life without suffering. Siddhartha decided to follow that path.
He left his life behind the palace walls and set into the world to learn from wise teachers of a life without suffering. But no one knew. He deprived himself of all pleasures as he was taught a lifestyle of decadence and greed caused suffering. He achieved unfathomable levels of meditative consciousness but still could not find the answer. Legend has it that Siddhartha had collapsed in a lake from exhaustion while attempting to extend his meditation practices through self-mortification. He would have drowned if not saved by a village girl. This was when he realized “the middle path” and that the extremes of indulgence or depravity will cause suffering.
Shortly after, he sat beneath a Bodhi tree for over 40 days in meditation. He remerged into this world enlighten with the knowledge of what caused suffering, and how to stop it. He had achieved Nirvana, a “perfect peace of mind” that is not afflicted by greed, hate and ignorance. In this state a person does not have an identity, as there are no boundaries between one and others. And he discovered the “Four Noble Truths,” the way to end suffering, which is…
1. All people suffer, and we must acceptance it.
2. We cause our suffering by our ignorance, and our desire for what we want most.
3. To end suffering we must live peacefully.
4. To live without suffering, or to walk the “Noble Eightfold Path” we must have the right “view, thought, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.”
This path inspires us to see the world through the eyes of compassion, to be aware that we become what we think, to speak kindly and with respect to one and other, to act consistently regardless of how we are treated, to not hurt others, to do our best at all times and to not waste our best on hurting others, to be conscious of the impacts of our actions, and, to focus on one thing at a time.
The legend of Buddha grew as he spread his teachings. He allowed all into his fold, from the pious to the criminal, for all of us is capable of redemption. Sometimes when questioned on the secrets of the universe and life after death, he remained silent, without answering. Scholars argued this was yet another lesson the Buddha was teaching…that experience alone could answer such profound questions.
While the Buddha was walking the streets of a city spreading his message, a jealous monk tried to hurt him by sending a rampaging elephant into his path. As the raging elephant approached, Buddha’s kindness tamed the animal. The lesson of this tale is “kindness affects everyone.” And, in the Buddha’s words… “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”