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Siddartha was born in the kingdom of Kapilavastu, in northern India (present-day Nepal), in the Sakhyas dynasty. He was the son of King Sudodhama and Queen Maya Devi. According to custom, Suddhodana called a sage to see his son. “Supernatural signs indicate that this newborn will either be a great ascetic or become a great King,” said the seer. Hearing these words, Suddhodana decided to protect his son from the outside world and confined him to the palace, where he surrounded him with pleasures and riches. Then the inevitable happened. Despite his father’s efforts, Gautama one day left the palace.
He saw four things that changed his life forever: an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a renunciate. Knowing that the first three were not strange visions but the inevitable fate of all human beings, Siddartha was deeply moved. At thirty, he decided to give up the luxury of palace life to find the answer to the problem of human pain and suffering. He approached his sleeping wife and son and said goodbye to them in silence. Later, both would become his disciples.
Siddartha carried out various spiritual practices to realize his true Self. First he encountered four ascetics who practiced their disciplines with great intensity. He decided to join them and lead a life of extreme renunciation in the woods. But he soon concluded that such an existence did not lead to peace and self-realization, but simply weakened the mind and body. This is where another of the central points of the teachings of Buddhism comes from: the middle path. From his experience in the palace and in the woods, Buddha concludes that the path is neither at the extreme of sensual pleasures nor at the end of austerities and penances.
After seven years of searching, he decides to sit in meditation with the unwavering determination not to move until he has understood and realized the true nature of the Self. While in deep meditation under a fig tree known as the Bodhi tree (tree of wisdom), Gautama he experienced the highest degree of consciousness called Nirvana. In his own words: “The reality that came to me is profound and difficult to see or understand because it is beyond thought.” From his illumination, Siddartha Gautama was known as the Buddha, “the Enlightened One”.
At the beginning of his teaching, he soon had many disciples in India since the Hindu majority had been separated by ritualistic brahmanism. Buddha proclaimed his message for 45 years and established his community of disciples or Sangha. He died at eighty on the full moon of May. This May day is the most sacred for Buddhists, since on it not only was Buddha born and died, but he also obtained his illumination.
By the time of his death, Buddhism had become a major force in India. Three centuries later it had spread to all of Asia. The Buddha never claimed to be a deity but rather a guide or “wayposter.”
“You who are slaves of the self, that provide service from sun to shade, living in constant fear at birth, old age, disease and death, receive the good news: his cruel master does not exist.”