Siddhama Gotama, who will later be known as the world-renowned religious icon, Buddha (founder of Buddhism), lived in the 6th century BCE. He was born in the foothills of the Himalayas in the town of Kapilavatthu, where Suddhodana (Gotama’s father) was a prominent leader. This meant that as a boy Gotama was surrounded by luxury, and if he chose, someday he could become a World Leader, as his father had wanted. (Armstrong, Buddha,132) Suddhodana refused to accept it when his son left, but even the gods knew that Gotama was a Bodhisata, a man who was destined to become a Buddha. (Armstrong, Buddha, 32) Gotama belonged to the Indian culture, but in his time, the peoples strong belief in the previous gods like Indra (god of war) or Agni (god of fire), began to fade. (Armstrong, Buddha, 7) The people began to recognize that their sacrifices and worship would not rid them of suffering. In realizing this they decided that they must rely upon themselves. Gotama too would disregard the gods and search within himself for the answer to end his suffering. Gotama left his home at the age of 29 with a shaved head and a yellow robe (symbols of a monk), setting off on his journey to find a teacher who would lead him to his “Self”. With his home, he abandoned his wife and child because he felt that they too bound him to a life that he no longer wanted. The holy life Gotama had undertaken demanded that he leave behind everything he loved and made up his egotistic, emotional personality. (Armstrong, Buddha, 35) Anything that could make him feel pain, suffering, and sorrow had to be removed, if he were to become “expansive, without limits, enhanced, without hatred or petty malevolence”. (Armstrong, Buddha, 79)
Gotama’s greatest achievement happened in the Spring of 528 BCE, and after six years of striving for it, he finally achieved enlightenment. (Armstrong, Buddha, 80) It is not the enlightenment itself that is necessarily what makes this his greatest achievement, but the attainment of Nibbana through his enlightenment. To have achieved Nibbana implies that you have “extinguished” or “snuffed out” your tanha (desire). This does not mean that he as a person had been snuffed out, what had been snuffed out was the evils of hatred, greed, and delusion that constantly plague the unenlightened mind. This is the closest thing we have to a definition of Nibbana, and although it has been labeled in many ways (“nothing”, “peace”, “natural inner being”), Gotama refused to define it because he claimed it would be “inappropriate” to do so; there are no words to describe this state to an unenlightened person. (Armstrong, 334)
Throughout his quest for enlightenment Gotama was involved with many teachers and teachings. He went from seeking a teacher to aide him in beginning his search for “Self”, to the complete opposite end of the spectrum where he was the teacher for hundreds of thousands of bhikkhus (almsmen). (Armstrong, Buddha, 9) Gotama himself was a bhikku, begging for food and living in the forest. Gotama’s first teacher was Alara Kalama, located in the neighborhood of Vesali. Kalama’s school of thought was a form of Samkhya, which stated that ignorance, rather than desire, lay at the root of our problems; our suffering derived from our lack of understanding the “true Self”. The “Self” was eternal and identical to the spirit that is dormant in everyone and everything but is concealed by the material world. (Armstrong, Buddha, 44) Gotama had made quick strides into the school of Samkhya. Kalama even accepted him as his pupil, but no matter how deep Gotama emerged himself in the teachings, he felt that nothing was happening. Being a ruthlessly honest man, Gotama would not allow himself to be gulled by an interpretation that was not warranted by the facts. So, Gotama refused to accept Kalama’s Dhamma (system of doctrine and principle) and asked him how he achieved his “Self”. He...
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