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.