Life of Gautama Buddha
There is no contemporary and authentic account of the life of Gautama Buddha except a few data provided by the Buddhist Sutras. We have to depend upon comparatively later works for details of Buddha’s life. The `Sutta Nipata’ and the ‘Jatakas’ throw some scattered and scanty light on Buddha’s life. The ‘Buddha Charita’ of Asvaghosha is a late work but a complete biography of Buddha. But modern scholars criticize some of the data narrated by Asvaghosha.
Early Life of Gautama Buddha
Gautama was born in 566 B.C. at Lumbinivana in the Sakya country, situated in region of Nepalese Terai. His father Suddhodana was a Kshatriya. He was a chief of the Sakya clan. Popular legends of later date represent Gautama as the son of a mighty king. But the Sakyas had a republican constitution. So it is presumed that Suddhodana, the father of Gautama was probably an elected chief. Gautama’s mother was Maya, who died seven days after Gautama’s birth.
Gautama had a sound schooling in his early life. He earned an extra-ordinary proficiency in archery and other princely virtues. He lived a life full of ease and luxury. He was married to Yashodhara, or Gopa, sister of Devadatta, at the age of sixteen. When Gautama attained the age Of 29, a son was born to him, and the boy was named Rahula.
Renunciation of the life of a householder
With the passing of years, Gautama contemplated on the fundamental questions of life. A sense of unfruitfulness of worldly pleasure dawned on him. According to the later texts, the idea of renouncing the worldly life occurred to his mind when he saw “four great signs”—an old man, a cripple, an ascetic and a corpse.
Gautama became aware of the sufferings that torment human life. However the early Buddhist texts do not refer to the above mentioned signs that led to Buddha’s retirement from household life. It is only stated that Gautama realized the limitations of home life. So he renounced worldly life and became an ascetic and started to search the Truth. In his ascetic life Gautama refrained from doing any wrong to any in his thought, word and deed’. This renunciation of worldly life by Gautama is known in Buddhist scriptures as “Mahabhinishkramana”.
Life of an Ascetic and the Attainment of Supreme Knowledge
Gautama learnt the doctrines of Sankhya philosophy from an ascetic named Arada Kalama at Vaisali. He learnt the art of meditation from Rudraka Ramputra at Rajgriha. Then he proceeded to Uruvilla and began to practice rigorous penance.
His health deteriorated due to extreme privation. One day he was almost on the point of death due to physical exhaustion. Then he decided to take food, just what was necessary to sustain his body. While Gautama was sitting under a Pipal Tree at Uruvilla, he was offered milk by a milkmaid named Sujata. After accepting this nourishment, he sat in deep meditation with the resolve not to rise from his seat till he had attained the Enlightenment.
It was under that Pipal Tree that Gautama at last realized the Truth or Bodhi. He earned the name of Buddha (the enlightened one). For seven days he remained in a blissful mood for his newly acquired knowledge. Then he decided to expound the Truth to the world at large.
Missionary Life of Gautama Buddha
Buddha proceeded at first to Sarnath near Benaras. He delivered his first sermon to five learned Brahamanas. This is represented in the Buddhist literature as “turning the Wheel of Law” (Dharma-Chakra‑Pravartana). Buddha embraced the life of a missionary and a preacher of Truth. It covered a period of 45 years. From Sarnath, he proceeded to Benaras and initiated a number of people to his creed. Then he proceeded to Rajgriha. He lived a considerable period of time at that place refuting the creeds of the Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical sects. He also initiated a large number of people to his creed. Buddha converted to his creed many illustrious disciples like Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, Sariputta, Maudgalyana etc. Buddha visited various parts of Magadhan country like Gaya, Nalanda, and Pataliputra etc.
Spread of Buddhism in Kosala
Though the foundation of Buddha’s religion was laid in Magadha, its full development took place in Kosala where Buddha lived for 21 years. Buddha preached most of his sermons from the Jatavana vihara in Kosala. Brahmanism has a strong foothold in the Kosala country. Buddha had to labour hard to gain a footing in Kosala. Buddha lived at the Jatavana monastery which a rich disciple had purchased for him. King Prasenjit of Kosala listened to Buddha’s discourses and one of his queens Mallika and his two sisters became Buddha’s disciples.
Apart from these important places, Buddha visited Kapilavastu. He initiated members of his own family to his creed. While staying at Vaisali, Buddha converted the famous courtesan Ambapali to his faith. It was at Vaisali that Buddha gave his consent to the formation of the order of nuns (Bhikshuni samgha).
Buddha’s preaching’s made a great impact in Magadha and Videha and Kosala. He appears to have lesser success in the Malla and Vatsa countries than in Magadha. He did not visit Avanti kingdom. According to a legend, he refused to go there. ‘Mahaparinirvana Sutta’ states that Buddha made his last journey to Kushinara, the capital of the Mallas. The great prophet died in 487 B.C. or 486 B.C. there at age of eighty. According to the same text Buddha died at Kushinara after pertaking of a particular food offered by a Sudra. After eating this food the great teacher fell ill and died. Some scholars interpret the particular food as pigment, while others interpret it as a particular root.