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The following was written by a great friend of mine who learned from the late master Nan Huai Chin and an adept cultivator. May the story of the buddha be of inspiration and of benefit to all sentient beings. Namo Shakyamuni. --------------------------- Life of the Buddha Siddharta Shakya (the Gautama Buddha) was born in the pinnacle of the human world, a prince to the king of a small local state, Kapilavastu of north-central India. Having been born into the circumstances of comfort, wealth, prestige and honor, it shows that in his past lives, he had accumulated an extraordinary amount of merit. In such cases, one can spend his merit on huge amounts of wealth and fortune, but instead, Shakyamuni had given it all up and placed it on wisdom and enlightenment. It is said that Shakyamuni had lived in the Tushita Heaven (deva realms) and saw a ripe moment for his descent into the human world, ending up as the offspring of Maya and Suddhodana. It was said tht he rode on a white elephant with six tusks, sending his spirit into his mother’s womb. The father of Siddharta was King Suddhodana (50 plus of age) and his mother was the Queen Maya (45 years old). Spring was ending giving rise to Summer. On the eight day of the 4th lunar month, birds sang, flowers bloomed and while Queen Maya was in the Lumbini Garden reaching out towards an Ashoka tree, Shakyamuni sponteanously appeared on her right. All kinds of auspicious signs appeared. When he was seven days old, Queen Maya unfortunately passed away. Scholars speculate that he might have been born from a Caesarian section. Queen Mahaprajpati nurtered him as his aunt, in place of Queen Maya. Soon after he was born, he took seven steps and said, “This is my last birth. Among all the devas and humans, I am the most honorable and excellent. In this lifetime, I will benefit devas and humans, and vow to bring universal salvation to all sentient beings.” Do remember that while a person is still young, it is still possible that he or she retains some memories from a past-life. Also, when he said “I”, he did not mean Shakyamuni or that physical body he was in. He referred it to the inherently enlightened true self within all sentient beings. Knowing Shakyamuni was born, the wise man Asita Rshi who lived on the Fragrant Mountain, came to offer his greetings. He then divined: “I see that the prince has the thirty-two marks and eight good points of an enlightened sage. With these marks and good points, in a worldly life he will become a Wheel-Turning Sage King. If he leaves home, he will achieve omniscience and bring salvation on a wide scale to devas and humans. Your Majesty, I divine that your son will attain true enlightenment, turn the wheel of the Great Dharma and open the eyes of the world.” Upon hearing that, the King was worried as he hoped the son would inherit the throne. He used his full ability to give so much luxury to the prince that he would not even think of leaving home. Shakyamuni was able to talk from birth, developed quickly and mastered many teachings such as philosophy, mathematics, martial arts, astronomy, geography, the classics, commentaries, divining, philology, music, dance, contemporary arts, painting, literature, etc. You could probably even call him a prodigy child. Shakyamuni even made his tutors feel inferior because he had huge insights and could point out errors in books. At 14, he tamed a great elephant. At 15, he was made the heir to the throne, a Crown prince. IT was clear that Shakyamuni had a level of wisdom surpassing that iof normal people. Seeing some signs, he asked, “What is a human life for, why does such a cruel world exist? What is the ultimate meaning of life in the universe?” Feeling aversion to the world, he transcended into a deep contemplation state. At 17, the King gave him two beautiful girls, Yashodara and Gopika. However, Shakyamuni was not entranced at all by these two beauties, neither by the great palaces that the King had built for him. This even made the consorts suspect that Shakymuni was not a male at heart (of course, it was simply due to the case that he had already penetrated the truth of beauty). When he was 19 years old, he saw the signs of suffering outside the palace. He wanted to leave the royal palace, but the King grew desperate and prohibited him. Shakyamuni then considered the “annihilation/nihilistifc view”. If there is no ruler, then the meaning of life is worthless and purposeless. But then he thought, if a ruler had the power to control things, why make this world and human life so miserable a form? This was known as the “eternalist/theistic view”. He pondered these two views but could not get an answer, and hence became more desperate to leave the palace in search for the answer. The King tried to salvage the situation and told Shakyamuni that if he could have a son with Yashodhara, the consort, then he would reconsider it as he would then have a heir to the throne. According to the records, he simply pointed at Yashodhara’s belly and she immediatley became pregnant. This son was later known as Rahula, who was also enlightened. Having been able to bear a heir, Shakyamuni then left the palace, going into the mountains to study the path. Be very observant here: Shakyamuni did not forsake his duties as a filial son. He bore a son in order to rest his father’s worried mind about a heir to the country’s throne. To simply forsake the throne would be an utter irresponsibility that could throw the country into chaos. Having settled his affairs, while the wives and guards were sleeping, his groom Chandaka saddled a swift horse and Shakyamuni leaped over the north wall on his horse. This is an amazing feat: Would you have left a palace of riches and prosperity to seek the answer for enlightenment? Can you do it? This was how dedicated he was to seeking the Path. Shakyamuni then found the ascetic Bhargava. He made a vow at that point: “If I do not finish with birth and death, I will never return to the palace.” He removed his ornaments, necklace, swords, beard, hair and put on an ascetic robe, much to the dismay of Chandaka. Bhargava taught that by afflicting pai on oneself, one would receive the blessings of heaven. Shakyamuni did not agree, so he spent one night at Bhargava’s place and then departed after that. He then cultivated the Indian method of meditative concentration, known as “Samadhi without thought” (3 years). However, he realized that obliterating thought was not the answer. He realizxed that this kind of no-thought experiential realm was still within the confines of one’s mind. He still wanted to find the root of the mind. He then went to Aratakalama, and mastered the “Samadhi of Neither Thought Nor No-Thought” (3 years). This means that on one-hand, he has ceased ordinary mental activity but on the other hand, he was still able to be aware or everything happening. He then wondered, “Is there a self or is there no-self? If there is a self, then this samadhi is not liberated. If one cannot abandon the form of self and the concept of self, how can one reach genuine liberation?” Hence, he also abandoned this practice. He then realized that no teacher was genuinely enlightened. At this point, the King Suddhodana was worried and sent five officials to try and persuade Shakyamuni to go back to the palace. Funnily, these five officials became the five great disciples of Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni practiced quiet sitting and contemplation, cultivating austerities where he would only eat a single sesame seed or grain of rice for his meal. He did not get up to walk, his eyes were unblinking and his mind was free of fear. However he was so emaciated he started to look like a skeleton. His body was so feeble and weak it looked like he was about to die. After six years, he suddenly realized that this practice was no different from the previous austerities and abandoned it. He was about 30 years old right now. He then left the forest of ascetics and then accepted an offering of rice gruel from a herd girl, Nadapala. When the five others heard of it, they thought Shakyamuni had broken and did not sustain the austerieties, hence they left him to go and practice on their own. The strangest thing was that after the rice gruel, he recovered his physical strength and he felt that his body and mind was extraordinarily happy. He then sat down under the pipala tree (also known as the Bodhi tree). He swore, “I will not get up until I experience inherent true enlightenment.” After 48 days, due to his previous meditative cultivation, he entered a realm of meditative contemplation. On the 7th day of the 12th lunar month, all sorts of demonic realms of delusion appeared before him: Desires for wealth and sensory pleasures arose, as well as the fear of birth and death. Mara did everything in his power, but in the end, even the very-beautiful female demons were vanquished by his concentration power. He then acquired the Siddhis that were born vanquishing the realm of Mara. Reaching the realm of the 6 spiritual powers, his body and mind emitted a great light. When he saw the bright star (the Sun) appear on the morning of the next day, he emptied completely and experienced perfect, supreme enlightenment. He excalimed, “How strange! All sentient beings are equipped with the characteristics of the wisdom of the Tathagatas (Thus-Gone-Ones), but because of the clingings to false thought, they cannot realize them.” At this point, he wanted to enter nirvana immediately. However, the devas came in great numbers and pleaded him to remain and teach. Shakyamuni said, “Stop. My Dharma is so wondrous that it is inconceivable.” Do realize that it is a figure of speech, so it is not actually “non-understandable”, just that we really need to work our body and minds to be able to understand it, not through logical concepts. Since he was begged by the devas, he then disseminated the teachings to the world. He started with the ffive ascetics, and preached the Four Noble Truths. In his first stay of 3 months, he acquired 56 faithful disciples. The three brothers of orthodox brahmanism brought thousands of disciples to take refuge. Shariputra and Maudgalyayana then brought along a hundred disciples. Shakyamuni then assembled the 1250 home-leavers to be his basic disciples (also known in suttas as the 1250 Bhiksus) - the original Sangha. Mahakashyapa, the First Patriarch of Zen, later also became a follower of the Buddha. There were four divisions: 1. Male home-leavers (Bhiksus) 2. Female home-leavers (Bhikhunis) 3. Male householders (Upsasakas) 4. Female householders (Upaasikas) Soon after converting a few others, he then taught his father, his aunt, his spouse Yashodhara, Ananda, Devadatta, Ahorudra and Rahula. There were 10 great disciples, known for their respective abilities: 1. Shariputra - Knowledge 2. Maudgalyayana - Siddhis 3. Mahakashyapa - Asceticism 4. Aniruddha - Clairvoyance 5. Subhuti - Wisdom of Emptiness 6. Purna - Preaching of Dharma 7. Katyayana - Discouring on meanings 8. Upali - Upholding the precepts 9 Rahula (son) - Esoteric practices 10. Ananda (cousin) - Listening and remembering Shakyamuni made no distinctions between monks and nuns, monastics and laypeople, high-rankers and low-rankers, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, smart or dumb. While there are certainly more than 1250 as mentioned in the suttas each time, there is no way to count the numerous people who took refuge. Spending 49 years teaching the Dharma, he had lived to 80 years. He then lay on his right side and entered final nirvana under the twin pala trees. This great teacher passed away at 490-480BC. Strangely, while Buddha was placed in the golden coffin, he extended his foot to lay Mahakashyapa’s mind at rest, then entered back into profound stillness. Ananda once grieved and asked, “What should we do if you are no longer here to teach?” The Buddha replied that when he was gone, the precepts of discipline will remain the teacher. After the Buddha’s passing, there were 500 Arhattas. Mahakashyapa was then elected as the chief of the assembly. The 10 great disciples then coordinated their efforts to produce the Vinaya (modernly known as the code of conduct.) After this, Ananda recited the Dharma teachings from his perfect memory. With Vaspa (one of the first five disciples of the Buddha), the others not in this group held one of their own and made their own collection of Buddhist scriptures. What is important to note is that Shakyamuni Buddha has never taught by writing, but only by wpoken words, according to the situation of the individual. When King Kanishka too over, 500 arhats, 500 bodhisattvas and 500 savants were called to the Jandhara Temple to resemble the Tripitaka (sutras, vinaya, shashtras). After the Buddha passed away, sects and divisions started to surface due to the differences in doctrines and things what they have learned differnetly from the Buddha. When you’ve read Buddha’s life, you realize that he was an ordinary man, albeit exception since he was a high deva before - but he eventually transcended humanity and beame a Buddha. He also had experiences of the hassles of ordinary life, having a child, spouse problems, family problems, etc. BUt despite all this, he repaid the benevolence of the parents, the nation, sentient beings and the enlightened ones. King Ashoka was a protector of the Dharma and sent Buddhist teachers out to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia and Central Asia. The two Dharma-teachers, Kahsyapa-Matanga and Dharmaraksha were invited into the Han imperial capital of China, introducing Buddhism to China formally.