Young Prince Siddhartha in rich armour, Chiang Mai, Thailand. August 2008 © Katy Gunn
Young Prince Siddhartha in rich armour. Thailand. © Katy Gunn

The life of the Buddha, (meaning “one who has awoken”) Prince Siddhartha Gautama began near the foothills of the Himalayas, inside the borders of modern day Nepal in 563 BC. He was born into a wealthy, aristocratic warrior caste, known as the ksatriyas. At his father’s request, a wise man Asita predicted Siddhartha’s future. Asita found thirty-two auspicious marks on his body and prophesised that Siddhartha would either become a great and powerful leader or a great sage.

In an attempt to prevent the second prophecy materialising, Siddhartha’s father smothered him in an environment of luxury, comfort and beauty, confined within the palace walls. Siddhartha consequently knew nothing of the real world.

After a while the young Prince became restless and decided to venture out beyond the palace walls. He was stunned to see for the first time, an old man, a sick person, a funeral procession (exposing him to the true facts of human condition and suffering) and finally a wandering holy man. This man had no possessions or family but an air of tranquility and peace about him.

Siddhartha leaving the palace on horseback with the hooves held up by guards, so as not to awaken the palace. Cambodia. June 2008 © Katy Gunn
Siddhartha leaving the palace on horseback with the hooves held up by guards, so as not to awaken the palace. Cambodia. © Katy Gunn

These encounters prompted Siddhartha to go in search of a spiritual solution to the problems of the human condition so one night he secretly left his family (wife and new born son) and wealth behind.

Siddhartha cut off his hair and exchanged his noble clothes for simple ones. He became the ‘Wandering One’ – the itinerant monk Gautama. He joined a group who pursued the techniques of extreme austerities, subduing passions and appetites to seek enlightenment through self-punishment. This however led to little more than painful headaches and emaciation for Gautama.

Not having reached spiritual liberation Gautama practiced disciplines related to yoga, self-denial and fasting. After 6 years he concluded that a “middle way” of moderation, in which appetites and passions were neither denied nor indulged in, should be the solution. In reflection and contemplation of this conclusion, Gautama at age 35, sat beneath a tree (Bodhi Tree) facing East and resolved not to move until he achieved enlightenment. He eventually attained the complete state of awakening, nirvana and thus put an end to his re-birth (the ultimate goal of all Buddhists). He found the Four Noble Truth and the only way in which an individual can overcome the shackles of this life and endless re-births.

He set out to teach others what he had learnt and set the Dharma, wheel of law in motion. His first sermon at the deer park in Sarnath was a monumental moment in his life and was the true beginning of Buddhism as a faith.

At the age of 80 the Buddha died after eating contaminated food. He passed into a state of meditation, lying on his right side, facing West.

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वादा

Buddha entering into final nirvana, Ayutthaya, Thailand. August 2008 © Katy Gunn
Buddha entering into final nirvana, Ayutthaya, Thailand. © Katy Gunn
Dharma wheel at Sarnath deer park
Statue of the Dharma wheel at Sarnath deer park

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