AS 201 Buddhism: Origins

“Remember Me as One who Woke Up”

Most of the quotations and commentary can be found in this biopic, "The Buddha" (

See also the PBS site:

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 563 B.C.E. to a royal family who lived in a palace in the foothills of the Himalayas. He probably died in or around 483 BCE.

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 four things that he saw.

1. 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.

2. In his second outing, Shakyamuni observed a sick man, wailing in pain.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Thus, 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 the universe and human experience.

Shakyamuni tried reaching 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.

As he experienced the Oneness of all things, he saw that the world is full of pain and sorrow. But there is a way out, a way to end the suffering. These sorrows, all the pain and suffering, come about because of human desires and the tendency to "attach" to these desires. There is a pathway to end the power of these desires or attachments, and if you follow it, you may become enlightened.

In his enlightenment, the Buddha realized that the key was eliminating all desires and ignorance within himself. When he accomplished this, he became a Buddha, a title meaning "awakened one."

For centuries, the Vedic rituals had commanded respect for the gods and inspired conviction. But by Siddhartha's time, the rituals no longer spoke to the spiritual needs of many Indians, leaving a spiritual vacuum, and a sense of foreboding.  Interesting how Confucius pushed those around him to reinvigorate Zhou rituals and make them relevant to very different times. 

In the Buddha's time in India, "the authority of the priests had worn thin and wisdom seekers like Siddhartha were roaming the countryside, and holy men emerged teaching their own spiritual disciplines. Siddhartha apprenticed himself to one of them, a celebrated guru who taught that true knowledge could never come from ritual practice alone. It was necessary to look within.  The teachers of the time are already teaching forms of yoga and meditation, teaching that the self reflective capacity of the mind can be put to use to tame the mind, to tame the passions—that was already established in India. And there were probably so many schools of yoga and meditation in those days just as there are now."

Under the guidance of his teacher, he ascended to the highest. most rarified levels of consciousness, but these experiences were temporary and they did not endure.

Next, Siddhartha apprenticed himself to another popular guru, but the results were the same. He said later:
"The thought occurred to me; this practice does not lead to stillness, to direct knowledge, to deeper awareness.” Disenchanted, he left this master, too. Siddhartha continued to drift south, still searching for the answer to his questions: "Why do human beings suffer? Is there any escape?"

"One key concept in Buddhism is compassion, which is the deep affection that we feel for everything because we’re all in it together. Be it other human beings, other animals, the planet as a whole, the creatures of this planet, the trees and rivers of this planet. Everything is connected." This reality he experienced while deep in meditation.

As the morning star appeared, he roared like a lion. "My mind," he said, "is at peace." The heavens shook, and the Bodhi tree rained down flowers. He had becHe understood that everyone is already enlightened. Much as Jesus would lter teach that the "Kingdom of Heaven" is is neither outsidfe of us or awaiting us at some later time, it is already, always here. We just have to awaken to this reality. 500 years earlier, the Buddha is saying that the capacity for enlightenment, for awakening, already exists within you.

Nirvana is this moment seen directly. There is nowhere else than here. The only doorway to understanding, to waking up, is your own body and mind. There’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to be. It’s not something to aim for in the afterlife. It’s simply directly experiencing the quality of this moment. "Pay attention."

The problem, Buddha taught, much as the
Daoists realized, is our desires—how to live with the confused and entangling desires of our own minds. The Buddha undersgtands that human Desire must be there. Without desire how can we live our life? Without desire how can we achieve Buddhahood? But the Seeker, the Sage, does not attach to these desires; s/he does not let them rule or govern life.

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.

For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples went from place to place in India spreading the Dharma, his teachings. Wherever the Buddha went, he won the hearts of the people because he dealt with their true feelings. He advised them not to accept his words on blind faith, but to decide for themselves whether his teachings are right or wrong, then follow them. He encouraged everyone to have compassion for each other and develop their own virtue, "You should do your own work, for I can teach only the way." The Buddha emcouraged his followers to help each other on the Way, the way to a deeper awareness, an awareness that is permanent. He called his Way the Path of the Four Noble Truths.


These are:
1. Life is full of pain, suffering and anxiety.

2. Suffering is caused by Human Desires and Attachments.

3. Suffering can have an end. We are capable of understanding these weaknesses and triumphing over them. How?


4. There is a path which leads to the end of suffering, the Eight Fold Path..

The Four Noble Truths form the basis of Buddhist teaching and practice. Suffering is due to the impermanence of life. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to end the cycle of suffering, the cycle of repeated death and rebirth. The achievement of this goal is called attaining nirvana.

So Buddhism takes a very psychological approach to the human condition.

Even the most abstract of the Buddha's teachings had a practical, ethical dimension. Compassion, the Buddha taught, comes from understanding impermanence, transience, flow—how one thing passes into another, how everything and everyone is connected. The Buddha talks about the three poisons: greed, and anger, and ignorance, and how the three poisons are what is making the fire, and the way out of doing this is not to deny the three poisons, but to recognize that if you turn them around, you come to their opposites."

Instead of greed, you have generosity; instead of anger, you have compassion; and instead of ignorance, you have wisdom.

There is a story of a Brahmin who one day found the Buddha under a tree, calmly meditating. The Buddha’s mind was still. He radiated such power and strength that the Brahmin was reminded of a tusker elephant. The Brahmin asked him who he was. The Buddha replied:  

"Remember me as the one who woke up." See the very short video:


C. Nirvana
The goal of Buddhism is to become enlightened and experience nirvana, which is to say, to experience the reality that life is actually blissful if we can open ourselves to it. Nirvana is believed to be attainable only with the elimination of all greed, hatred, and ignorance within a person.

Some Buddhists think of nirvana as a type of heaven where there is no suffering; other Buddhists view nirvana as a state of mind free from suffering. According to Buddhist belief, a final nirvana is attained at the time of an enlightened 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 or conduct (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)

One Point: Everyone and Anyone could follow this path.

E. Bodhisattvas
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 known as Kannon in Japanese.