According to Buddhist tradition, Shakyamuni (a name meaning "Sage of the Shakya Clan") is the founder of Buddhism (he is also sometimes referred to as "Siddhartha Gautama"). Shakyamuni was born around 490 B.C.E. to a royal family who lived in a palace in the foothills of the Himalayas. From the moment he was born, Shakyamuni did not lead a typical life. For example, legend states
that Shakyamuni was born from his mother's hip while she remained standing in a grove of trees. In his youth, Shakyamuni's father provided him with everything he wanted and encouraged
him to excel in his studies. However, he would not permit Shakyamuni to leave the palace grounds. Shakyamuni grew up with many luxuries and married a beautiful princess, but he still
was not happy. He longed to see what was beyond the palace gates, thinking that a clue to his search for the meaning of life lay beyond the safety and luxury of the palace.
At the age of 29, Shakyamuni left the palace on four separate occasions to explore. He was deeply affected by what he saw. During his first trip outside the palace, he saw a very old man who
was bent over and had trouble walking. As Shakyamuni passed by in his carriage, the old man peered up at him, his eyes squinting
from his severely wrinkled face. In his second outing, Shakyamuni observed a sick man, wailing in pain. During his third excursion, Shakyamuni came upon the still and lifeless body of a dead man. Shakyamuni was shocked and saddened by the sights of old age, sickness, and death. During his fourth outing, he saw a wandering
monk, a seeker of religious truth. These four outings and what Shakyamuni saw (old age, sickness, death, and a seeker of religious
truth) are called the "Four Sights." Meeting the monk inspired Shakyamuni to leave the palace, his wife, and his newborn son. He wanted to understand more about life, why human beings suffered, and how one could help relieve suffering in the world. Thus, he began his religious quest.
Shakyamuni began his search for enlightenment. According to Buddhist belief, enlightenment is the experience of true reality, an "awakening" through which one could comprehend the true nature
of things. Shakyamuni thought he could reach enlightenment by practicing asceticism, a lifestyle of severe discipline. Sometimes he would not eat or drink for long periods of time. After six years of
enduring many hardships, Shakyamuni realized that he had not come to a deeper understanding of life. He realized that neither luxury nor starvation would lead to enlightenment and instead
decided to follow a moderate path or the Middle Way. He went to a village called Bodh Gaya where he became awakened to a true understanding of life. The moment of his enlightenment took place
while he was seated in meditation under a tree. In his enlightenment, he gained the power to see his former lives, the power to see death and rebirth of all types, and finally the realization that he had
eliminated all desires and ignorance within himself. He had become a Buddha, a title meaning "awakened one." The Buddha gave his first sermon, known as the "First Discourse," explaining
his realization to the group of ascetics with whom he used to practice. These men became his first disciples. He continued to spread his knowledge throughout towns in India for 45 years thereafter,
gaining increasing numbers of followers until his death at the age of 80.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Life is suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by craving.
3. Suffering can have an end.
4. There is a path which leads to the end of suffering.
The Four Noble Truths form the basis of Buddhist thought. It is believed that suffering, in part, is due to the impermanence of life. Even if one is happy at a given time, this happiness is not
p e r m anent. Since it is believed that life is suffering, the ultimate goal in Buddhism is to end the cycle of suffering, the cycle of repeated death and rebirth. The achievement of this goal is called
The goal of Buddhism is to become enlightened and reach nirvana. Nirvana is believed to be attainable only with the elimination of all greed, hatred, and ignorance within a person. Nirvana signifies the
end of the cycle of death and rebirth. According to the Four Noble Truths, "life is suffering" so ending the cycle of rebirth is s o m ething to be desired. Some Buddhists think of nirvana as a type
of heaven where there is no suffering; other Buddhists view n i rvana as a state of mind free from suffering. According to
Buddhist belief, a final n i rv a n a is attained at the time of an e n l i g h tened being's death, and is no longer part of the cycle of reincarnation and death.
D. How to Achieve Nirvana
Buddhists believe that the path toward nirvana, called the Middle Way or the Eightfold Path, outlines how people should live in order
to reach nirvana.
The Eightfold Path consists of three categories: moral conduct, concentration, and wisdom.
Moral conduct consists of:
1. right speech (refraining from falsehood, malicious talk, and abusive language)
2. right action (refraining from stealing, killing, and unchastity)
3. right livelihood (earning a living through proper means, not killing living beings, making astrological forecasts, or practicing fortune-telling)
Concentration consists of:
4. right effort (energetic will to prevent or get rid of evil and promote goodness)
5. right mindfulness (to be diligently aware, mindful, and attentive)
6. right concentration (to rid oneself of unwholesome thoughts and achieve pure equanimity and awareness)
Wisdom consists of:
7. right thought (selflessness and detachment, universal thoughts of love and nonviolence)
8. right understanding (understanding of things as they are, a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths)
Some schools of Buddhism including those of Chinese Buddhism believe that becoming a bodhisattva is a more important goal for
individuals than achieving nirvana. A bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment, but vows not to enter into final nirvana until all living things are released from suffering. Bodhisattvas
choose to be reborn so that they can continue to work to relieve the suffering of others and try to make them aware of the Buddha's
teachings. In China, bodhisattvas are sometimes worshiped as much as the Buddha. For example, the female bodhisattva Guanyin became widely worshiped in Buddhist temples throughout China.
In Buddhism, Guanyin is the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion.