- The Life of Buddha
- Yat-Biu Ching
More than 2,500 years ago, the Sakya clansman lived along the southern foothills
of the Himalayan mountain in Northern India. Their king was Suddhodana Gautama, and his
queen was called Maya.
For twenty years, they had no children. One night, Queen Maya had a strange dream, in
which she saw a white elephant entering into her womb, and she became pregnant. According
to their custom the Queen returned to her parent's home for the birth. On her way, while
she took a rest in a beautiful garden, the prince was born, and all expressed their
heart-felt delight with the glory of the Queen and her princely child.
The king was in extreme joy, and named the child, Siddartha, which means "Every
wish fulfilled." Joy was followed quickly by sorrow, for seven days after the birth
of the child, Queen Maya suddenly died. Her younger sister, Mahaprajapati, became the
child's foster mother and brought him up with loving care.
A hermit, called Asita, who lived in the mountains not far away, noticed a radiance
above the castle. Interpreting it as a good omen, he came down to the palace and was shown
the child. He predicted: "This Prince, if he remains in the palace, when grown up
will become a great king and rule the world, but if he forsakes the court life to embrace
a religious life, he will become a Buddha, the Saviour of the world."
At first the King was pleased to hear the prophecy, but later he started to worry about
the possibility of his only son leaving the palace to become a religious recluse. At the
age of seven, the Prince began his lessons in the civil and martial arts, but his thoughts
more naturally tend to other things. One spring day, he went out of the castle, with his
father and saw a farmer in worn-out clothes ploughing the field and whipping an ox, he
came to understand the difficult life of living beings. He also saw a bird pecking at an
earthworm and an eagle swooping down on the bird; he came to understand that living beings
kill one another and only the strongest can survive. On another occasion, while in the
woods, he rescued a swan wounded by men, he understood that all beings wish to live and
all have the right to live. He felt that all beings should understand this truth and avoid
The Prince, who had lost his mother so soon after his birth. was deeply affected by the
tragedy of these little creatures. The spiritual wound deepened day by day as he grew up.
Like a scar on a young tree, the suffering of human life became more and more deeply
engrained in his mind.
In the palace, the Prince received an all round education. Being intelligent and eager
to learn, the Prince became very good at studies and military skills. The king was
increasingly worried as he recalled the hermit's prophecy and tried in every possible way
to cheer the Prince and to turn his thoughts in other directions. King Suddhodana wished
that the Prince would one day come to the throne and become a hard working and loving
king. When the Prince turned nineteen, the King arranged his marriage to the Princess
For ten years the Prince lived in the luxury and pleasure of the palace, but always his
thoughts returned to the problem of suffering as he tried very hard to understand the true
meaning of human life. One day, while on an excursion beyond the walls of the palace, the
Prince met with an old man, a sick man and a dead man, and saw into their sufferings. He
then came to understand that life was filled with sufferings and that all beings are
subject to birth, old age, sickness and death. On another occasion, he came across a
religious recluse who looked calm and composed. The sight of the recluse suggested to him
that a religious life might be a way to end sufferings.
From then on, the Prince had a new outlook on life. He thought that one should not
waste time and energy on sensual pleasures but should strive to work for the welfare of
all beings instead. The spiritual struggle went on in the mind of the Prince until his
only child, Rahula, was born when he was twenty-nine. This seemed to bring things to a
climax, for he then decided to give up the luxurious palace life and departed from his
wife and other loved ones, to look for the solution of his spiritual unrest in the
homeless life of a religious recluse. One night, the Prince riding on a white horse, left
the palace and set off in search of - a solution to sufferings.
The Prince went from place to place and learnt from many well-known teachers in his
search for the truth, however he failed to find the truth. He then began practising
self-torture enduring all the pains that came with it. After six years of self-torture,
his body became very weak and yet his mind still could not find peace. Now, he came to
understand that going to extremes was not the correct way of life, as it could not solve
the problem of suffering. He went bathing in the river and accepted a bowl of milk from a
The five companions who had lived with the Prince during the six years of his ascetic
practice were shocked that he should receive milk from the hands of a maiden, they thought
him degraded and left him.
After regaining some of his strength, the Prince started meditating under a Bodhi tree,
it was an intense and incomparable struggle for him. While he was meditating, various
temptations appeared, seducing him to give up his struggle for the Truth, but he remained
unmoved. He then directed his incomparable power of concentration to attaining the Truth.
At last, he understood the cause of sufferings and found a way to remove it.
When the morning star appeared in the eastern sky, the struggle was over. The Prince's
mind was as clear and bright as the breaking day, he had gained the supreme wisdom and
found the path to Enlightenment. The Prince was thirty-five years of age.
From this time on, the Prince was known by different names: people spoke of him as the Buddha, the Perfectly Enlightened One; some spoke of him as Sakyamuni, the honoured one of the Sakya clan; some called
him the World-Honoured One.
After attaining the Truth, the Buddha decided to spread His teachings using
different methods to suit the different background of the listeners, so that they may be
freed from sufferings.
The Buddha first spoke His teachings to His five former companions. At first they
shunned Him, but after they had talked to Him, they believed in Him and became his first
disciples and came to be known as the First Five Monks. The Buddha went from place to
place to teach, gathering round Him all types of followers. People responded to Him as the
thirsty seek water and the hungry food. Within a short time, the Buddha had thousands and
thousands of followers. Eventually, even His father, His step-mother, His former wife and
all the members of the Sakya clan became His faithful disciples.
For forty-five years, the Buddha went about the country preaching and persuading
men and women to follow His way of life. When He was eighty, during a trip, He became very
ill and predicted that after three months, He would pass away. In spite of great pain, He
proceeded to His destination and continued teaching until His last moment. Thus the Buddha
entered into perfect tranquillity after He had completed His work as the world's greatest
The remains of the Buddha were cremated. His relics was then equally divided into eight
parts and distributed to different parts of the land to be enshrined in great towers
commemorating the Buddha.
Although the Buddha had already left us, His teaching still remains after many
generations for the benefits of countless human beings. Today Buddhism is found in every
country in the world with a Buddhist population of over 500 million people.
[Originally published in Yat-Biu Ching, Buddhism You Too Can
Understand, (Canada: True Faith Buddhism Association of Canada, 1992), pp. 22-27.]
Sincere thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for
retyping this article.