I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)
The story of Buddhism begins with a man who became enlightened, thus gaining abiding insight into the nature of the world and its reality. Hence, the word ‘Buddha’ means the ‘Enlightened’ or ‘Awakened One’.
The historical Buddha was born as a prince among the Sakyas in the year 623 B.C. The Sakyas were a warrior caste who lived in Kapilvastu which is located in today’s Nepal. His parents were King Suddhodana and Queen Siri Maha Maya who died after he was born. The prince was named Siddhartha Gautama. There was a prediction that the prince would become either a great King or a supreme Teacher of the World if he choose to become a monk.
Legends tell us that Prince Siddhartha was a very remarkable personality. Even though he was surrounded by luxury and splendour, he kept a serious, meditative turn of mind. Thus, one day the prince rode through the village streets and saw an old and decrepit man, then he also encountered a man severely stricken with illness and finally a dead man. Since he had not seen such conditions before in his luxurious palace, he became preoccupied with the ultimate questions of suffering and death.
Thus, at the age of 29, the prince left his palace to become a monk leaving even his beautiful wife and child behind. First, he sought instruction under several great spiritual teachers and later he undertook the disciplines of rigorous self-mortification. Finally, after six years of radical physical asceticism and abstract philosophy, he reached Enlightenment through sitting quietly in meditation beneath the Bodhi Tree. He detected the cause of suffering in craving due to ignorance, discovering a way to right view, conduct and concentration.
The Buddha decided to share his insights, what he discovered through the process of Enlightenment by preaching the message of salvation (Dharma) to all people of all castes without any discrimination. Thus, he organized a community of monks, the Sangha, which included disciples from all castes. The Buddha was a wandering teacher for 45 years before he died at Kusinara at the age of 80.
In fact, the Buddha was a human being and his story was a story of a rich prince who became a monk and spent many years in the jungles, villages and schools in order to achieve Enlightenment. Hence, as a man he was born, he lived and he passed away. Thus, the Buddha is neither a god nor a god’s prophet. He is not a savior who saves others by his personal salvation. He rather wants his disciples to depend on themselves for their salvation.
Finally, we may also say that the Buddha does not claim the monopoly of Buddhahood. Thus, we should also point out in retelling his story that every person can achieve Enlightenment and hence Buddhahood.