picture of a wallpainting in a Laotian temple,...
picture of a wallpainting in a Laotian temple, depicting the Bodhisattva Gautama (Buddha-to-be) undertaking extreme ascetic practices before his enlightenment. A god is overseeing his striving, and providing some spiritual protection. The five monks in the background are his future ‘five first disciples’, after Buddha attained Full Enlightenment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddha (Skt. “awakened or enlightened one”)

The Buddha began as Prince Gotama Siddhartha, born of the brahmin caste (c.563-483 BCE), likely in the Mountain valleys between what is now India and Nepal.

His father was a king (raja) who apparently sheltered him from the vicissitudes of life outside the royal palace.

When Gotama reached 29 he left his wife and traveled beyond the borders of his insular world.

Legend has it that upon seeing death and disease outside the palace gates, he became disillusioned with his father’s rose-tinted restrictions.

Siddhartha resolved to find Truth. At first he explored the opposite of his formerly privileged life by becoming stringently ascetic, eating only a few grains of rice to survive. But this didn’t bring him enlightenment as he came to understand it.

After much inner and outer experimentation he advocated a middle-way between the extremes of excess and renunciation. He is said to have found enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi Tree, thus becoming a Buddha.

Over the next 40 years he taught his disciples the dhamma and the world religion of Buddhism was born.

Although Christianity is often criticized for being based on scriptures written 45 to possibly 140 years after the death of Jesus, for some odd reason few of these critics seem equally concerned that Buddhist scriptures were not written until some 300-400 years after the death of Gotama.

As for the idea of “enlightenment” or being “awake,” many people use these terms probably with different meanings. We probably have no way to understand exactly what the Buddha found, the true nature of his inner experience, etc. And with so many schools of Buddhism existing today, its hard to know just how effectively they can facilitate the kind of altered psychological state that the Buddha, himself, actually encountered.



  1. Actually, the original sources of the Buddha’s teaching were memorized by his immediate disciples and normalized immediately after his departure. True, they were not written down immediately, but people had much sharper memories in those days. The processes for attaining enlightenment given by the Buddha are quite clear and easy to follow. There are excellent English translations of the Theravāda Suttas that allow anyone to duplicate the Buddha’s experiments in consciousness for himself.


  2. You make a good point about the oral memory being far more important in ancient times. I must admit that Buddhism wasn’t my strongest subject when I was a student in India. Not that I wasn’t interested. But I was deep into the Gita at the time, and I guess my exam marks reflected that! Since then I’ve tried to brush up on everything I missed. 🙂


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