When you look, what kind of Buddha do you see?
We invent Gods, Our Gods. We take them to heart and focus our sense of meaning on them.
But Buddhas on the other hand are revealed. One way of looking at Buddhism is its the activity of seeking out the enlightened mind, the sentient reality. Here I hope to explore this by looking at the Buudha’s life on Earth. Turning attention to the Buddha and intuiting his experience as the man Gautama Shakya. How was it for Shakyamuni the walking Buddha when he was talking to say Angulimala.
About two thousand five hundred years ago , in the city of Kapilavatthu in north-east India, near the Himalayan mountains lived a handsome young man called Siddhartha Gotama, of the Sakya people.
His family was wealthy, so Siddhatha lived in a splendid palace with lovely gardens; he always wore the most beautiful clothes and ate the choicest food that money could buy. And always there was a servant to hold a white sunshade over his head to protect him from the heat , wind and dust.
The four sights
In spite of having everything he wanted, Siddhartha became bored and restless. One day, when he was 29, he asked his coachman, Channa, to take him for a drive into the city. They had not gone far before they saw a hunched-up, weary-looking old man. His father’s precautions to isolate him from the reality of the world had failed.
On this first occasion Siddhartha asked Channa to stop. ‘What is that? It looks like a man but his hair is white, he has no teeth, his skin is wrinkled, and his back so bent that he has to lean on a stick. What kind of man is he?’
‘He is an old man,’ said Channa, ‘bowed down by years.’
‘Does this happen to everyone, Channa? Or is it only this man who grows old?’
‘Time lets no man escape old age, my lord. He was once a young man and full of energy as yourself.’
Siddhartha returned home full of thought, too troubled to speak. The next day he ordered Channa to take him out again. This time they saw a sick man who was so ill that he rolled and writhed on the ground. His mouth foamed and his eyes were bloodshot. Once more the prince asked if any person could become ill. When Channa said yes, he returned home full of heaviness and doubt.
A third time they went out and came upon a funeral procession. The body lay still and lifeless and the mourners were weeping and wailing. Channa told the prince, ‘Death is the end of life. You body dies when it can go on no longer. But there is nothing strange about it, for everyone who is born must sooner or later die.’
Siddhartha and Channa drove out a forth time and, as before, an unusual sight awaited them. This time it was not a sad scene. It was a man with a shaven head, dressed in a yellow robe, standing barefoot, and holding a bowl in his hands. His face was calm and peaceful.
‘Who is this?’ asked Siddhartha. ‘Can it be a god who stands there, so serene and happy? He looks as if the sorrows of life do not touch him.’
‘He is a wandering monk. He has no home, but shelters in caves and woods. He begs for his food. He tries to be pure-hearted and seeks the truth of life.’
‘How I would like to follow such a way as that,’ said Siddhartha. ‘That way will be my way, the forests will be my shelter, my only home. I will leave the palace tonight, Channa. Have my horse saddled and ready.’
Leaving home, the departure and the path
That night there was a great feast and the dancing girls performed before the prince. But he was weary of such sights and he fell asleep. When the lamps of scented oil were nearly out and the rest of the palace slept, Siddhartha awoke. He went to look on his sleeping wife and baby for the last time. He then rode out of the palace on his horse with Channa riding by his side. They crossed a river. At the other side Siddhartha took off his rich silk robes and put on humble yellow cotton ones. He gave his jewels to Channa. Then he took out his sword and cut off his long flowing hair.
‘Take my clothes, jewels and sword back to my father, Channa. Tell him that I am going away to find the real meaning of life and death. When I have found it, I will come back to see him and my wife and son.’
So Siddhartha left the palace, his parents, his beautiful clothes and all his possessions, and set off in search of a wisdom that would set him free from the pains of sickness, old age and death. At first he became a follower of two famous teachers who taught him to meditate – to relax and focus his mind – in such a way that the world and its unhappiness would disappear and become no more than a dream. He followed their teaching for several years and learned to do exactly as his teachers told him, but he did not feel satisfied. ‘What is the point of making the world seem no more than a dream?’ he thought. ‘Every time when I finish meditating in this way my I am back again where I started, still worried and afraid – worried about possessions, and afraid of old age, sickness and death as well as of the wild animals in the forest.
This is not the practice I am looking for. I want to find how to be calm, how to be unafraid and how to understand why things are as they are.’
So, continuing his search, Siddhartha tried following the practices of another set of teachers, who said that he could attain a state of purity and joy by giving up all the pleasures that bind human beings to earthly life with its pains and sorrows. As we have seen, Siddhartha agreed about the pains and sorrows of earthly life. But these teachers even included eating and drinking among the pleasures that he needed to give up, and after a trying this approach for several more years he found he was becoming very weak. So he thought, ‘This can’t possibly work. Finding wisdom takes effort, and for effort I need strength, and to keep up my strength I need to eat and drink!’
Just being with whatever arises
Now, just at that moment he remembered something that had happened to him when he was still a young boy, but until that moment he hadn’t realized just how important it had been. He had been sitting in the shade under a rose-apple tree, watching his father ploughing one of their fields, and suddenly he had found himself in a state of deep peace, completely absorbed in watching the scene in front of him, having no feelings – no desire, no irritation, no fear – and aware only of a gentle happiness. ‘Aha,’ thought Siddharha, ‘Perhaps that is the way to the sort of wisdom I am seeking. Perhaps what I am looking for is a Middle Way, which is not simply enjoying pleasures and not simply giving them up either.’ He still didn’t know exactly what this Middle Way consisted, but he felt that at last, after all these years of searching he was on the right track. And the first thing he did was to have something to eat and drink, which immediately made him feel better. From that point, things moved swiftly.
Siddhartha came to the town of Uruvela on the banks of the River Neranjara and he sat down in the shade of a a great tree, later to be called the bo-tree (from ‘bodhi’ which means wisdom). ‘I shall sit beneath this tree and though my flesh and bones should waste away and my life-blood dry up, I shall not move again until I have found the truth.’
He sat and meditated. Day turned to night and the full moon of May came up. There he sat, relaxing and focusing his mind in the way he had remembered from that time under the rose-apple tree, for seven days and nights
Now acccording to legend, Mara, the evil one, came to him. Mara tempted him with many things of the world including a great longing to go back to his wife and child and give up his long search. But, although Siddhartha was tired and discouraged, his will to find enlightenment was stronger.
Then, it is said, Mara hurled thunderbolts at him but they turned to sweet-scented petals as they neared him. And Mara caused huge jagged lighting flashes which turned to soft sounds of music in his ears.
Last of all, Mara shouted, ‘Even if you find out the truth, who do you think will ever believe you? What right do you have to claim the throne of enlightenment?.
Siddhartha touched the ground with his hand and replied, ‘The earth will bear witness, to all my past action of purity.’ Mother earth rose from the ground and brought forth a great flood which swept Mara and his hosts away.
So at the end of the final night – the night of the full moon in the month of May – he knew that, at last he had understood. He had ‘woken up’.
And then what?
He saw how deeply we are linked to everything and everyone else in the world. He saw how each of our actions affects us and changes us, for better or for worse. He saw that everything in the world is always changing, and as he looked on this ceaselessly changing world he felt a wonderful sense both of love and of tranquillity. Above all, he knew, at last, the cause of suffering and its cure; he knew that he must love things deeply, but without wanting to possess them. He was no longer afraid of anything, not even age or sickness or death.
At first he was so amazed at what he had discovered and it seemed so different from what the other teachers at that time were saying that he thought, ‘No-one else will ever be able to understand all this; it is too difficult. I’ll just have to keep it to myself.’ But the following night he had a vision of a holy man surrounded by a radiant light, saying to him, ‘The world needs this Dharma, this wisdom, that you have found. You can teach it and you must teach it.’
So for the rest of his life (and he lived to be an old man) Siddhartha Gotama taught his new wisdom to everyone who would listen. He had many followers and during his lifetime he became the most famous teacher in the whole of India. And from that time onwards
Siddhartha Gotama has always been known as the Buddha – ‘the Awakened One’ – and the type of tree under which he sat during his seven days and nights of concentration has since been known as a ‘Bodhi tree’ – a tree of Enlightenment