Siddhattha Gotama (Pali), also: Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit) was a spiritual teacher from ancient India and the founder of Buddhism and is known as Buddha. It is generally accepted by the majority of historians that he lived approximately from 563 BCE. to 483 BCE.
The Buddha Title
Buddha is a title meaning ‘Awakened One’ which Siddhattha Gotama called himself and was called by others after he attained enlightenment. More than an individual, a Buddha is a type, a human who has reached the apex of wisdom and compassion and is no longer subject to rebirth. A Buddha attains enlightenment entirely on his own whereas an arahat does it as a result of listening to and practicing the teachings of a Buddha. The Buddha of our present era is Siddhattha Gotama but tradition says that there were other Buddhas in previous eras just as there will be Buddhas in future eras. When the truth of Dhamma becomes lost or obscured, someone will sooner or later rediscover it and such a person is called a Buddha.
Other types of fully enlightened people are as follows:
- Sama-sam-buddha = One who rediscovers the teachings and teaches the masses as the historical Buddha did (Siddhattha Gotama).
- Paccekabuddha = A silent buddha. One who attains full enlightenment, but does not teach others.
- Arahant = Fully enlightened person, who might teach others, but not as the one who rediscovered the teachings, just as one who learned it from a current dispensation.
According to Buddhism, all three types of buddha listed above are attained by study, meditation, morality, concentration, tranquility, hard work, and wisdom and all are fully enlightened saints who attain nibbana (nirvana).
Life of Buddha
Siddhattha Gotama, later to be called the Buddha, was born into a ruling family in the small northern Indian state of Sàkya. Brought up in luxury, he was married and had a son. Despite his life of privilege and comfort Siddhattha was not happy and became deeply concerned about the suffering he saw all around him. Eventually, following the convention of the time, he renounced the world and took up the life of a wandering ascetic. He studied at the feet of different teachers, practised severe self-mortification but eventually, after six years, decided that such things did not work. After resting and strengthening himself with decent food he sat at the foot of a particular tree vowing not to move until he had penetrated the truth. Over the next forty years, the Buddha travelled throughout India teaching to others the truths he had realised and finally passed away at Kusinàrà at the age of eighty. He was the first person to teach a religion for all humankind rather than for a specific group or tribe.
Contrary to what some non-Buddhists believe, the Buddha was not a god, but a normal human being who became awakened; a state which anyone can attain (see: Arahant and also Misconceptions about Buddhism).
What the Buddha looked like
There is enough incidental information in the Tipitaka to get a good idea about the Buddha’s physical appearance.
He was about six feet tall (S.I,62) and when young, before his renunciation, had long black hair and a beard (M.I,163). All sources agree that he was particularly good-looking. The brahman Sonadaõóa described him as ‘handsome, of fine appearance, pleasant to see, with a good complexion and a beautiful form and countenance’ (D.I,114). These natural good looks were further enhanced by his deep inner calm.
Another person, Doõa, described him as ‘beautiful, inspiring confidence, calm, composed, with the dignity and presence of a perfectly tamed elephant’ (A.II,36). Concerning his complexion Ananda said of him; ‘It is wonderful, truly marvellous how serene is the good Gotama’s presence, how clear and radiant is his complexion. Just as golden jujube fruit in the autumn is clear and radiant…so too is the good Gotama’s complexion’ (A.I,181). The Buddha probably had the typical color of any Asian Indian living back then, which would be somewhat similar to the color seen today. He certainly was not white and certainly not black, as some (on other sites) have suggested.
Although, it is possible that he may have been more toward a medium to dark brown, since he spent much time outdoors in meditation and teaching and the sun would certainly darken the color a little. The image to the left may not be that far off and is probably very close to the skin color of the Buddha.
But most importantly, the color is meaningless and the Buddha was perhaps the first known religious teacher to teach against slavery, caste, racism, and nationalism.
What the Buddha Taught
The Buddha taught that the unenlightened life is suffering; but that there is a way out of suffering. To those who have attained to high levels of insight there is little to no suffering.
What the Buddha ate
The Buddha ate a vegetarian diet or if not completely vegetarian, it was at least 95 percent vegetarian. He ate what was freely offered to him by generous lay people, but spoke out against killing or causing to kill.
- The Complete Book of Buddha's Lists -- Explained. David N. Snyder, Ph.D., 2006.
- Armstrong, Karen. Buddha. (New York: Penguin Books, 2001).
- Rahula, Walpola Ph.D. What the Buddha Taught. NY: Grove Press, 1959.
- The Historical Buddha, H.W.Schumann, 1989.
- The Life of Buddha according to the Pali Canon, Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Pariyatti, 2003.