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You must have seen statues of the Buddha and pictures of Buddhist shrines. Millions of people in the world worship the Buddha and try to live their lives according to what he taught. Even those who are not Buddhists think of him as one of the greatest men the world has known.

Gautama was born at Lumbini more than 2,500 years ago. Lumbini is a small place near the border between India and Nepal. A tall pillar now stands there. It was put up 250 years after Buddha's death by a great king of India to mark the spot where he was born. 

Gautama's father was the ruler of a tribe known as the Shakyas. He lived in a grand palace and Gautama could have everything he wanted. He had the most wonderful toys, the most wonderful things to eat and the most wonderful clothes. But as he grew older, he grew less and less fond of these things. What he liked most was to be alone so that he could think, or play with animals all by himself.

When this thoughtful child grew up, he was married to a beautiful princess called Yashodhara. He had a lovely baby son whom he called Rahula. Still, Gautama was not happy. He went on thinking about the world outside the palace gates, about the common people and their lives. One day he saw an old man. Then he saw a sick man, whose back was so bent that he could hardly walk. Gautama could not understand why men had to grow old and suffer. And when he was driving through the city, he saw men carrying a dead body. This upset him very much. He asked himself why men had to die. He had never seen such sights inside the palace, and did not know there was so much unhappiness in the world. As he was about to drive back to the palace, he saw a man in yellow robes, carrying a begging bowl. On asking who he was, Gautama was told that he was a mendicant who had given up the world to escape from the misery of life. Gautama’s mind became very troubled. He decided that he would not rest until he had found out why there was sorrow in the world, and how men could be free from it.

One night he got up when everyone in the palace was fast asleep. He walked softly so as not to wake up Yashodhara and little Rahula. For one moment he stood looking at them. What he was going to do was not easy, but it had to be done. As long as he stayed among the people he loved, enjoying the good things of the palace, he would never find answers to the questions that troubled him. And after one long, last look; he left the palace forever.

Gautama threw away his princely robes, cut off his hair, and set out on his search. He went to a number of wise people but they could not tell him why there was unhappiness in the world. He sat down to think it out for himself and did not eat or drink for many days. His body became all bones, but he still did not know the answer. He wandered for six years, without any result. And then, one day, when he was sitting under a banyan tree, the answers suddenly came to him. All his doubts left him. He felt as if he knew all the secrets of the world. Buddha is one who has got bodhi (or buddhi), which means knowledge. Now that he had Knowledge, Gautama became Buddha. There is a very large temple in Gaya called the Mahabodhi temple. This is the place where Gautama became Buddha. The tree under which he was sitting at the time is called the Bodhi tree.

Buddha discovered that there was sorrow and unhappiness in the world. He also discovered the reason for this sorrow. It was because people were greedy and selfish and wanted things. And the only way to end unhappiness was not to go on wanting things but to follow what he called the Eight-fold Path. Some of the principles included in the Eight-fold Path were right action, right speech and right thinking. There were five more. When you are older, you can learn more about these.

Another important thing Buddha discovered from his own life was that too much of pleasure and comfort did not lead to happiness. Nor did living in forests without food or shelter, and torturing one's body bring happiness. The right way of living was the Middle Path, between these two extremes.

The teachings of Buddha have been collected and written down in many books. One is called the Dhammapada. Here are some of the sayings of Buddha:

“The greatest of all conquerors is not he who conquers a thousand men a thousand times in battle, but he who conquers his own self.

If you have done something sinful, do not do it again; for evil things will only give you pain. If you have done something good, do it again and again tor good deeds bring joy and delight.

Anger is like a rolling chariot. He who can hold back anger is a real driver. The others are merely holding the reins.”

Buddha believed that all men should learn to control themselves. If someone was angry, one should not be angry in return, but instead be kind. If someone did a bad thing, one should try to do good in return. One should not kill or hurt anybody, not even animals. One should tell the truth, keep one's thoughts pure and show loving kindness to all.

All his life Buddha went from place to place, teaching people the truths he had found. Even when he was tired of walking, he did not stop long to rest; so great was his love for human beings. Slowly his fame spread. More and more people came to him and begged to be taught. One day Buddha returned to his old palace, but only to give his teaching to his family. Yashodhara and Rahula, who was now a grown-up boy, became his followers.

When Buddha was eighty years old, he fell very ill. His followers became sad, because they were afraid he might die. Buddha comforted them and told them not to grieve, because everything that is born must die. And then he passed away.

Buddha’s life and teaching brought about great changes in the country. At the time he was born, the caste system had become very hard. Poor people who worked with their hands had lost the right to read the holy books. Prayer was no longer simple and joyful as it had been for the early Aryans. It was just a heap of difficult words and ceremonies, which only Brahmins could understand. Buddha was not himself a Brahmin. He was a Kshatriya, whose real job was supposed to be fighting. And yet he taught the people about religion. Buddha did not see any difference between the castes. Whether a person was good or not depended on how he behaved. Buddha said that in his religion, all castes met as rivers run into the sea. He loved all men, whether they were kings or shoemakers, Brahmins or Shudras. Many times he refused invitations to the houses of rich people of high caste in order to visit the poor or those who needed him more.

Buddha spoke to the people in simple words, which they understood. The lower castes did not feel left out just because they did not know Sanskrit. Buddha's new way made all men feel that they were equal.

A scholar has called Buddha the Light of Asia. It is right to call him that because light is something that makes you see your way in the darkness. Buddha tried to lead the people through the darkness of ignorance to the right path.


About the same time as the Buddha, there was another great man who had the courage to try and change the old ways. His name was Vardhamana Mahavira. Mahavira belonged to a royal family of Vaisali. His life was like Buddha's in many ways. He too was a Kshatriya; he left his home when he was a young man and went from one place to another in search of knowledge. After twelve years, he found what he was looking for. Then he travelled widely, giving his teaching to everyone. His followers are called Jains. The Jain religion teaches ahimsa, or non-violence, which means that no living thing should be hurt. The Jains live very strict and simple lives. They believe that not only birds and animals have life, but also plants and tiny creatures of the air, which we cannot even see. And they treat all life with respect.

The fickle finger of fate flips fat frogs flat.



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