The word Buddha means “enlightened one.” It is used today as a title to
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 of 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 it’s 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 soon became pregnant and had a
dream shortly before she gave birth. In this dream a beautiful, white elephant
with six tusks entered her room and touched her side. This dream was soon
interpreted by the wisest Brahmin, or Priest of Brahmanism, that she was to give
birth to a son that would, if he were to remain in the castle, become the wisest
king in the world, but if he were ever to leave the castle he would then become
the wisest prophet far into future generations. (Encyclopedia Americana, page
In around the year 563 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of
pure luxury. (Wangu, page 16) His father wanted to make sure that his son was
well taken care of as he grew to prevent him from desiring to leave the palace.
Suddhodhana, listening to the prophecy, kept Siddhartha away from the pain of
reality so that he could follow in his father’s footsteps in becoming a well
As Siddhartha grew, he became very curious about the world outside of
the palace walls. He felt a great need to undergo new experiences and learn the
truth of reality. Siddhartha was married to a woman named Yasodhara who gave
birth to a boy, Rahul. Even after his marriage, Siddhartha was still not
completely satisfied with his life; he decided that it was necessary for him to
see the lives of those outside the castle.
The Four Meetings
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 and 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 to this man’s condition and he 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 about old age which caused him to want to see more.
The next day, Siddhartha decided to venture on to the streets again
which were, by the King’s request, once more cleared of all evil and ugliness.
This time, Siddhartha encountered a sick man and again, 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 has avoided these acts of
suffering. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, page 270)
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.