"The Historical Buddha"


When one of his students asked Buddha, "Are you the messiah?"

"No", answered Buddha.

"Then are you a healer?"

"No", Buddha replied.

"Then are you a teacher?" the student persisted.

"No, I am not a teacher."

"Then what are you?" asked the student, exasperated.

"I am awake", Buddha replied.

In the Zen tradition, Bodhidarma is largely considered to be the one who introduced Buddhism to China. He studied and taught in the Buddhist Tradition, albeit a simpler and more focussed approach. He is said to have had a direct lineage to "The Historical Buddha".

 Who was "The Historical  Buddha"? 

There is a comprehensive range of Cannon, texts, accounts and interpretations of "The Buddha" Shakyamuni's life. According to accounts his name in history was Siddhartha Gautama, although this is spelt a little differently throughout the resources. He was born into royalty and was a prince in the "Shakya" clan.

As a brief introduction, he lived in a world of 'privilege' until he gradually became awakened to the enormous amount of suffering that existed outside of his opulent life. He saw human suffering as well as much suffering in nature. Eventually he could take it no longer and decided to leave the palace and do all he could to find the path that leads out of suffering.

For a time he experimented with various obsessive austerities, eventually realising the importance of basic health and well being as part of the cultivation of practice. One day he had an awakening whilst listening to a musician tuning his instrument. He thought that if a string was too tight it would break. If a string was too loose it would not play. He realised that if the string was neither too tight, not too loose, it would operate effectively. He attuned this basic idea to the cultivation of practice and it eventually became widely known as "The Middle Way". In other words he realised by adopting "The Middle Way" that this teaching could be adapted to all of life's struggles and pain.

With some health now restored, Siddhartha became more determined to confront the causes of suffering and began to sit in meditation for longer and longer periods. As he finally sat in extended determination, it is reported that Siddhartha was able to confront illusion itself which took the form of the Indian god Mara, the Lord of Illusion. From here he experienced all manner of illusions, desires and fears, some of which presented themselves as beautiful women, demons, terrible armies and other apparitions. Siddhartha was able to see through them all as he proceeded relentlessly toward the final enlightenment he was seeking.  During his meditative absorption, Siddhartha gained the knowledge of birth and death, and by casting off the ignorance which had caused all his rebirths, he is said to have transcended karma for all time.

He basically saw that experience is characterised by three qualities, namely Impermanence (anitya), Unsatisfactoriness or Suffering (dukkha), and the lack of a discrete(or inherent) self or essence (anatta).  He realized the Four Noble Truths which would become the basis of all Buddhist teachings:

  1. Our conditioned existence is characterised by suffering and discontent which are woven into the fabric of our daily life.

  2. The cause of this suffering is our habitual craving and desire. (Obsessions and addictions)

  3. It is possible to transcend our suffering by extinguishing defilements such as craving and desire.

  4. There is a path which leads us to the end of suffering and rebirth. In modern Buddhist terms this is known as "The Eightfold Path" of Right Understanding (View), Right Thought (Intention), Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration). The word "Right" has also been interchanged with the word "Wise". As an example this would be "Wise Understanding, Wise Thought" etc. 

With this sublime realisation, it is said that Siddhartha became a "Buddha" which means "The Awakened One", reminding us that "Buddha Nature" can awaken within all of us.

The Buddha's final instructions to his disciples were........

"Always seek emancipation with diligence, destroy the darkness of ignorance with the light of insight, and  promptly reach the abode where there is no separation."


Examples of three contemporary references which provide elaborate detail are:-

1. "Old Path White Clouds" by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is quite a detailed story of over 500 pages, but quite readable and has received good reviews.

2. "The Buddha" by Karren Armstrong

This one has also attracted quite a lot of positive acclaim. Its a much shorter account, perhaps 200 pages or so. It can be read here on Scribd  

3. "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula

This one has been gathering momentum since it's first release is 1959. Professor Walpola Rahula was an academic in Buddhism and related studies. He has combined Theravada and Mahayana tenets to provide a detailed and perhaps universal interpretation of The Buddha's original teachings.

It can also be found here online


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