Buddhism began in India about 2,500 years ago. Around the year 566 BC, a Prince named Siddhartha Gautama was born in the small kingdom of Kapilavastu. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya.
Soon after Prince Siddhartha was born, wise men predicted that he would become either a great enlightened being or mighty king. When the father heard this, he was deeply disturbed., for he wanted his son to become only a great ruler. He told Queen Maya, "I will make life in the palace so pleasant that our son will never want to leave and he will stay and eventually become king."
At the age of sixteen, Prince Siddhartha married a beautiful princess, Yasodhara. The king built them three palaces, one for each season, and lavished them with luxuries. They passed their days in enjoyment and never thought about life outside the palace.
Siddhartha became disillusioned with palace life and wanted to see the outside world. Unbeknown to his father, he made four trips outside the palace and saw four things that changed his life. On the first three trips, he saw sickness, old age and death. He asked himself, "How can I enjoy a life of pleasure when there is so much suffering in the world?"
On his fourth trip, he saw a wandering monk who had given up everything he owned to seek an end to suffering. Siddhartha was moved by this monk and decided to follow the ascetic path.
Leaving his kingdom and loved ones behind, Siddhartha became a wandering monk. He cut off his hair to show that he had renounced the worldly lifestyle and called himself Gautama.. In his search for truth, he studied with the wisest teachers of his day. None of them knew how to end suffering, so he continued the search on his own.
For six years he practiced severe asceticism thinking this would lead him to enlightenment. He sat in meditation and ate only roots, leaves and fruit. At times he ate nothing. He could endure more hardships than anyone else, but this did not take him anywhere. He thought, "Neither my life of luxury in the palace nor my life as an ascetic in the forest is the way to freedom. Overdoing things can not lead to happiness. " He began to eat nourishing food again and regained his strength.
On a full-moon day in May, he sat under the Bodhi tree in deep meditation and said. "I will not leave this spot until I find an end to suffering." During the night, he struggled with many temptations. As the struggle ended, he realized the cause of suffering and how to remove it. He had gained the most supreme wisdom and understood things as they truly are. He became the Buddha, 'The Awakened One'. From then on, he was called Shakyamuni Buddha.
After his enlightenment, he went to the Deer Park near the holy city of Benares and shared his new understanding with five holy men. They understood immediately and became his disciples. This marked the beginning of the Buddhist community.
For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples went from place to place in India spreading the Dharma, his teachings. Wherever the Buddha went, he won the hearts of the people because he dealt with their true feelings. He advised them not to accept his words on blind faith, but to decide for themselves whether his teachings are right or wrong, then follow them. He encouraged everyone to have compassion for each other and develop their own virtue, "You need to do your own work, for I can teach only the way."
Shakyamuni Buddha died around 486 BC at the age of eighty. Although he has left the world, the spirit of his kindness and compassion remains.
The Buddha realized that that he was not the first to become a Buddha. "He said, There have been many Buddhas before me and will be many Buddhas in the future. All living beings have the Buddha nature and can become Buddhas." For this reason, he taught the way to Buddhahood.
The two main goals of Buddhism are getting to know ourselves and learning the wisdom teachings. To know who we are, we need to understand that we have two natures. One is called our ordinary nature, which is made up of unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and jealousy. The other is our true nature, the part of us that is pure, wise, and perfect. In Buddhism, it is called the Buddha nature. The only difference between us and the Buddha is that we have not awakened to our true nature.