One-seventh of the world's population are Buddhist ("Buddhism"). The 1977 edition of Webster's Student Dictionary defines Buddha as "great religious teacher of Asia, founder of Buddhism." Buddha in fact means "enlightened one", and that is what the founder of Buddhism is said to have been, enlightened. From his teachings a world wide religion is based. A description of Buddhist history, Buddhist beliefs, and Buddhist practices will enable the general public to better understand Buddhism.
The roots of Buddhism can be traced back about twenty-five hundred years. Its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was born a prince in India. According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha was miraculously conceived, not unlike Christ five-hundred years later. His mother, Queen Maya, had a dream of an elephant with six tusks, carrying a lotus flower in its trunk, touching her right side. This is when Siddhartha was conceived. When the queen told her husband of the dream, he called the Brahmins, or learned men, to interpret it. They predicted that the child would be either the greatest king in the world or the greatest ascetic, a holy man who practices self-denial. His name, Siddhartha, means "he whose aim is accomplished" (Wangu 18).
From the day of his son's birth, his father, Shuddhondana, encouraged his son to follow the path to kingship. Shuddhondana surrounded his son with pleasures and granted his every
wish. Never did Siddhartha see or learn about any kind of suffering or hardship. When Siddhartha was about twenty he married one of the kings minister's daughters, Yasodhara.
Within a year Yasodhara bore Siddhartha's son, named Rahula. He then enjoyed all the pleasures of a king (Wangu 19).
At the age of 29, Siddhartha went on a ride through the city. He saw three things he had never seen before. The first an old man, the second a man suffering from illness, and finally a corpse surrounded by mourners. On another trip through the city Siddhartha saw the last of the "four sights" that changed his life. This was a wandering holy man, an ascetic, with no possessions. The man had shaved his head, wore only a ragged yellow robe, and carried a walking staff. The ascetic told him, " I am terrified by birth and death and therefore have adopted a homeless life to win salvation. I search for the most blessed state." Siddhartha came to the conclusion that "Everything is transient; nothing is permanent in this world....knowing that, I can find delight in nothing....How can a man, who knows that death is quite inevitable, still feel greed in his heart, enjoy the world of senses and not weep in this great danger?" (Wangu 20)
It was after witnessing the "four sights" that Siddhartha renounced the life...