Story time guys!!!. Once upon a time there lived a royal prince named Siddhartha Gautama also known as Sakyamuni who was born in Lumbini, Nepal, a subcontinent of India, around c. 500 BCE. Siddhartha, from a very young age was sheltered from all the ugly truths of life as he was only surrounded by joy and happiness in the princely palace,which he never left.
Breaking free from his house arrest, Siddhartha left the palace with his guards to take a tour around his kingdom. The guards had tried their best to shield him from anything that might scar his mind. Anything like the disabled, poor or homeless,basically anything related to human hardship. Nevertheless, there was only so much that they could keep away from the innocent prince. Soon, Siddhartha came to realisation that the life he was leading, was in complete contrast with reality as he encountered an old man, a sick man and a corpse. On this trip, Siddhartha also came across an ascetic seeker(sannyasin). He was told by his guards that an ascetic seeker is someone who practices extreme self discipline and has abandoned the world to seek release from human fear of death and suffering.
Siddhartha was overwhelmed by these sights of suffering and he was totally confused on the meaning of life.
The birth of Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama left his family and kingdom to lead an ascetic life(not a very good example there). He was probably heavily influenced by the Ascetic seeker that he had met. Being exposed to so much sufferings for the first time and then bumping onto a sannyasin is sure to mess with your head.
Siddhartha lived like an extremist, where he would not eat or drink. All he did was meditate all day, everyday. He realised that living in such harsh conditions did not reach the level of satisfaction he sought. He then comprehended that denying the physical body luxuries is not the means to achieving inner liberation and that living under such harsh physical constraints was not helping him attain spiritual release. It was then that Siddhartha sat under a bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India. He vowed not to get up from where he was seated until the truth and answers he sought came to him. He meditated for several days purifying his mind and even overcame the threats of Mara, an evil demon.
Siddhartha finally saw all that occurred in the universe and received the answers to suffering that he had been seeking for so many years. In that moment of pure enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha (the enlightened or awakened one).
Enlightenment and Nirvana
Buddhism is all about self discipline, and about finding enlightenment through the Eightfold Path. Buddhist practices usually refer to prayers, chanting, meditation and following the Eightfold path by practicing wisdom, good ethical conduct and the observance of moral and mental precepts on a daily basis. Meditation, is done on a daily basis to practice mindfulness and it makes it the most important practice as buddhism cannot be practiced without mindfulness. Through meditating, Buddhists try to know, train, and free their minds better, through which they hope to reach enlightenment.
The ultimate goal of enlightenment is Nirvana.Nirvana is not a place, but rather is a state of being beyond existence and non-existence. Nothing could compare the feeling of being in the state of Nirvana. THe buddhist would explain this as the heaven after death. Why is that so? Because, Nirvana is the state where humans no longer linger under the state of samsara or is stuck in the life cycle of reincarnation.
Not a Religion?
To many, Buddhism is a religion that is to be piously and faithfully followed. Nonetheless, there are also those who question if Buddhism can be considered a religion. They might argue that in buddhism there is no creator, no supreme god and no salvation (Southwold, 1978). One is taught to be their own pillar of strength, to be responsible for their own purification and spiritual improvement. Buddha did not teach what he realised when he was enlightened. He instead taught how one could one attain enlightenment on their own. The starting point of Buddhism is reasoning and understanding. Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents. A buddhist seeks refuge in Buddha not making any self surrender or hoping that he would be salvaged. Neither does he sacrifice his freedom upon becoming a follower. Instead,he develops his knowledge and exercises his own free will in the hope of becoming a Buddha himself. All this seems very contrary to what religion is perceived to be. For an example, if one starts questioning or tries to find reasons for the phenomena that is taught in their religion they might go bonkers. This is simply because all religions have a figure that has superhuman controlling powers and they have a set of beliefs that are to be followed without doubts. I mean can you imagine a christian trying to be super righteous and all the goody two shoes stuff, with the hope that he might become Jesus one day? Ehk ehk.. Me neither.
Southwold, M.. (1978). Buddhism and the Definition of Religion. Man, 13(3), 362–379. http://doi.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/10.2307/2801935