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The Prince Who Sat Under the Bodhi Tree

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

The year was 1990. I was in the holy city of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. I was All-India Radio correspondent in Nepal at that time.

I had just visited the ancient temple of Maya Devi and was now standing near the holy pond of Puskarni. It was here that Prince Siddhartha was born in the year 567 BCE. It was the night of full moon on the auspicious occasion of Budh Purnima. According to Hindu calendar, it was the month of Vaisakh, which falls in April/May. On this auspicious occasion, Queen Maya Devi, took a holy dip in Puskarni pond just before the birth of Prince Siddhartha.

It was in the same pond that Siddhartha took his first bath as a newborn. Buddha’s, the awakened souls visit this earth time and again to mitigate sufferings of ailing humanity. Siddhartha, the Gautam Buddha was one of them.

A legend says that once Gautam Buddha, in his ascetic robes with a begging bowl In hand, appears on the door of his father, Susodana, king of Kapilvastu. King is shocked and asks Gautama, son, why are you doing this to me. Buddha replies, O King, this is custom of we Buddhas. That a son should go to the door of his father begging for alms.

Lumbini is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is located in Rupandehi district of Nepal. Lumbini is now major Buddhist site for tourists from all over the world. Lumbini has a number of older temples, and various new temples, funded by Buddhist organizations from various countries .

Many monuments, monasteries and a museum, and the Lumbini International Research Institute are also within the holy site. There is a long water filled canal separating the western and eastern zones, with a series of brick arch bridges joining the two sides along the length. The canal is serviced by simple motor boats at the north end .

The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree and the Ashoka pillar, showing that Ashoka visited this place. The Brahmi inscription on the pillar gives evidence that emperor Ashoka of the Maurya empire visited the place in 3rd-century BCE and identified it as the birthplace of the Buddha.

Before the birth of Buddha, a prophesy was made that either the newborn will be a universal monarch or a great sage. King Susodhna was in a dilemma. What if prince leaves the world and becomes a monk?

He decided to keep Siddhartha confined within four walls of palace. The prince was brought up in the lap of luxury . He was kept away from hurt, pain and worldly troubles. Gautama grew up in princely luxury, shielded from the outside world, entertained by dancing girls, instructed by brahmins, and trained in archery, swordsmanship, wrestling, swimming, and running. When he came of age, he married Yashodra who gave birth to a son, Rahul. Prince Siddhartha had, as we might say, everything and yet it was not enough. Gautam Siddhartha faced the hard realities of life, the day he stepped out of palace gate for the first time.

Looks like destiny had written a different script for Siddharth. As he was moving in his chariot, he confronted a sick man, an old person and a corpse. His enquiring eyes looked at his charioteer who said prince, everyone has to pass through these three stages of life. No one can escape them. One who is born, has to die.

Siddhartha was greatly disturbed. On his way back, he passed a wandering ascetic in saffron robes, with a begging bowl in his hands looking peaceful. Then and there, the prince decided to become a monk and find answers to all these problems of life. One day, in the dead of night, Siddhartha left the palace. After bidding his wife and child a silent farewell without waking them, he rode to the edge of the forest. There, he cut his long hair with his sword and exchanged his fine clothes for the simple robes of an ascetic.

With these actions Siddhartha Gautama joined a whole class of men who had dropped out of Indian society to find liberation. Gautama investigated many atheists, materialists, and idealists. For six years, he wandered from place to place but with no concrete result. Ultimately, he spread a mat of kusha grass under the Bodhi tree and sat on it.

By this time, Siddhartha had listened to all the teachers, studied all the sacred texts and tried all the methods. Now there was nothing to rely on, no one to turn to, nowhere to go. He sat solid and unmoving and determined as a mountain, until finally, after six days, his eye opened on the rising morning star. He realized that what he had been looking for had never been lost, neither to him nor to anyone else. Therefore there was nothing to attain, and no longer any struggle to attain it.

“Wonder of wonders,” he is reported to have said, this very Enlightenment, is within everyone and yet they are unhappy for lack of it. So it was that Siddhartha Gautama woke up at the age of thirty-five, and became the Buddha, the Awakened One, the enlightened soul, known as Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakyas.

For seven weeks he enjoyed the freedom and tranquility of liberation. At first, he had no inclination to speak about his realization. He felt it would be too difficult for most people to understand. But when, according to legend, lord Brahma, requested that the Awakened One teach, since there were those, whose eyes were only a little clouded, the Buddha agreed. The wheel of Dharma turned for the first time as Buddha delivered sermons to his five disciples at Deer park near Benares.

The Buddha’s teaching, however, was not only for the monastic community. Shakyamuni had instructed his disciples to bring it to all: Go ye, O bhikshus, for the gain of the many, the welfare of the many, in compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men.

According to. Buddha, the four noble truths which lead to liberation of human beings are;

(1) The Noble Truth of Suffering (2) The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (3) The Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering (4) The Noble Truth of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path. Buddhism begins with the fact of suffering. However, before we can do anything about it, we must know its cause, which is the deeply rooted sense of 'I' that we all have. Suffering may be brought to an end by transcending this strong sense of 'I' so that we come into greater harmony with things in general. The means of doing this is The Noble Eightfold Path :

(1) Right View. (2) Right Thought. (3) Right Speech. (4) Right Action. (5) Right Livelihood. (6) Right Effort (7) Right Mindfulness. (8) Right Concentration. The Wheel is the symbol of the Dharma and is shown with eight spokes which represent the Noble Eightfold Path. Right View is important at the start because if we cannot see the truth of the Four Noble Truths then we can't make any sort of beginning. Right Thought follows naturally from this. 'Right' here means in accordance with the facts: with the way things are - which may be different from how I would like them to be. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood involve moral restraint refraining from lying, stealing, committing violent acts, and earning one's living in a way not harmful to others. Moral restraint not only helps bring about general social harmony but also helps us control and diminish the sense of 'I'. Like a greedy child, 'I' grows big and unruly the more we let it have its own way. Next, Right Effort is important because 'I' thrives on idleness and wrong effort; some of the greatest criminals are the most energetic people, so effort must be appropriate to the diminution of I, and in any case if we are not prepared to exert ourselves we cannot hope to achieve anything at all in either the spiritual sense nor in life. The last two steps of the Path, Right Mindfulness or awareness and Right Concentration or absorption, represent the first stage toward liberation from suffering.

The five ascetics who listened to the Buddha ‘s first discourse became the nucleus of a community, a sangha, of men (women were to enter later) who followed the way the Buddha had described in his Fourth Noble Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path. These bhikshus, or monks, lived simply, owning a bowl, a robe, a needle, a water strainer, and a razor, since they shaved their heads as a sign of having left home. They traveled around northeastern India, practicing meditation alone or in small groups, begging for their meals.

Not to do any evil; to cultivate good; to purify one's heart , this is the teaching of all the Buddhas.' Gautam Buddha claims that Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. Peace comes from within. He teaches that The mind is everything. What you think you become. Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely. We are shaped by our thoughts; When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

Radiate boundless love towards the entire world. Disciplined mind brings happiness.Give, even if you only have a little.

Although Buddhists highly value such virtues as loving kindness, humanity, patience and giving, perhaps they value wisdom and compassion most of all. The idea of ahimsa or harmlessness is very closely connected with compassion. The compassionate desire to cause no harm to all beings including animals, plants, and the world in general. In all things Buddhism places great stress on self-reliance and the Buddha himself told his followers not to believe without questioning, but to test it for themselves. Buddhism is also a very practical religion and aims at helping people to live their lives peacefully.

Siddhartha was born during a time of social and religious transformation.

The dominant religion in India at the time was Hinduism. But a number of thinkers of the period had begun to question its validity and the authority of the Vedas as well as the practices of the priests.

On a theological level, people began to question the entire concept of Hinduism. Hinduism taught that there was a supreme being, Brahman, who had not only created the universe but was the universe itself. Brahman had established the divine order, maintained this order, and had delivered the Vedas to enable human beings to participate in this order with understanding and clarity.

The Hindu priests of the time defended the faith, which included the caste system, as part of the divine order but, as new ideas began to circulate, many schools of thought arose at this time in response to this need. Among them were Jainism, and Buddhism.

As Buddha’s fame spread, kings and other wealthy patrons donated parks and gardens for retreats. The Buddha accepted these, but he continued to live as he had ever since his twenty-ninth year: as a wandering sadhu, begging for his own meal, spending his days in meditation. Only now there was one difference. Almost every day, after his noon meal, the Buddha taught. None of these discourses, or the questions and answers that followed, were recorded during the Buddha’s lifetime.

The Buddha died in the town of Kushinagara, at the age of eighty, having eaten a meal of pork or mushrooms. Some of the assembled monks were despondent, but the Buddha, lying on his side, with his head resting on his right hand, reminded them that everything is impermanent, and advised them to take refuge in themselves and the dharma. He asked for questions a last time.

There were none. Then he spoke his final words: “Now then, bhikshus, I address you: all compound things are subject to decay; strive diligently.

Buddha Poornima also known as Buddha Jayanti is the most sacred festival of Buddhist community. It was on Buddha Poornima that the three important events of Buddha's life took place i.e. his birth, his enlightenment and his death (nirvana).

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