This Buddha Was Made for Enlightenin’

It’s pretty well known that the founder of the Buddhist faith was a guy named Siddhartha Gautama, but how much do we really know about him? Well, not too much for sure. As with many figures known mostly for religious reasons, his early followers were more concerned with preserving his philosophy than the details of his life. Still, there’s a pretty standard biography of Gautama, which includes both mundane and supernatural details. He was said to have been born around 563 BC to Shuddodana Gautama, chief of the Shakya tribe, and his wife Mahamaya. The Shakya lived in the foothills of the Himalayas, around what is now the border between India and Nepal. Mahamaya had a dream of a six-tusked white elephant on the day Siddhartha was conceived, and gave birth to him in the woods with help from a tree.

The queen died not long after this, so young Siddhartha was primarily raised by his aunt Mahaprajapati. The boy lived a life of luxury in a great palace (or perhaps several of them), and married a princess named Yaśodharā. When he reached the age of twenty-nine, he had the idea that there might be more to life, so he set out on a journey through his country, and learned that all human beings experienced suffering and death. He pondered this problem by meditating under a tree for forty-nine days, finally devising the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path that would be central to Buddhism, the religion of Richard Gere and Tiger Woods. Oh, and also a significant portion of Asia.

One interesting fact I can remember learning about Siddhartha is that he did not believe in the immortal soul or the idea of reincarnation. Considering that, it’s odd that many modern Buddhists place such high regard on reincarnation that they seek out a new Dalai Lama who was born right after the old one died. Siddhartha was also…well, not necessarily an atheist, but someone who believed the path to enlightenment was within your own mind, and not something that required a god. So of course some of his later adherents started to worship him as a god. Unfortunately, this often seems to be how it works. Religions become popular once they’re adopted by people in power, but in order for those people to STAY in power, they have to alter some of the fundamental aspects of the original practice. And it’s not only religions, for that matter. For instance, how closely did the Soviet Union really adhere to the ideas of Karl Marx?

Also notable to me is that some Hindus regard Siddhartha as one of the avatars of Vishnu.

Opponents of Buddhism would claim that his incarnation was meant to drive people away from the true religion, but why would a god want to trick people into NOT worshipping him? A variation on this idea is that he was trying to deceive demons so that they wouldn’t ever be redeemed, which makes him sound like a jerk. I would imagine that demons can’t help being demons, and one of them achieving enlightenment would be a much bigger deal than a human doing the same thing, since most of them are already basically good.

Mind you, I also think an ending to the book of Revelation more fitting with the message of Jesus would be to have Satan eventually reform, rather than his being exterminated.

Also, before I close out my post, I should point out that, contrary to popular opinion, Siddhartha is not the Fat Buddha. Rather, that popular figure represents a Zen Buddhist monk named Budai or Hotei, who lived in China and achieved enlightenment. Whether he ever actually existed is uncertain, but his statue is used as a symbol of contentment.

Siddhartha himself is usually portrayed as quite thin.

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15 Responses to This Buddha Was Made for Enlightenin’

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Grease Enlightenin’, Go Grease Enlightenin’! :) I’m actually kind of surprised you didn’t go with that for the title of the post.

    “I would imagine that demons can’t help being demons, and one of them achieving enlightenment would be a much bigger deal than a human doing the same thing, since most of them are already basically good.”

    This makes sense to Westerners who grew up with Christianity or Judaism as their family’s religion, but according to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, even though a demon achieving Enlightenment is a bigger step in their spiritual journey, it’s a bigger deal for humans to reach it because humans are even above gods in the scale of reincarnation, so there’s more to celebrate when a human reaches Enlightenment–it means that the human who reached it has gone through infinite trials to get there, including spending time in the other realms. Besides, technically, all beings of the six realms have to reincarnate as humans first before they can become Enlightened; only humans can reach Enlightenment directly. (For the record, the six realms are animals, ghosts, demons, gods, humans, and…I forget the last one, but it’s on the “good” side, since ghosts, demons, and animals are on the “evil” side. Gods aren’t considered Enlightened because they give into all their pride and desires, and desire causes suffering, suffering causes pain, pain causes death, death causes reincarnation.)

    • Nathan says:

      Do demons also fit into the cycle of death and rebirth? If so, would a demon with good karma be reincarnated as a human?

      • vilajunkie says:

        Yes, a demon with good karma (I’m assuming one who did his service to punish the damned but didn’t mete out excessive torture or reveled in it) can reincarnate as a human. I think only the Buddhist demon lords (such as Yama/Enma-Daio, as he’s called in Sanskrit and Japanese) can’t or won’t reincarnate, since they have given up their chance at Enlightenment to serve the Buddhas in Hell. Or if they do reincarnate, it won’t be for millions or billions of years. They were all once human kings, too.

  2. Nandhini says:

    Just got reminded of a small piece of info Ive read about Buddha’s life, long before. Soon after his birth, his horscope was made. Eight Brahmin scholars predicted that he would become either a world monarch or a great ascetic. Since Budhha’s father did not want his son to become a hermit, he raised him in great luxury.

    The black and white picture seems new, what is it depicting?

    • Nathan says:

      The black and white picture is of Mahamaya’s elephant dream at the conception of the Buddha, but I forget where it’s from. I think it’s old art, however.

  3. pixi says:

    In the Maha-samya Sutta there was an occasion when the devas from almost all the planes came to see the Buddha when he was dwelling in the Great Wood together with 500 bhikkhus, all of them arahants. The Buddha introduced their names to the monks, Vishnu was one of those present. The Buddha mentioned him by the name Venhu.

    The Venhu Sutta shows Vishnu as one of the young devas who came to visit and talked with the Buddha:

    At Savatthi. Standing to one side, the young deva Venhu recited this verse in the presence of the Blessed One: ” Happy indeed are those human beings attending on the Fortunate One. Applying themselves to Gotama’s Teaching, who train in it with diligence.”

    The Blessed One said: “When the course of teaching is proclaimed by me, O Venhu,” said the Blessed One, “Those meditators who train therein. Being diligent at the proper time. Will not come under Death’s control.”- The Connected Discourse of the Buddha” A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya by Bhikkhu Bodhi ,page 432)

    According to “Hinduism and Buddhism An Historical Sketch” (Vol. 2 page 746) , Sir Charles Elliot who was a British diplomat mentioned that this correlates with the Rig Veda text before Hinduism started. Both texts mentioned that Vishnu and Shiva are minor deities instead of the Lords of the Universe as popularly known by worshippers:

    ” Vishnu and Rudra (Shiva) are known even to the Rig Veda but as deities of no special eminence. It is only after the Vedic age that they became , each for his own worshippers, undisputed Lords of the Universe…..The Pali Pitakas frequently introduce popular deities , but give no prominence to Vishnu and Siva. They are apparently mentioned under the names of Venhu and Isana, but are not differentiated from a host of spirits now forgotten. ….The suttas of the Digha Nikaya in which these lists of deities occur were perhaps composed before 300 B.C. “- Sir Charles Elliot

    • Nathan says:

      It’s actually pretty common for religions to accept that the gods of other belief systems are real, but that they just aren’t that good. When Elijah promoted Yahweh over Baal, that doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t think Baal existed, just that he wasn’t a good prospect for worship.

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  6. patricia says:

    are buddhist demons and christian demons different? Their view on demons are sometimes not like those of christians. Satan is for Christians and Mara is for buddhism. Satan had tempted Jesus and Mara had tempted Buddha. Are satan and Mara the same? Maybe not.

  7. patricia says:

    Tha word Satan probably means ” to accuse” ( accursed) or ” to plot against someone”. The word Mara means ” death”, it is said that Mara is god of death.

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