Life Clarity
Siddhārtha Gautama, in Sanskrit, or Siddhāttha Gotama, in Pali, was a spiritual teacher from ancient India and the founder of Buddhism.[1] He is generally recognized by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha (Sammāsambuddha) of our age. The time of his birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians date his lifetime from circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE; more recently, however, at a specialist symposium on this question,[2] the majority of those scholars who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha's death, with others supporting earlier or later dates.

Gautama, also known as Śākyamuni or Shakyamuni (“sage of the Shakyas”), is the key figure in Buddhism, and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules were said to have been summarized after his death and memorized by the sangha. Passed down by oral tradition, the Tripitaka, the collection of teachings attributed to Gautama by the Theravada, was committed to writing about 400 years later. "Scholars are increasingly reluctant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life and teachings."

The Great Enlightenment

After asceticism and concentrating on meditation and Anapana-sati (awareness of breathing in and out), Siddhartha is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata, who wrongly believed him to be the spirit that had granted her a wish, such was his emaciated appearance. Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. Kaundinya and the other four companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment; according to some traditions, this occurred approximately in the fifth lunar month, and according to others in the twelfth. Gautama, from then on, was known as the Buddha or "Awakened One." Buddha is also sometimes translated as "The Enlightened One." Often, he is referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha or "The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan."

At this point, he realized complete awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering which was ignorance, along with steps necessary to eliminate it. These truths were then categorized into the Four Noble Truths; the state of supreme liberation—possible for any being—was called Nirvana. He then came to possess the Nine Characteristics, which are said to belong to every Buddha.

According to one of the stories in the Āyācana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1), a scripture found in the Pāli and other canons, immediately after his Enlightenment, the Buddha was wondering whether or not he should teach the Dharma to human beings. He was concerned that, as human beings were overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, they would not be able to see the true dharma, which was subtle, deep and hard to understand. However, a divine spirit, Brahmā Sahampati, interceded and asked that he teach the dharma to the world, as "there will be those who will understand the Dharma". With his great compassion to all beings in the universe, the Buddha agreed to become a teacher.


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This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Transformation. The Official Guide to Transformation is Christopher Carrick. Christopher Carrick works with people who are undergoing spiritual transformation. Sometimes this shows up as a life crisis, such as the breakup of a relationship, struggles in their work or dealing with the dying process.

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