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Life and Personality

Siddhaartha was a kshatriya prince of the Saakhya clan, born in Kapilavastu, a hundred miles north of Vaaranaasi circa 567 BC. His father was Suddhodhana and his family gotram was Gautama. His mother Mahayaapati died when he was seven days old and he was brought up by his father's second wife. It's said he married his cousin Yashodhara and had a son Raahula.

Early in life the burden and mystery of this unintelligible world pressed upon him with considerable force. The transience and uncertainty of life made him conscious of the black depths in which the multitudes of human beings perish in darkness and sin. The four signs which he met on the road to Kapliavastu left a sting on his sensitive nature : 1. An aged man bowed down by years,
2. The sick man scorched by fever,
3. The corpse followed by grieving mourners and
4. The wandering mendicant (samnyaasin) who had renounced the world to seek the Truth.

Impressed by the emptiness of the things of sense and "for the sake of which brahmins relinquish the desire for posterity, possessions, worldly prosperity and go forth as mendicants", Siddhaartha made the great renunciation at the age of twenty nine. The popular story describes the act with great force. It's said that he arose at midnight, went to the door of his wife's chamber and saw her sleeping resting one hand on her baby's head. He had wished to take his son in his arms for a last embrace, but the fear of waking the young mother withheld him. He turned away and fled into the night in search for light.

In conformity with the ancient Bhaarathiya custom he adopted the ascetic's life as a wandering seeker of truth. Donning the ochre robe and begging for food, he wandered down the streets of the ancient land seeking for light and peace. It's said he initially joined up with two brahmin samnyaasins, Alara Kalama and Uddhaka Ramaputta, from whom he learnt dharma (ethics, virtue, duty etc), vinaya (discipline) and meditation. Voyaging through the strange seas of thought alone, he tried to find spiritual rest with philosophic thought - in vain, as subtle dialectics are no cure for mental unrest. Turning to bodily austerities, Siddhaartha withdrew with five faithful friends to the jungles of Uruvela where he practiced fasting and other severe physical mortification. He could not gain any solace from it and after six years was convinced of the futility of such a path.

Wealth, philosophy and the austerity of asceticism were weighed in the balance and found wanting. With a body purified by abstinence, a mind refined by humility and a heart attuned to solitude, he took to meditation. He seated himself under the Bodhi tree in Gaya facing the East, resolving never to arise till he'd found the answer to the sorrows of the world. He meditated for seven weeks, with the mind fixed on the purpose of attaining supreme and absolute wisdom. He persisted in meditation and passed through the four stages of contemplation culminating in pure self-possession and equanimity. In the last watch of the night, "As I sat there earnest, strenuous and resolute, ignorance was destroyed and knowledge was arisen ..." - Siddhaartha had become the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Without troubling himself with the subtleties of metaphysics, he preached the ethical way, so that he might save the masses of men living in sin and infamy. There was no need to appease a superhuman God with cruel sacrifices to escape the sorrows of the world. Nor was there need for logical hair splitting and metaphysical speculation about the nature of the Self and the universe. Salvation can be won by ethical perfection and meditation. He delivered his first sermon on the Dharma chakra pravartana or setting in motion the Wheel of the Law to his five ascetic friends in the holy city of Vaaranaasi. They became the first members of the Bauddha Sangha or the Buddhist Order. The serenity and gentleness of his face, the beauty and dignity of his life, the earnestness and enthusiasm of his love, the wisdom and eloquence of his message won the hearts of men and women alike.

Thousands enrolled themselves among his adherents. With a singular gentleness he presented his views and left the rest to the persuasive power of truth. His was a religion of reason as he stressed, "as the wise test gold by burning, rubbing and cutting it, so are you to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me". He was a naastika or one who didn't accept the authority of the Vedas. He would not let his adherents refuse the burden of spiritual liberty. They must not abandon the search for the truth by accepting an authority, but must be free men able to be a light and a help to themselves. The highest authority is the voice of the spirit in us.

Much of the Buddha's activity was concerned with the instruction of his disciples and the organization of the order. Missionaries were sent in all directions to teach the dharma. The Buddha was the world's first proselytizer, converting brahmins, Jainaas and other assorted spiritualists to the Middle Way.

The death of the Buddha is the oldest recorded date in the history of Bhaarath. The Compassionate One, worn out with toil and travel of forty five years of teaching, passed away in town of Kusinagara about a hundred and twenty miles north east of Vaaranaasi at the age of eighty in 483BC. His last words reportedly were, "Be diligent. All composites are transient in nature". Judged by intellectual integrity, moral earnestness and spiritual insight, he's without doubt one of the greatest figures in history.