By Matt Caron
You’d have to be living under a rock to never hear anything about the Buddha!
His teachings have defined the eastern world and gave shape to China, Japan, Tibet, and India. He has influenced countless billions. The details of the Buddha’s life are not known for certain, but most scholars agree that he was an actual historical figure who lived in northern India around the 5th century BCE. Many of these facts will take you by surprise, and show you just how much depth this powerful historical figure has.
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1) The Prophecy of His Birth
Before Gautama Buddha was born, an astrologer predicted that he would either be a great and known holy man or he will become a great king. In fear of this prediction, his father (a well-known king) prevented him from reading any holy texts or learning about the nature of suffering and the world. He even built three palaces for him with all the luxuries of life so that he did not have any desire to see the outside world.
2) A Prince and a Family
Though Buddha is known to live a very simple life and austere life, many people do not know that he was born as a prince in Nepal. His father, Suddhodhana, was the chief of the Shakya Clan in India, while his mother, Queen Maha Maya, was was the princess of Koli. He was married to Yasodhara and even had a son named Rahula. Buddha’s original name is Siddhartha.
3) The Four Sights
Destined to be a great holy man, Gautama soon became tired of his materialistic life and desired to leave the palace to see the outside world. At the age of 29, while on his ride to see the countryside, he saw four different things during his four different trips outside the palace which he was not aware of. These four things changed Siddhartha’s life completely. In his four trips outside the palace, he saw an old man, a corpse, a sick man, and a wandering ascetic. He was so disturbed at these sites and he wondered how he can enjoy his life so much when there was so much suffering in the world. He realized that he had to leave the palace life and find the answer to suffering, for all mankind.
4) When Siddhartha Looked for Answers
After leaving the palace, Siddhartha struggled to find a teacher who could help him overcome suffering. Finally, he decided to solve it by himself. For around six years he led a life of self-discipline and abstinence by surviving on mere roots, fruits, and raw food. In a very short period of time, Siddhartha mastered the art of Yogic meditation, but nothing seemed to satisfy him.
5) Buddha wasn’t Fat
Buddha was not chubby like many depictions of him would make it appear- he is mainly portrayed this way because it’s symbolic of happiness in the east. He practiced moderation in all things, fasted regularly, and spent most of his time walking hundreds of miles spreading the philosophy of enlightenment.
6) He Invented the ‘Middle Way’ to Enlightenment
At the time of Buddha’s quest for enlightenment, there were many religious practices that called for strict deprivation such as weeks of fasting. Realizing that it wasn’t truly beneficial, he devised what would later be known as “The Middle Way” to enlightenment…a balanced approach that emphasized inward rather than outward renunciation.
After attaining enlightenment, Siddhartha became known as the ‘Buddha’. Simply put, it’s a title used to denote ‘the enlightened one’. Many people have attained this state- both before and after Siddhartha’s life.
8) A Reluctant Teacher
It’s not easy to think that a great teacher like him, who taught the whole world about Buddhism, could be hesitant to teach. Finding enlightenment is not easy to convey in words. But later his compassion swayed him, and he dedicated his life to teaching others.
9) One of a Kind
Unlike most religions or spiritual beliefs, Buddha’s teachings were spread by nonviolent methods such as word of mouth or carvings on prominent stone buildings. Buddha never condoned violence or forced others to follow his path.
10) Buddha was not a God
Practicing Buddhists view Buddha as a teacher and not a god or avatar. What he attained, we can attain.
11) Last Words of Wisdom
With his dying breath, he encouraged his followers to work for their deliverance and told them that happiness is in learning that nothing in the world is permanent. His final request of his followers was: “All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”
12) Re-uniting with His Family
During his journey throughout the world to spread his teachings, Buddha visited his son, father, his devoted wife and his foster mother. Eventually, his family joined the Buddhist monastic community. His cousin Ananda even became a monk. His son, Rahula, was the youngest monk in the community and became a monk when he was just seven years old.
13) The Two Types of Buddhism
There are two different types of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada. Theravada is the original teachings of the original Buddha. Buddha gave long speeches to a group of people called the Arhats. The Arhats are the original disciples of Buddha, they had all reached enlightenment and were basically perfect beings. Theravada Buddhists commonly live in Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos etc. They believe that people reach enlightenment over many lifetimes, and it takes eons to reach nirvana.
14) What is Zen?
Zen is a limb of Mahayana Buddhism. It’s a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism that developed in eastern China and spread to Japan.
15) Buddha’s Past Lives
There is a large amount of literature on the original Buddha’s previous lives. In the books, he appears as a deer, elephant, and monkey. Supposedly the Buddha told his disciples about his past lives, and they wrote them down. They resemble cute little folktales with talking animals and mythical feats, super fun to read.
16) Fourth Largest Religion Worldwide
Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world. Today there are over 360 million followers of Buddhism, after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The countries with the largest Buddhist populations are China, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.
17) There’s not One Official Buddhism
Although demographic tables lump all followers of the Buddha’s teachings into one heading, the truth is that there is no singular or “official” version of Buddhism. And it’s more than just minor variations in practice. Some Buddhist practices invoke dieties. Some eschew the entire concept of dieties. Some emphasize monastic life, while others see Buddhism as a practice for an engaged life.
18) The Five Precepts
One of the foundational elements of Buddhism is known as the Five Precepts. Like the Judeo/Christian 10 Commandments, these simple rules form the core of acceptable, ethical behavior. The Five Precepts are:
- Do not kill.
- Do not steal.
- Do not engage in sexual misconduct.
- Do not lie.
- Do not use intoxicants.
19) The Four Noble Truths
What the Buddha discerned in his moment of enlightenment is summarized within the Four Noble Truths:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path.
20) The Noble Eightfold Path
If suffering is to be reduced, a path is needed. In Buddhism, that path is The Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of:
- Right View – Seeing the world and life as it is
- Right Thought – Similar to emotional intelligence
- Right Speech – Clear, truthful, compassionate
- Right Conduct – Not exploiting one’s self or others
- Right Livelihood – Ethical occupation that does not harm others
- Right Effort – Directing one’s energies towards good ends
- Right Mindfulness – To be in the present moment
- Right Meditational Attainment –Unity of action and intention