Last weekend we went to Homestead, south of Miami, Florida, to visit the temple of Buddha. The beauty of the place, its gardens and especially the temple provide peace difficult to find elsewhere. In this article, we offer the first part of our journey to meet Buddha.

The life of the Buddha

In the Theravada tradition, the Buddha lived from 624 to 544 B.C.

Siddhattha Gotama, the Bodhissatta, Buddha-to-be, lived in what is now Nepal near the ancient town of Kapilavatthu. His father was King Suddhodana of the Sakya dynasty of the Kshatriya caste of ancient India. Kapilavatthu was the capital city of his kingdom.

The Budha's mother, Queen Maya Devi, was on her way to her hometown, Devadaha, when she stopped at Lumbini, a beautiful garden belonging to both the Sakya and Koliya clans. Here she gave birth to her son on the fiftheenth day of the sixth lunar month.

Siddhattha grew up in the court and lived a life of luxury. At the age of sixteen he married Yashodhara, and they had a son, Rahula.

Gave up his life of luxury

By the time the prince was twenty-nine, however, he had become unhappy with the life of comfort he was living at the court. Outside the palace, seeing someone who was old, someone suffering from sickness, and someone who had died, he understood that suffering and death were part of human life.

He also saw a peaceful wandering ascetic. Siddhattha decided to give up his life of luxury and look for an answer to the problem of suffering and death as a homeless ascetic.

For six years he lived in great self-mortification near the village of Urevela in the kingdom of Magadha, India, together with five other ascetics.

He finally understood there was nothing wrong with living a middle way of life, a way between the extremes of luxury and self mortification. The five ascetics thought he had chosen the life of luxury.

Siddhattha went to the Neranjara River near the village of Gaya to meditate under a bodhi tree. Here - in 595 B.C.

- he reached Enlightenment (nibbana) and became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, the Awakened One, the Tathagata, the Arahat. He understood that by putting a stop to attachment to feelings of pleasure and displeasure leading to suffering, freedom from suffering could be reached. The place of his Enlightenment later became known as Bodh Gaya.

The first members of a future system of thinking

After the Buddha had reached Enlightenment, he thought he would not share the Dhamma with others because it was difficult to understand. However, Brahma Sahampati pesuaded him to go spread the teaching for benefit of human beings. The Buddha went to Sarnath, the deer park at Varanasi (Benares), to see the five ascetics who had helped him.

He gave his discourse, Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma, to the ascetics. They became Bhikkhus, the first members of his new Sangha, the order of the monks.

The Triple Gem

In this way the Triple Gem came to be: Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. The first discourse was about the Middle Way (the Noble Eightfold Path) and the Four Noble Truths.

During the remaining forty-five years of his life, the Buddha spent his time traveling through the countryside and into the cities and villages of ancient north-central India teaching the Dhamma. He died at the age of eghty in 554 B.C, in the little city of Kusinara. His body was burned, and the relics were divided among eight cities. Stupas were built to hold the relics.

Buddhism is a system of thinking that speaks to the minds and hearts of all human beings because it deals with a problem that all persons face every day: the problem of suffering, the unsatisfactoriness of life in all its various aspects; pain, sickness, and death. We all suffer in this way, and we really want out of life is to find some peace of mind so that we do not suffer anymore. Buddhism can show the way to this peace and freedom.

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