Siddhartha Gautama Buddha
643– 543 BCE
Biographical Sketch by Universal Theosophy
Gautama the Buddha stands today as one of the most well-known and well-respected sages ever to walk the Earth. He was born in Kapilavastu (modern day Nepal) to a king and queen of the Kshatriya caste. He was raised in the lap of luxury but renounced all fortune, all comfort, and even the throne of the kingdom itself, in order to walk the Gangetic plains, first as a seeker of truth and then as a great teacher. He taught openly the most practical and ethical spiritual code, and instructed his bhikkhus (disciples) in the most profound metaphysics. He taught no blind faith nor superstition or idol-worship. His life appears to have been utterly blameless, his intentions utterly selfless. The teachings that come down to us from this great sage provide the basis for a true brotherhood of humanity and a profound understanding of our place in the grand scheme of spiritual evolution.
We have composed an extensive biography of the Buddha, drawn from the traditional biographical sources and supported by a number of key suttas. We dedicate it to all who wish to learn about the life of this man of men, and, more importantly, who wish to live by his example.
Entries from the Theosophical Glossary
Buddha Siddhârta (Sk.)
The name given to Gautama, the Prince of Kapilavastu, at his birth. It is an abbreviation of sarvârtthasiddha and means, the “realization of all desires”. Gautama, which means, on earth (gâu) the most victorious (tama) “was the sacerdotal name of the Sâkya family, the kingly patronymic of the dynasty to which the father of Gautama, the King Suddhodhana of Kapilavastu, belonged. Kapilavastu was an ancient city, the birth-place of the Great Reformer and was destroyed during his life time. In the title Sâkyamuni, the last component, muni, is rendered as meaning one mighty in charity, isolation and silence”, and the former Sâkya is the family name.
Every Orientalist or Pundit knows by heart the story of Gautama, the Buddha, the most perfect of mortal men that the world has ever seen, but none of them seem to suspect the esoteric meaning underlying his prenatal biography, i.e., the significance of the popular story. The Lalitavistûra tells the tale, but abstains from hinting at the truth. The 5,000 jâtakas, or the events of former births (re-incarnations) are taken literally instead of esoterically. Gautama, the Buddha, would not have been a mortal man, had he not passed through hundreds and thousands of births previous to his last. Yet the detailed account of these, and the statement that during them he worked his way up through every stage of transmigration from the lowest animate and inanimate atom and insect, up to the highest—or man, contains simply the well-known occult aphorism : “a stone becomes a plant, a plant an animal, and an animal a man”. Every human being who has ever existed, has passed through the same evolution. But the hidden symbolism in the sequence of these re-births (jâtaka) contains a perfect history of the evolution on this earth, pre and post human, and is a scientific exposition of natural facts. One truth not veiled but bare and open is found in their nomenclature, viz., that as soon as Gautama had reached the human form he began exhibiting in every personality the utmost unselfishness, self-sacrifice and charity.
Buddha Gautama, the fourth of the Sapta (Seven) Buddhas and Sapta Tathâgatas was born according to Chinese Chronology in 1024 B.C; but according to the Singhalese chronicles, on the 8th day of the second (or fourth) moon in the year 621 before our era. He fled from his father’s palace to become an ascetic on the night of the 8th day of the second moon, 597 BC., and having passed six years in ascetic meditation at Gaya, and perceiving that physical self-torture was useless to bring enlightenment, be decided upon striking out a new path, until he reached the state of Bodhi. He became a full Buddha on the night of the 8th day of the twelfth moon, in the year 592, and finally entered Nirvâna in the year 543 according to Southern Buddhism. The Orientalists, however, have decided upon several other dates. All the rest is allegorical. He attained the state of Bodhisattva on earth when in the personality called Prabhâpala. Tushita stands for a place on this globe, not for a paradise in the invisible regions. The selection of the Sâkya family and his mother Mâyâ, as “the purest on earth,” is in accordance with the model of the nativity of every Saviour, God or deified Reformer. The tale about his entering his mother’s bosom in the shape of a white elephant is an allusion to his innate wisdom, the elephant of that colour being a symbol of every Bodhisattva. The statements that at Gautama’s birth, the newly born babe walked seven steps in four directions, that an Udumbara flower bloomed in all its rare beauty and that the Nâga kings forthwith proceeded ‘‘to baptise him ”, are all so many allegories in the phraseology of the Initiates and well-understood by every Eastern Occultist. The whole events of his noble life are given in occult numbers, and every so-called miraculous event—so deplored by Orientalists as confusing the narrative and making it impossible to extricate truth from fiction—is simply the allegorical veiling of the truth, it is as comprehensible to an Occultist learned in symbolism, as it is difficult to understand for a European scholar ignorant of Occultism. Every detail of the narrative after his death and before cremation is a chapter of facts written in a language which must be studied before it is understood, otherwise its dead letter will lead one into absurd contradictions. For instance, having reminded his disciples of the immortality of Dharmakâya Buddha is said to have passed into Samâdhi, and lost himself in Nirvâna—from which none can return., and yet, notwithstanding this, the Buddha is shown bursting open the lid of the coffin, and stepping out of it ; saluting with folded hands his mother Mâyâ who had suddenly appeared in the air, though she had died seven (days after his birth, &c., &c. As Buddha. was a Chakravartti (he who turns the wheel of the Law), his body at its cremation could not be consumed by common fire. What happens? Suddenly a jet of flame burst out of the Swastica on his breast, and reduced his body to ashes. Space prevents giving more instances.
As to his being one of the true and undeniable Saviours of the World, suffice it to say that the most rabid orthodox missionary, unless he is hopelessly insane, or has not the least regard even for historical truth, cannot find one smallest accusation against the life and personal character of Gautama, the “Buddha”. Without any claim to divinity, allowing his followers to fall into atheism, rather than into the degrading superstition of deva or idol-worship, his walk in life is from the beginning to the end, holy and divine. During the years of his mission it is blameless and pure as that of a god—or as the latter should be. He is a perfect example of a divine, godly man. He reached Buddhaship—i.e., complete enlightenment—entirely by his own merit and owing to his own individual exertions, no god being supposed to have any personal merit in the exercise of goodness and holiness. Esoteric teachings claim that he renounced Nirvâna and gave up the Dharmakâya vesture to remain a “Buddha of compassion” within the reach of the miseries of this world. And the religious philosophy he left to it has produced for over 2,000 years generations of good and unselfish men. His is the only absolutely bloodless religion among all the existing religions tolerant and liberal, teaching universal compassion and charity, love and self-sacrifice, poverty and contentment with one’s lot, whatever it may he. No persecutions, and enforcement of faith by fire and sword, have ever disgraced it. No thunder-and-lightning-vomiting god has interfered with its chaste commandments; and if the simple, humane and philosophical code of daily life left to us by the greatest Man-Reformer ever known, should ever come to he adopted by mankind at large, then indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity.
The Prince of Kapilavastu, son of Sudhôdana, the Sâkya king of a small realm on the borders of Nepaul, born in the seventh century B.C., now called the “Saviour of the World”. Gautama or Gôtama was the sacerdotal name of the Sâkya family, and Sidhârtha was Buddha’s name before he became a Buddha. Sâkya Muni, means the Saint of the Sâkya family. Born a simple mortal he rose to Buddhaship through his own personal and unaided merit. A man—verily greater than any god!
A name given to Gautama Buddha.
The Chinese perversion of the Sanskrit Amrita Buddha, or the “Immortal Enlightened”, a name of Gautama Buddha. The name has such variations as Amita, Abida, Amitâya, etc., and. is explained as meaning both “Boundless Age” and “Boundless Light”. The original conception of the ideal of an impersonal divine light has been anthrdpomorphized with time.
A title of Buddha in his highest aspect; a name of the supreme Buddha; also Dorje.
Pu-tsi K’iun-ling (Chin.)
Lit., “the Universal Saviour of all beings”. A title of Avalokiteswara, and also of Buddha.
or Sammâsambuddha as pronounced in Ceylon. Lit., the Buddha of correct and harmonious knowledge, and the third of the ten titles of Sâkyamuni.
Samma Sambuddha (Pali)
A title of the Lord Buddha, the “Lord of meekness and resignation”; it means “perfect illumination ”.
Lit., “all-sacrificing ” A title of Buddha, who in a former Jataha (birth) sacrificed his kingdom, liberty, and even life, to save others.
One of the Lord Buddha’s titles, having many meanings.
“One who is like the coming”; he who is, like his predecessors (the Buddhas) and successors, the coming future Buddha or World-Saviour. One of the titles of Gautama Buddha, and the highest epithet, since the first and the last Buddhas were the direct immediate avatars of the One Deity.
A title of the Buddha and of Krishna. “The Lord” literally.
The birth-place of the Lord Buddha; called “the yellow dwelling”: the capital of the monarch who was the father of Gautama Buddha.
The city near which Buddha died. It is near Delhi, though some Orientalists would locate it in Assam.
Lit., “The Enlightened”. The highest degree of knowledge. To become a Buddha one has to break through the bondage of sense and personality; to acquire a complete perception of the REAL SELF and learn not to separate it from all otherselves; to learn by experience the utter unreality of all phenomena of the visible Kosmos foremost of all; to reach a complete detachment from all that is evanescent and finite, and live while yet on Earth in the immortal and the everlasting alone, in a supreme state of holiness.
Buddhism is now split into two distinct Churches: the Southern and the Northern Church. The former is said to be the purer form, as having preserved more religiously the original teachings of the Lord Buddha. It is the religion of Ceylon, Siam, Burmah and other places, while Northern Buddhism is confined to Tibet, China and Nepaul. Such a distinction, however, is incorrect. If the Southern Church is nearer, in that it has not departed, except perhaps in some trifling dogmas due to the many councils held after the death of the Master, from the public or exotericteachings of Sâkyamuni—the Northern Church is the outcome of Siddhârta Buddha’s esoteric teachings which he confined to his elect Bhikshus and Arhats. In fact, Buddhism in the present age, cannot he justly judged either by one or the other of its exoteric popular forms. Real Buddhism can be appreciated only by blending the philosophy of the Southern Church and the metaphysics of the Northern Schools. If one seems too iconoclastic and stero:, and the other too metaphysical and transcendental, even to being overgrown with the weeds of Indian exotericism—many of the gods of its Pantheon having been transplanted under new names to Tibetan soil—it is entirely due to the popular expression of Buddhism in both Churches. Correspondentially they stand in their relation to each other as Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Both err by an excess of zeal and erroneous interpretations, though neither the Southern nor the Northern Buddhist clergy have ever departed from truth consciously, still less have they acted under the dictates of priestocracy, ambition, or with an eye to personal gain and power, as the two Christian Churches have.
The sacred Law; the Buddhist Canon.
Lit., The turning of the “wheel of the Law”. The emblem of Buddhism as a system of cycles and rebirths or reincarnations.
Secret wisdom or intelligence from the Greek esotericos “inner”, and the Sanskrit Bodhi, “knowledge”, intelligence— in contradistinction to Buddhi, “the faculty of knowledge or intelligence” and Buddhism, the philosophy or Law of Buddha (the Enlightened). Also written “ Budhism”, from Budha (Intelligence and Wisdom) the Son of Soma.
Lit., “The Kalpa of the Sages”. Our present period is a Bhadra Kalpa, and the exoteric teaching makes it last 236 million years. It is “so called because 1,000 Buddhas or sages appear in the course of it”. (Sanshrit Chinese Dict.) “Four Buddhas have already appeared” it adds; but as out of the 236 millions, over 151 million years have already elapsed, it does seem a rather uneven distribution of Buddhas. This is the way exoteric or popular religions confuse everything. Esoteric philosophy teaches us that every Root- race has its chief Buddha or Reformer, who appears also in the seven sub-races as a Bodhisattva (q.v.). Gautama Sakyamuni was the fourth, and also the fifth Buddha: the fifth, because we are the fifth root-race; the fourth, as the chief Buddha in this fourth Round. The Bhadra Kalpa, or the “period of stability”, is the name of our present Round, esoterically—its duration applying, of course, only to our globe (D), the “1,000” Buddhas being thus in reality limited to but forty-nine in all.
See also: Glossary Entries for Buddhism
Sakya Muni’s Place in History, by T. Subba Row
Traditional Biographical Sources
The Play in Full
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
Memiors of the Early Life of Sákya Siñha
Translated from the Original Sanskrit
Note: Mitra’s translation includes only chapters 1-15 of the full 27 chapters.
Other English translations exist as follows:
The Voice of the Buddha, translated by Gwendolyn Bays (1983)
Lalitavistara, translated by Bijoya Goswami, Asiatic Society, Calcutta, India, 2001
ACTS OF THE BUDDHA
Cantos I to XIV translated from the original Sanskrit supplemented by the Tibetan version
TOGETHER WITH INSTRUCTION AND NOTES
E. H. JOHNSTON, D. Litt.
The Buddha’s Mission and Last Journey
Buddhacarita XV to XXVIII
Translated by E. H. Johnston.
Acta Orientalia, vol. xv (1937).
IN PRAISE OF BUDDHA’S ACTS
(Taishō Volume 4, Number 192)
Translated from the Chinese
Life of the Buddha
Translated by Patrick Olivelle
Cantos 1-14 with summary of Cantos 14-28
The Story of the Lineage
Translated from Prof. V. Fausböll’s edition of the Pali text
by T.W. Rhys Davids
Chronicle of the Buddhas
(Chapter XXVI: The Twenty-Fifth Chronicle: The Lord Gotama)
Translated by I.B. Horner
Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births
Translated from the Pāli by Various Hands
Under the Editorship of
Professor E. B. Cowell
The Romantic Legend of Sâkya Buddha
From the Chinese-Sanskrit
translated by Samuel Beal
Buddha: The Life of Siddhartha Gautama
The Life of Siddhartha Gautama
By Jon W. Fergus
Light of Asia
The Light of Asia
The Great Renunciation
The Life and Teaching of Gautama,
Prince of India and Founder of Buddhism
(as told in verse by an Indian Buddhist)
By Edwin Arnold, M.A.
The Buddha: His Life and Teaching
His Life and Teaching
By Piyadassi Thera
The Great Chronicles of the Buddhas
The Great Chronicle of Buddhas
by Mingun Sayadaw
Works based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha
As with many great teachers, Gautama Buddha committed nothing of his own to writing. However, the core teachings of Buddhism are said to be based on his direct teachings.
The Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sutra
(Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra)
The Bodhisattva's Way of Life
A Guide To The Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life
Additional Buddhist Texts
Buddhism on Universal Theosophy
Selected Quotes attributed to Gautama Buddha
The Criteria for Acceptance or Rejection"Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them. ... Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them." — Kalama Sutta: The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry
Lead All Beings to Nirvana"All the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas should thus keep their thoughts under control. All kinds of beings such as the egg-born, the womb-born, the moisture-born, the miraculously-born, those with form, those without form, those with consciousness, those without consciousness, those with no-consciousness, and those without no-consciousness—they are all led by me to enter Nirvana that leaves nothing behind and to attain final emancipation. Though thus beings, immeasurable, innumerable, and unlimited are emancipated, there are in reality no beings that are ever emancipated. Why, Subhuti? If a Bodhisattva retains the thought of an ego, a person, a being, or a soul, he is no more a Bodhisattva." — Diamond Sutra (tr. D.T. Suzuki)
Mind, the Supreme Leader"All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made. If with an impure mind one speaks or acts, suffering follows him in the same way as the wheel follows the foot of the drawer (of the chariot).
All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made. If with a pure mind one speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his shadow that never leaves him."—Dhammapada
Selected Quotes on Gautama Buddha
H.P. Blavatsky on Buddha"As to his being one of the true and undeniable Saviours of the World, suffice it to say that the most rabid orthodox missionary, unless he is hopelessly insane, or has not the least regard even for historical truth, cannot find one smallest accusation against the life and personal character of Gautama, the “Buddha”. Without any claim to divinity, allowing his followers to fall into atheism, rather than into the degrading superstition of deva or idol-worship, his walk in life is from the beginning to the end, holy and divine. During the years of his mission it is blameless and pure as that of a god—or as the latter should be. He is a perfect example of a divine, godly man. He reached Buddhaship—i.e., complete enlightenment—entirely by his own merit and owing to his own individual exertions, no god being supposed to have any personal merit in the exercise of goodness and holiness. Esoteric teachings claim that he renounced Nirvâna and gave up the Dharmakâya vesture to remain a “Buddha of compassion” within the reach of the miseries of this world. And the religious philosophy he left to it has produced for over 2,000 years generations of good and unselfish men. His is the only absolutely bloodless religion among all the existing religions tolerant and liberal, teaching universal compassion and charity, love and self-sacrifice, poverty and contentment with one’s lot, whatever it may he. No persecutions, and enforcement of faith by fire and sword, have ever disgraced it. No thunder-and-lightning-vomiting god has interfered with its chaste commandments; and if the simple, humane and philosophical code of daily life left to us by the greatest Man-Reformer ever known, should ever come to he adopted by mankind at large, then indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity."—Theosophical Glossary, "Buddha Siddhârta"
Mahatma Gandhi on Buddha"I have no hesitation in declaring that I owe a great deal to the inspiration that I have derived from the life of the Enlightened One. Asia has a message for the whole world, if only it would live up to it. There is the imprint of Buddhistic influence on the whole of Asia, which includes India, China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, and the Malay States. For Asia to be not for Asia but for the whole world, it has to re-learn the message of the Buddha and deliver it to the whole world. His love, his boundless love went out as much to the lower animal, to the lowest life as to human beings. And he insisted upon purity of life." — Mahatma Gandhi
Buddha: a Human Being, not a God"One of the noteworthy characteristics that distinguishes the Buddha from all other religious teachers is that he was a human being having no connection whatsoever with a God or any other “supernatural” being. He was neither God nor an incarnation of God, nor a prophet, nor any mythological figure. He was a man, but an extraordinary man (acchariya manussa), a unique being, a man par excellence (purisuttama). All his achievements are attributed to his human effort and his human understanding. Through personal experience he understood the supremacy of man.
"Depending on his own unremitting energy, unaided by any teacher, human or divine, he achieved the highest mental and intellectual attainments, reached the acme of purity, and was perfect in the best qualities of human nature. He was an embodiment of compassion and wisdom, which became the two guiding principles in his Dispensation (sāsana).
"The Buddha never claimed to be a saviour who tried to save “souls” by means of a revealed religion. Through his own perseverance and understanding he proved that infinite potentialities are latent in man and that is must be man's endeavour to develop and unfold these possibilities. He proved by his own experience that deliverance and enlightenment lie fully within man's range of effort."—Ven. Piyadassi Thera, from The Buddha, His Life and Teachings.
On Buddhism and Budhism"... the reader is asked to bear in mind the very important difference between orthodox Buddhism — i.e., the public teachings of Gautama the Buddha, and his esoteric Budhism. His Secret Doctrine, however, differed in no wise from that of the initiated Brahmins of his day. The Buddha was a child of the Aryan soil; a born Hindu, a Kshatrya and a disciple of the “twice born” (the initiated Brahmins) or Dwijas. His teachings, therefore, could not be different from their doctrines, for the whole Buddhist reform merely consisted in giving out a portion of that which had been kept secret from every man outside of the “enchanted” circle of Temple-Initiates and ascetics. Unable to teach all that had been imparted to him — owing to his pledges — though he taught a philosophy built upon the ground-work of the true esoteric knowledge, the Buddha gave to the world only its outward material body and kept its soul for his Elect." — Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, Page xxi
The Fourth and Fifth Buddha"Esoteric philosophy teaches us that every Root- race has its chief Buddha or Reformer, who appears also in the seven sub-races as a Bodhisattva (q.v.). Gautama Sakyamuni was the fourth, and also the fifth Buddha: the fifth, because we are the fifth root-race; the fourth, as the chief Buddha in this fourth Round." — Theosophical Glossary (Bhadrakapla)
But one Buddha at a Time"A few words may now be said in connection with the idea of Buddha. When Mr. Subba Row talks of the historical aspect of Buddha, he probably refers to Gautama Buddha, who was a historical personage. It must, of course, at the same time be remembered that every entity that identifies itself with that ray of the Divine Wisdom which is represented by Gautama, is a Buddha; and thus it will be evident that there can be but one Buddha at a time, the highest type of that particular ray of Adeptship."—Damodar K. Mavalankar, The Metaphysical Basis of “Esoteric Buddhism”, Theosophist, May, 1884