From Renunciation to Buddhahood

Shakyamuni, originally named Siddhartha Gautama, was a man born in the sixth century BCE in the kingdom of Kapilavastu (now located in Nepal). His father was the king of Kapilavastu at that time. “Shakyamuni” is the name of his clan, and “muni” means saint or sage. “Shakyamuni” is the title given to him by people after he achieved enlightenment.

According to legend, when Shakyamuni’s mother, Queen Maya, was about to give birth, she followed the custom of returning to her parents’ home. However, on the way, she passed by the beautiful Lumbini Garden and saw a magnificent tree. As she reached out with her left hand to touch the tree’s branch, Prince Siddhartha was born. The site of the Lumbini Garden is now protected by the Nepalese government as a Buddhist pilgrimage site, welcoming Buddhists from all over the world.

According to the “Jin Gang Xian Ji,” at the time of Shakyamuni’s birth, there were three auspicious signs: first, he was born walking without touching the ground; second, lotus flowers bloomed wherever he stepped; third, when he walked, his feet did not leave any footprints, but instead left an imprint of a thousand-spoke wheel that illuminated the world. It is said that during this time, King Zhou of China saw a multicolored light and was very surprised. He asked his ministers about the meaning of this omen. One of the officials said, “This multicolored light indicates that a great holy man will be born in the West. He will make the world follow and respect him without speaking a word, and his teachings will spread to China a thousand years later.” King Zhou then ordered this event to be engraved on a stone tablet to inform the world.

Mrs. Maya died soon after giving birth to Prince Siddhartha, who was then raised by his aunt. In his old age, King Suddhodana had a son and was overjoyed, hoping that he would become the Wheel-Turning Monarch and unify the world. He hired a famous scholar to teach the prince literature, philosophy, mathematics, military strategy, and martial arts. The young prince was intelligent and learned quickly, mastering all subjects within a few years. He also excelled in physical combat and archery, yet he exhibited a markedly different characteristic from other children his age. He enjoyed contemplating and reflecting on the daily happenings around him, often drawing profound insights.

During a trip, he witnessed a famished and exhausted farmer mercilessly whipping his ox to till the soil. The ox bled profusely from the lashes and insects and worms that were unearthed from the plowing were eaten by birds, which, in turn, were consumed by a vulture. The young prince was struck by the cruelty and inequality of life. On another occasion, he saw an emaciated old man, his body frail and weak, struggling to walk. He also saw a suffering patient on the verge of death, surrounded by wailing mourners carrying a coffin. These scenes of suffering weighed heavily on the young prince’s heart, and he repeatedly asked himself, “Why is life so painful? What is the root cause of suffering, and how can it be alleviated?” Despite his efforts, he could not find answers to his questions.

The prince, therefore, redoubled his efforts in studying and contemplation. Initially, he placed his hope in the Vedic scriptures of the Brahmins, but the texts did not provide the answers he sought. After much contemplation, the prince realized that knowledge and worldly power could not provide a genuine solution to the suffering caused by birth, old age, sickness, and death. This realization plunged him into deeper contemplation, and he resolved to renounce the world.

King Suddhodana could not fathom why his son was so preoccupied with these insoluble problems. He tried to persuade him to abandon his concerns, but he was at a loss to answer the prince’s questions. He hoped that a life of pleasure and beauty would distract his son’s thoughts, so he ordered the prince to marry Princess Yasodhara of a neighboring kingdom when he was sixteen. Six years later, they had a son named Rahula. Nevertheless, Prince Siddhartha remained committed to his goal of finding a path to liberation from suffering, and his determination only grew stronger.

King Suddhodana, upon learning of his son’s inner turmoil, built palaces for him in all four seasons and surrounded him with numerous beautiful women. He hoped that the prince would be swayed by the lure of a luxurious and happy life and would abandon his plans to renounce the world. However, the prince saw these pleasures as fleeting and transient, like a mirage or a burning fire, which only strengthened his resolve to renounce the world. Finally, on a night when the moon was full, he left the palace and his royal life behind.

After that, Prince Siddhartha sat in the cross-legged posture and entered into meditation. For forty-nine days, he faced countless obstacles and distractions from the demon Mara, but the prince remained steadfast and unwavering in his determination. Finally, he overcame the demon and attained enlightenment, realizing the true nature of the mind and breaking free from all delusions and attachments. At dawn, he saw the shining stars and attained supreme enlightenment. At this moment and in this place, Siddhartha became the Buddha, the fully awakened one. The tree under which he attained enlightenment is known as the Bodhi Tree and despite being cut down several times over the past two thousand years, it has miraculously sprouted again and still stands in the outskirts of Gaya, Bihar, India, as a symbol of enlightenment in the hearts of people.

Noun Definitions:

Ten Directions: The Buddhist scriptures refer to the ten directions as the east, west, south, north, southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, up, and down.

Chakravartin: A holy king who rules over the entire world.

Rahula: The son of Gautama Buddha who became a monk at the age of fifteen and later achieved the state of Arhat. He was known as the “foremost in secret practices” among the Buddha’s ten major disciples.

Sangha: Also known as the monastic community, it is a group of monks and nuns who have come together to practice Buddhism.

Karma: The force or power of actions, which determines the nature of one’s future experiences. Good karma results in good outcomes, while bad karma results in negative outcomes.

Joy of Zen: The sense of happiness and joy that arises from deep meditation.

Lotus Position: A posture used for meditation, with two variations: the first is called the ‘defeating Mara’ posture, with the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. The second is the ‘auspicious’ posture, with the left foot on the right thigh and the right foot on the left thigh.