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Video transcript

- [Sal] We're now going to talk about one of the most significant figures in all of human history, and that is Siddhartha Gautama, who would later be known as Buddha, as the awakened one, or the enlightened one. Now before we get into his life, let's think about the context in which he was born. So we see from this timeline, most accounts place his birth at around 563 BCE, although there are some historians who think that he might have been born about 100, 150 years later than that. But either way, that would've been near the end of the Vedic Period. And the Vedic Period is named after the Vedas, these Hindu scriptures written by those Indo-Aryans who came into India, most historians believe, around 1500 BCE, or maybe before that. Now by the time of Siddhartha's birth, Hinduism was really starting to take shape. Many of the things that we would now recognize as modern day Hindu practice already existed. And he was born into that world. Now on this map here you see the major sites of Buddha's life. He's born in Lumbini, modern day southern Napal, he eventually meditates at Bodh Gaya under the Bodh tree where he reaches enlightenment. He does his first preaching at Sarnath, and then he eventually dies at Kushinagar. And to modern Buddhists, these are still considered major pilgrimage sites. So he's born, according to tradition, at Lumbini. His mother is in transit and born along the way at Lumbini. His mother dies shortly afterwards, he's raised by his aunt, but his father in some accounts is a king, a chieftain, and he's able to give the young Siddhartha Gautama a very good, a very sheltered life. And this life continues into his 20s, he's able to get married, have a child. But at the age of 29 he's able to leave the compound. He's able to see the world as it really is outside of this world that his father has created for him, and he sees old age, he sees sickness, he sees poverty, and this creates a lot of consternation in Siddhartha. He wonders why this is so, why is there this suffering in the world? And so he decides, once again, at age 29, to seek the truth, to try to understand the universe as it is. And remember, this is in India where it was common practice for religious ascetics to go off into the woods and to meditate about the true nature of reality, try to obtain moksha. So he goes and follows that same practice. And for six years, he is going through the woods, he's wandering, he's left all of his possessions behind, he has left his family behind. He famously starts off trying to go in the mold of these Hindu ascetics, letting go of everything, including trying to deprive the body of food and water, and he almost kills himself. But then eventually, at age 35, he makes his way to the town of Gaya, now known as Bodh Gaya. And over there he meditates under a sacred fig tree, later known as the Bodhi tree. And he meditates there for seven days. And on the seventh day, it strikes him, he has a revelation, he awakens, so to speak. And according to Buddhist tradition, from that moment he becomes the Buddha, or the awakened one. And for the next 49 days he makes no contact with anyone, but he eventually makes his way to Sarnath. And at a deer park there he re-encounters five of his previous followers and they had given up on him. But now they see that there's a change in Siddhartha, now the Buddha. And he begins to explain to them what he has seen, what he has discovered. This is a quotation from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, what is was called in the Pali language, which was the language of Buddha's time. And it can be translated as Setting the Wheel of Dhamma, which is another word for Dharma, the (mumbles) word Dharma, in motion. And Dhamma in Hinduism means this cosmological law. What you should follow in your life. Dhamma in Buddhism, or Dharma in Buddhism can mean that, but it can also mean the teachings of Buddha and the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The sayings of Buddha at Sarnath are considered to be his first teachings to his followers. "There are these two extremes that are not to be "indulged in by one who has gone forth. "Which two? "That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with "reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, "ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted "to self affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. "Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way "leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, "to Unbinding." So this is considered to be Buddha's first reference to the notion of the middle way. And what's interesting here, he's saying things that are consistent with many of the Hindu ascetics of the time. That you shouldn't devote yourself to sensual pleasure, with reference to sensual objects, base, vulgar, common, ignoble. But he's also saying that you shouldn't go the other extreme either. You shouldn't devote yourself to self-affliction, painful, ignoble, unprofitable. That, too, is not going to lead to the truth. He says, avoid both of these extremes, the middle way. Now in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta he goes on to describe what are known as four noble truths. "Now this, monks, is the noble truth of suffering," or dhukka, "Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, "death is suffering: sorrow, lamentation, pain, "distress, and despair are suffering. "Association with the unbeloved is suffering, "separation from the loved is suffering. "Not getting what is wanted is suffering." So the first noble truth, he's describing this notion of dhukka, this notion of suffering. And later on he goes to expand on it. Saying it's not just traditional notions of sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, but it's also trying to desire or pursue anything that is temporary in nature will eventually lead to dhukka, or suffering. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination "of suffering, the craving that makes for further "becoming -- accompanied by passion and delight, "relishing now here, and now there -- craving for "sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, "craving for non-becoming." So that cause of the suffering is this craving. Craving for these impermanent things. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation "of suffering: the remainderless fading and cessation, "renunciation, relinquishment, release, "and letting go of that very craving." So here he's saying, "Look, you don't have to suffer, "there's a way to escape from it." And it's essentially to stop that craving. That's the third noble truth. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of "practice leading to the cessation of suffering." So, how do you actually practice life in way that you can seize this suffering? "Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path," which is another concept which is quoted a lot in Buddhism, this notion of these eight things that you need to do in order to escape from this suffering, from this dhukka, from this craving. "Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, "right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, "and right concentration." This comes from the Dhammapada, which you can interpret as the path to dhamma. And Buddha says, "All that we are is the result of "what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, "it is made up of our thoughts." Which is a core idea in Buddhism. That this notion of separateness, this is just due to our thoughts, it's all happening in our mind. The psychical reality that you think is somehow more permanent than the transient thoughts, it's all happening in your thought, it's all happening in your mind and the separateness is really an illusion. And once again, very similar idea to what we see in the Upanishads. Now one final idea, Buddha taught throughout his life, and eventually dies at Kushinagar, which is one of those four pilgrimage sites that we saw on that map. But really accelerated the spread of Buddhism, especially beyond India, was the reign of the emperor Ashoka during the Maurya Empire. And we talk about Ashoka, we have a whole video on him, but he eventually converts to Buddhism and he sponsors it, he builds temples, and he sponsors missionaries to spread Buddhism from Europe all the way to China. And so Buddha was obviously the central figure, but Ashoka was the accelerant that spread Buddhism to the world.