Posted in Zen Buddhism

The Life of the Buddha, Part 1 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

Siddhârtha Gotama had been a Bodhisattva in previous lives.

As Sumedha, he met the Buddha Dîpa.nkara. Sumedha wanted to bring a flower offering, but all the vendors had sold out. He asked a woman to give him hers, but she refused. Seeing him as a holy man on a good path, she said she would give him half of her flowers if he married her. Sumedha had taken monks’ vows, so was not free to marry. He offered to marry him in his next life. They negotiated that he would be together in every future life until they were both liberated, and she gave him half of her flowers – so she could still make her own offering.

Sumedha threw himself in the mud for Dîpa.nkara to walk over. Dîpa.nkara prophesied that Sumedha would become a Buddha.

Born into Tushita Heaven as T’Shang Ke-two. There for thousands of years. A sound came indicating that a Buddha was about to be born. The gods asked him to be that Buddha, so he want to a grove and died.

His mother’s dream: a white elephant with 6 tusks entered her body from her side; she became pregnant.

Brahman’s prophesy: baby would become either a universal monarch (great king), or a Buddha.

King Śuddhodana was the father. He may have been an elected leader. The townspeople were called “sanghas.”


  • Śâkyamuni:
  •      Muni: “wise one”
  •      Sâkya: tribe’s name
  • Gotama: family name
  • Siddhârtha: given name 

563 BC to 483 BC

Foothills of Nepal

Mother went to a grove that she had loved as a young woman to give birth on the full moon. She walked, gave birth standing, holding on to a tree.

Tree: the first symbol associated with the Buddha.

Baby came out of her armpit in some stories.

There was an earthquake, then Siddhârtha took 7 steps in each of the 4 directions. He said, “I am leader and guide of the world and this is my last birth.”

When he was 5 days old, there was a party and naming.

When he was 7 days old, his mother, Maya, died.

Prajâpatî, his aunt, became his step-mother.

Śuddhodana didn’t want Siddhârtha to renounce the world, so he kept him from seeing any suffering. Classic parental mistake of over-protection. Siddhârtha grew up surrounded by luxury and comfort.

At 16, he married his cousin Yasodharā, also 16. They shared the same birthday, and had known one another since the was Sumedha.

Over the next 12 years, he started wondering about the nature of reality.

Normally, the road was cleaned when he went out. However, he took a spontaneous trop with his charioteer, Chandaka, and saw an old man. Siddhârtha got scared and wanted to go home.

On his next outing, he saw a sick person leaning on other, howling in pain. Home again.

Next outing: funeral with corpse being carried. Went home, but had seen too much to return to the state of innocence.

He felt betrayed by his father. Shocked by seeing things all at once instead of gradually.

Next outing, he saw a saddhu/sage, and the seed was planted.

Siddhârtha was dissatisfied with palace life after his outings. His father took him to a farm to talk. It backfired: Siddhârtha saw the suffering of the slaves, oxen, and insects. Siddhârtha freed the slaves and detached the oxen from the plows.

Yasodharā had a son, Rahula. After a party, people were passed out drunk and drooling, the flowers were faded, the dishes dirty. Siddhârtha decided to leave that night. Yasodharā woke up and told Siddhârtha she’d had a dream he was leaving. He told her, “Wherever I go, you can go, too.”

Siddhârtha asked Chandaka to muffle the feet of the horse and come for him. It was a full moon. Chandaka brought Siddhârtha’s favorite horse, Kanthaka. Siddhârtha looked back at the palace from the last hill. The demon Mara appeared and said, “Go back, and I’ll make you the universal monarch in seven days.” Not now, but soon. Then, then, then…

Mara is within the Buddha, his shadow self.

Siddhârtha said, “Mara, I know you. What I need is not there.
At dawn, they came to a river. Siddhârtha asked Chandaka to cut off his hair. He traded clothes with a hunter and gave his jewelry to Chandaka. They he sent Chandaka away with his horse.

Siddhârtha’s question: What is the cause of suffering?


Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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