A Buddha is a being who has completely abandoned all delusions and their imprints and who has achieved a state of everlasting freedom and supreme happiness. Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha.
The particular Buddha who founded the Buddhist tradition in our time is called Buddha Shakyamuni.
Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism in this world. In general, “Buddha” means “Awakened One” – someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. A Buddha is a person who is completely free from all faults and mental obstructions. Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha. See the life story of Buddha below.
It is impossible to describe all the good qualities of a Buddha. A Buddha’s compassion, wisdom, and power are completely beyond conception. With nothing left to obscure their mind, they see all phenomena throughout the universe as clearly as they see a jewel held in the palm of their hand.
Through the force of his or her compassion, a Buddha spontaneously does whatever is appropriate to benefit others. A Buddha does not need to think about what is the best way to help living beings – they naturally and effortlessly act in the most beneficial way. Just as the sun does not need to motivate itself to radiate light and heat, but does so simply because heat and light are its very nature, so a Buddha does not need to motivate themself to benefit others, but does so simply because being beneficial is their very nature.
The face of the wisdom Buddha Manjushri
Like the reflections of a moon that effortlessly appear in any body of still water, a Buddha’s emanations spontaneously appear wherever living beings’ minds are capable of perceiving them. Buddhas can emanate in any form whatsoever to help living beings. Sometimes they manifest as Buddhists and sometimes as non-Buddhists. They can manifest as women or men, monarchs or tramps, law abiding citizens or criminals. They can even manifest as animals, as wind or rain, or as mountains or islands. Unless we are a Buddha ourself, we cannot possibly say who or what is a Buddha.
A female Tantric Buddha – a Dakini
Of all the ways in which a Buddha helps living beings, the supreme way is by emanating as a Spiritual Guide. Through his or her Teachings and immaculate example, an authentic Spiritual Guide leads his or her disciples along the spiritual path to liberation and enlightenment. If we meet a qualified Spiritual Guide and put into practice everything he or she teaches, we will definitely become a Conqueror Buddha. We will then be in a position to repay the kindness of all living beings by liberating them from the sufferings of samsara and leading them to the supreme bliss of Buddhahood.
Life Story of Buddha
The Buddha who is the founder of the Buddhist religion is called Buddha Shakyamuni. “Shakya” is the name of the royal family into which he was born, and “Muni” means “Able One.” Buddha Skakyamuni was born as a royal prince in 624 BC in a place called Lumbini, which was originally in northern India but is now part of Nepal. His mother’s name was Queen Mayadevi and his father’s name was King Shuddhodana.
One night, Queen Mayadevi dreamed that a white elephant descended from heaven and entered her womb. The white elephant entering her womb indicated that on that very night she had conceived a child who was a pure and powerful being. The elephant’s descending from heaven indicated that her child came from Tushita heaven, the Pure Land of Buddha Maitreya.
Later, when she gave birth to the child, instead of experiencing pain the queen experienced a special, pure vision in which she stood holding the branch of a tree with her right hand while the gods Brahma and Indra took the child painlessly from her side. They then proceeded to honor the infant by offering him ritual ablutions.
When the king saw the child he felt as if all his wishes had been fulfilled and he named the young prince “Siddhartha.” He invited a Brahmin seer to make predictions about the prince’s future. The seer examined the child with his clairvoyance and told the king, “There are signs that the boy could become either a chakravatin king, a ruler of the entire world, or a fully enlightened Buddha.
However, since the time for chakravatin kings is now past it is certain that he will become a Buddha, and that his beneficial influence will pervade the thousand million worlds like the rays of the sun.
As the young prince grew up he mastered all the traditional arts and sciences without needing any instruction. He knew sixty-four different languages, each with their own alphabet, and he was also very skilled at mathematics. He once told his father that he could count all the atoms in the world in the time it takes to draw a single breath. Although he did not need to study, he did so to please his father and to benefit others. At his father’s request he joined a school where, in addition to various academic subjects, he became skilled at sports such as martial arts and archery.
The prince would take every opportunity to convey spiritual meanings and to encourage others to follow spiritual paths. At one time, when he was taking part in an archery contest, he declared, “With the bow of meditative concentration I will fire the arrow of wisdom and kill the tiger of ignorance in living beings.” He then released the arrow and it flew straight through five iron tigers and seven trees before disappearing into the earth! By witnessing demonstrations such as this, thousands of people developed faith in the prince.
Sometimes Prince Siddhartha would go into the capital city of his father’s kingdom to see how the people lived. During these visits he came into contact with many old people and sick people, and on one occasion he saw a corpse.
These encounters left a deep impression on his mind and led him to realize that all living beings without exception have to experience the sufferings of birth, sickness, aging and death. Because he understood the laws of reincarnation he also realized that they experience these sufferings not just once, but again and again, in life after life without cessation.
Seeing how all living beings are trapped in this vicious circle of suffering he felt deep compassion for them, and he developed a sincere wish to free all of them from their suffering. Realizing that only a fully enlightened Buddha has the wisdom and the power to help all living beings in this way, he resolved to leave the palace and retire to the solitude of the forest where he would engage in profound meditation until he attained enlightenment.
When the people of the Shakya kingdom realized that the prince intended to leave the palace they requested the king to arrange a marriage for him in the hope that this would cause him to change his mind.
The king agreed and soon found him a suitable bride, the daughter of a respected Shakya family, called Yasodhara. Prince Siddhartha, however, had no attachment to worldly pleasures because he realized that objects of attachment are like poisonous flowers, which initially appear to be attractive but eventually give rise to great pain.
His resolve to leave the palace and to attain enlightenment remained unchanged, but to fulfill his father’s wishes and to bring temporary benefit to the Shakya people, he agreed to marry Yasodhara. However, even though he remained in the palace as a royal prince, he devoted all his time and energy to serving the Shakya people in whatever way he could.
When he was twenty-nine years old, the prince had a vision in which all the Buddhas of the ten directions appeared to him and spoke in unison saying, Previously you resolved to become a Conqueror Buddha so that you could help all living beings trapped in the cycle of suffering. Now is the time for you to accomplish this.”
The prince went immediately to his parents and told them of his intention: “I wish to retire to a peaceful place in the forest where I can engage in deep meditation and quickly attain full enlightenment. Once I have attained enlightenment I shall be able to repay the kindness of all living beings, and especially the great kindness that you have shown me. Therefore I request your permission to leave the palace.” When his parents heard this they were shocked, and the king refused to grant his permission. Prince Siddhartha said to his father “Father, if you can give me permanent freedom from the sufferings of birth, sickness, ageing and death I shall stay in the palace; but if you cannot I must leave and make my human life meaningful.”
The king tried all means to prevent his son from leaving the palace. In the hope that the prince might change his mind, he surrounded him with a retinue of beautiful women, dancers, singer, and musicians, who day and night used their charms to please him; and in case the prince might attempt a secret escape he posted guards around the palace walls.
However, the prince’s determination to leave the palace and enter a life of meditation could not be shaken. One night he used his miracle powers to send the guards and attendants into a deep sleep while he made his escape from the palace with the help of a trusted aide.
After they had traveled about six miles, the prince dismounted from his horse and bade farewell to his aide. He then cut off his hair and threw it into the sky, where it was caught by the gods of the Land of the Thirty-three Heavens. One of the gods then offered the prince the saffron robes of a religious mendicant. The prince accepted these and gave his royal garments to the god in exchange. In this way he ordained himself as a monk.
Siddhartha then made his way to a place near Bodh Gaya in India, where he found a suitable site for meditation. There he remained, emphasizing a meditation called “space-like concentration on the Dharmakaya” in which he focused single-pointedly on the ultimate nature of all phenomena.
After training in this meditation for six years he realized that he was very close to attaining full enlightenment, and so he walked to Bodh Gaya where, on the full moon day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, he seated himself beneath the Bodhi Tree in the meditation posture and vowed not to rise from meditation until he had attained perfect enlightenment. With this determination he entered the space-like concentration on the Dharmakaya.
As dusk fell, Devaputra Mara, the chief of all the demons, or maras, in this world, tried to disturb Siddhartha’s concentration by conjuring up many fearful apparitions.
He manifested hosts of terrifying demons, some throwing spears, some firing arrows, some trying to burn him with fire, and some hurling boulders and even mountains at him. Through the force of his concentration, the weapons, rocks, and mountains appeared to him as a rain of fragrant flowers, and the raging fires became like offerings of rainbow lights.
Seeing that Siddhartha could not be frightened into abandoning his meditation, Devaputra Mara tried instead to distract him by manifesting countless beautiful women, but Siddhartha responded by developing even deeper concentration.
In this way he triumphed over all the demons of this world, which is why he subsequently became known as a “Conqueror Buddha.”
Siddhartha then continued with his meditation until dawn, when he attained the varja-like concentration. With this concentration, which is the very last mind of a limited being, he removed the final veils of ignorance from his mind and in the next moment became a Buddha, a fully enlightened being.
There is nothing that Buddha does not know. Because he has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and has removed all obstructions from his mind, he knows everything of the past, present, and future, directly and simultaneously.
Moreover, Buddha has great compassion which is completely impartial, embracing all living beings without discrimination. He benefits all living beings without exception by emanating various forms throughout the universe, and by bestowing his blessings on their minds. Through receiving Buddha’s blessings, all beings, even the lowliest animals, sometimes develop peaceful and virtuous states of mind.
Eventually, through meeting an emanation of Buddha in the form of a Spiritual Guide, everyone will have the opportunity to enter the path to liberation and enlightenment. As the great Indian Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna said, there is no one who has not received help from Buddha.
Forty-nine days after Buddha attained enlightenment he was requested to teach. As a result of this request, Buddha rose from meditation and taught the Dharma.
“Dharma” means “protection”. By practicing Buddha’s teachings we protect ourself from suffering and problems. All the problems we experience during daily life originate from ignorance, and the method for eliminating ignorance is to practice Dharma.
Practicing Dharma is the supreme method for improving the quality of our human life. The quality of life depends not upon external development or material progress, but upon the inner development of peace and happiness. For example, in the past many Buddhists lived in poor and underdeveloped countries, but they were able to find pure, lasting happiness by practicing what Buddha had taught.
If we integrate Buddha’s teachings into our daily life we will be able to solve all our inner problems and attain a truly peaceful mind.