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The Brief Summary of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha’s History

Ven. Thích Trừng Sỹ

The Brief Summary of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha’s History

Siddhārtha Gautama, who was a historical man, a prince of Sakya clan, son of King Suddhodana, lived in Kapilavastu castle nearly 3 thousand years ago. Siddhārtha was born on the full moon day of Vesak month, corresponding to the common calendar May, in the year of 624 BCE under the root of Ashoka tree in the Lumbini park, Nepal today. Siddhārtha means the fully-contented man with sufficient merit and wisdom.  

Seven days after the prince was born, his mother, Queen Māyādevī, passed away. His stepmother, who was Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī looked after him. When he reached at the age of 16, he married princess Yasodharā and had an only son named Rāhula.    

Living in the lap of luxury, wealth and happiness, but the prince who still felt unfree and uncomfortable, along with his intimate named Channa, made a trip out of the four gates of the royal palace to visit the real world outside. Getting out of the gate, going to the East, the prince and Channa met an old person; going to the West, they met a sick person, going to the South, they saw a dead person; and going to the North, they met a mendicant. One of the four real scenes the prince witnessed, the fourth scene was not only a contemplative subject for him, but it also created the inspiration for him later on to become a homeless monastic, living without family and being not tied by family and children.

Leaving his royal family for religious life at the age of 29, learning ancient religion from two ascetics, Ālāra Kalāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, spending six years practicing asceticism with his five brothers of Kondañña, hermit Siddhārtha saw that their extremist and ascetic practices hindered their enlightenment attainment. He decided to choose himself the way of cultivation without self-indulgence and self-mortification by practicing the Middle Path, that is,  the Noble Eightfold Path with the eight interrelated lanes consisting of Right View (Sammā Diṭṭhi), Right Thought (Sammā Sakappa), Right Speech (Sammā Vācā), Right Action (Sammā Kammanta), Right Livelihood (Sammā Ājīva), Right Effort (Sammā Vāyāma), Right Mindfulness (Sammā Sati), and Right Concentration (Sammā Samādhi).[1]

After eating a milky porridge bowl made offerings by a young lady named Sujata, receiving a bunch of auspicious grasses (Kusa) from a farmer, going to Bodhgaya, Bodhisattva Siddhārtha resolutely meditated under the Bodhi and the surrounding areas for 49 days and nights until he attained perfect realization. Practicing meditation from low to high degrees, he contemplated and followed in-and-out breathing regularly, mindfully, and consciously. Thanks to such diligent practice, he obtained and dwelled in the first Meditation (Jhāna), the second Meditation, the third Meditation, the fourth Meditation, Concentration on the abode of infinite space (Akasanantya Yatana), Concentration on the abode of infinite consciousness (Vijnanantya Yatana), Concentration on the abode where nothing exists at all (Akincanna Yatana), Concentration on neither perception nor non-perception (N’evasanna Nasanna Yatana), and the Cessation of the Annihilation of Concentration (Nirodha Samapatti).[2]    

On 49th night, in the first night watch, Bodhisattva who obtained “the Reminiscence of Past Births” (Pubbe nivāsānussati māna) knew the causes and effects of his previous lives clearly; in the middle night watch, he who obtained “Clairvoyant supernormal vision” (Cutūpapāta māna) knew karmic retribution of human beings’ previous  lives clearly; in the last night watch, when morning star arose, he who obtained “the Comprehension of the Cessation of Corruptions” (Āsavakkhaya māna) attained perfect enlightenment (Anuttara samma sambodhi), discoved the four noble Truths: Suffering  (Dukkha), the Origin of Suffering (Dukkha samudaya ariya sacca), the Cessation of Suffering (Dukkha nirodha ariya sacca), and the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering (Dukkha nirodha gāmini  patipadā ariya sacca). Finally, Bodhisattva became the Buddha called Sakyamuni in Bodhigaya at the age of 35.  

After the Bodhisattva became a Buddha, a Divine King of gods named Brahma Sahampati invited the Buddha three times to propagate the dharma and teach sentient beings. In the end, the Buddha accepted the invitations of Brahma, and turned to two former masters to spread the Dharma, but both of them died. Going to the Deer Park (Migadava) in Sarnath, the Buddha gave his first Sermon (Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta) to five fellow friends in previous asceticism. With the pure Dharma Eye, after listening to the Four Noble Truths from the Buddha’s teaching, these five people were penetrated into the wonderful Dharma of the World-Honored One and attained Arhanta. Thus, the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma Jewel, and the Sangha Jewel were officially formed there.

The Buddha and his monastic disciple, who mainly depended on meditation – concentration, and on patrons’ alms-giving to nurture their minds and bodies, relished dwelling in the natural environment, and achieved self-attainment, joy and happiness all by themselves to instruct other people. Living in the Sangha without individual families, they who had much time to cultivate and serve human beings relied on the love of teacher and students, that of Dharma friends, fellow practitioners, the love of Dharma protection and Dharma propagation to benefit living things and living beings all over the planet.

Next, the wealthy families include Mr. Dasa, his loved ones, relatives, and friends who were instructed by the Buddha and became his disciples. Among them, the most virtuous, talented, and famous disciples of the Buddha listed below are:

The honored Elder Sāriputta – the Head of the Dharma with supreme wisdom,

The honored Elder Moggallana – the Monk with supreme piety and psychic power,

The honored Elder Maha Kassapa – the exemplary Patriarch with the ability to teach and lead the Sangha, and practice ascetic cultivation supremely,

The honored Elder Subhuti – the Contemplator of supreme emptiness (Suññatā),

The honored Elder Purana – the brilliant Preacher of preaching the Dharma attractively,

The honored Elder Kaccayana – the brilliant Commentator of interpreting the Dharma fluently,

The honored Elder Anurudha – The Monk with unobstructed vision, that is, supremely Clairvoyant vision,

The honored Elder Upali – the leading exemplary Lawyer of repeating Vinaya Pitaka or Discipline observance supremely,

The honored Elder Ananda – the Monk who has the ability to much hear, acquire, to remember the Buddhadharma in detail repeats the Sutta Pitaka, is also the wholehearted, thoughtful, faithful, and skillful attendant with good countenance supremely,

The honored Elder Rahula – the Monk with the patience, deep listening, transformation, and practice of the First solemn and fine bodily action.

The honored female Elder Mahàpajàpati Gotami – the exemplary Patriarch with the ability to collect and lead the Bhikkhuni Sangha, and practice ascetic cultivation supremely,   

A rich Lady Visakha – A benefactor of kind heart giving alms, making offerings, and protecting the Buddhadharma supremely.

A rich Gentleman Anathapindika – A benefactor of kind heart giving alms, making offerings, and protecting the Buddhadharma supremely.

After the Buddha’s passing away about over two hundreds years, King Ashoka – The holy Buddhist emperor with countless merit to spread Buddhism inside and outside India supremely.

In Vietnam, after the Buddha’s passing away about over two hundred years, King Trần Nhân Tông, having left the royal life for monastic life, went up to Yên Tử mountain of Bắc Ninh province today, obtained fruition of enlightenment, applied and taught the Buddhadharma to the people living their lives of peace and happiness for a long time.

When his monastic disciples became a large crowded, the Buddha encouraged and counseled: “Dear Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis! Go forth to many different directions to propagate the Dharma and teach living beings, bring your own cultivation, joy and happiness to instruct other people. Out of peace and happiness for devas and human beings, spread the Dharma to all beings. The Tathāgata’s teachings are perfect in the beginning, perfect in the middle, perfect in the end, both in the meanings and in the letters. Proclaim your holy and peaceful lives to the many on this earth.” (See Mahāvagga 19 – 20).

Afterward, the Buddha taught very many different kinds of people, in all walks of society, such as kings, mandarins, merchants, servants, even cow feces pickers, murderers, and courtesans. His Dharma and Sangha have the capability to accept people coming from different castes, religions, skin colors, races, etc. Those who have enough wholesome conditions to cultivate, learn, understand, practice, and apply the Buddhadharma in their daily lives mindfully and consciously can bring authentic peace and happiness to themselves and to others right here and now in the present life.

The Buddha’s disciples mainly include two big Congregations: Monastics and lay people. Both of these congregations that support one another as an image and its shadow make the key factors bring Buddhism into life, and help life add joy and lessen suffering.

Propagating the Dharma for 45 years, all that the Buddha has taught is like a handful of tree leaves in the palm of his hand, is to help people recognize suffering and transform it, and to help them live lives of peace and happiness right in the present world.

Before entering Nirvana, the Buddha advised his disciples: “O disciples! Everything is impermanent and changing. Make efforts to cultivate and practice the Buddhadharma more and more, to bring joy and happiness to yourselves and to others. These are my ultimate teachings for you.” (See Dìgha NikāyaMahāparinibbāna sutta Part II, 16).

Existing on this earth for eighty years, about 544 BCE, at the age of 80, the Buddha who passed away peacefully lay on his right hip, left leg stretched out on right leg, his head turned to the Northern direction under two longevity trees in the Sala forest in Kusinagar District, India today.

To pay homage and profound gratitude to the World-Honored One, whose disciples themselves must live correctly with the Dharma by not doing evil, doing good, keeping bodies and minds purified. All of us have to be gifts of cultivation, peace, joy, and true happiness to be dedicated to ourselves and other people right here and right now in the present life. 

May you all be well instilled into the Dharma of the World-Honored One.

By Ven. Thích Trừng Sỹ


[1] See the Discourse on the Turning of the Dhamma Wheel (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) of Connected Discourses on the Truths (Samyutta Nikaya, 56: 11).

[2]  See S. III. 28. Sāriputtasayutta;  CDB. III. Chap. VII. 1018.

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