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An introduction to Buddhism and Gothama Buddha, by Ven. Piyadassi Thera

Buddha Story - The Story of Lord Buddha

The Buddha, the founder of the great religious philosophy of Buddhism, lived in North India over two thousand and five hundred years ago and was known as Siddhattha (Siddhartha = one whose purpose has been achieved). Gotama (Sanskrit= Gautama) was his family name. His father, King Suddhodana, ruled over the land of the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu on the Nepalese frontier. His queen was Mahamaya, a princess of the Koliyas.

On a full-moon day of May, when the trees were laden with leaf, flower and fruit, and man, bird and beast were in joyous mood, Queen Mahamaya was travelling in state from Kapilavatthu to Devadaha, her parental home, according to the custom of the times, to give birth to her child. But that was not to be, for halfway between the two cities, in the Lumbini grove, under the shade of a flowering Sal tree, she brought forth a son.

Lumbini or Rummindei, the name by which it is now known, is 100 miles north of Variinasi and within sight of the snowcapped Himalayas. At this memorable spot where Prince Siddhattha, the future Buddha, was born, Emperor Asoka, 316 years after the event, erected a mighty stone pillar to mark the holy spot. The inscription engraved on the pillar in five lines consists of ninety-three Asokan (brahmi) characters, amongst which occurs the following:

'Hida Budhe jate Sakyamuni', 'Here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans'. The mighty column is still to be seen. The pillar, 'as crisp as the day it was cut', had been struck by lightning even when Hiuen Tsiang, the Chinese pilgrim, saw it towards the middle of the seventh century after Christ. The discovery and identification of the Lumbini park in I896 is attributed to the renowned archaeologist, General Cunningham.


Queen Mahamaya, the mother, passed away on the seventh day after the birth of her child, and the baby was nursed by his mother's sister, Pajapati Gotami. Though the child was nurtured till manhood in refinement amid an abundance of material luxury, the father did not fail to give his son the education that a prince ought to receive. He became skilled in many a branch of knowledge, and in the arts of war easily excelled all other. Nevertheless, from his childhood the prince was given to serious contemplation. When the prince grew up the father's fervent wish was that his son should marry, bring up a family and be his worthy successor; but he feared that the prince would one day give up home for the homeless life of an ascetic.

According to the custom of the time, at the early age of sixteen the prince was married to his cousin Yasodhara, the only daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamita of the Koliyas. The princess was of the same age as the prince. Lacking nothing of the earthly joys of life, he lived knowing nothing of sorrow. Yet all the efforts of the father to hold his son a prisoner to the senses and make him worldly-minded were of no avail. King Suddhodana's endeavors to keep life's miseries from his son's inquiring eyes only heightened Prince Siddhattha's curiosity and his resolute search for Truth and Enlightenment.

With the advance of age and maturity the prince began to glimpse the woes of the world. As the books say, he saw four visions: the first was a man weakened with age, utterly helpless; the second was the sight of a man mere skin and bones, supremely unhappy and forlorn, smitten with some pest; the third was the sight of a band of lamenting kinsmen bearing on their shoulders the corpse of one beloved for cremation. These woeful signs deeply moved him. The fourth vision, however, made a lasting impression. He saw a recluse, calm and serene, aloof and independent, and learnt that he was one who had abandoned his home to live a life of purity, to seek Truth and solve the riddle of life. Thoughts of renunciation flashed through the prince's mind and in deep contemplation he turned homeward. The heartthrob of an agonized and ailing humanity found a responsive echo in his own heart. The more he came in contact with the world outside his palace walls, the more convinced he became that the world was lacking in true happiness. In the silence of that moonlit night (it was the full moon of July) such thoughts as these arose in him:

' Youth, the prime of life, ends in old age and man's senses fail him when they are most needed. The hale and hearty lose their vigour and health when disease suddenly creeps in. Finally death comes, sudden perhaps and unexpected, and puts an end to this brief span of life. Surely there must be an escape from this unsatisfactoriness, from aging and death.'

Thus the great intoxication of youth, of health, and of life left him. Having seen the vanity and the danger of the three intoxications, he was overcome by a powerful urge to seek and win the Deathless, to strive for deliverance from old age, illness, misery and death, to seek it for himself and for all beings that suffer. It was his deep compassion that led him to the quest ending in Enlightenment, in Buddhahood. It was compassion that now moved his heart towards the Great Renunciation and opened for him the doors of the golden cage of his home life. It was compassion that made his determination unshakable even by the last parting glance at his beloved wife asleep with their babe in her arms.

Now at the age of twenty-nine, in the flower of youthful manhood, on the day his beautiful Yasodhara, giving birth to his only son, Rahula, made the parting more sorrowful and heart-rending, he tore himself away - the prince with a superhuman effort of will renounced wife, child, father and a crown that held the promise of power and glory, and in the guise of an indigent ascetic retreated into forest solitude to seek the eternal verities of life. 'In quest of the supreme security from bondage-Nibbana'.

This was the great renunciation. Dedicating himself to the noble task of discovering a remedy for life's universal ill, he sought guidance from two famous sages, Nara Kimma and Uddaka Ramaputta, hoping that they, being masters of meditation, would show him the way to deliverance. He practiced concentration and reached the highest meditative attainments possible thereby, but was not satisfied with anything short of supreme enlightenment. Their range of knowledge, their ambit of mystical experience, however, was insufficient to grant him what he earnestly sought. He left them in turn in search of the still unknown.

In his wanderings he finally reached Uruvela, by the river Neranjara at Gaya. He was attracted by its quiet and dense groves and the clear waters of the river. Finding that this was a suitable place to continue his quest for enlightenment, he decided to stay.

Five other ascetics who admired his determined effort waited on him. They were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. There was, and still is, a belief in India among many of her ascetics that purification and final deliverance from ill can be achieved by rigorous self-mortification, and the ascetic Gotama decided to test the truth of it. And so there at Uruvela he began a determined struggle to subdue his body, in the hope that his mind, set free from the shackles of the body, might be able to soar to the heights of liberation. Most zealous was he in these practices.>
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