Bhutans religion | Buddha Shakyamuni | The Buddhas life

The Buddha's life

The Buddhist doctrine goes back to the Buddha Shakyamuni. Let us retrace our steps to the India of 2500 years ago and hear what the Lalitavistara Sutra has to say about the life of the historical Buddha.

In the fifth century B.C. many kings ruled many small kingdoms in India. On the border to Nepal, King Shuddhodana Gautama, together with his wife Maya, ruled over the kingdom of Shakya. One night the Queen dreamed of a white elephant who descended from heaven into her body. This she took as an omen that she had conceived a unique child.

Wondersome events at birth already identified the boy as a saint of unsurpassable purity. He was called Siddharta*. With this name he lived as prince in his father's palace with all the amenities a royal youth could only wish for. He learned the religious teachings of that time from the best teachers, but also did sports with peers. Later he got married and fathered a son.


The path to enlightenment

His first trip from his father's palace to a nearby village was to change his life. He saw an old person and, for the first time, experienced the transience of youth and beauty. On his second trip he saw an ill person whose pains moved him deeply. On his third trip, finally, he saw a dead person.

This made Siddharta* realise that everything living finally meant old age, suffering and death. The cycle of rebirths, which was then the most wide-spread understanding of the human fate in India, therefore also stood for the continuous reproduction of suffering and dying. During his last trip, Siddharta* also saw an ascetic who had left all worldly links behind him and was looking for Truth. The prince decided to choose this path for his further life, so that he would find a point of release from the cycle of rebirths.

The prince left behind his noble life in the palace for good and, from then on, led a life as travelling monk under the name of Gautama*. For many years, he exercised the strictest ascetic disciplines with the hope to attain the experience of wisdom which would surpass all suffering.

Shortly before he would have literally starved to death, Gautama* realised, however, that he would be reborn and the suffering of worldly existence would start again. This made him break with the religious traditions of his time and he retreated into solitary meditation under a bodhi tree. After a long time of contemplating and overcoming all attacks and temptations of the evil demon Mara he experienced the enlightenment of how to be released from the cycle of existences.

From the moment of his enlightenment he was known under the name Buddha Shakyamuni. In the Deer Park of Sarnath the Buddha turned the wheel of teaching for the first time and taught his first five disciples according to his insights.

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Excerpt from an altar in the Tongsa Dzong. The Buddha is sitting under an umbrella promising happiness. In front of him a butter lamp is burning, which is meant to please his sense of seeing. Guru Rinpoche is seated at his right and the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel at his left.
Photo by Christian Schicklgruber

Copper with fire-gilding; 17th century; H: 46 cm.; loan from the Thimphu Dzong
In the state of complete enlightenment, the Buddha's right hand makes the earth-witness gesture, which reminds of the moment of the Buddha's Enlightenment in which he called upon Earth as his witness. His left hand reclines in the gesture of meditation. The clarity of representation mediates the superhuman essence of the Buddha.

The Buddha is meditating under the bodhi tree. He swore not to leave this meditation without attaining the insight that would lead out of the cycle of rebirths. The king of the demons, Mara, tried to interrupt the meditation by sending out his demonic hordes to frighten the Buddha. Additionally he sent his beautiful daughters who performed exciting dances before the meditating Buddha to distract him from his endeavour. The Buddha, however, sat unmoved in his meditation until he attained Enlightenment.
Mural in the Tashichö Dzong, photo by Yoshiro Imaeda