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The Life of the Buddha


Siddhartha Gautama was born around 563 BCE into the kshatriya class in northern India. Both his birth and life are veiled in mystery and legend. At his birth, it was predicted that he would be a great king if he did not view human misery and suffering. If he were to see the unpleasant side of life, he would become a religious teacher. Eager to have him become a great ruler, Siddhartha's father surrounded him with luxuries and the finer things of life. Siddhartha married a beautiful woman, had a son, and apparently had everything that the good life could offer him.

 In spite of his father's efforts to shelter him from the unpleasant aspect of life (and according to the legends, with some help from the gods), Siddhartha encountered what became known as the four passing sights: old age, sickness, death and a monk who had withdrawn from the world.  The first three sights revealed the suffering that all people experience.  The fourth sight, however, hinted at the possibility that one could transcend suffering. Troubled by the suffering he had seen and intrigued by the possibility of overcoming suffering, Siddhartha decided to follow the path of the monk to find meaning and purpose in life.

In an act that became known as the "Great Renunciation" Siddhartha left his family and the privileged life he had known.  He spent the next six years studying various philosophies, but did not find the answers to the mystery of suffering. He spent six more years as an ascetic, fasting and meditating, but still failed to find a satisfactory answer to the mysteries of suffering. Consequently, he chose a middle way between the two extremes of radical self denial and self indulgence. He decided to meditate until he became enlightened. Finally, in the midst of meditation, Siddhartha came to a profound realization of the nature of reality and the causes of human suffering. He became the Buddha - the Enlightened One.  The truth he discovered and taught until his death at age 80 became known as the dharma


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