Diamond Way Buddhism: Buddha Shakyamuni
The term "Buddha" means "awakened" and applies to someone that has realized the true nature of mind. This is what Buddhists refer to as enlightenment. This profound state of mind is said to allow one to see the way things really are and possesses the absolute qualities of highest joy, compassion, fearlessness and wisdom. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni reached enlightenment over 2,550 years ago at Bodh Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar.
The historical Buddha Shakyamuni was born in Lumbini, Nepal as Siddhartha, a son of the noble family of Gautama who were the rulers of the Shakya clan. When his mother Maya was about to give birth to Siddhartha, she consulted prophets, all of which predicted that she would bear a son and that he had two possible destinies. The first prediction was that he would be a powerful leader who would rule their realm as a great king. However this destiny would only be realised if he was kept away from any of the suffering in the world, otherwise he would fulfill the second prediction of becoming a profound spiritual guide and benefit countless beings.
His parents needed an heir and ruler for their kingdom so for the first 29 years of his life Prince Siddhartha was trained as a prince and warrior whilst being kept away from the realities of life. The prince lived in a cocooned environment without possibility of encountering any type of suffering and had every wish he desired catered for.
It is said that on the prince's 29th Birthday he decided to experience the outside world for himself as he had only ever had supervised visits outside of the palace grounds. One night he stole away from the palace and for the first time in his life, he encountered suffering. He saw someone who was very old, someone who was very sick and someone who had died. As foretold by the prophets, this changed the course of his life. He needed to know how to overcome the suffering associated with old age, sickness and death as these conditions would affect everyone.
The prince then made the decision to leave the palace, leaving behind his family and renouncing both his title and wealth. His wish was to find the cause of suffering and the methods that would lead to the cessation of this suffering. As Siddhartha left the palace grounds he passed a sage in deep meditation and the moment they looked at each other, their minds spontaneously joined. In that experience, he had his first realisation that whatever external conditions appear, it was only one's mind that perceived them as suffering.
For the next six years Siddhartha wandered the country learning from spiritual masters although no method he studied gave the solution and in some cases he became the teacher of his teachers. Finally, whilst following an ascetic practice of extreme denial, Siddhartha knew that the eventual result would be dying without finding the cause and solution to suffering. Near to the point of death from starvation he started eating again and realised that extreme methods were not the answer. He regained his strength and made his way to Bodh Gaya. Here he sat under a Bodhi tree and whilst touching the ground vowed that he would continue meditating in that place until he understood the true nature of mind. This is what is represented when you see the right hand touching the ground on statues of the historical Buddha. Historical accounts vary about exactly how long Siddhartha remained meditating but ultimately he succeeded and reached the enlightened state of a Buddha.
For the next 45 years, Buddha Shakyamuni travelled and taught students about the nature of mind. What he taught was dependent on the personal motivation and confidence of the student and these timeless precious teachings are the basis of the three main types of Buddhist schools thriving today; Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. The Types of Buddhist Schools