The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha are not reserved for official “Buddhists.” In fact, it is said that the Buddha’s intention was never to create an organized religion as he never referred to his teachings as part of any religious sect and never called it “Buddhism.”
He saw himself as a healer rather than a savior. He only wished to share the teachings that lead him to his own awakening or enlightenment. These teachings lead students to follow the universal path of “Dhamma,” in Pali, or “dharma,” in Sanskrit. Dhamma means understanding the cosmic or universal law, or simply the essential teachings of the Buddha.
In this article, I will tell the well-known and often disputed story of the Buddha, briefly explain his essential teachings, and explore how the teachings profess that following the path of Dhamma leads to awakening and enlightenment.
Once Upon a Time, There Was a Buddha
The story of the Buddha tells of the Prince Siddhartha, who was born in 623 B.C. He was predicted by a sage to be either a powerful ruler or religious savior. The King, his father, favored the first option and therefore kept him living in luxury, sheltered within the palace, and trained him to become a ruler.
It is said that he saw four sights on the few occasions that he did leave the royal palace: an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a religious monk. These four sights lead him to become curious about the meaning of life and towards the Four Noble Truths. In his late twenties it is said he left the palace, his wife, and newborn child, to discover the true purpose of existence on his own.
After a few years of studying under various teachers, he finally sat down under a Bodhi tree determined to meditate until the truths he sought were revealed to him. It is under that tree into the wee hours of the morning that he became enlightened.
What The Buddha Taught
It is said that after some hesitation Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha devoted the rest of his life to teaching the path of Dhamma. He taught of the Four Noble Truths:
The Noble Truth of Suffering: suffering starts with birth itself - our inherent attachment to life and aversion to death produces suffering
The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering: suffering is from our own desires - from our cravings and aversions
The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering: accepting, understanding, and witnessing blissful detachment
The Noble Truth of the Path: the path of Dhamma leads to the Cessation of Suffering
Right understanding - seeing things as they are, understanding the four noble truths
Right thought - detachment and selflessness
Right speech - abstaining from lies, slander, hatred, harshness, useless babble, gossip
Right action - honorable, peaceful, refraining from dishonorable sexual conduct
Right livelihood - earning a living through honest, peaceful, nonviolent and nonharming work
Right effort - willingness to prevent and rid oneself from unwholesome or evil thoughts
Right mindfulness - awareness of body, sensations, mind, and thoughts
Right concentration - dhyana
There Isn’t Only One Buddha: The Path to Buddhahood
Awakening can be described as a process of remembering who we are and connecting with our spirituality and oneness with the universe. The Buddha simply means “the enlightened one.” It is not a name given only to Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha but rather a label that, according to his teachings, anyone can achieve. The teachings profess that we can all be Buddhas if we accept the Four Noble Truths and follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
In my recent participation at a 10-day Vipassana retreat I was taught the meditation of Vipassana. During this retreat S. N. Goenka teaches Vipassana meditationto be the technique that lead the Buddha to his enlightenment under that Bodhi tree. (Learn more in Detoxing From Stimulation: Learning Patience and Trust Through Vipassana Meditation.)
It is taught that the technique that the Buddha taught during his life and that it has been passed down through generations since the time of the Buddha. The technique teaches the process of observing sensations in the body without reaction, to understand your true nature of constant change and to eradicate the suffering that comes from your habitual reactions.
Through the teachings of the Buddha and the meditation of Vipassana, which means to “see things as they really are,” you can awaken to the way things are through your own experience. The concepts of the Noble Four Truths and Noble Eightfold Path can be studied, and should be in order to cultivate right understanding, but it is most important to experience it through meditation - right mindfulness and right concentration.
Through hard work, diligent meditation, and living a lifestyle in accordance to the Noble Eightfold Path we can all awaken to the truth of the universal law of nature. The Buddha taught that we musn’t accept things just because it is widely believed, taught in scriptures, proclaimed by teachers, or even if it seems logical.
In fact, he would teach that you should not believe this article or anything you read online or elsewhere until you truly experience it.
Everything is constantly changing, we are born into a life of suffering by nature of our attachment to life itself, and we can experience a cessation of suffering through seeing things as they are without the mental projections that we believe in our non-awakened states. (Learn more in The Roots of Suffering: Sprouted From the Mind, Healed by the Heart.)
If this seems hard to understand intellectually - that is because it is. It must be experienced through stillness and detachment in order to awake from your slumber. It is in this awakened state that you can actually feel the understanding of these truths. At that point, living a life that is peaceful, loving, compassionate and detached - much like the like of life Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha - becomes the only path to take.