When we speak about Buddha, we are referring to any one of a number of beings. ‘Buddha’ refers to ‘one who woke up’ as in a being that obtained enlightenment. While many beings are called Buddha, one historical figure holds this title most often. This is Shakyamuni Buddha. Born Siddhartha Gautama, he became known as Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha after he attained enlightenment. He was a person who was born, lived, and died around the fifth or sixth century BCE. He lived in what is today known as Nepal.
Although it is believed that Siddhartha Gautama lived on the earth plane long ago, his life is surrounded by myths and legends. As the story goes, Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who lived a sheltered life surrounded by luxury. When he was in his late twenties, he encountered sickness, old age, and death for the first time. This led to him giving up his royal birth right to pursue peace of mind and enlightenment. On his journey, he endured many hardships – welcomed them even. In the end, he realized that there is a way to balance decadence with abstinence, frugality, and hardships.
When Siddhartha Gautama was about 35 years old, he settled into deep meditation under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in North-Eastern India. During this time, the embodiment of hatred, greed, ignorance, and death attempted to distract Siddhartha from his meditative state. He managed to resist all of Mara’s temptations, including the advances of her beautiful daughters. Through this, he obtained enlightenment and was called Buddha from that moment on. After becoming Shakyamuni Buddha, he dedicated his life to teaching others. He died when he was 80 years old.
Shakyamuni means ‘Sage of the Shakya’ in Sanskrit. The Shakya or Sakya was the clan that Siddhartha Gautama was born into as a prince. When he renounced his royal inheritance, his son (born before Siddhartha abandoned his royal life) followed his father and eventually became a monk. Some believe that this led to the demise of the Shakya clan. Shakyamuni Buddha’s life is a story on which many Buddhist practices are based. This life of becoming awakened and obtaining nirvana is repeated by all past and future buddhas.
Although Shakyamuni Buddha did not encourage idol worship, the practice of creating sculptures and depictions in his image grew after his death. Today many worshippers keep an image of Shakyamuni Buddha nearby.