BUDDHISM

BUDDHA (563?-483? BC). More than 500 years before Jesus was born--and at about the same time that Confucius was teaching the Chinese how to lead the good life--a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama (or Gotama) became famed in India for his holiness and love for all creatures. He was called the Buddha, meaning "the Enlightened One." Many persons believed in his teachings while he lived. After his death, temples were built in his honor, and his religion spread through a great part of Asia. Today some 350 million people profess the Buddhist faith.

The Buddha was born to a noble family of the ruling class in Lumbini in what is now southwestern Nepal (Buddha's Birth place). He was raised in luxury by an adoring father who sought to protect him from the sight and knowledge of evil. He married early and had a son while he was still a youth. One day, according to legend, he rode forth from the palace in his chariot. By the roadside he saw an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse on a litter. Shocked by his first experience with old age, sickness, and death, the prince lost all joy in living.

Soon after that he renounced the world, and through all sorts of penances, even to the point of almost starving to death, he sought to gain insight into life's meanings. As he meditated in solitude under the Bo tree, which Buddhists call the tree of wisdom, he experienced a spiritual awakening, known as "the enlightenment." Once Siddhartha Gautama was awakened to the truth about life, he became the Buddha and devoted his life to sharing his teachings with others. Preaching at first to only five followers, he soon founded an order of monks. For 45 years he gave public teachings and private counseling for his disciples. He died in about 483 BC at the age of 80.

Buddha did not claim to be of divine origin nor did he claim revelation from above. He meditated, but he prayed to no Higher Being. In Buddhism there is no beginning and no end, no Creation, and no Heaven. Buddha accepted many of the beliefs of Hinduism, the religion of his time.

In a sermon at Benares, which Buddhists hold in the same reverence as Christians do the Sermon on the Mount, Buddha set forth his beliefs. There is a middle way of life between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. To pursue the middle way, one must recognize the Four Noble Truths. They may be briefly stated as follows: Human life is an existence of suffering. Human suffering is caused by desire for things that cannot satisfy the spirit. Suffering can be ended and man set free by renouncing these desires, which are rooted in ignorance. Man can free himself of desire by following the Noble Eightfold Path of right views, right aspirations, right speech, right behavior, right mode of livelihood, right efforts, right thoughts, and right contemplation.

In everyday life, the eightfold path requires that the individual do no harm to any creature. Expressly forbidden are theft, falsehood, unchastity, strong drink, and the taking of life. These laws remind Christians of the Ten Commandments. As a rule of conduct Buddha taught the Golden Rule. He believed in the statement that "all that we are is the result of what we have thought." (See also BUDDHISM.)

In February 1996 a team of United Nations-sponsored archaeologists announced that they had discovered the ancient birth chamber of Prince Siddhartha beneath the Mayadevi temple in Lumbini, more than 200 miles (350 kilometers) southwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. The discovery settled an international debate over whether Buddha was born in India or Nepal.

The archaeologists excavated 15 chambers more than 16 feet (4.9 meters) beneath the ancient temple. A key find was a commemorative stone placed atop a platform of seven layers of bricks dating to 249 BC. According to ancient Buddhist literature, that was the year in which Emperor Asoka, the ruler credited with expanding Buddhism into East Asia, placed a stone on top of a pile of bricks at the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha. Archaeologists also discovered a memorial pillar built by Asoka at the site, a terra-cotta figure of Siddhartha and his wife, and silver and copper coins.

The United Nations and the government of Nepal announced plans to build a center for world peace at the Lumbini site. Officials expected that the temple would become a shrine for the more than 350 million Buddhists around the world.

BUDDHISM