Little Siddhartha Gautama started life in the village of Kapilavastu in the Himalayas. The Gautamas were Brahmin of the Hindu caste system and his parents were rich as his father ruled the land. There were many circumstances surrounding his birth (believed to have been around 566 BC) that were taken as omens of greatness.
Firstly, his mother had a dream the night he was conceived. She dreamt that an elephant was with her, and touched her with its trunk. This was, apparently, a good omen. Most of the other omens were discovered upon Siddhartha's birth. He had gold-tinged skin, a bump on his head, webbed fingers/toes, a long tongue, and hair between his eyebrows.
These omens led the priests to declare that he would grow to be a great man. If he stayed home, he would become a ruler1, if he left home, he would become a religious man.
He Lived, He Laughed, He Loved
His father wanted him to stay home and become a great ruler and decided to shelter him from the world outside. He was given the royal treatment all his life, as an incentive to never leave home. Siddhartha grew to the age of twenty-nine before he really looked outside the castle he was raised in.
Then, he heard someone singing a song... It was beautiful, and he learned that it was about a land that was beautiful. But Siddhartha knew of no land other than that immediately outside his walls! What had he been missing? So he left the castle four times, to see what the world outside those walls was like...
The first time he left the castle, he saw an old man; the second, a sick man; the third, a corpse being brought to a crematorium; and the fourth time, he saw a religious man, who was content. The suffering he saw amazed Siddhartha. Inside, under the protection of his father, he had never seen such things, and it shocked him into his next conclusion... He must find the meaning of suffering and aging.
A String Too Tight, a String Too Loose
So Siddhartha left the castle without saying goodbye to anyone, even his wife and newborn child, with the intention of finding a way to escape the suffering of life2. He began his search for enlightenment with Asceticism3.He was an Ascetic for many years, and fasted severely. He, supposedly, ate only six grains of rice a day, and was so thin that you could poke his spine through his stomach. However, this did not aid him in his search for enlightenment.
He decided on meditation next. He sat under a Boddhi tree meditating for a long time. Then a musician4 who was passing by was overheard by Siddhartha. He said 'If you make the string too tight, it will break. If you make the string too loose, it will not play'. Eureka! Siddhartha had found the wisdom he had longed for5.
The Middle Path
Siddhartha, now Buddha6, decided this: The path to Nirvana7 was through moderation in all things. Not the bare-bones survival of the Ascetics, nor the lavish lifestyle of kings, but something between. He laid down his beliefs in the Four Noble Truths.
Four Noble Truths
Everything in life is suffering and sorrow.
The cause of all suffering is people's selfish desire for the temporary pleasures of the world.
The way to end all suffering is to end all desires.
The way to overcome such desires and attain enlightenment (nirvana) is to follow the Eightfold Path, which is called the Middle Way between desire and self-denial.
The Four Noble Truths culminate simply as: Don't work toward the short-lived pleasures of the flesh and one's desires, instead, look for the eternal peace offered by Nirvana, by way of meditating and learning to control your impulses.
The Eightfold Path
These are the guidelines that Buddha set out to help people achieve Nirvana. These rules have been interpreted in different ways, (as is almost always the case), but are basically these:
Right Understanding: Know the truth of the Four Noble Truths.
Right View/Thought: Have the urge to follow the path and reach Nirvana.
Right Speech: Do not lie, or slander anyone, and do not say things that are unkind.
Right Conduct: Do not kill, steal, lie or be unchaste or drunk.
Right Livelihood: Choose an occupation that serves humanity and does not harm life.
Samadhi (Mental Discipline)
Right Effort: Have self-control, especially over your thoughts, strive for the good.
Right Awareness: Have psychological insight into your own motives and deeds, do not be moved by either sorrow or joy.
Right Concentration: Ponder deeply and meditate until you experience Nirvana.
The Five Precepts
Apparently, there were more ways in which Buddha guided people along the middle path:
- To refrain from destroying living creatures.
- To refrain from taking that which is not given.
- To refrain from sexual misconduct.
- To refrain from incorrect speech.
To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, has been strongly recommended by other Researchers.