Life of the Buddha: A spiritual journey


Source: BBC

Controversial dates

Buddhism is largely based on the teachings and philosophy of one man, the Buddha, and his spiritual journey. But tracing a timeline of events for the historical Buddha can be difficult, as the dates are controversial.

Scholars are divided between two dates for his birth – c563 or c448BC – with recent finds suggesting the first is more likely. Some events are firmly agreed: he left home at 29, he attained ‘awakening’ at 35, and he died 45 years later


Apic/Getty Images

Queen Mahayama, Buddha's mother, dreaming of a while elephant. Getty

Buddhist tradition says that Buddha’s mother dreamt of an auspicious white elephant.

The Buddha’s mother was the wife of a leading figure in a small state known by its tribal name, Śākya.

It was a kind of oligarchic republic that was situated on the border of modern day India and Nepal. According to Buddhist tradition, she dreamt that an auspicious white elephant entered her womb.

Birth: Lumbinī, Nepal

The Granger Collection/TopFoto

Birth of the Buddha - Tibetan painting

A Tibetan painting of the birth of the Buddha as he emerges from the side of his mother Queen Maya.

The Buddha emerged from his mother’s side, as she stood leaning against a tree, in a painless and pure birth.

He took seven steps and lotus flowers sprang up in his footsteps. A wise man predicted that this child would be either a great secular ruler or a great religious leader. He was named Siddhārtha (or Sarvārthasiddha), meaning ‘a man who achieves his goals’. His mother died shortly after his birth and he was brought up by his maternal aunt Mahāprajāpati.

Existential crisis: Kapilavastu

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The Buddha meets a sick old man

Tenth century Chinese painting on silk of Prince Siddhartha meeting a sick man.

Siddhartha’s father Śuddhodana wanted his son to become the political ruler predicted at his birth.

So he conspired to protect his son from any religious aspirations by giving him a life of pleasure and privilege, and by preventing him from seeing the harsher sides of reality. His plan eventually failed. Siddhartha managed to explore his society and was profoundly disturbed by finding out about old age, sickness and death. He was also fascinated by the sight of religious people seeking answers to life’s big questions.

Leaving home: To Rājagriha

World History Archive/TopFoto

Great departure of Buddha

Indian depiction of the Buddha’s great departure from Kapilavastu, on his horse Kanthaka, whose hooves are held off the ground by the gods.

Eventually the tensions between cosy and familiar home life and the challenge of suffering and death became too much.

Siddhartha left home on his own, as tradition has it slipping away in the dead of night, leaving his family in despair. In a dramatic moment, deep in the wilderness, he abandoned his horse and cropped his hair. He became a religious wanderer, and sought out the company of others doing the same. He travelled south into the neighbouring kingdom of Magadha (modern Bihar) where he was spotted by the young king Bimbisāra as he begged on the streets in the capital city Rājagriha.

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Categories: budhism, The Muslim Times

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