Buddha (ca. 563-483 B.C.)Buddha (ca. 563-483 B.C.) - The term "Buddha" means "enlightened" or "awakened" one. The man who founded the Buddhist religion was named Siddhārtha Gautama. Several people throughout history who have been said to have achieved enlightenment were bestowed with the title of "Buddha". But Gautama is considered the "Supreme Buddha". Who was Gautama? He was born a prince in the northern Kingdom of Kosala probably about the middle of the 6th century B.C. to a Hindu king. This would also make him a contemporary of the three great men of China on the chart above (what a time). The Kosala Kingdom was one of the 16 Mahā-janapadas (or powerful realms) of India, a time of great division on the subcontinent. Accounts of his life were passed on orally by his followers before they were written down some four centuries after his death.

 

Like so many historical figures of the time, events of his life are uncertain. His biographers seem to be less concerned about the chronological events than his philosophical teachings. At a young age, his father appears to have arranged for his marriage to a cousin named Yaśodharā. They had a son named Rāhula. This entire time Gautma lived within the palace and his father sheltered him from the outside world. As the legend goes, his father received word from soothsayers that his son would grow up to either become a wandering soul after witnessing suffering, or that he would become emperor over all of India. The defining moment came when he was 29. He journeyed outside the walls of the palace and saw four "signs". An old man, a sickly person, a corpse and a beggar. This stirred within him the desire to renounce his worldly possessions and embark on a spiritual quest. He abandoned his family (including wife and child) and became a mendicant himself.

 

Starting with his own Hindu faith, he went and studied under the tutelage of two Brahmin masters, but was unsatisfied with their teaching and left. Then he practiced his own form of extreme asceticism, denying himself virtually any type of worldly pleasure and surviving on a minimum of sustenance. It very nearly led to his demise. His thinking was that denying the body would give him complete clarity of mind. But he decided that it did not. Bringing himself back from the brink of death, he then traveled to Bodh-gaya, India where he famously sought shelter under a Bodhi-tree. There he vowed to stay until he attained enlightenment. Which he did after 49 days of meditation. It meant that he had gained understanding into the suffering that exists in the world and how to overcome it. From that time on, he was known as the Buddha by his followers. In his lifetime, they would number in the thousands. In the years that followed, they would number in the millions.