Gautama Buddha Biography
GAUTAMA BUDDHA, The great religious teacher and reformer of early India. His name is variously given. Its form as Gautama (q.v.) was a common appellative in ancient Sanskrit and appears in Pali as Gotama. It was a family designation, and for this reason the title "Gautama Buddha" is sometimes given in English as "Buddha the Gotamid, or of the Gautama family." Often he is called Sakya-muni (Sage of the Sakya Clan), as he was descended from this tribe, and frequently he is styled Siddhartha, or, in Pali, Siddartha (the one who successfully attains his aim). The designation "Buddha" is an epithet and signifies the "Enlightened One." Similarly Bodhisatva, or Pali Bodhisatta, means "one who possesses the verity of knowledge," and it is an attribute applied to each of a long line of Buddhas who have reached or will attain to perfect enlightenment and wisdom.
Buddha was born in the sixth century before the Christian era, but the precise date is not known. His home was in the region of India to the northeast of Benares, and the town where he was born was Kapilavastu, modern Kohana, not far from the borders of Nepal. Tradition states that he was born in a garden sacred to the goddess Lumbini, and it is likely that the very place which the faith at least hallowed as his birthplace was discovered in 1897 by Alois Führer, but so many inaccuracies were connected with his identification of the column of Asoka, which marked the spot, that some discredit has been thrown on the authenticity of the identification.
The name of Buddha's father is given in the sacred texts as Suddhodana, a chief of the Sakyas, and his mother is known as Maya in the Buddha-vamsa. It is generally thought that he was a prince of the royal blood, but this statement is not found in the oldest documents. For that reason doubt has, perhaps wrongly, been raised on this particular point. However that may be, the consensus of opinion is agreed that Siddhartha's mother died when he was but seven days old, and that he was intrusted to the care of her sister, Maha-Prajapati, of the Gotamid family, who was also a wife of Suddhodana. We know little that is authentic regarding his youth and education; but later tradition has woven a garland of legend about his youthful attainments and achievements, his talents and his virtues. A reflex of these Oriental descriptions may be gained from Sir Edwin Arnold's romantic poem The Light of Asia.
Prince Siddhartha, if so we may style him before he attained to Buddhahood, was very early married to his cousin, the daughter of the Rajah of Koli, and had a son named Rahula, born some 10 years after his marriage. It was shortly after the birth of this son, in his thirtieth year, when he had fulfilled the obligation which the Hindu creed required to be discharged to one's ancestors; that he left his wife, child, home, and kingdom, and wandered forth to take up the life of an ascetic. This was the method of procedure that the Brahman faith authorized; this was the manner of seeking the path of salvation. Finding his way to Rajagriha, he devoted himself to such rigorous and excessive asceticism that he nearly lost his life. Discovering that all this was idle and futile for him, he gave himself up solely to thought and meditation, which gradually led him to evolve his religious and philosophic theory of the general existence of evil, its origin and its eradication. The place where the light dawned upon his soul is still pointed out. Ile was seated beneath a pipal tree near the village that is now known as Buddh-gaya, to the southeast of Benares. The tree has ever since been sacred as the Bo tree (q.v.). The emancipation of his spirit found expression in rhythmical stanzas, and he enjoyed at that moment, even while alive, the perfect peace of Nirvana. To his enlightened eyes the cause of misery and sorrow was desire; the only relief was to pluck from the heart this lust, and to achieve this he pointed out the Eightfold Path of truth and right. After attaining the Buddhaship he proceeded to find the five ascetics with whom he had been associated in his recluse life near Benares. He wished to impart first to them the newly won joy and the solution of life's problems; after that to his family, kinsmen, countrymen, and to all mankind. Wandering up and down the Ganges legion, the Holy Land of India, he continued to preach, and, in parable, precept, and practice, to impart the tenets of redemption. The purity of his life, the gentleness of his manner, the earnestness of his teaching, and the firmness of his conviction, won thousands upon thousands to accept his simple creed and "take refuge in Buddha." Even during his lifetime his doctrines spread widely through India, and they became established in Ceylon hardly less than two centuries after his death. There is even a tradition, though not generally accepted, that Buddha himself twice visited the island.
Much of Buddha's time was spent in founding monastic orders and in developing lines along which the religion was destined in the future to grow. His life was a long one, 80 years, more than twoscore of which were devoted to his ministry. The time of his death is believed to have been about 480 B.C., but some latitude must be allowed for inaccuracy in the deductions. The place where he died was near Kusinagara, some 80 miles to the east of his birthplace, and about 120 miles to the northeast of Benares. A detailed account of the death scene, even naming the disciples who were present, especially the beloved Ananda, is given in the Buddhist scriptures. Abundant incidents regarding Buddha's teaching and preaching may be gathered from the same sources. As to precise biography, in the strict sense of the term, there is none that is ancient, but the material may be collected from the Pali texts. The introduction to the Jatakas (q.v.), or book of birth stories, gives an account of the previous existences of the Buddha, and a sketch of his life down to his thirty-sixth year. The two Sanskrit metrical works entitled Buddhacarita and Lalita-Vistara (q.v.) contain biographical accounts, but they are not earlier than the first and the second centuries of our era; while the Pali poem Jina Carita (Story of the Victorious One), written in Ceylon, is as late as the twelfth century A.D., and the Malalankara Watthu is of uncertain date. But the continued publication of Pali texts, Tibetan writings, Chinese records, and Ceylonese accounts, is adding new information each year regarding the history of Buddha, of whose historical existence there is no longer any question, and fresh archaeological discoveries and researches are contributing extensively to the knowledge already gained. Consult Rhys Davids, Buddhism (new ed., London, 1903), and Bigandet, Life or Legend of Gaudama, the Buddha, of the Burmese (4th ed., ib., 1911-12).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. IX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 519-520.