Gautama Buddha

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Gautama Buddha : biography

c. 563 BCE – c. 483 BCE

According to the most traditional biography, Buddha was born in a royal Hindu family to King Śuddhodana, the leader of Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing Kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha’s lifetime. Gautama was the family name. His mother, Queen Maha Maya (Māyādevī) and Suddhodana’s wife, was a Koliyan princess. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side, and ten months later Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a sal tree.

The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated in Theravada countries as Vesak.Turpie, D. 2001. Wesak And The Re-Creation of Buddhist Tradition. Master’s Thesis. Montreal, Quebec: McGill University. (p. 3). Available from: . Retrieved 17 November 2006. Buddha’s birth anniversary holiday is called "Buddha Poornima" in India as Buddha is believed to have been born on a full moon day. Various sources hold that the Buddha’s mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhattha), meaning "he who achieves his aim". During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man. By traditional account, this occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita’s hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. Suddhodana held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. Kaundinya (Pali: Kondañña), the youngest, and later to be the first arahant other than the Buddha, was reputed to be the only one who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.Narada (1992), p11-12

While later tradition and legend characterized Śuddhodana as a hereditary monarch, the descendant of the Solar Dynasty of Ikshvaku (Pāli: Okkāka), many scholars think that Śuddhodana was the elected chief of a tribal confederacy.

Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest, which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the human condition.Sue Hamilton, Early Buddhism: A New Approach: The I of the Beholder. Routledge 2000, page 47. At the time, many small city-states existed in Ancient India, called Janapadas. Republics and chiefdoms with diffused political power and limited social stratification, were not uncommon amongst them, and were referred to as gana-sanghas.Romila Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India: From Origins to AD 1300. Penguin Books, 2002, page 137. The Buddha’s community does not seem to have had a caste system. It was not a monarchy, and seems to have been structured either as an oligarchy, or as a form of republic.Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, pages 49-50. The more egalitarian gana-sangha form of government, as a political alternative to the strongly hierarchical kingdoms, may have influenced the development of the Shramana-type Jain and Buddhist sanghas, where monarchies tended toward Vedic Brahmanism.Romila Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India: From Origins to AD 1300. Penguin Books, 2002, page 146.

Early life and marriage

Siddhartha was born in a royal Hindu family. He was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati.Narada (1992), p14 By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince, and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built for him. Although more recent scholarship doubts this status, his father, said to be King Śuddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, is said to have shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering.