Ah, where to begin.
Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince in the Eastern part of ancient India near Nepal sometime around the fifth century BCE (Before Common Era).
As a prince Gautama led a life sheltered from old age, sickness and death. At age 29 he left one of his palaces and encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic (one who practices severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence). This drove him to renounce his life of luxury, leave home and live at the opposite end of the spectrum by living the life of an ascetic himself.
After nearly starving himself to death he realized that meditation was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work. So he chose what he called the Middle Way – a path of moderation between the extremes of self indulgence and self-mortification. He committed to his search for meaning by sitting under a tree and vowing never to arise until he had found the truth.
By age 35 Gautama is said to have attained enlightenment and insight into the Four Noble Truths:
- Life is suffering;
- Suffering has a cause;
- There is an end to the cause of suffering;
- The way to put an end to suffering is the Eight-fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Path consists of attitudes, thoughts and behaviors to facilitate the quest of ending suffering. They are:
- Right views
- Right determination
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
Gautama became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One”. After his awakening, the Buddha debated whether he should share his new understanding to others, given that humans are so overwhelmed with ignorance and greed that they might never recognize the path. He was convinced otherwise, and so began the development and teachings of Buddhism, a philosophy based in personal experience and self-discovery.