The Father teachings (Phacho) refer to the writings
of Je Tsongkhapa
and his two main disciples.
The Son teachings (Bhucho)
include authentic exegeses by their direct disciples and the later
scholars of the Geden tradition.
About Buddha Shakyamuni
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, was born in the sixth century BC in Lumbini, to the North of the holy Indian city of Varanasi. His father Suddhodana was King of the Shakya clan, and ruler of one of several kingdoms that existed in India at the time.
One night Mayadevi the Queen had an extraordinary dream in which a white elephant descended from heaven, walked around her three times and entered her womb. Both herself and the King were deeply disturbed by this and summoned the wisest sages and the most learned men in the kingdom to interpret the dream. They were told that the Queen would have a son who would grow up to be exceptional. If he remained in the palace, they said, the child would be a great King who would rule over the entire world. If however, their son was to renounce the world and abandon the comforts of the palace, he would gain enlightenment and find a path which would bring an end to the sorrows of mankind.
The time of the child's birth drew near, and Queen Mayadevi was seized with a longing to return to her parent's home at the foot of the Himalayas. Preparations were made for the journey and the Queen set out in a palanquin accompanied by her attendants. They passed by a beautiful garden at Lumbini where a grove of trees lay close by the road and one beautiful flowering tree captured the Queen's attention. She alighted from her palanquin and went to admire the tree, which seemed to bend down towards her.
Reaching out to clasp a branch of the tree it is said Siddhartha was born miraculously from her right side. According to legend, the gods attended Siddhartha's birth and witnessed the miracles which occurred. Emerging from his mother's side, he immediately took seven steps. At each step, a lotus grew out of the ground to receive the future Buddha, and the child stepped from blossom to blossom. The gods in heaven rejoiced at the Great One's birth and showered petals upon the earth. The Queen then returned to the Shakya capital of Kapilavastu, where she and her newborn child were received with great jubilation.
Queen Mayadevi died soon after the birth and Siddhartha was brought up by his aunt. From earliest childhood he showed compassionate and meditative qualities. When a great sage by the name of Asita came to visit the Shakya court, he told the King that Siddhartha would not become a universal monarch but a Buddha, an Enlightened One. The sage showed that the child was endowed with the thirty-two auspicious marks of spiritual awareness, such as a broad forehead, large eyes, thick eyelashes and so on, which indicated a life of spiritual achievement.
King Suddhodana was disturbed by this prophesy. He wanted his son to take a worldly path and to become a great King who would carry on the Shakya Dynasty. As such he did everything in his power to direct Siddhartha's energies towards worldly life. The Prince was surrounded by luxuries and diversions of every description. He was given instruction in all the pursuits that befitted his position by the best teachers of his time. The young Prince excelled in all that he undertook, and his days were filled with studying the scriptures, mastering arts such as archery and riding, listening to music, playing with his companions.
One day the young Prince went for a walk alone in a garden and was resting under a jambu tree. Almost without realising it, the he drew his legs into meditation posture, his mind became stilled and free of worldly thoughts and he was filled with peace and serenity. Some courtiers came upon Siddhartha as he sat in meditation, but he was unaware of his surroundings and his face had a look of absolute calm. The courtiers noticed with awe that the shadows of all the other trees in the garden had moved with the passage of the sun, but the shadow of the jambu tree had remained where it was, in order to shade the Prince.
Worried by this turn of events, the King's advisors suggested that a wife and children would help to turn the Prince's attention to worldly matters and so the search for a bride was begun. After considering all the eligable girls in the kingdom, Yashodhara, the daughter of a Shakya nobleman was selected. She was beautiful and well accomplished with great inner strength.
According to the custom of the time Prince Siddhartha had to compete for the hand of his chosen bride in a tournament of skill, and he thus showed his prowess in archery and wrestling, and in all the branches of intellectual knowledge. The wedding of Prince Siddhartha and Yashodhara was celebrated and the King was overjoyed. He felt that the Prince would now settle down and involve himself more completely in the affairs of the kingdom. He made sure the Prince was surrounded by beauty and graciousness, and protected him from anything that may cause distress.
For several years, the Prince lived in comfort and ease. His wife bore a son, whom they named Rahul, but despite the diversions of the royal court, Siddhartha remained detached. The King made every effort to keep him secluded from the sorrows of the world, to hide him from the unpleasant realities of sickness and old age.
One day Siddhartha went out riding with his charioteer Chandaka. As he left the palace, he came upon an old man with bent body and legs trembling with the decrepitude of age. Slowly, painfully and leaning heavily upon his stick the old man was struggling down the road. Siddhartha had never before seen the infirmity of old age. He pulled his chariot to a halt and asked Chandaka what ailed the man. Chandaka replied that the man was old and his body was failing. In an anguished voice, Prince Siddhartha asked if all human beings were fated to grow old as such and Chandaka replied this was a fact of life. Siddhartha returned to the palace in a troubled state of mind.
Shortly after this, the Prince went riding along another road that led southwards out of the city. He hadn't gone far when he saw a man who was desperately ill. The sight shocked him and he stopped to ask Chandaka what the matter was. Chandaka replied that the man was mortally ill and no one could help him. Once again the Prince turned homewards in a troubled mood.
Later, he again left the city and saw a dead body being carried to the cremation ground. Behind the body walked a group of people wailing and crying. Siddhartha asked Chandaka why the procession of people was so sad and Chandaka replied that the man on the litter had died and his family would never see him again. Disturbed and anguished by what he had seen, the Prince again returned home.
A short while later the Prince went riding along the road leading northwards. He saw a monk dressed in saffron robes. The monk carried a begging bowl in his hand and he walked along the road with an aura of serenity. The Prince was struck by the man's calmness and asked Chandaka who the monk was and why he was dressed that way. Chandaka replied that the monk had renounced the world and all material possessions and in doing so had found a measure of peace. He explained that the monk and others like him were engaged in trying to discover the ultimate truth.
These four happenings marked a turning point in Siddhartha's life. The harshness of the sights he had seen brought about a realisation that old age, sickness and death were the fate of all human beings and he began to understand the illusory nature of the existence he had led so far. Even his infant son seemed one more chain holding him to the rigours of a worldly existence.
The King heard of Siddhartha's unrest and redoubled his efforts to keep him entertained and distracted. He strengthened the doors of the palace and set guards around the gates in an effort to prevent the Prince from leaving.
Meanwhile Siddhartha had decided to leave the palace and take to a life of asceticism in an effort to find the truth, so he went to seek his father's permission to do so. Legend has it that the gods intervened and King Suddhodana in the grip of their spell granted permission to his son. After Siddhartha had left his chamber, however, the King ordered his courtiers and soldiers to prevent the Prince from leaving the palace.
Siddhartha meanwhile sent for Chandaka and asked him to saddle Kanthaka, his horse. Chandaka, in great distress, tried to convince the Prince to change his mind, but Siddhartha, was insistent and ordered Chandaka to carry out his wishes. Here the gods intervened once more to aid the Prince's departure, causing the guards to fall asleep and gates and doors to open of their own accord.
Accompanied by Chandaka, Siddhartha rode out of the city and travelled far beyond his father's kingdom. He dismounted from Kanthaka and removed his Princely ornaments, giving them to Chandaka to be returned to his father. Then taking his sword he cut his long hair, a symbol of his princely status and bade Chandaka farewell. Upon meeting a poor hunter he exchanged his fine silk robes for the man's shabby saffron-coloured clothing and he set out as a seeker of truth. He was no longer Prince Siddhartha, heir to the throne of the Shakyas, but Siddhartha, a wandering mendicant.
Search for truth
Siddhartha travelled through the Gangetic plain in search of truth. He paused now and again to study with renowned teachers and in time came to the city of Vaishali. He had heard of a great teacher living there named Kalapa Arada who lived with 300 disciples in strict monastic discipline. Siddhartha listened and practised the instructions of the sage but remained unsatisfied. He realised that Kalapa Arada's path was not the one he wished to pursue and so he moved on.
Soon afterwards he came to the city of Rajagriha in the state of Magadha. As he walked through the streets people were struck by his look of calm contemplation. Word reached Bimbisara, the King of Magadha that a great monk had arrived in the city and so courtiers were sent to give alms to Siddhartha.
The King's men brought back the news that the monk was sitting in meditation at the foot of Pandava Parvataraja hill, so early the next morning King Bimbisara hastened to pay his respects to Siddhartha. He too was awed by the sense of great peace and serenity that seemed to emanate from the monk. Bowing to Siddhartha he begged him to make his home in Magadha, promising him land, a home and all the comforts that he desired. Siddhartha thanked the King but refused his offer, explaining that desire for worldly comforts was a poison to him. Desire, he explained, was the source of all the miseries of mankind and he had renounced worldly life to find an answer to mankind's misery.
He then made his way to the home of Ramaputra, a famous sage who lived near Rajagriha with seven hundred disciples. Siddhartha joined them and devoted himself to learning all that the sage taught. He mastered the sage's system of meditation and faithfully carried out all the wise man's instructions. However, after some time he realised that Ramaputra's path was not the one he sought. He took leave of the master with respect and affection and continued his quest.
Five of Ramaputra's disciples decided to go with Siddhartha and so, accompanied by these five followers he made his way to Gaya. Here they lived for a time at Gayashirsha Hill and Siddhartha pondered deeply all that he had learned since leaving the palace. He then realised that one would only be able to achieve ultimate knowledge if one were absolutely detached from worldly desires, and the mind was still and tranquil.
Moving on, Siddhartha came to the banks of the Niranjana river near the village of Uruvela. The place was quiet and tranquil, so he decided to settle here and undertake rigorous austerities. Here he meditated, stilling thought and bodily needs. He ate less and less, until his daily diet consisted of a single grain of rice. His body became thin and then skeletal.
Siddhartha meditated this way for six years. He was disturbed neither by hunger nor by the scorching sun or torrential rains. He remained fixed in his purpose, his mind unswerving from the truth he sought. At the end of six years he realised that severe penance would not bring the enlightenment he sought. He broke his fast, eating a little rice pudding offered to him by the girl Sujata who lived in the village of Uruvela. Then he went to the Niranjana river to bathe.
In the days that followed, Siddhartha returned to his former life as a wandering ascetic. He regained his health and strength and continued his quest. However, he remained in the vicinity of the Niranjana river. He was preparing himself for his final struggle to attain the supreme truth.
Choosing a pipal tree close to the river, he undertook to meditate until he attained the knowledge he sought. A local grasscutter offered him some soft green kusha grass for a cushion and he walked around the tree seven times and then he prepared his seat. Sitting down facing eastwards he began to meditate, vowing that he would not get up from that spot until he had attained enlightenment.
As he sat deep in meditation Mara, Lord of Delusion, who symbolises the delusions and obscurations of our own mind, was unable to bear the sight of Siddhartha's imminent realisation of ultimate truth. He came with his army to distract Siddhartha from his contemplation. They came in the form of beautiful maidens, and then in the form of fearful demons. They tried to break Siddhartha's concentration through temptations and then through fear. But the Buddha-to-be remained impervious to the illusions and spells with which Mara tried to undermine his efforts.
Mara then taunted Siddhartha, trying to win the battle by sowing the seeds of doubt, but Siddhartha only stretched down his hand and touched the earth, calling it to bear witness to his eons of striving for virtuous ends. The earth goddess Vasudhara appeared and testified that over countless lifetimes the meditator had practiced the perfections of generosity,discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom. Mara, recognising defeat, fled with his army of illusions.
During that night he entered deeper and deeper states of meditative absorption. He realised the interdependence of all phenomena and directly perceived that nowhere was there even one atom that had even the slightest independent existence. He saw that every instant of suffering stemmed from the inability to understand the way in which all things exist. The very subtle layers of obscuration that veiled the pure clear light nature of his mind were removed and at dawn he arose as a fully awakened one. He had conquered sorrow and attained supreme bliss. Sitting under that pipal tree Siddhartha had become a Buddha.
After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha remained seated for seven days. In all, it was forty-nine days before he would first teach the true path that he had discovered.
Finally, he left the Bodhi tree and travelled to the deer park at Sarnath, where his five former followers were living. On the way he passed two merchants, Trapusha and Bhallika with a caravan of five hundred bullocks and their merchandise. Seeing the Enlightened One's glowing countenance, the two merchants bowed before him and offered him the choicest food they had, which he accepted to break his fast. The merchants went on their way, greatly uplifted by the encounter.
Travelling northwards, along the river Ganga, the Buddha reached the city of Varanasi and went directly to the deer park at Sarnath to find his five disciples. The disciples had previously left the Buddha on the banks of the Niranjana river, after becoming disillusioned with him for forsaking the practice of austerities. When they saw him once again they decided to shun him, but were overwhelmed by his serenity and tranquillity and invited him to sit, accepting to hear his teaching.
The teaching at Sarnath was the Buddha's first turning of the 'Wheel of Dharma'. He taught the Four Noble Truths, which have remained the basis of all traditions of Buddhist doctrine to this day. The Buddha talked all through the night and when morning came, the five disciples embraced his teachings and took refuge in the three Jewels of Buddhism; the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They, with the Buddha, became the first five members of the Sangha, the community of monks who follow the teachings of the Buddha.
The next individual who accepted the Buddha's path was a young nobleman named Yasa. Like the Buddha himself, Yasa had been born into an affluent family and surrounded by luxury, yet he left his home and family in search of the truth. Yasa's father, coming in search of his son also listened to the Buddha and was so struck by his teachings that he and his household also converted to the Buddha's path. He became the first of many lay followers who accepted the teachings but did not give up their worldly lives to become monks.
Many more young monks joined the Sangha and were taught by the Buddha. When they had understood the teachings, they would go out in different directions, to spread the Dharma for the welfare of all living beings, just as the Buddha himself was doing.
The Buddha travelled back to Uruvela, near Gaya, where he gathered many other followers. King Bimbisara came to hear the Buddha teach and became a lay disciple. He offered the Buddha and his followers a bamboo grove in which to live, and the Buddha accepted the gift. Thus the Buddha and his followers travelled through the Gangetic plain, returning to the bamboo grove to meditate during the monsoon rains.
For the next forty years and more, the Buddha and his disciples travelled from one village and town to another and spread their message to the world. Buddha also returned to his home of Kapilavastu, where his father, King Suddhodana greeted him with jubilation and invited him to teach. Hearing his teaching, the King along with Suddhodana and their son Rahul also embraced the Dharma, with Rahul taking vows and becoming a monk.
The Buddha's travels took him to Vaishali, Sravasti, Rajagriha and Kushinagar. Wherever he went, he gave teachings that would most benefit the listener. The Sangha grew and flourished in the villages of the Gangetic basin, and word of the Buddha's teachings spread far beyond. Scriptures recount many miracles and great works performed by the Buddha who at one point created a thousand Buddha images in the sky depicting the postures of meditation and teaching. In this way his critics were silenced and all doubts set aside.
When the Buddha was eighty years of age, he announced that his time was at an end, and he prepared his followers for his Paranirvana, the great cessation of his earthly being. His constant attendant during this time was his disciple Ananda. The Buddha told Ananda that after his death the Sangha should not think their master's words had come to an end. The truth of the Dharma and the Sangha would continue to guide and teach those who came after he had died.
When he and his followers had reached Kushinagar, the Buddha ate a meal which was offered, which brought on a final illness. There is differing opinion as to whether this meal was of pork or mushrooms, as the Buddha had instructed that he and his followers preferred vegetarian food, but were to eat whatever was offered to them out of respect to their host.
He went a little further then lay down on his right side between two trees with his head facing the north and addressed his followers for the last time. According to the scriptures, he said: "Decay is inherent in all compounded phenomena! Work for your liberation with diligence!"
When the ruler of Kushinagar heard of the Buddha's death, he sent word that he would arrange the funeral ceremony. The last rites were carried out with all the honour due to a universal monarch and the Kings of all the states of the Gangetic plain were in attendance. After the cremation they divided his ashes into eight parts and each King carried these back to his kingdom, where a Stupa was built out of respect and veneration.