Gautama Buddha, previously known as Prince Siddhartha (before his enlightenment) founded the religion of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha was born to Queen Maha-Maya at Kapilavastu, Nepal, Indian. Buddha taught and organized the Sangha, monastic orders, until his death at Kusinagara, at the age of 80. There are 308,000,000 Buddhist devotees in the world today. They believe that there has been Buddha before Him; Bodhisattvas who come as Saviors of all and that all beings are Buddha whether they realize it or not.
There are 4 cardinal events in the life of Buddha that represents 4 major pilgrimage centers for Buddhists: His Birth at Kapilavastu, His Enlightenment at Bodhgaya, His First Sermon at Sarnath, and His Death at Kusinagara. There is a Gandhara style, frieze on stone, located in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. , that shows all 4 of these events. After Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir, these areas, for the first few centuries, were not allowed to portray images of Buddha.
However, the Gandhara style, of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD, derives from the Hellenistic and Roman style, so appealing to the Western taste. The Buddha Head, Gupta style, 5th century AD of Sarnath shows the faces combination of Buddha awareness and artistic style with its balance of all the features. The story of Buddhas Divine Conception begins with the Future Buddha still in the heaven of the Tusita gods, where He decided to arise in the world. He was reminded, by deities, of his accumulated merit, saying to him Attain in your next existence your high destiny as He died.
Then he was conceived in the womb of Queen Maha-Maya. At that very time during the Midsummer Festival, in the city of Kapilavastu, Queen Maha-Maya, feel asleep on the royal couch, and dreamed of four angels that came and lifted her up, couch and all, to the Himalayan Mountains, under a sal-tree. Wives of the guardian angels bathed her in Anotatta Lake, clothed her in divine garments and flowers and anointed her with perfumes. Then they laid her down upon a divine couch, in a golden mansion, at nearby Silver Hill. The Future Buddha had become a white elephant wandering about on Gold Hill.
Upon reaching Silver Hill, he plucked a white lotus and went into the golden mansion and walked around his mothers couch. Striking her on her side he seemed to enter her womb. The instant the Future Buddha was conceived glorious and wonderful things happened over all the worlds. Four angels kept guard to ward off all harm from the Future Buddha and the Future Buddhas mother. After carrying the Future Buddha, for ten months, Queen Maha-Maya, was sent on her way, with great fan fare, to visit her kinsfolk in Devadaha.
Between the two cities, in a pleasure grove of sal-trees, called Lumbini Grove, she decided to stop and give birth standing up. She reached to hold a branch, and immediately her pains came, while people hung a curtain around her. At that moment four pure-minded Maha-Brahma angels came bearing a golden net and received the Future Buddha on it and placed Him before his mother. Then they delivered Him to the four guardian angels, which delivered Him to men who received him on a coil of fine cloth and let Him unto the ground. Gods and men made offerings to him saying Great Being! There is none your equal, much less your superior.
After Buddha has surveyed all the ten directions, he went forward followed by Maha-Brahma holding over him a white umbrella, Suyama bearing a fan and other divinities the other symbols of royalty in their hands. Queen Maha-Maya tells the King Suddhodana of her dream of His Divine Birth. The king invited Brahamans to interpret the dream who said You will have a son. If he continues to live the household life, he will become a Universal Morarch; but if he leaves the household life and retires from the work, he will become a Buddha, and roll back the clouds of sin and folly of this world.
The king asked What shall my son see to make him retired from the world? The Brahmans said The four signs: A decrepit old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk. The king said Let no such person be allowed to come near my son. It will never do for my son to become a Buddha. I wish to see my son exercising sovereign rule and authority. So the king placed guards around in order that none of these four kinds of men come within sight of his son. Twenty six years later, on a certain day, the gods thought The time for the enlightenment of prince Siddhartha draweth nigh.
We must show him a sign. So the changed one of their own into a decrepit old man and showed him to the Future Buddha and His charioteer on their way to the park. The charioteer relays the event to his king and says because he has seen an old man, he is about to retire from the world. So the king extended the guard. Again, on a certain day, Future Buddha saw a diseased man that the gods had made up. Again the king found out and again extended the guard. And again on a certain day, when the Future Buddha was going to the park, He saw a monk.
He asked the charioteer, Pray, who is this man? By the power of the gods he was inspired to say, Sire, this is one who has retired from the world. And the charioteer went on to praise the idea of retiring from the world. The idea was pleasing to the Future Buddha. After the Future Buddha made his vow for liberation, the whole world rejoiced except Kama Mara (Desire and Death), the enemy of the true Dharma. He is called the God of Love, who shoots with flower-arrows, but is dreaded as he who rules the life of passion (enemy of liberation). His three sons are Caprice, Gaiety, and Lewdness. His three daughters are Discontent, Delight and Desire.
Mara said since so far he has not yet attained his spiritual vision, I will break his determination. He gathers his armies and attacks the Buddha. Amidst the attack, a voice from heaven confronts Mara: Mara, do not tire yourself in vain. This great physician, pitying the world as it lies ill, is not to be hampered in his struggle for the medicine of wisdom. While the world is carried off on many wrong roads, he toils to find the right one. It is improper to interfere with him. All beings are lost in deep darkness and he is being made into a lamp of wisdom.
What decent man could wish him harm? His desire is to free creatures whose minds are held fast by snares of delusion. How misplaced is your wish to harm him. Be peaceful, do not arrogant, Mara, in your might. Fortune is inconstant, not to be relied on. You are on unstable ground, heading bewilderment. When Mara finally realized he could achieve nothing against the Bodhisattva, his armies defeated, Mara retreated. In order to attain his enlightenment Bodhisattva, Dhyana (master of meditation, proceeded to put himself in a trance.
In the first watch of the night he recollected his past and former births, and came to the conviction that this world is unsubstantial. In the second watch of the night, he acquired the supreme heavenly eye, in which he saw the decease and rebirth of beings that depend on whether they have done superior or inferior deeds. In the third watch of the night, he meditated on the real nature of the world, and realized beings war themselves out in vain! They are born and reborn! Greed and dark delusion obscure their sight, blind from birth.
He saw that beginning ignorance, they lead to the cessation of birth, old age, death, all kinds of ill, and there the karma-formations are stopped. He had obtained the ultimate and real truth and passed through the eight states of Transic Insight. He stood out in the world as a Buddha as he became tranquil and could detect no self anywhere. In the fourth watch of the night, at the dawns breaking, he reached the state of omniscience and dwelt there for seven days. He thought Here I have found freedom. All living things rejoiced except Mara, who was deep in despair.
Buddhist Shrines show the Buddhas hand in the earth-touching mudra, which recalls when he, against the forces of Mara, called the earth to witness his Buddhahood. Buddha roused himself from his deep trance and surveyed the world with his Buddha-eye intent on giving it peace also. He had now become certain of and understood the lack of self in all that is. He saw on one side of the world those lost in low and confused efforts, covered with the dust of passions and the other side the Dharma of freedom. He chose the idea of proclaiming the Path to Peace.
After hearing Buddhas intentions, two chiefs, Indra and Brahma, in the heavens spoke of him, Do not so deep bestow your virtues on others! They merely confirmed his decision to set the world free and declared, I will beat the drum of the Immortal in the darkness of this world. Therefore revealing the way of the Bodhisattvas who vow to forego their own entrance into Nirvana until every blade of grass has been redeemed. Buddha gave his first sermon of his life at Sarnath, India. There is a Stupa built in the 5th century AD on the site where he preached. There is also nearby a Buddhist Temple in Varanasi, the holiest city in the Hindu world.
There Buddha spoke of the Middle Way saying, O Monks, there are two extremes to be avoided by one who has left the ways of the world: Devotion to passions, which is vulgar, ignoble and useless; and Denial of all passions, which is painful, destructive and useless. He also spoke 4 Noble Truths which are the foundation of Buddhism: Dukka, the truth about Pain, life is suffering; Tanha, the truth about Craving, suffering is caused by desire/dread and leads to rebirth; Nirvana, the truth about the End of Craving, desire/dread is extinguishable; Magga, the truth about the Path, the 8-fold Path is the prescribed way.
There is a statue of the Seated Buddha at the Temple at Sarnath that shows him with the dharma cakra mudra, the preaching of dharma. At Buddhas death at Kusinagara, his last words were Therefore, Ananda, be lamps unto yourselves, be a refuge to yourselves. Set for yourselves no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp, as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. It is they who shall reach the very topmost height. But they must be anxious to learn.