Mystic Goddess

* Buddha
Legend & History

 Wesak Celebration 

Buddha's Birthday is Celebrated on April 8, every year.

Shakayumni Buddha was born 563 - 483 B.C., from Lady Maya's body under the Bodhi tree on Lumbini grove. As soon as he was born, the Buddha took seven steps in the four directions - north, east, south, west - and then, pointing one hand upwards towards the sky and the other pointing downwards towards the ground, he exclaimed: "Whether above the sky or below the sky, I am most noble and high. I am here to bring peace to all the sentient beings in the world who are suffering."

This declaration by the Buddha is a vow to one day deliver all blind, sentient beings who are lost in the sea of suffering from their misery by providing them with the way to live life in peace and without entanglements.

The Buddha began to carry out this promise when he renounced his position as the Crown Prince, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya after 6 years of ascetism, and then gave his very first teaching of the Dharma to 5 bhikkus at ߿(nokyawon).

For 45 years thereafter, the Buddha traveled all over India and guided all beings to a right path of living life. The Buddha descended to the sentient (sabha) world to benefit and comfort the people, to deliver sentient beings from their suffering.
The Buddha was born on the top of a hill on a roadside, not amidst the luxuries of the royal palace and court. The birth of this teacher, who was born on the path, lived on the path, and passed away on the path, in essence is an expression of His never-ending love and compassion for all beings.

In celebrating Buddha's birthday, over 20 million Buddhists  pay their respects to the Buddha. We must also remember on this special occasion, however, to vow to find our "true Self" and to practice with the same impelling spirit as Buddha had in wanting to save all sentient beings.
We must have the wisdom to help all those who are suffering in accordance with the needs of this day and age as the Buddha did in prescribing medicine according to the nature of the person's sickness.

Let us be strong in our intent in practicing what the Buddha taught to all those sentient beings to lead them on the path of enlightenment.
Let us strive together to make Buddha's birthday a day to search for our true selves by practicing the way of the Bodhisattva

Life Of Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama lived in the present-day border area between India and Nepal in the 6th century before Christ; his exact birth date is unknown. Because the life of the historical Buddha is inseparable from legend, the following rsum is not meant to be a historically exact biography, but a short life story based on what has been passed down by generations.

563 BC - Birth

Siddhartha Gautama is born in Lumbini, near the Nepalese-Indian border to his father, King Suddhodana, ruler of the Sakya tribe, and his mother, Queen Mayadevi. The father gives his son the name of Siddhartha (=the one who obtains success and prosperity), his second name is Gautama (=name of the clan).

Seers predict that Siddhartha will either become a Universal Monarch or a Buddha. Asita, the wisest of the seers, is sure that he will become a Buddha (=one who has supreme knowledge). His mother dies seven days after the birth.

563 - 547 BC

Siddhartha spends his childhood in the palace of his father at Kapilavastu, Southern Nepal, where he is raised by his aunt Mahaprajapati until the age of seven. In his early childhood, during a ploughing ceremony, Siddhartha makes his first unprecedented spiritual experience, where in the course of meditation he develops the first jhana (=meditative absorption) through concentration.

As a young boy he learns the skills of a warrior, including the technical and athletic skills of man-to-man fight. Siddhartha is trained in spiritual disciplines and becomes proficient in the art of archery

547 BC

At the early age of sixteen, he marries his beautiful cousin Princess Yasodhara, who is of equal age.

547 - 533 BC

The young prince spends thirteen more years together with his wife in the royal court of his father. Three palaces are built for him, one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. Siddhartha enjoys the lavish court life while his father is trying to screen him from all troubles and worries. A son is born while Siddhartha is in his late twenties.

533 BC - The Four Sights

Despite of the amenities of life, Siddhartha is not satisfied with the mere enjoyment of fleeting pleasures due to his inquiring and contemplative nature. One day, he leaves the palace for an excursion and there he encounters what so far has been purposely veiled from him:

He sees a decrepit old man, a diseased person, a corpse being cremated, and a sadhu (=holy man, hermit). Siddhartha realizes that there is old age, sickness, and death, and that people ultimately have little control over their lives. The fourth sight provides the inspiration that leads to a dramatic change in his life.

533 BC - The Renunciation

In the night of his 29th birthday, Siddhartha gives up his life as a prince and secretly leaves the court while everyone is asleep. He travels far and crosses the river Anoma, where he shaves his hair and hands over his princely garments to his groom Channa, with instructions to return them to the palace.

533 - 528 BC

The Bodhisattva (=future Buddha), who once lived in luxury, becomes a penniless and homeless wanderer. He leads a life of self-mortification and spiritual study, becomes first a disciple of several then famous Brahman teachers, and later attracts his own disciples.

After a long and exhausting period of searching and self-mortification, he finally becomes disillusioned with the Indian caste system, Hindu asceticism, and the religious doctrines of his time. He gives up the ascetic life and loses all of his disciples as a result. Nevertheless, he continues his search for truth through the practice of meditation.

April/May 528 - Enlightenment

While meditating under a Bodhi tree in Bodh-Gaya, south of Gaya in the state of Bihar, India, the Bodhisattva experiences the Great Enlightenment, which reveals to him the way of salvation from suffering. He spends seven weeks meditating in the vicinity of the site of the Bodhi tree and attains the status of a fully realized Buddha at the age of 35.

June/July 528 BC - First Sermon

Buddha finds his former five disciples in Benares. In his first sermon he teaches them what will become the gist of Buddhism. Upon hearing it, one of the disciples instantly attains the status of an arhat (=one with enlightened wisdom). This event marks the beginning of the Buddhist teaching and his disciples become the first five members of the sangha (=Buddhist order).

528 - 527 BC

During a short period of time, Buddha establishes a great reputation in western Hindustan by converting thousands of people to the dhamma (=the Buddhist teaching). People hear the dhamma delivered either by himself, or by the monks of his order. During this time he delivers the fire sermon.

March 527 BC

The Buddha briefly returns to the palace of his father to convert the royal family and ordains many of the Sakya tribe.

523 BC

Four years later Siddhartha's father, King Suddhodana, dies. Buddha returns to the palace and Mahaprajapati, where Buddha's aunt -upon meeting Buddha- becomes the first woman to ordain, despite of the protest of some contemporaries. From this moment on women were admitted to the sangha. According to Indian tradition, however, they were separated and under the authority of male monks.

524 - 483 BC

In the 45 years following his enlightenment, Buddha travels around Northern India to teach the tenets of Buddhism. He is extremely successful and attracts first thousands, then ten thousands, and later hundred thousands of people from all walks of life, who voluntarily decide to follow his teachings, the dhamma. During the monsoon, when traveling becomes difficult due to the weather, Buddha and his close followers interrupt their journey. During these month, monks, as well as laypeople, receive the teachings at a site selected for retreat. One such site is Sravasti in Nepal, which has become very famous since then.

Buddha's success does not only attract admirers, but also provokes envy and ill will. Several attempts are made on his life, but all of them fail. Although he is being criticized and defamed, this does not affect the popularity of his teaching.

483 BC

Having achieved the goal of spreading the teaching to the greatest number of people, Buddha dies at the age of eighty years, as a result of food poisoning. He dies in a forest near Kusinagara, Nepal, in the company of his followers reclining on a bed where he speaks his last words: "All compounded things are ephemeral; work diligently on your salvation." With these words on his lips, he passes into the state of Nirvana.

Buddha images provide a serene and reassuring reminder of the basic tenets of Buddhist religion.  Just as Buddhist religion is practiced in many different ways, Buddhist imagery also serves a wide variety of ritual purposes and has different meanings for different people. 

Buddhism in Southeast Asia:

The dominant form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia (and also Sri Lanka) is Theravada Buddhism.  Theravada literally means “way of the elders” and Theravada Buddhism is based on the oldest recorded Buddhist teachings, the 2000-year-old Tipitaka texts.  The core of these teachings is the Buddha's sermons examining the role of suffering in human existence, the causes of suffering, and the mental disciplines that can help people to minimize or escape from suffering.

Sometimes people are surprised by Buddhism's focus on suffering, as though a religion talking about suffering were like a politician talking about raising taxes.  Directly addressing the suffering that people experience is a very practical and realistic approach to understanding the true nature of life.  Buddhists try to develop understanding and mental discipline that will allow for compassion and peace of mind in the face of adversity.

The differences between Theravada Buddhism and the many forms of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan come in the incorporation of other teachings and practices. The Buddha’s own words make little reference to supernatural forces or places so Buddhism has been very flexible in blending with other religious beliefs.  Buddhism has countless divisions that vary in their rigor of study, the role of supernatural elements, and the style of rituals and practice.  One of the basic differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism is that Theravada does not incorporate the compassionate Boddhisatva figures such as Tara/Kuan Yin/Kannon that are an important aspect of Mahayana Buddhism

Role of Religious Art and Imagery:

The Buddha himself was simply a man who achieved enlightenment (a complete understanding of the nature of life) through experience, observation, and meditation.  Buddhism’s primary focus is therefore on the Buddha’s teaching, not on the Buddha’s person.  Buddhist sites are sometimes decorated with representations of the teaching such as the footprint (representing the Buddha’s impact) and the wheel (representing the Buddha’s teaching described as the “wheel of law”).  

The most basic role of Buddha images is to convey the feeling of calm and detachment that reflects proper mental discipline with control over the negative emotions of fear and greed.  The Buddha's serene appearance sets an example for his followers.

Buddha statues and other Buddhist art also serve an important role in conveying teachings, particularly in traditional societies with low rates of literacy.  Classic postures are associated with particular lessons and/or moments in the Buddha’s life.  Production of religious art is considered a generous or “merit making” activity because it helps spread Buddhist teaching and reduce people’s suffering.

Traditional Rules for Making Images:

Many old texts describe the Buddha's appearance and include lists of distinguishing characteristics, however these traditions vary from country to country and have been interpreted differently over time so there is no universally accepted standard for the Buddha's appearance.  Some of the characteristics found on nearly every Buddha image are:

In practice, craftsmen often copy the forms of famous temple images rather than designing new correct images.  The craftsmen’s skill is reflected in fine details and materials rather than originality of the design.

The traditional belief in Southeast Asia is that a Buddha image should be made from the best possible materials.  For the small wooden statues kept in homes, the best materials are rich tropical hardwoods:

Meaning of Buddha Images:

In keeping with their emphasis on the oldest and most fundamental teachings, Theravada Buddhists produce only a narrow range of Buddhist imagery.  Nearly every Southeast Asian Buddha image is made in one of these postures (mudras) that can easily be identified by the position of the hands

Each of these positions can be associated with a moment in the Buddha’s life that has an important lesson, although the description of these scenes varies considerably. 

Magic and Luck:

The Buddha himself did not speak about faith or belief. He explained his ideas logically and asked people not to blindly follow the words of any teacher, including himself, but to look at their own experience and consider which ideas helped them cultivate compassion and avoid delusions.  However, as Buddhism spread it became extended by other elements that fit the traditions and needs of different peoples.  The resulting diversity of forms of Buddhist practice makes it very difficult to make universal statements about "Buddhist" beliefs.  

"Luck" provides an example of the range of possible interpretations.  Some people believe that prayers to, or possession of, a Buddha image will bring them good luck.  In Thailand vendors sell lottery tickets outside Buddhist temples and some monks enjoy bursts of fame for their success in predicting winning numbers.  On the other hand the Buddha's own teachings are often interpreted to rule out the existence of luck.  "The Law of Causation" says that everything happening in the world is a natural product of cause and effect relationships.  Nothing happens randomly or by chance and if you want something good to happen in the future then you should practice good deeds now.

Some Buddhists believe that all Buddha images have a protective supernatural power.  People even treasure natural forms such as a tree trunk that grew in a form resembling a Buddha image.  Some Buddhists believe that Buddha images have no special power until they are blessed by a Buddhist monk in a ceremony that calls a spirit inside them.  Some Buddhists believe that Buddha images have only an inspirational power.

Perspectives on Use of Buddha Images:

While the interpretations and meanings can vary, traditionally all Buddha images were made for religious purposes.  Naturally, Buddhists can have strong feelings about the proper and respectful treatment appropriate for Buddha images. Observation of traditional guidelines shows respect for religious teachings and reinforces understanding.  Failure to observe traditional guidelines shows disrespect and can be offensive.

The confusing aspect of these guidelines is that in different places there are different traditions for respectful treatment.  For example, in Thailand many people wear small Buddha amulets because they like to have the Buddha’s presence and sometimes they believe the amulet may provide some supernatural protection.  In contrast, many Burmese believe it is improper to wear a Buddha amulet because the wearer shows disrespect by placing his head above the Buddha.  In their own way both ideas are respectful.   Another example is that the Burmese religious authorities have asked that images of the Buddha not be used in any business advertisement or promotion including book and magazine covers.  They considered it improper to associate Buddhist imagery with any commercial activity or product.  Many other Buddhists are less strict and accept Buddha images in conjunction with books or other materials about Buddhism.  But most Buddhists agree that use of Buddha images in any commercial context other than promotion of Buddhist teaching is disrespectful.

Proper Treatment of Buddha Images:

In view of the differing traditions, one can broadly say that a proper use of Buddha images is one that shows recognition and respect for the religious meaning.  Proper uses could be described as a focus for meditation, a focus of worship, or a reminder of Buddhist doctrines.  In keeping with the importance of these images, Buddhists also observe a variety of guidelines about placement of images within their homes:

Improper Treatment of Buddha Images:

Improper treatment encompasses any use of Buddha images that does not recognize and respect their spiritual importance.  Examples would be:

Antique Buddha Images:

These have become popular "collectible" items in Western countries.  Aside from the issue of respectful treatment, the biggest moral issue related to these items is the fact that nearly all are not antique.  Production of fake antiques is a huge business in Southeast Asia and craftsmen have become experts at copying historical styles and creating a patina of age and wear.  These fakes are offered on line and at well-known retail businesses.  The images may be attractive, the prices may be fair (or maybe not), and they may provide an inspirational presence, but they just aren't old.  In one sense that's good news since export of genuine antique Buddha images from Southeast Asia is illegal and robs people of their cultural and spiritual heritage. 

Other Buddhist Images:

Images of the historical Buddha (born as Siddhartha Gautama) are part of every Buddhist tradition.  Other figures that are part of some Buddhist tradiitons include:

Selecting a Buddha Image:

It is not necessary to belong to a Buddhist group in order to study Buddhist teaching and derive comfort or guidance from Buddhist religion and philosophy. It is not necessary for a Buddhist to have a Buddha image.  Respectful use of an image can provide a beautiful, positive, and reassuring presence.  If you want an image then I encourage you to choose whichever image helps to evoke strengths already inside you.


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