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What is a Buddha?
What is a Buddha not?
Shakyamuni Buddha's Life Story
Zen Story - Like a Pile of Bullsh**

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Thich Nhat Hanh

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WHAT IS A BUDDHA?
The word Buddha means "awakened one" or "enlightened one". The Buddha was an "ordinary" human like
you and me before he became enlightened. Enlightenment is compared to waking up, because we suddenly
experience a complete transformation of body and mind when we wake up. A Buddha is a person who has
developed all positive qualities and eliminated all negative qualities. One could say that a Buddha represents
the very peak of evolution, as he/she is omniscient or all-knowing. With his wisdom, a Buddha really
understands the truth, whereas ordinary people live like in a dream, an illusion that prevents us from
understanding reality properly.
"Our teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, is one among the
thousand Buddhas of this aeon. These Buddhas were
not Buddhas from the beginning, but were once sentient
beings like ourselves. How they came to be Buddhas is
this.
Of body and mind, mind is predominant, for body and
speech are under the influence of the mind. Afflictions
such as desire do not contaminate the nature of the
mind, for the nature of the mind is pure,
uncontaminated by any taint. Afflictions are peripheral
factors of a mind, and through gradually transforming
all types of defects, such as these afflictions, the
adventitious taints can be completely removed. This
state of complete purification is Buddhahood; therefore,
Buddhists do not assert that there is any Buddha who
has been enlightened from the beginning."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 'The Buddhism of Tibet'
The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha, lived about 2,500 years ago in India. However, he
was not the first Buddha, and will not be the last either. He taught that during this eon (very long time
period, maybe comparable to the life-time of the universe as we know it), there would be 1,000 fully
enlightened Buddhas who would introduce Buddhism (after it has been totally forgotten). The numbers one
to three in this eon are Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa, then comes Shakyamuni (the historical
Buddha some 2,500 years ago), and the next Buddha will be called Maitreya.[1]

WHAT IS A BUDDHA NOT?


A Buddha is not the creator of the universe, like "God" in the Christian-Judeo-Islamic sense. In fact, there is
no creator of the universe given in Buddhist philosophy apart from the karma (actions) of sentient beings
(beings with a mind like huans and animals).
The Buddha is not omnipotent (all-powerful) like the Christian-Judeo-Islamic "God". (The simple reason is
that if he were, out of compassion, he would have long released all sentient beings from suffering.)
The state of a Buddha is not impossible to reach (although it may take many lives and extensive effort).
A Buddha is not hindered by ignorance, but is omniscient (knows everything).
A Buddha is not a passive being; he will use his wisdom to help to other living beings when they are open to
his advice.

SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA'S LIFE STORY


Prince Siddharta Gautama was born some 2,500 years ago as a prince in what is now called Lumbini in

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Nepal. At his birth, many special signs appeared. His father asked a sage living in his kingdom for advice on
his son. The sage predicted that Gautama would become either a great King or a great spiritual teacher.
The King wanted his son to be his successor and tried to keep him far away from all matters of life that could
incline him to a spiritual life. Gautama usually spent his life in his father's palace, surrounded by all the
possible luxuries of the time. He proved to be a special child, being quite intelligent as well as an excellent
sportsman. He married to a beautiful woman he loved, and they had a son.
When Gautama was 29 years old, he discovered there was much suffering in the world around him.
Traditionally it is explained that he suddenly recognised the problems of sickness, old age and death when
visiting the city. Being shocked by the suffering of all living beings, he decided to search for way to end it. He
left his wife and child, the palace and even his royal clothes, and started out on a spiritual quest.
Gautama studied under various teachers and followed their practices until he mastered them all. His first
teacher was Alara Kalama who taught a form of meditation leading to an exalted form of absorption called
"the state of no-thingness", a state without moral or cognitive dimension. Gautama saw this was not going to
solve suffering, and continued his search.
The next teacher was Udraka Ramaputra who taught him meditative absorption leading to "the state of
neither perception nor non-perception". Again, Gautama realised this was not the state he was looking for.
(Both Alara and Udraka are by some scholars considered to be Jain followers.)
Next, he tried extreme ascetic practices at Uruvilva in North India, with five other ascetics who turned into
his followers. In the end, Gautama nearly died of starvation.
After about six years of searching, he realised that just wearing down his body did not generate new insights,
but rather leads to weakness and self-destruction. When he decided to give up extreme asceticism, his five
students left him.
He then sat down in a place now called Bodhgaya (North India)
under a Bodhi-tree and decided not to get up anymore until he
discovered the truth. Just a short time later, he became a fully
enlightened Buddha. This means that he actualised all positive
potentials of a sentient being and rid himself of all negative
qualities. With this, he realised the true nature of existence and
suffering (emptiness), and how suffering can be ended. (On the
right is a descendant of the original Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya.)
Seven weeks after enlightenment, the Buddha gave his first
discourse in Sarnath, near Varanasi (see image below right). Here
he taught the 4 Noble Truths. The Buddha continued to teach
during his life, until passing away at the age of 81.

The 'Bodhi' tree in Bodhgaya

The Buddha once summarised his entire teachings in one


sentence:
"I teach about suffering and the way to end it".
The main disciples of the Buddha are also known as the Great
Arhants: Shariputra, known for his understanding of the
Abidharma teachings; Maudgalyayana, known for his psychic
powers; Mahakashyapa, the great ascetic; and Ananda, the The Sarnath stupa, location of the first teachings
personal attendant of the Buddha who recalled every word the Buddha spoke.
The Buddha's life is also sometimes summarized in the so called 'Twelve Deeds of the Buddha'. See the
Samye website for a description of these.
People often wonder if it was not selfish from the Buddha to leave his wife and child, and the rest of his
family on his spiritual quest. Of course, on the short-term it may have caused especially his wife much
sorrow, however, as is nicely recounted at the Buddha Mind website, all his family members achieved
enlightenment. One of the important annual Buddhist festival days celebrates the Buddha's returning from
the 'Heaven of the 33'; he went there to teach the devas of that realm, including his mother, so that she
achieved enlightenment. So, it is easy to see that whatever suffering the Buddha caused to his family
members turned into more then a blessing in the end.

ZEN (CH'AN) STORY - LIKE A PILE OF BULLSH**


By Ven Master Hsing Yun, from Merit Times.
"Su Dongpo of the Song Dynasty went to meditate with Ch'an Master Foyin at Golden
Mountain Temple. After Su Dongpo had experienced a total relaxation of body and mind, he
asked Ch'an Master Foyin, "Master, what do you think of my sitting posture?"
"Very magnificent. Like a Buddha!"
Su Dongpo was very delighted to hear that. Master Foyin then asked him, "Scholar, what do
you think of my sitting posture then?"
Su Dongpo, never giving up any chance to tease and jeer at Master Foyin, immediately replied,
"Like a pile of bullsh**." Master Foyin was very delighted to hear the answer and did not utter
another word.
Su Dongpo thought he had beaten Master Foyin because the Master was wordless while being
compared to a pile of bullsh**. He was so proud of himself that he told everyone he met, "Today
I won."
This news soon reached Su's sister Su Xiaomei. She asked him, "Brother, how was it that you
beat Master today?" Su repeated the whole story vividly to his sister. Su Xiaomei, talented and

smart as she was, told Su Dongpo straight to his face, "Brother, you actually lost. It is because
Master's mind is actually that of a Buddha that he could see you as a Buddha. As your mind is
like a pile of bullsh**, you, of course, saw him as a pile of bullsh**." Su Dongpo, realizing his
Chan practice was far inferior to Master Foyin's, was speechless.
Moral: Ch'an does not depend on knowledge but upon the capacity to awake. Ch'an is not about
eloquent debate but intuitive wisdom. Don't think all Ch'an masters handle encounters with
sharp words. Sometimes, when they are silent and don't communicate via words and language,
they can still utter the same deafening Dharma sounds."

LINKS
For an extensive life story of the Buddha on the web, visit Buddhanet.

Just for fun:


Now there's a man with an open mind - you can feel the breeze from here!
Groucho Marx
One day a young Buddhist on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the
great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was
about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The
young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, "Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this
river?"
The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, "My son, you are on the other
side".
Note:
[1]: See the Bhadrakalpika Sutra, translated into English in 4 big volumes as: 'The Fortunate Aeon - How
the 1000 Buddhas become enlightened'.
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Last updated: May 11, 2015