Known as ‘The Enlightened One’ or ‘Proclaimer of the Truth’, he was the instigator of a whole new religion.
You could tell from his birth he was no ordinary child. His mother Queen Mahamya dreamt that a white elephant entered her womb causing instant pregnancy. She meditated under a tree and the infant was born from her side causing lotuses to spring up in his footprints as he leapt around. No time for toddling.
His erstwhile father King Suddhadana was thrilled and with a huge naming ceremony settled for Sid and Arthur, or rather SIDDHARTA. Sadly Mother died two days later, but not too sadly as she was filled with radiant joy and eternal bliss at the time.
Nothing was too good for his son and the king kept any hint of unpleasantness out of sight. He had his cousin Devadatta as a companion, but GAUTAMA always seemed to win everything including a bride called Yasodhara.
Life was indeed idyllic. No poverty, sickness, death or ugliness was allowed within the palace grounds. For his first outing father had the streets cleared of nasties and filled them with flowers; but shocks happened despite the precautions, and Sid saw a poor man in rags, a sick man, and final horror a dead man.
This caused him to fret and brood and the king had to lock him in at night. The marriage helped, especially when his son Rahula was born, but not for long. One night Sid crept off and escaped into the real world.
Bewildered, he crept off into the wilderness practicing austerities to the point of starvation as he sought salvation for the conditions of human ills by adding to them. Clearly this did not work so he started dining on hand-outs as he could not afford take-outs. No one had told him about money.
Then he spotted the spot of all spots — a large Bho tree by the riverbank of the Ganges. Here he set up his simple headquarters and in time it became known as the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’. Now his meditations were producing results and his mind over matter was strong enough to stitch up MARA(2) the evil demon who tried every which way to crush GAUTAMA’s contemplations.
The rest as they say is History. When a giant cobra called MUCHALINDA became a part time sofa and protective canopy, who could fail to be intrigued by this amazing character with his new holy ideas which blended perfectly with most of the esoteric ideas of Eastern Asia. You could now have a whole new way of life after life and seek Nirvana in your own good time.
Followers flocked. To some extent it was like buying a timeshare in Godliness. If you made mistakes you could come back and try again. It was all so benign: no thunderbolts, no blood sacrifices or marching to Holy Wars. Tranquility and Peace were to be given a chance. It was all so-far fetched one just had to give it a try.
The legends multiplied. For someone who advocated the simple life and eschewed all worldly vanities and ostentation it is remarkable how his followers could not wait to build bigger and better temples with golden statues higher than a house, after GAUTAMA, now known as BUDDHA departed this life after 42 years.
This new divinity was exported, imported and carried to many parts of the world. It was all so very flexible. There no longer had to be one BUDDHA, pre-GAUTAMA there may have been as many as you like — or he may still be yet to come. Who knows? What time is it? Is this a time that has been before or is yet to come? It is plain that there are many planes of existence.
Yet nobody fights over BUDDHA. He keeps his peace. He can also be Chinese, Japanese or Tibetan.