The Founder of Buddhism: a Man Like You

Buddhism is quite unique on the religious landscape. Its founder, a man named Siddharta Gautama, didn’t claim to be a god or to be sent by god, he was simply a man. Who was this person who set this incredibly influential tradition in motion? Why did he influence so many people in Asia and around the world? He got the attention of people because he addressed real problems of human life.

First, I want to talk about him as a historical figure. We don’t have many historical facts that we can hold on to study his life. We know, or we think we know, that he was born in Northern India around the year 500 B.C. He was a prince of the Shakya tribe. Because of this, it is common to call him Shakyamuni, this means “the sage of the Shakya”.

This is all we have about him historically. To learn about how he lived and what he mean to his followers, we have to look at him through Buddhist eyes. Now, we are going to talk about him as Buddhists describe him.

According to tradition, he lived in the palace as a prince until the age of 29. At that point in his life, he saw for the first time suffering. He was protected by his father and wasn’t allowed to see any kind of pain or suffering. Here, he saw a sick person, an old man and a death body. He realized that this was the destiny of every human being, and he decided to spend his life looking for a solution.

He first became a monk. He shaved his head and started fasting. He starved himself to death. Realizing that this didn’t solve the problem of suffering, he tried to find another way. He discovered the Middle Path. This is one of the most important concepts of Buddhism. The Middle Path is one that avoids the extremes. The extremes can vary, but they are the extreme of self-indulgence and the extreme of self-denial. He lived in the extreme of self-indulgence as a prince and in the extreme of self-denial as a monk. He know started to walk the path of the Middle, and everything became clearer, but not easier.

He sat down under a tree and started to find the solution to human suffering. After some time, he became enlightened. He was tempted to stay there, enjoying his own awakening, but he decided to get up and talk about it to other people. What did he discover?

The Buddha said to his followers that everything in life is suffering. This is quite pessimistic, isn’t it? Well, he didn’t say only that. That was only the beginning. After that, he explained the origin of our suffering, and then, a message of hope. He explained how we can get rid of that suffering. He gave us the only solution.

So, this is the simple and profound teaching of the Buddha. Suffering. The basic problem of human life. I think that that is why Buddhism is so appealing to many people, because it addresses a problem that is thoroughly human.

To learn more about Buddhism, its teachings and practices, you might be interested in the site by author Pablo Antuna:

Buddhism Through Buddhist Eyes

Buddhist Teachings

Pablo Antuna is a professor of comparative religion. He is specialized in Easter Religions: Buddhism and Hinduism.

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