Buddhist mythology

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Buddhist mythology is a mythology within the Buddhism belief system. It is a relatively broad mythology, as it was adopted and influenced by several diverse worldviews and cultures.
Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the only Buddha.

Buddha life and times as according to the buddhists' belief

As few of the details of the Buddha's life can be independently verified, it is difficult to gauge the historical accuracy of these accounts. The main sources of information on Siddhārtha Gautama's life are the earliest available Buddhist texts. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini in modern day Nepal. His father was King Suddhodana, the chief of the Shakya nation, one of several ancient tribes in the growing state of Kosala; Gautama was the family name. His mother, Queen Maha Maya (Māyādevī) and Suddhodana's wife, was a Koliyan princess. On the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side, and ten lunar months later Siddhartha was born from her right side (see image right). As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya fell pregnant, she returned to her father's kingdom to give birth, but after leaving Kapilavastu, she gave birth along the way at Lumbini in a garden beneath a sal tree.
The day of the Buddha's birth is widely celebrated in Theravada countries as Vesak. Various sources hold that the Buddha's mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhatta), meaning “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that this baby would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man. This occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita's hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. Suddhodarna held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. Kaundinya (Pali: Kondanna), the youngest, and later to be the first arahant, was the only one who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.

While later tradition and legend characterized Śuddhodana as a hereditary monarch, the descendant of the Solar Dynasty of Ikṣvāku (Pāli: Okkāka), many scholars believe that Śuddhodana was the elected chief of a tribal confederacy.

Siddhartha, destined to a luxurious life as a prince, had three palaces (one for each season) especially built for him. His father, King Śuddhodana, wishing for Siddhartha to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. Siddhartha was brought up by his mother's younger sister, Maha Pajapati.

As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Yaśodharā (Pāli: Yasodharā), a cousin of the same age. In time, she gave birth to a son, Rahula. Siddhartha spent 29 years as a Prince in Kapilavastu, a place now situated in Nepal. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.

The King became a monk

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace in order to meet his subjects. Despite his father's effort to remove the sick, aged and suffering from the public view, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. Disturbed by this, when told that all people would eventually grow old by his charioteer Channa, the prince went on further trips where he encountered, variously, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. Deeply depressed by these sights, he sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Siddhartha escaped his palace, accompanied by Channa aboard his horse Kanthaka, leaving behind this royal life to become a monk. It is said that, "the horse's hooves were muffled by the gods."

Siddhartha initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. Having been recognised by the men of King Bimbisara, Bimbisara offered him the throne after hearing of Siddhartha's quest. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.

Siddhartha left Rajagaha and practiced under two hermit teachers. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama, Siddhartha was asked by Kalama to succeed him, but moved on after being unsatisfied with his practices. He then became a student of Udaka Ramaputta, but although he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness and was asked to succeed Ramaputta, he was still not satisfied with his path, and moved on.

Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kondanna then set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through near total deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season's plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing.

The Teacher and his claims

After asceticism and concentrating on meditation or Anapana-sati (awareness of breathing in and out), Siddhartha is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata, who wrongly believed him to be the spirit that had granted her a wish, such was his emaciated appearance. Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. Kaundinya and the other five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become indisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained *Enlightenment; according to some traditions, this occurred approximately in the fifth lunar month, and according to others in the twelfth. Gautama, from then on, was known as the Buddha or "Awakened One." Buddha is also sometimes translated as "The Enlightened One." Often, he is referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha or "The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan."

At this point, he is believed to have stated that he had realized complete awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering which was ignorance, along with steps necessary to eliminate it. These truths were then categorized into the Four Noble Truths; the state of supreme liberation—possible for any being—was called Nirvana. He then came to possess the Nine Characteristics, which are said to belong to every Buddha.

According to one of the stories in the Āyācana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1), a scripture found in the Pāli and other canons, immediately after his Enlightenment, the Buddha was wondering whether or not he should teach the Dharma to human beings. He was concerned that, as human beings were overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, they would not be able to see the true dharma, which was subtle, deep and hard to understand. However, a divine spirit, Brahmā Sahampati, interceded and asked that he teach the dharma to the world, as "there will be those who will understand the Dharma". With his great compassion to all beings in the universe, the Buddha agreed to become a teacher.