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The Journey of Prince Siddhartha to Buddhahood

Phuntsog Dolma (Ph. D)

Millennia years ago the world witnessed the birth of a great teacher whose profound insight proved to be a source of light for the ignorant world. There were different opinions among the scholars regarding the period that Gautama Buddha lived. Some scholars believe that he was born in the year 623 B.C while some others regard his birth date from 563 to 483 B.C. Siddhartha Gautama was born to king Suddhodana and queen Mahamaya of Sakya clan in Lumbini grove located in present day Nepal. But just after a week of his birth queen Mahayamaya passed away and the young prince was looked after by Mahaprajapati Gautami who in relation happened to be the sister of queen Mahamaya. The Sakya clan belongs to the Kshatriya class who according to the Hindu varna system were born to be rulers, warriors and administrators. Therefore, when Prince Siddhartha was born his father like any other king wished his son to be his successor and look after the kingdom of Kapilavastu but to his dismay the young prince left the life of the householder and chose the path of renunciation at the later stage of his life.

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The Buddhist legends and Buddha’s biographies mention that at the time of his birth a prophesy was made which states that the young prince would either become a universal monarch (Chakravartin Raja) or a great seer who will be a torchbearer for the universe. In the text ‘2500 years of Buddhism’ by P.V Bapat it is mentioned that ‘A sage named Asita visited King Suddhodana’s palace and expressed his desire to see the child. After witnessing some unique auspicious marks on the child’s body Asita laughed and shed tears of sorrow. He laughed, he said, owing to his joy that a savior had come to the earth for the salvation of the people and shed tears because he would not have the good fortune to live long enough to see the achievements of the child.’ Hearing upon the prophesy, King Suddhodana got distressed and decided to restrict the young prince from the scenes of worldly sufferings and surrounded him with all kinds of materialistic luxuries.

Subsequently, when prince Siddhartha attained the age of 16 he got married to his cousin Yasodhara who later gave birth to a baby boy whose name was Rahula. Though King Suddhodana put all his efforts in protecting the young prince’s mind from getting distracted towards the religious path but all his attempt went in vain when one day at the age of 29 the young prince seeing the suffering nature of all existence decided to renounce his luxurious princely life and follow the path of an ascetic.

Buddhist historical texts and legends mention various reasons for prince Siddhartha’s renunciation the most popular ones are his encounter with the four passing sights that is old age, sickness, death and his encounter with a wandering ascetic. Other reason was the compassionate nature of the prince towards all sentient beings. As he grew up, the prince witnessed cases of partiality, inequality, corruption and events of wars being waged among the different kingdoms that resulted to the death of so many innocent people and such scene created a sense of remorse and discomfort in the Prince Siddharta’s mind. Therefore, these events of his life urged him to comprehend the truth of the world around him and consequently one day the young prince decided to renounce his princely life and set on his spiritual quest.

Prince Siddhartha’s journey of renunciation began with seeking study of religious philosophies under renowned teachers like Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra. After going through an arduous austerity for six long years, finally on the full moon day of Vesak month, prince Siddhartha attained the state of Bodhi (Bodhi is a Sanskrit word which means Awakened or Enlightened one) under the Peepal tree which today is popularly known as Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. Today, he is universally known as the Shakyamuni Buddha. Thereafter, he continued teaching his Dhamma among his disciples for 45 years until Mahaparinirvana (passing away). The profound path that he discovered was not only for one’s own liberation and happiness but is based on the welfare and happiness of all the sentient beings which in pali known as Bahujana-hitaya bahujana-sukhaya which in turn illustrates his philosophy of Dependent Origination. If we summarize the Shakyamuni Buddha’s philosophy in simpler words, then Shakyamuni Buddha in Dhammapada said

“Commit no evil;

Engage as much in virtuous deeds;

Subdue one’s mind thoroughly;

This is the teaching of the Buddha.”

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