A Brief Introduction - 1
The Historical Buddha
At the Shingon Japanese Esoteric Buddhism web site
Siddhartha Gautama was born in 563 B.C. in Nepal. His father, Shuddhodana, was a leader of the Shakya clan. Buddhism in all its varieties takes it start from his life and teachings.
Many miraculous stories are told of his, life. One story says that his mother, Maya, dreamed that a great white king elephant touched her with a lotus blossom and then found she was pregnant. When his birth neared, she set out for her native village of Devadaha, but when she reached a grove of trees at Lumbini, she gave birth without pain. She died only seven days later.
Soon after Siddartha's birth, a sage named Asita prophesied that if he stayed within the palace walls, he would become a universal monarch but if he embarked on the religious life he would become an enlightened being. His father wanted him to be king, so young Siddhartha was confined to the palace where he grew up in luxury with little contact with the real world.
Despite his father's order that he be kept within the palace, on several occasions he went outside and discovered the inevitability of suffering. One day he went to a plowing festival and saw men and oxen straining to turn over the earth. Sweat dripped from the foreheads of the plowmen and blood dripped from the mouths of the oxen. Sparrows flew down to eat the insects turned over by the plows, and hawks stooped and pounced on the sparrows.
Later, he encountered old age, sickness and death. First he saw an old man, bent with great age, hobbling on crutches. Next he discovered someone consumed with disease, with flies feasting on running sores. Finally he saw a funeral procession, the corpse being carried through the streets followed by mourning relatives.
Once he saw a mendicant monk, someone who had left behind the material possessions and troubles of his life. This gave him the courage to believe that there was a solution to the problem of suffering.
Despite these revelations, he married, lived with his wife and continued his royal lifestyle. But after 13 years of marriage, at age 29, he left the palace, his wife, and his new-born son. He snuck off at night, evading the guards set by his father to keep him within the palace, and set out into the world. He was determined to find a way to overcome the pain and suffering of life.
For six years, he searched for the a solution to this universal problem. He studied all the philosopical and religious schools and subjected himself to rigorous ascetic practices. He starved himself to the point where he looked like a decayed corpse. Finally, he realized that neither philosophy nor aceticism provided the answer he sought.
He washed himself, ate a bowl of rice cooked with milk and spices offered to him by a young girl, and sat down comfortably under a tree. He vowed he would sit and meditate until he understood the true nature of reality.
He sat and opened his mind, confronting all the fear, doubt, loathing, confusion and evil he found in the world and in his mind. He confronted sensual desire, seeing images of lusty young women. He confronted desire for power, seeing himself as a king. But each of these thoughts and desires he dismissed as lacking in real substance. Finally, as the morning star appeared, he perceived the truth and attained enlightenment.
At first he hesitated to take up a life of teaching, but then he realized that what he had learned he could and must pass on to others. He realized that he had a responsibility to teach others that neither aceticism nor philosophical speclation were the means to achieve freedom from suffering. For the following 50 years he taught a balanced path known as The Middle Way based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. He ended his life at age 80, surrounded by his disciples.