Who is the Buddha?

“Buddha Shakyamuni was the fourth of one thousand buddhas that would come into this world. Each of them would re-ignite the inherent spiritual qualities of the sentient beings of their time period. Because they will continue to appear without interruption, giving an incredible variety of teachings but always acting with loving-kindness and compassion, this great cycle of time during which they appear will be known as the Fortunate Aeon.”

Listen to Life of the Buddha

The fourth of these gracious teachers was born in India, a land of many races and classes, into the caste of kings. He was born a prince named Siddhartha in the highly civilized and prosperous kingdom of Kapilavastu. His father was the powerful and renowned King Suddhodhana. His mother was Queen Mayadevi, celebrated for the gentleness and love she bestowed on everyone. From his youth, Siddhartha loved his retinue and all his subjects as if they were his relatives and closest friends. He was always thinking about how he could help them and tried his best to fulfill their wishes. Around the age of nine he began his formal education, which included the arts and sciences as well as rigorous physical training in the martial arts. Whatever he was taught, he understood and mastered immediately. His intelligence was so great that even among geniuses he would be regarded a genius. His reputation extended well beyond the boundaries of his kingdom.

Though he was so distinguished, he wanted to remove the suffering of others and to bring them happiness. He constantly questioned why is it that people suffer, grow old, get sick and die. Convinced that the natural condition of humanity would be happiness without strife, he wondered how the suffering he saw could be overcome. This concern was always in his thoughts and close to his heart. He asked every spiritual master he encountered what was the source of peace and what was the source of discord.

According to the wishes of his father, the king, he married the beautiful young princess Yashodhara. His wife was brilliant and accomplished in all the physical arts and scholastic studies, and they were surrounded by all the luxuries the world had to offer. But he never ceased to ask about the meaning of life and he spent more time thinking about the well-being of others than about his delightful circumstances. He was convinced that his mission was to bring happiness to all beings, not only to his subjects. He decided he could never accomplish this within the confines of the palace, and so at age twenty-nine he walked away from the kingdom and lifestyle which were his by birth.

He knew that the solution to the human predicament could never be found externally, but had to be discovered as the nature of one’s own mind. Nor could the nature of mind be accessed forcibly, but only by abiding at ease within that natural state. Therefore, he meditated for six years. At the age of thirty-five, he realized his inner nature of loving-kindness, compassion and wisdom, and all his previous questions were answered. From then on he was known as the Fully Awakened One, the gracious teacher Buddha Shakyamuni. Until his mahaparinirvana at the age of eighty-one, he continually shared his deep realization with everyone without exception.

His extraordinary teachings were:

  • All conditioned things are impermanent.
  • All negative emotions and grasping bring suffering.
  • All existing phenomena–all subjects and objects–are empty and egoless.
  • Nirvana or enlightenment is free from grasping and totally calm and peaceful.
  • Every living being has the same nature as an enlightened being.
  • No human is higher or lower than anyone else.
  • Mind is principal to matter.

The Buddha’s main teachings were on nonviolence, love and compassion, and on how to bring out the good qualities within ourselves and others by exploring our nature and the nature of our environment. He taught how to live in harmony and peace. In order to do this, one simple teaching is to have a good heart, which is also known as bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is love, kindness, compassion, and wisdom. These qualities are the basic nature of every living being. Practicing bodhichitta begins with having a good intention, the positive aspiration to help all beings. Looking at it this way, all teachings are really about having positive intentions and aspirations that start in the heart and the mind. When we have this foundation, all activities of body, speech and mind become healthy and serene. This is the way we should live and what we should share with others.

Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings range from the foundation instructions of Basic Buddhism, to the advanced teachings on compassion of the Sutra Mahayana, and then to the esoteric and secret Vajrayana teachings, which are short, direct, and powerful ways to bring out full realization of one’s goodness qualities.

Due to the kindness of Guru Padmasambhava, great master Shantarakshita, and Dharma King Trisong Deutsen, Buddhism was brought into Tibet in full bloom around the eighth century CE. These three masters gave all of the teachings of the Buddha in their entirety. Shantarakshita focused primarily on the sutras, logic and reasoning, and the Vinaya systems of proper conduct, morality and ethics. In addition to this, Guru Padmasambhava gave extensive teachings on the Inner Tantras of the Vajrayana. Over the centuries, until the present, these teachings–particularly those given by Guru Padmasambhava–have been preserved uninterruptedly in two lineages known as kama and terma. These are respectively known as the oral transmission teachings and the hidden-discovered teachings.”

by Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche
Preface to Discovering Infinite Freedom