Everybody has seen a little Buddha statue. They seem to find their way into every health nuts house everywhere. Yoga instructors to aren’t free from the Buddha invasion. But who really is Buddha?
Although he might not appear at your favorite Jackpot Capital bonus place he is never the less prevalent in many things across the world. Which makes it very interesting that there are such large swathes of people who might even have a Buddha statue but still have no clue who he is or what he actually did with his life.
If you ask almost any person they’ll be able to tell you something about their own religion easily, they might not know all about it but they know the basics of it. Ask a lot of people about the big religions in the world and they might know something about them, like Christianity, Islam, etc.
But past that and the majority of people have never looked into them in the slightest. Even though almost ten percent of the world are Buddhist the vast majority, especially those not in Asia, don’t have the slightest clue what it is.
I have to admit before I started researching for this article I myself didn’t know very much about Buddhism. Even with the research, I’ve done for this I am still very much uneducated in what it is.
That’s why I’m not here to teach you super specifics about the religion, because I know I’ll almost certainly get them wrong, so I’m going to teach you what I’m at least mildly confident in and that’s the history of who Buddha was and what he did.
The Prehistory And Stuff
We can’t start directly with the Buddha, because there’s stuff that happened before him that’s important to the story. You have to set it upright or it just won’t work.
It all starts with the Mahabharata which is a very long name for a very long story about a very big war.
The Mahabharata is a massive Epic from India, it’s a grand story about two sets of brothers and their conflicts for the throne.
The story is filled with twists, intrigue, mysticism, and much much more, (it was even turned into a PBS mini-series!) The poem is also the national Epic of India. The story isn’t what I am here to tell though, so I won’t.
It really deserves an entire article just for itself and I can’t do it justice. If it interests you, there are countless more interesting tellings of the story that can be found online. As I mentioned there’s even a PBS mini-series on the story!
But to make a long story short (literally) after the great wars in the story India fell into a routine. There really wasn’t much that was happening there. The country was at peace and for the most part, everyone just went about their jobs of surviving. They became content.
And as history shows, people who become content start to ask questions, and after questions comes philosophy.
The overwhelming realization that was made by the sages and philosophers of India at the time was that this was it. This was life. The routine of work and living was all there was to it.
But then there came the next question. If this was it, what was it? This, of course, was the harder question to answer.
What was life? What was the universe? Why was the universe? Why was life?
The answer they came up with at the time was very quite simple. It was Brahman.
Now of course there’s more to it, Brahman is the transliterated name of the soul of the universe. That was also part of it. The universe had a soul and this was why everything just worked. It was a creature and everything is part of its functions.
What was this soul though? Well, it was easier for them to say what it certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t anything that a person could see or touch or feel in any way, it simply was.
Where was it though? Another question that had to be asked. If the universe was the universe and it had a soul, where was that soul kept? The answer to this one was even better.
It was kept in everyone. The Brahman is inside everyone. Each living thing also had its own soul, which they called the Atman.
The Brahman equaled the Atman. An Atman was simply part of the Brahman. They also believed that the Atman was someone’s breath, the word even translates to breath (also it comes from the same eulogistic source as the word for atmosphere).
This led to that the greatest way to get closer to the Brahman of the universe was to focus on your own Atman, this meant focusing on your breathing. As simple as pie.
That’s all there was to it. To find the meaning of the universe you just have to meditate and focus on your breathing. This basic idea was the basis for the majority of ideologies for a time in India.
There were of course some other ideas that were thrown around too. These were questions like if the Brahman is immortal what happens to an Atman when someone dies? This created the idea of rebirth.
The Atman simply finds another body to inhabit when a child is born.
The idea of karma comes from this cycle of birth and rebirth too. Depending on how good you were in your life you collect karma, which, when you die based on the amount of karma you had gets to decide how good of a new life you had.
That meant that suffering was your fault because of a previous life therefore you deserved it. This was the beginnings of a caste system but I’m not going to get into that either, it’s its own thing that deserves its own article.
How the Buddha fits in the Big Picture
Now you might be wondering how the Buddha fits into this whole thing and I don’t blame you, so far he hasn’t been mentioned once in the prehistory.
That is because it’s the prehistory, now let’s get into the history of the Buddha himself.
Even though they had found “it” there were still many things people could do about it. People wanted to get closer to the enlightenment of what it truly was and because of this, there were countless schools or monasteries or whatever you would want to call them on philosophy and theology.
Practically everyone at the time decided to learn more about finding your inner self and understanding.
Then along came a boy born to very protective parents. They decided they were going to keep their son from everything bad in the world.
His being a prince certainly helped them achieve this goal. But even so, this goal was rightfully nigh unachievable and one day young Gautama headed outside the palace.
Where he saw humans suffering for the first time and rightfully so it changed him. He saw sick people, old people, dead people, and a wandering holy man as the story goes.
Gautama decided then and there that he wanted to be a wandering holy man (and I guess with the options there I don’t blame him). He was obsessed with this idea as much as he was obsessed with the concept of suffering.
Why is it a thing? Where does suffering come from? Why does it happen to anything? And most importantly how can someone avoid it.
He didn’t set off immediately on his dream, he was still raised as a good child. He dutifully married when he came of age and then had a child.
Then he left to fulfill his dream of being a wandering man. How noble of him.
He started off with going to a variety of the Hindu schools he could find, learning their methods for discovering the secrets of the universe.
Gautama got very good at their methods for it, starving, penance, breathing, and all their other methods for achieving enlightenment. He even got five disciples for himself.
The only problem being that he didn’t achieve enlightenment.
He realized that he didn’t understand anything more except that the exercises he was doing weren’t it. After learning this all five of his disciples left him for other teachers and Gautama himself set off to find what it really was and how to find it.
After wandering for a bit Gautama decided to do the only thing he could think of and that was to think. He found a nice tree and he sat under it and meditated.
He would meditate for however long it took for understanding to come. He wasn’t starving himself in enlightenment or anything like that, he still ate (particularly pork, his favorite meal), he just didn’t move from sitting under the tree.
After trying everything else he could find for finding what he wanted to know he did the last thing he could think of and that was nothing.
He just sat.
As it turned out all it took was forty-nine days of this. After this Gautama was known as Buddha, The Enlightened One.
But before we get to what he decided was the root of all suffering there’s someone else important we need to touch on.
Vardhamana and Stuff (like the Jain Sect)
There was another man who was born a decade or so after Buddha, his name was Vardhamana. He didn’t have quite the same privileged upbringing as Gautama had but he had the same dream.
He also left his wife and child and set out on a journey to become a holy man.
He traveled for twelve years, with only a robe on his back as his single possession,
In his thirteenth year, he lost the robe, it was either stolen or it simply disintegrated into nothing (It’s unclear, but he lost it.). After this enlightenment of his own happened.
He went by the name of Mahavira (which means Great Hero) and started preaching. His ideas were all about self-denial along with an extreme reverence for life. You were to take no lives, not even those of bugs (and especially not those of mosquitoes).
Along with that, you were to deny yourself worldly pleasures and possessions, fighting back against your wants and urges. If you deny yourself everything you’ll learn to be happy with what you have.
This movement quickly started gaining movement, becoming the large sect besides the Buddhas. Speaking about the Buddha!
Back to the Buddha!
The Buddha had a different idea from sitting under that tree. Instead of extreme self-denial and preservation, he believed in moderation.
You can still get joys but you have to control them. The ideas are pretty complicated and a little wonky but here’s the gist of it;
Reality is an illusion. Everything we experience is simply a figment of our minds creating reality from what our senses perceive. Nothing that we truly experience is actually real and so we set up in our minds what reality should be.
You’re not unhappy because you don’t have something, you are upset because you want them. It’s not the actual object that brings us joy but the fulfillment of getting it.
Getting the objects won’t help either because there will always be more to get.
So the solution was simple to the Buddha. Just abandon all desire. This was relatively similar to a lot of other teachings that were around at the time except for one unique part.
The Buddha shunned extremes, he believed solely in doing everything in moderation. Too much pleasure is vain and leads to nothingness but too much self-denial and self-punishment just leads to the same thing.
Even though the Buddha preached renunciation of desire he preached to maintain a connection to the world. Still experience what it has to offer but do so thoughtfully and with moderation.
That’s about all I have on that, it was a very interesting research.