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Searching for the Truth - The Story of Siddhartha Gautama

Updated: May 29

Stories are an essential part of our lives. We think of ourselves as stories, we use stories to make sense of things that happen to us.

Buddhist stories can help us navigate our worlds, both internal and external. If we retell them regularly, we internalise them, they become part of us, guiding us through life.

This is a short summary of the talk given by Vajragupta on Buddha Day 2024. It focuses on the original story of Siddhartha Gautama's quest for Enlightenment in Northeastern India, over two and a half thousand years ago.


Early life of Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama was born into the Shakya tribe, and his mother died giving birth to him. Raised by his aunt, he grew up noticing that other children had both of their parents around them. This early experience shaped his understanding of life and death. He also witnessed conflicts between his father's Shakya tribe and his mother's Koliyan tribe over water rights, which deeply disturbed him and made him aware of the fragility of civilization.


Realizations and quest for Truth

As he was growing up, Siddhartha was troubled by the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. He realized that ignoring these truths would be a denial of his self-awareness and of human life. Determined to seek the truth, he decided to face life fully. He described this existential realization as a thorn lodged deep in his heart, a constant dull ache reminding him of life's impermanence and suffering.


Seeking the Truth

Siddhartha chose to leave behind his privileged life to seek Enlightenment. He joined a group of seekers known as Shravakas, strivers for truth, who rejected the rituals and beliefs of the time to search for deeper meaning. He found teachers like Alama Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, who taught him advanced meditative practices. However, realizing that these teachings were insufficient, he moved on.


The path of asceticism

Siddhartha then practiced extreme asceticism, believing that denying all pleasures would lead to liberation. He took this to the point of near starvation and physical collapse. One day, while crossing a river, he almost drowned due to his weakened state. This realization led him to abandon extreme asceticism and seek the middle way.


Crisis and revelation

In a moment of crisis, alone in the forest, Siddhartha had a vision that illuminated his path. He remembered a childhood experience of sitting peacefully under a rose apple tree, which transported him into a natural, blissful meditative state. This memory helped him realize that not all pleasures are harmful; there are worldly pleasures and unworldly, pure pleasures that lead to true fulfillment.


The Middle Way

Siddhartha understood that the path to Enlightenment lay in a middle way between extreme indulgence and severe asceticism. He saw that craving worldly pleasures led to suffering and a sense of lack. So instead, he chose to embrace unworldly pleasures that arise from within, such as love, appreciation, and meditative bliss. This marked the beginning of his awakening process.


Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree

Siddhartha regained his strength and meditated by the river Nairanjana, where he finally attained Enlightenment. He realized that craving and clinging created the sense of fixed self and suffering. By seeing through the illusions of the self, he achieved total freedom and joy. His Enlightenment was marked by the verses "Many a birth have I undergone, keeping on in the round of existence, seeking the builder of this house and not finding him, painful is such repeated birth. Oh house builder, now you are seen, never again will you build me a house."


At home in the universe

The Buddha's Enlightenment brought him a profound sense of being at home in the universe. He experienced non-separation from everything, living from a deep sense of connection. This is illustrated in stories like the serpent Mucalinda sheltering him during a storm and his expression of gratitude to the Bodhi tree.


The Buddha's decision to teach

Initially hesitant about teaching, the Buddha was visited by the figure Brahma Sahampati, who convinced him to share his Enlightenment experience. The Buddha then had a vision of an ocean of lotuses, representing humanity's potential for growth and enlightenment. He decided to teach and share his wisdom, knowing that his life's work was to help others awaken.


A testament of human potential

The Buddha's journey and Enlightenment are a testament to the human potential for awakening. His story inspires us to seek for the truth, face life's challenges, and live fully. The mantra "I will not live an unlived life" encapsulates his determination and courage, motivating us to pursue our own paths to liberation.


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