The Buddha: the first of the Three Refuges
Birth and Youth
About 2500 years ago, in a region close to the Himalayan foothills in Northern India in what is now modern-day Nepal, a prince was born. He was given the name Siddhattha, meaning ‘Wish Fulfilled’.
As a gifted Indian royal youth he was trained in many subjects, and, belonging to the noble caste, he mastered the ways of a warrior. He was married at sixteen and continued to live in his private world of palaces, female musicians and blue lotus ponds, oblivious to the bleak realities of life.
The Four Sights and Renunciation
But, when he was twenty-nine, this fragile world was shattered as he toured his father’s capital. Striking him like a thunderbolt, the inevitability of old age, sickness and death seized his mind. Then, following the sighting of a wandering monk, hope arose in him for a way out of this cycle of birth and death .
Now seeing no other way but to turn his back on the world he quit his princely life, exchanged his fine clothes for cast off rags, cut off his shimmering black hair, and went in search of freedom.
The Noble Search
It was a search that was to last six years. He at first called upon various famous teachers of the day, but, after finding their practices to be limited, he embarked upon a course of extreme asceticism, hoping these methods might bring him freedom. But, having touched death’s door as a result of his austerities, he retreated and settled for a middle way.
Alone, he found himself a beautiful grove and sat cross-legged beneath a great tree. He then focused his mind on his in-and-out breathing.
Steadily his concentration deepened until his mental clarity reached a climax. With his mind now cleansed of imperfection he proceeded to focus on investigating the cause of suffering. Then, as the morning drew near, he penetrated to the fundamental level of reality: he understood the Four Noble Truths.
The figure now sitting beneath that tree was no longer Prince Siddhattha. He was the Buddha, the ‘One Who Knows’, the ‘Awakened One’.
Teaching the Dhamma
For the next forty-five years until his passing he walked the dusty roads of northern India teaching for much of the time.
A community of monks and nuns which he called the Sangha steadily grew around him and monasteries began to rise from the plains and forest floors.
His fame spread and people from every stratum of society came to hear him teach. And what did he teach them?
He taught them “one thing and one only: suffering and the end of suffering.”
Was the Buddha a human being?
A brahman called Dona encountered the Buddha shortly after his enlightenment and, struck by the Buddha’s serenity, asked him:
“Sir, are you a god?”
“Are you an angel?”
“Are you a yakkha?
“Are you a human being?”
“When asked, ‘Are you a god?’ you answer, ‘No, brahman…’ When asked, ‘Are you an angel?’ you answer, ‘No, brahman..’ When asked, ‘Are you a yakkha?’ you answer, ‘No, brahman…’ When asked, ‘Are you a human being?’ you answer, ‘No, brahman…’ Then what sort of being are you?”
“Brahman, the defilements by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a god: those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palm tree stump, no longer subject to future arising. The defilements by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be an angel… a yakkha… a human being: those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palm tree stump, no longer subject to future arising.
“Just as a blue or red or white lotus born in water, grows in water and stands up above the water untouched by it, so too I, who was born in the world and grew up in the world, have transcended the world, and I live untouched by the world. Remember me, brahman, as a Buddha.”