From the Jumbie Vault: The Buddha Part 1
One of the most iconic figures from ancient cultures, the Buddha.
The life of the person we call the Buddha is shrouded in legend and myth. The future Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in the 5th or 6th century BCE in Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. His father, King Suddhodana, was leader of a large clan called the Shakya. His mother, Queen Maya, died shortly after his birth. When Prince Siddhartha was a few days old, a holy man prophesied the Prince would be either a great military conqueror or a great spiritual teacher.
One day, overcome with curiosity, Prince Siddhartha asked a charioteer to take him on a series of rides through the countryside. On these journeys he was shocked by the sight of an aged man, then a sick man, and then a corpse. The stark realities of old age, disease, and death seized and sickened the Prince. Finally, he saw a wandering ascetic. The charioteer explained that the ascetic was one who had renounced the world and sought release from fear of death and suffering.
For a time, the Prince returned to palace life, but he took no pleasure in it. One night he wandered the palace alone. The luxuries that had once pleased him now seemed grotesque. Prince Siddhartha reflected on the old age, disease, and death that would overtake them all and turn their bodies to dust.
The six companions attempted to find release from suffering through physical discipline--enduring pain, holding their breath, fasting nearly to starvation. Yet Siddhartha was still unsatisfied. It occurred to him that in renouncing pleasure he had grasped pleasure's opposite--pain and self-mortification. Now Siddhartha considered a Middle Way between those two extremes.
He remembered an experience from his childhood, when his mind had settled into a state of deep peace. The path of liberation was through discipline of mind. He realized that instead of starvation, he needed nourishment to build up his strength for the effort. Siddhartha sat beneath a sacred fig, known ever after as the Bodhi ("awakened") Tree, and settled into meditation.
The work of Siddhartha's mind came to be mythologized as a great battle with Mara, a demon whose name means "destruction' and who represents the passions that snare and delude us. After defeating Mara and as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha Gautama realized enlightenment and became a Buddha.