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Buddhism, Part 4, The Story of the Buddha

By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents the 24 part Great Courses series Buddhism, Part 4, The Story of the Buddha at 5:30pm, Thursday, December 24, at the Center, Callejon Blanco 4.

With the simple events of the Buddha’s life as a guide, Buddhists have developed a rich tradition of stories and legends that tell us not only how they have understood the founder of their tradition, but how they have built lives of wisdom and freedom for themselves.

When a person encounters Buddhism for the first time, it is natural to ask two questions: Who was the Buddha? How did the story of the Buddha become woven into the lives of the people who call themselves Buddhists? This lecture will do two things: 1) Tell the life story of the Buddha; and 2) Reflect about the way that story has been mirrored in the lives of Buddhist people throughout Asia and the rest of the world.

Historically, we can hold onto a few key facts about the Buddha’s life. He was born into the family of King Shuddhodana and Queen Maya about the year 566 BCE in a region of the Indian subcontinent that now lies in southern Nepal. He was a member of the Shakya tribe; his clan name was Guatama and his given name Siddhartha. These facts tell us that the Buddha was not a figment of someone’s imagination. He was a real human being. But these facts do not tell us much about what the Buddha did or about the impact he had on his followers. To learn about the Buddha this way, we have to turn to the stories Buddhists tell about the Buddha. Stories about the Buddha’s previous lives are told in texts known as jataka, or “birth tales.” Most of these convey simple moral lessons, often in a form accessible to children.

In his early 30s, the Buddha traveled outside the palace and saw four sights: a sick person, an old person, a dead person, and a religious person (an ascetic). These sights inspired him to renounce life in the palace and become an ascetic. The prince found this unproductive, and adopted the Middle Path. The prince sat down under a tree and, with intense meditation, woke up to the truth. With this experience he became the Buddha. He began teaching about his realization, “turning the Wheel of the Dharma.” At about the age of 80, he lay down and passed gently from the realm of death and rebirth. This event is called the “parinirvana, or “complete extinction.” What kind of teacher was the Buddha? The Buddha was a human being who tried to confront the fundamental problems of suffering and death and follow them to a solution.

The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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