Lead us from Untruth to Truth,
from Darkness to Light,
from Death to Immortality.
Om peace, peace, peace.

Let all be happy.
Let all be free from disease.
Let all see the Truth.
May no one experience suffering.


- "Are you a god?"
- "No."
- "An angel?"
- "No."
- "A saint?"
- "No."
- "Then what are you?"
- "I am awake."

In Sanskrit and its kin, Pali, the language that the Buddhist holy scriptures were written with, the word for "awake" is buddha. Hence, when they asked him "then what are you?", he answered: "I am buddha."

His name was Siddhartha Gautama (or Gotama), of the Sakya clan, born in 563 BC. His father was a great king in the area known today as Nepal. Prince Siddhartha had everything a man could ever want, and whatever he wanted, he had it in its absolute perfect conditions. He had elephants adorned in silver, tens of thousands of women, and at the age of sixteen was married to a princess called Yasodhara, who bore him a son named Rahula. The ancient books also say that he was very handsome and smart and perfect in every way a man can be. But something did not make sense to him.

The fortunetellers had told his father upon his birth that Siddhartha's future was going to depend on the path he takes: if he chooses the worldly path, he would end up uniting all of India's kingdoms and become its universal king. But if he gave up worldly things, he was going to become its savior. It was because of this that his father did everything in his power to prevent the second destiny for his son that he even forbade any negative or ugly thing to cross his sight that he wasn't even allowed to go beyond the palace walls -- there was nothing for him to see there anyway, his father thought.

But Siddhartha began to notice things. He saw people getting sick. He saw people getting old. And he saw people die and be mourned. This led him to ask the ultimate question: what is this life for? What does it all mean, and what is the purpose?

After witnessing suffering and death, the royal festivities and exuberant banquets, with their dancing girls and music, seemed more like an insult to his mind, as though trying to distract him from the question that mattered most: how to live a life that contained no suffering?

At age 29, Siddhartha kissed his wife and son goodbye while they were asleep, and escaped the palace with the help of a servant. He shaved his head bald and wore ragged robes and traveled deeper into the forest, searching for answers.

After consulting the top Hindu masters and learning all of their wisdom and all about the yogas, he decided it wasn't enough and joined a group of ascetics in meditation. He exceeded all of them in meditation techniques, and he fasted for so many days that he came so close to death. That's when he realized that the life of ascetism does not work, at least for him. It did not give him any answers. But he learned the important lesson of the "middle way," stating that the best way of life is the middle between extremes.

And it was in this middle way that he practiced raja yoga. And in one of his prolonged meditations, one May night, six years since he had left the palace, while sitting under a tree, later known as the Bo Tree (tree of awakening), he went through a meditation that had turned him at dawn into awakened one; the buddha.

The records offer as the first event of the night a temptation scene reminiscent of Jesus' on the eve of his ministry. The Evil One, realizing that his antagonist's success was imminent, rushed to the spot to disrupt his concentrations. He attacked first in the form of Kama, the God of Desire, parading three voluptuous women with their tempting retinues. When the Buddha-to-be remained unmoved, the Temper switched his guise to that of Mara, the Lord of Death. His powerful hosts assailed the aspirant with hurricanes, torrential rains, and showers of flaming rocks, but Gautama had so emptied himself of his finite self that the weapons found no target to strike and turned into flower petals as they entered his field of concentration. When, in final desperation, Mara challenged his right to do what he was doing, Gautama touched the earth with his right fingertip, whereupon the earth responded, thundering, "I bear you witness" with a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand roars. Mara's army fled in rout, and the gods of heaven descended in rapture to tend the victor with garlands and perfumes.

Thereafter, while the Bo Tree rained red blossoms that full-mooned May night, Gautama's meditation deepened through watch after watch until, as the morning star glittered in the transparent sky of the east, his mind pierced at last the bubble of the universe and shattered it to naught, only, wonder of wonders, to find it miraculously restored with the effulgence of true being. The Great Awakening had arrived. Gautama's being was transformed, and he emerged the Buddha."

Huston Smith, The World's Religions

Buddha's Death

After an arduous ministry of forty-five years, at the age of eighty and around the year 483 B.C., the Buddha died from dysentery after eating a meal of dried boar's flesh in the home of Cunda the smith. Even on his deathbed his mind moved toward others. In the midst of his pain, it occurred to him that Cunda might feel responsible for his death. His last request, therefore, was that Cunda be informed that of all the meals he had eaten during his long life, only two stood out as having blessed him exceptionally. One was the meal whose strength had enabled him to reach enlightment under the Bo Tree, and the other the one that was opening to him the final gates to nirvana.

Huston Smith, The World's Religions, pg. 87.

Buddha Rebels

Like Jesus 500 years later, and like Muhammad 500 years after Jesus, peace be upon them, Siddhartha rebelled against the status quo of religion, in his case, against the way that Hinduism was being practiced. His first attack, like Jesus and Muhammad, was against the clergy, in Hinduism: Brahmins.

"Do not accept what you hear by report, do not accept tradition, do not accept a statement because it is found in our books, nor because it is in accord with your belief, nor because it is the saying of your teacher. Be lamps unto yourselves. Those who, either now or after I am dead, shall rely upon themselves only and not look for assistance to anyone besides themselves, it is they who shall reach the topmost height."

Buddha, as quoted and translated by Burtt, The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, pg 49-50

He referred to Hindu rituals and prayers as "superstitious petitions to ineffectual gods," and left no set of Buddhist rituals or traditions behind for people to follow, as he believed each person should find their own path to God. He attacked the Hindu caste system (that a person's class is pre-determined by lineage), and for that, the modern India of Mahatma Gandhi (also a great rejector of the caste system) has adopted the Buddhist symbol in its national flag. Buddha detested people who sought after miracles and magic, as he said:

"By this you shall know that a man is not my disciple -- that he tries to work a miracle."

The Four Noble Truths

The first realization the awakened one received became known as the four noble truths. They are:

1 - Life is Dukkha

It seems wherever and whenever you try to see the real world, the world as it is, you see suffering and strife. We have to work to make a living so we can enjoy life's simple pleasures. In fact, we try to indulge in those pleasures as if trying to distract ourselves from the truth about this world: it is filled with misery and pain.

Buddha describes all life as dukkha, which means suffering and pain. But another meaning for dukkha is "dislocated," something is wrong that shouldn't be wrong. Buddha then listed six moments in everyone's life to show exactly what he meant:

  1. The trauma of birth
  2. The pathology of sickness
  3. The fear of weakness
  4. The phobia of death
  5. To be tied to what one hates
  6. To be separated from what one loves

In other words, Buddha was saying that something is fundamentally wrong with the world, and that it needs to be corrected. But first we must find out what is the cause of dukkha.

2 - The Cause of Dukkha is Tanha

Buddha went on explaining that the cause behind all these fears and pain and suffering, the things that dislocate life from its straight path, is selfishness; tanha. We suffer, Buddha said, because we end up caring for our own desires while ignoring others. We suffer because when some people put their desires before the welfare of society, the wheel of life becomes dislocated and we start hurting one another, and in many cases we don't even know that we are hurting others by our selfish actions.

3 - The Solution

The solution, of course, is to stop, quel, and reverse Tanha. But how?

4 - The Eightfold Path

Buddha then approaches the matter scientifically, in his fourth noble truth, and just like a physician would prescribe medication, he gives us a prescription for our souls to cure Tanha, in what he called the Eightfold Path, explained in detail in the next section.

The Eight-fold Path

1 - Right Views

2 - Right Intent

3 - Right Speech

4 - Right Conduct

5 - Right Livelihood

6 - Right Effort

7 - Right Mindfulness

8 - Right Concentration

Buddhist Beliefs


Nirvana is life's ultimate goal, according to Buddha. It means "extinguish," in this metaphor's case to extinguish the flame within: the finite life. Nirvana is to distinguish all earthly desires from our souls. Nirvana is to rise to eternal life where true happiness lies.

One God

In Buddhism God is not personified through parables as is the case in the Bible or the Quran. Nevertheless, the entity of the one creator is inseparable from Buddhism.

"There is, O monks, an Unborn, neither become nor created nor formed.... Were there not, there would be no deliverance from the formed, the made..." ~ Buddha

One Soul

Unlike the Hindu belief of a unique soul for each and every person, Buddha's analogy of the candle flame inside our bodies means that all flames come from the same fire, where no individual flame is any different from the others in its essence. Just like lighting up hundreds of candles from the same flame, the "unborn and formless" ignites all of life, to which all life returns.

Life and Death

"We are freed from the pain of clutching for permanence only if the acceptance of continual change is driven into our very marrow. Followers of the Buddha know well his advice:

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp - a phantom - and a dream.

...Buddha's answer to the question "Do human beings survive bodily death?"... [is] equivocal. Ordinary people when they die leave strands of finite desire that can only be realized in other incarnations; in this sense at least these persons live on. But what about the Arhat, the holy one who has extinguished all such desires; does such a one continue to exist? When a wandering ascetic put this question, the Buddha said:

"The word reborn does not apply to him."
"Then he is not reborn?"
"The term not-reborn does not apply to him."
"To each and all of my questions, Gotama, you have replied in the negative. I am at a loss and bewildered."

"You ought to be at a loss and bewildered, Vaccha. For this doctrine is profound, recondite, hard to comprehend, rare, excellent, beyond dialectic, subtle, only to be understood by the wise. Let me therefore question you. If there were a fire blazing in front of you, would you know it?"
"Yes, Gotama."
"If the fire went out, would you know it had gone out?"
"If now you were asked in what direction the fire had gone, whether to east, west, north, or south, could you give an answer?"
"The question is not rightly put, Gotama."

Whereupon Buddha brought the discussion to a close by pointing out that "in just the same way" the ascetic had not rightly put his question. "Feelings, perceptions, forces, consciousness -- everything by which the Arhat might be denoted has passed away for him. Profound, measureless, unfathomable, is the Arhat even as the mighty ocean; reborn does not apply to him nor not-reborn, nor any combination of such terms."

[...] The ultimate destiny of the human spirit is a condition in which all identification with the historical experience of the finite self will disappear, while experience as such not only remains but is heightened beyond recognition. As an inconsequential dream vanishes completely on awakening, as the stars go out in deference to the morning sun, so individual awareness will be eclipsed in the blazing light of total awareness."

Huston Smith, The World's Religions, pg 117-118.