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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Buddha

Monday, August 20, 2018

Taoism and Buddhism

The Buddha
Monday, August 20, 2018

My colleague and CAC core teacher James Finley, a student of Buddhism, briefly shares the story of the Buddha’s life to provide some context for Buddhist teachings.

The Buddha was born in India about the year 560 BCE and given the name Siddhartha. His father, the king, kept him sequestered on the palace grounds. Siddhartha grew up, married, and had a son. Around the time of his son’s birth, he finally went into town.

On his first visit, he saw an old person; on his second visit, he saw an ill person; and on his third visit, he saw a dead person. He asked his guide if these things happen to everyone. Told that they did, Siddhartha became disillusioned and disheartened. He said to himself, “How can I live in these conditions conducive to happiness knowing that so many of my fellow human beings do not live in these privileged conditions? How can I be happy knowing they are out there? And how can I myself be happy, knowing that all these possessions and all this wealth cannot protect me from illness, old age, and death?”

Siddhartha went into town for a fourth visit and he saw a sadhu (a wandering ascetic monk). The monk, although dressed in rags, radiated an inner peace not dependent upon conditions conducive to happiness. Siddhartha felt a call in his heart for a quest to come to the understanding of the liberation from suffering, and to come to true and abiding happiness, for himself and others. So, around age 29, he left the palace and his family to begin a six-year inner journey.

First, he joined a yoga community that practiced deep, meditative states. But Siddhartha came to see this as a rarified version of a life based upon conditioned states. So, he joined a wandering group of ascetics who practiced severe fasting. But he became so emaciated and weak that he was in danger of dying. He realized that since his goal was to discover freedom from suffering and to learn the nature of true happiness, things weren’t going well! So, he started to take food. The other ascetics were scandalized and left him.

Then Siddhartha, utterly alone, stopped and calmed himself and looked deeply into his situation. Stripped of all superficiality and adornment of the extremes of wealth and poverty, his situation is our situation. He reveals us to ourselves. He is the human being who has discovered the bankruptcy of the ego’s agenda to come to abiding happiness. He made a vow to sit there under a Bodhi tree until he resolved the human dilemma of suffering and the search for inner peace and fulfillment in the midst of life as it is. Through the night, he was tempted by the demon Mara, but he was unshaken in his resolve.

At first light, Siddhartha turned and looked at the day star with awakened eyes, as the Buddha—meaning “the one who is awake”—seeing life the way it really is, free from all projections, all distortions, all delusions, all belief systems. He saw, we might say, the boundary-less, trustworthy nature of what is. He sat in the bliss of his enlightenment for some days.

Finally, he realized that although many would not be ready to hear his teachings, some would. The Buddha’s first words to someone after his enlightenment were, “In this blind world, I beat the drum of deathlessness.”


James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image Credit: Woman Sitting in Front of Monk
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Buddhism can help Christians to be mystical Christians . . . to realize and enter into the non-dualistic, or unitive, heart of Christian experience—a way to be one with the Father, to live Christ’s life, to be not just a container of the Spirit but an embodiment and expression of the Spirit, to live by and with and in the Spirit, to live and move and have our being in God. —Paul Knitter
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