The Origins of Buddhism (Part 2)

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Lectures on Basic Study Materials
from Dai-Byakuho, issue no. 360

The Origins of Buddhism:  Part 2

The Life of Shakyamuni
Today, there are various explanations about the period in which
Shakyamuni lived, and about Shakyamuni's life. But here, we wish to
present Shakyamuni's life following the explanation given in the
Shusho Iki, said to have been used by Nichiren Daishonin.

The Shakya Clan
Shakya is the name of a family which lived in what is now the
southern region of Nepal, and it is said that at the time in question,
the Shakya clan had built a kind of Republic. First they chose ten
chiefs, and then elected one of the ten chiefs to be the leader, whom
they called the king. The capital city of the Shakya clan was called
Kapilavastu.

The Birth of Shakyamuni
The sage who came from this Shakya clan was given the honorific
title "Muni," [meaning sage] and was called "Shakyamuni, the World-
Honored One." This name was shortened to "Honored One of the
Shakyas." Shakyamuni's father was Suddhodana, king of Kapilavastu
castle, and his mother was the king's wife, Queen Maya. The story
spread that at birth, the crown prince walked seven steps and
proclaimed, "I alone am honored throughout heaven and earth."

Tears of the Ascetic Asita
Gladdened by the birth of the prince, King Suddhodana decided to
have the ascetic Asita foretell the prince's future. Thereupon the
ascetic said: "In the future, this prince will either become a great
king and rule India, or if he should take the tonsure, he will become
a great Buddha. However, I am old, and will not be able to see this
prince come to maturity." So saying, it is told that Asita wept.

Tonsure
Prince Siddhartha, exhibited wisdom from infancy, and during his
youth, his skill in both letters and the martial arts was markedly
superior. Therefore, Suddhodana wished to have the prince ascend
the throne. However, the prince had no such intentions, and when a
son, Rahula, was born to Siddhartha and his wife, the Queen Consort
Yashodhara, Siddhartha's desire to take the tonsure grew stronger.
On occasion, Prince Siddhartha left the castle by one of the gates of
the four directions (north, south, east and west), for recreation. But
the first time, leaving by way of the east gate, he met up with an
aged person. The next time, going out through the south gate, he
came upon one who was ill. When he left through the west gate, he
saw a corpse. At that time, he lost his appetite for pleasure, and felt
more and more repugnance for his earthly existence. Finally, when
the prince went out via the north gate, he met a man of the Way,
whose body and mind were pristine. In that man, the crown prince
saw the ideal figure he truly sought to become himself, and from that
moment, resolved in his heart to enter the Path. This story is known
as, "Play at the Four Gates."

Attaining the Path [Buddhahood]
It is said that Suddhohana dispatched five ascetics Ñ Ajnata
Kaundinya, Ashivajit, Bhadrika, Dashabala Kashyapa and Mahanama
Ñ to go with Prince Siddhartha when he left the castle. Together, they
trained under two ascetics, first under Alara Kalama, and then under
Uddaka Ramaputta.  But this practice did not lead to enlightenment.
Afterwards, for the next twelve years, Shakyamuni pursued every
kind of religious austerity imaginable, but he realized that the
practice of these extreme austerities was as meaningless as
indulgence in worldly pleasures. So in a tributary of the Ganges River
called the Nairanjana, near Buddhagaya, he bathed himself, ate a
milk and rice porridge offered him by a maiden named Sujata, and
regained his strength. When the five ascetics witnessed this, they
believed that Shakyamuni had given up his quest for Buddhahood,
and left him.
Following that, Shakyamuni sat with single-minded yearning under a
pipal tree.  After entering into profound meditation, his heart finally
awoke and he became a Buddha (one who is enlightened). He was
thirty years old at the time. Because the Buddha had attained
enlightenment in that place, the town which had been known as Gaya
was from that time called Buddhagaya.

Beginning to Expound the Law
From the seat where he had attained enlightenment, Shakyamuni
spent twenty-one days preaching the Kegon Sutra, and afterwards
traveled to Mrgadava (Deer Park) in Varanasi. There, he began by
teaching the five ascetics who had left him when he had given up his
practice of austerities, and made them his disciples. Next,
Shakyamuni headed back towards Buddhagaya, to make disciples of
the three Mahakashyapa brothers. Then continuing on to enter
Rajagriha in Magadha, he taught multitudes of people, including two
of his greatest disciples, Shariputra and Maha-Maudgalyayana.
Meanwhile, because King Bimbisara had donated a monastery in a
bamboo grove, and the wealthy merchant Sudatta had donated the
Jetavana Monastery in Shravasti (MW, Vol. 5, p. 307-309), Buddhism
greatly flourished.
When Shakyamuni returned to his birth place Kapilavastu, many of
his family members became his disciples, including his cousin
Ananda, his son Rahula, his stepmother Mahaprajapati and the queen
consortx, Yashodhara.  But in collusion with Ananda's brother
Devadatta, the crown prince of Magadha, Ajatashatru interfered with
Shakyamuni's teaching efforts. Yet, while undergoing what is known
as the Nine Great Persecutions, Shakyamuni continued to expound
the Law. Finally fulfilling the true purpose of his being, Shakyamuni
gave voice to the Lotus Sutra at Gridhrakuta, or Eagle (Vulture) Peak,
in Magadha.
The Chinese Buddhist master T'ien-t'ai later codified the contents of
the Buddha's lifelong teachings in his Five Periods and Eight
Teachings.

The Nirvana of Shakyamuni
After teaching the truth of the Buddhist path for fifty years, at the
age of eighty, Shakyamuni breathed his last under the Sal trees at
Kushinagara on February fifteenth. The death of this Buddha is
known as Nirvana.

Eight Events in the Life of a Buddha
In order for a Buddha to bring all life to Buddhahood, during his/her
life, he/she must go through eight metamorphoses, known as the
Eight Events of a Buddha's Life.  They are:  1)  Coming down from the
Tushita heaven;  2)  Entering the mother's body;  3)  Being born from
the mother's body;  4)  Leaving "home" to enter the path of Buddhist
practice;  5)  Subjugating demons (Overcoming Inner Darkness which
prevent the attainment of enlightenment);  6)  Attaining
Enlightenment;  7)  Turning the Wheel of the Law (Begin to preach
the Law in order to teach all mankind) and;  8)  Entering Nirvana
(Death, having finished teaching the Law).
We must not forget that the true purpose for Shakyamuni's
exhibition of the Eight Events in the Life of a Buddha was in order to
expound the Lotus Sutra.

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