The word Buddha means enlightened one.” It is used today as a title for the one who has given us more religious beliefs than almost any other human who lived in this world. However, he was not given this name at birth; he had to earn it for himself by undergoing long, hard hours of meditation and contemplation. Buddha has changed the lifestyles of many cultures with new, never-before-asked questions that were explained by his search for salvation.
He began an entirely new religion that dared to test the boundaries of reality and go beyond common knowledge to find the answers to the mysteries of life. During the sixth century BC, India was a land of political and religious turmoil. It was an era of great brutality with the domination of Northwest India by Indo-Aryan invaders. Many people, influenced by the Aryan civilization, began to question the value of life and its true meaning. Schools were opened because of this curiosity where teachers would discuss the significance of existence and the nature of man and held programs to reconstruct one’s spiritual self (Pardue, page 228). Near the town of Kapilavastivu, today known as Nepal, lived King Suddhodhana and Queen Maya of the indigenous tribe known as the Shakyas.
(Encyclopedia Americana, page 687) Queen Maya became pregnant and had a dream shortly before giving birth. In the dream, a beautiful white elephant with six tusks entered her room and touched her side. The wisest Brahmin, or Priest of Brahmanism, interpreted the dream to mean that she would give birth to a son who would become the wisest king in the world if he remained in the castle. However, if he ever left the castle, he would become the wisest prophet far into future generations. (Encyclopedia Americana, page 410) Around the year 563 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of pure luxury. (Wangu, page 16) His father wanted to ensure that his son was well taken care of to prevent him from desiring to leave the palace. Suddhodhana kept Siddhartha away from the pain of reality so that he could follow in his father’s footsteps and become a well-respected leader.
As Siddhartha grew, he became curious about the world outside the palace walls. He felt a need to undergo new experiences and learn the truth of reality. Siddhartha married Yasodhara, who gave birth to a boy named Rahul. Even after marriage, Siddhartha was not completely satisfied with his life. He decided it was necessary to see the lives of those outside the castle. One day, Siddhartha called for his charioteer to take him to the park.
When the King heard of this, he ordered the streets to be cleared of everything except beauty. As the Prince rode by, the people cheered and threw flowers at him, praising his name. Siddhartha was still clueless to the suffering of life until a god, disguised as a poor old man, stumbled before the chariot. Siddhartha was curious about this man’s condition and asked the charioteer about his appearance. The charioteer replied that all men must endure old age and that even the prince could not escape this fate. Siddhartha then returned to the palace to contemplate old age, which caused him to want to see more.
The next day, Siddhartha decided to venture onto the streets again. The streets had been cleared of all evil and ugliness by the King’s request. This time, Siddhartha encountered a sick man and returned to the palace to reflect on sickness. On his third trip to the park, Siddhartha approached a funeral in a garden and was educated by the charioteer about how every man must experience death. Finally, on the fourth day, the young prince saw a shaven-headed man wearing a yellow robe.
He was amazed and impressed by how peaceful the man seemed. He carried with him only a begging bowl and had left all other possessions to try to find spiritual deliverance. At that moment, Siddhartha knew his destiny was to discover how this man had avoided these acts of suffering. Later that night, Siddhartha kissed his wife and son and left with his charioteer away from the palace of riches and pleasure. He left behind his life of pure desire to understand the true meaning of life. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, page 270)