Historians generally agree that Siddhartha Gautama was born in a princely family in northern India about the year 566 B.C.


As a young man he gave up life in the palace and set out to escape samsara. After several difficult years of study and practice, he “woke up,” not only to the cause of suffering but to its final cessation.


He then wandered the roads of India, gathering together a group of disciples and establishing a pattern of discipline for the Buddhist community. Finally, at about the age of eighty, he lay down and passed gently from the cycle of death and rebirth.


Historically – we know only a few key facts

King Shuddhodana and Queen Maya in an area in southern Nepal


member of the Shakya tribe

clan name was Gautama

given name was Siddhartha

common to refer to him as Siddhartha Gautama

or Shakyamuni – “The Sage of the Shakya Tribe”


Rich body of stories about the Buddha

begin with his previous lives

jataka or birth stories

convey simple moral lessons

in a technical sense, these stories are not about the Buddha but about a “future Buddha”


episodes widely represented in Buddhist art and have had an important influence on the way Buddhists imagine an ideal human life


1. birth announced by miraculous signs – he would be a chakravartin – “turner of the wheel”

either a great king -  turns the wheel of conquest

or a religious teacher -  turns the wheel of the dharma


in early thirties traveled outside the palace and saw four sights: a sick person, old person, corpse, and ascetic


began following a path of sever fasting and self-discipline  unproductive

adopted a mode of discipline known as the Middle Path – avoiding extreme of self denial and self-indulgence


self-indulgence refers not just to the way people live, but also to the way they think, including the way they think about themselves


the self is not so important that you need to hold on to it, nor is it so trivial that you can just throw it away


Bodh – to awaken or the bud out

Buddha – awakened from the dream of ignorance, wisdom and has blossomed

he also achieved the state of the goal that Buddhists call nirvana


Nirvana means “to extinguish” or “to blow out”


Nirvana involves a sense of freedom and calm


Buddha walked to Sarnath

turned the wheel of his dharma by preaching

at the age of about eighty, he lay down between two trees and passed gently from the realm of death and rebirth

parinirvana or complete extinction


body was cremated and his relics were enshrined in reliquary mound or stupas


Buddha was a human being who tried to confront the fundamental problems of suffering and death


he located himself in a tradition of Indian asceticism



ALL is suffering

this is not pessimistic and does not devalue human life

Buddhists say he was not pessimistic but realistic

claim about suffering leads not to pessimism but to a realistic assessment of life’s difficulties and finally to a sense of liberation and peace


during his life time Buddha had been a focus of veneration and a source of authority

what was left to fill the void he left?


2 bodies of the Buddha

1-for  those who wanted to worship

the form body – initially comprised the relics of the Buddha’s cremation

over time, any physical sign or representation of the Buddha came to play the same role


2-for those who wanted to follow the Buddha’s example, he left behind his dharma

the teaching that expressed the content of his awakening and showed the way for others to achieve this



Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – traditional summary of first sermon

Four Noble Truths

The truth of dukkha

The truth of the arising of dukkha

The truth of the cessation of dukkha – nirvana or nibbana

The truth of the path that leads to nirvana


dukkha and nibbana is Pali


3 types of suffering

dukkha-dukkha – physical suffering

viparinama-dukkha -  suffering due to change – all things change a pass away

samkhara-dukkha – suffering due to conditioned states – illusion


Three marks of existence

Everything is suffering

Everything is impermanent

Nothing has any self, or “all is no self” anatta


no self” means that no permanent identity continues from one moment to the next

what make up the human personality?

five “aggregates”

five aggregates are only momentary – but they group together to give the illusion of permanence like the flow of a river or the flame of a candle


what is reborn

the stream or flame of consciousness – binnana

causal continuity between moments in the flame it is impossible to say that it is the “same” flame -  person from one moment to the next


from a Buddhist point of view, it is simple realistic to accept that the human personality and all of reality is constantly changing


the cause of suffering is not the change, but the human desire to hold on to things and keep them from changing



The Path to Nirvana

The truth of the arising of suffering

twelvefold chain of dependent arising” – paticca-samuppada

the most important links in this chain is

ignorance to birth

ignorance leads to desire

desire leads to birth


glossy advertisement – illusions, desires

the most fundamental form of ignorance is that “I” constitute a permanent ego that needs to be fed by new and desirabnle experiences of new and desirable objects


Third Noble Truth is cessation or nirvana

start to cultivate an awareness of no self – strip away the desire that feeds the fire of samsara

will take many lifetimes

get on the boat


Nirvana means to blow out

the blowing out of desire

ignorance and of life itself – samsara


nirvana comes at two moments – the moment of awakening and at the moment of parinirvana when the fire of personality finally flickers out


nirvana with residues

nirvana without residues


the view of nirvana as cessation stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish, Christian and Islamic concept of God who created the world out of nothing


God once faced “nothing” and made something come to be


The Buddha did the opposite – he faced something and found a way to nothing


nirvana is not just the cessation of life – it is a quality of mind or a state of being


The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path

eight categories

right undering








 traditionally grouped into three

sila or moral conduct

samadihi or mental concentration

panna or wisdom



no killing, stealing, lying, abuse of sex, drinking intoxicants

Monks observe five more – cannot eat after 12 noon, sleep on soft beds, handle gold or silver


Buddhist practitioners engage in mental concentration – samadhi – to focus and clarify the mind


the cultivate wisdom – panna  - or the understanding of no self

these three modes of discipline are meant to avoid the karma that will lead a person to difficult and dangerous forms of rebirth


meant to cultivate the qualities of wisdom and detachment that eventually lead to nirvana


The Buddhist Monastic Community

Samgha or sangha


the triple refuge or three jewels

I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the samgha.


We have talked about the Buddha and dharma.


Buddha wandered from town to town

monks, nuns, and lay supporters

the ideal lay person

generosity is not included as one of the five moral percepts, but for lay people it is fundamental

community began as a group of wanderers, soon settle into a pattern

rainy season – at first just temporary dwelling places

became settled monasteries – vihara


problem of authority after death of the Buddha

senior monks convened a council to recite the Buddha’s teaching and create an authoritative body of doctrine and discipline


Ananda recited the Buddha’s doctrinal teachings – Sutta-pitaka “basket of discourses”

Ukpali recited the Buddha’s rules and regulations – vinaya-pitaka “basket of discipline”

everntaully a third basket Abhidhaman – systematic reflection on Buddha’s teaching


three baskets – tripitaka

Buddhist scripture although not written down for several centuries

contents often quite simple and pragmatic