All Buddhist branches have adopted the basic fundamental teachings of Gautama Buddha. Who is Siddhartha Gautama?
Siddhartha Gautama is the historical founder of Buddhism, also known as Buddha Shakyamuni. He was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in Ancient India from 480 BCE to 400 BCE.
According to Buddhist tradition in China and Japan, he lived between 1029 and 949 BC, but some Western studies place him almost 500 years later. Shakyamuni was born a prince of the Shakyas tribe, whose kingdom was located at the foot of the Himalayas. However, he renounced his royal status and sought a solution to the universal human suffering of birth, old age, illness and death.
For a number of years he devoted himself to the extremely strict rules and teachings of the various religious sects of his day. However, as soon as he mastered them, he rejected them, for they did not give the answer he was looking for. Realizing that he had to find the solution all by himself, he sank into deep meditation, sitting under a fig tree near the city of Gaya, and the result was that he was enlightened to the true nature of life.
Shakyamuni became aware of the truth of Buddhist Law, namely that life is eternal and that cause and effect, life and death are an everlasting process to which all life is subject. The fear of death is the source of all human fears; Shakyamuni had overcome this primordial fear.
Realizing that the universe is a single entity of life, and by nurturing this great entity of life as his “teacher,” Shakyamuni attained enlightenment as he was: a human being. For fifty years he spread his teachings with the aim of leading others to the same state of enlightenment.
Shakyamuni’s time was characterized by such great social unrest that people had their weapons at hand even at home. Despite this, he traveled across the country proclaiming peace and expounding his teachings.
The method that Shakyamuni used was nothing more than ‘nonviolent dialogue’. Through dialogue he taught the inviolability of life and tried to liberate society from violence. Later his teachings were collected in the form of Buddhist sutras.
Shakyamuni’s Supreme Teaching
He taught his enlightenment in two basic ways. For the first forty years he made use of stories and parables, which he tuned to the comprehension of his audience. But in the last eight years of his life, he taught his enlightenment directly in the Lotus Sutra, which he considered to be his highest teaching. In this sutra, Shakyamuni stated that all the teachings prior to the Lotus Sutra were for preparation only and that now only the Lotus Sutra was to be followed. The great Buddhist scholar in China T’ien-t’ai has divided these fifty years of preaching into five periods, the last eight years being the period in which the Lotus Sutra was set forth.
Although Shakyamuni described in the Lotus Sutra the experience of his enlightenment and the existence of the Law of life, he did not give a precise description of it. He also did not explain how enlightenment can be achieved, but did explain that every human being possesses the Buddha nature.
Shakyamuni continued to preach to the end of his life. “Decay is inherent in everything that is put together. Work out your rescue diligently, ”were the words he uttered before he breathed his last at the age of 80, according to legend.