The Buddha’s teachings, or “Dharma,” exist to help people deal with the afflictions of life—feelings of sorrow, loneliness, emptiness and frustration. Indeed, birth, sickness, old age and death in our lives cause great suffering. Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical teacher who lived 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has survived, thrived and has been passed on to us.
The life of Sakyamuni Buddha
The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama, a prince in a kingdom in northern India. Chosen to be the future king, his father gave him all that he desired in education, training, and luxuries of the palace. His father also sheltered him from the unpleasant experiences of life.
Wandering outside the palace gates one day, Siddhartha discovered that people were subject to sickness, old age and death. He wondered, “Why are we born into human life only to suffer from one painful experience to the next?”
One day, he encountered a monk searching for life’s answers. Siddhartha felt he too must follow a similar path. At age 29, he set out on his search, leaving behind a wife, a son, his parents, and all the comforts of royalty.
He entered a forest and began following severe spiritual disciplines, including long periods of meditation and fasting. After six years of grueling practices that left him emaciated and weak, he felt on the verge of death.
Reflecting on his life, he realized the virtue of the middle path, rather than the extremes of self-renunciation or luxury. With firm determination, he sat under a tree and entered a deep meditation, vowing not to move until he came to a great understanding about life and himself.