Buddha Research Paper

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Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was born an Indian prince. His followers made him into a god, but in his lifetime he was much like other holy men of India. Buddha’s influence increased as his devotees, seeking to live their lives in monasteries according to Buddha’s example of wisdom and compassion, persuaded lay people to support them by donating land and other forms of wealth.

Siddhartha Gautama discovered and taught a path of liberation from suffering that has shaped the lives of Buddhists across the world for over two thousand years. He presented a vision of human existence that centers on wisdom and compassion, and he established monastic communities for both men and women in which intense meditation has been practiced for centuries. He advised kings and nobles on governing wisely and set forth precepts for lay people that continue to shape lives around the globe. For over two millennia, his life and teachings have had a profound impact on religion, culture, and history in central, eastern, and Southeast Asia; and since the nineteenth century many in Europe and the United States have been moved by his vision.

Siddhartha Gautama was born into a ruling family of the Sakya clan in present-day Nepal. The first written sources for his life, the texts of the Buddhist canon in the Pali language, come from long after his death and include legendary motifs, and so there is doubt about how reliable they are. At about the age of twenty-nine, he became dissatisfied with life at the court, saw that life as ordinarily lived is unsatisfactory, and embarked on a religious quest to find a way out of suffering. He studied with Hindu masters, but their wisdom and meditation practices did not provide the answer he was seeking. Meditating in solitude, he underwent a transforming enlightenment at age thirty-five, and his followers acclaimed him as the Buddha, “the awakened one.” Because there are many Buddhas in the Buddhist tradition, Gautama is often referred to as Sakyamuni Buddha, the sage of the Sakya clan.

The Buddha expressed his insight in the Four Noble Truths, which are at the heart of Buddhist life and practice and are his central contribution. The First Noble Truth is that life as usually experienced is unsatisfactory because it is impermanent. All pleasures are transitory, leading to separation and suffering. The Second Noble Truth is that the unsatisfactory character of life arises from craving and grasping at impermanent objects and experiences, seeking lasting pleasure and security that these objects and experiences cannot provide. Ordinary life is marked by a fundamental illusion that there is a permanent, substantial self underlying our experiences. The Buddha taught that there is no such enduring self. All things, including humans, are composites of various factors that constantly change and that are profoundly interdependent. Whatever arises will cease to be.

The Third Noble Truth is the hopeful promise that there can be an end to the unsatisfactoriness of life through freedom from craving. This freedom is called nibbana in Pali or nirvana in Sanskrit. Nirvana, often translated as “extinction,” is not complete annihilation. Nirvana is the extinction of craving; it is sometimes compared to the blowing out of a candle. Since craving causes the unsatisfactoriness of life, the extinction of craving brings peace and happiness. Nirvana is also the end of ignorance and thus is identified as unconditioned, absolute truth, which brings wisdom and compassion and ends the cycle of craving, grasping and illusion. Nirvana cannot be defined or comprehended in concepts; it is a religious state that must be experienced to be fully understood. The Buddha described it in negative terms as not born, not produced, and not conditioned. Nirvana manifests itself in the Four Noble Dwelling Places: the virtues of loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path, which presents a way of life that leads to nirvana. It consists of three stages. The first stage, wisdom, comprises right understanding and right thought. The second stage is morality or ethical conduct and comprises right speech, right action, and right livelihood. The final stage is meditation and comprises right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Gautama challenged the social mores of his time by forming monastic communities in which all were equal, regardless of the class or caste they came from. Gautama may have been the first person in history to establish a monastic community for women. He taught a meditation practice that focuses on the direct experience of each moment, acknowledging sensations, emotions, and thoughts without grasping at pleasant moments or pushing away unpleasant experiences.

Gautama lived in northern India and Nepal. After his death, the Indian emperor Asoka (d. 232 BCE) promoted Buddhism throughout much of the Indian subcontinent and sent Buddhist missionaries to other parts of Asia, including present-day Sri Lanka, Kashmir, the Himalayas, present-day Myanmar (Burma), and the Greek kingdoms of Bactria in Central Asia. Through these efforts Buddhism began its growth as an international religion.


  1. Ling, T. (1973). The Buddha: Buddhist civilization in India and Ceylon. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books.
  2. Nakamura, H. (2000). Gotama Buddha: A biography based on the most reliable texts (G. Sekimori, Trans.). Tokyo, Japan: Kosei Publishing Company.
  3. Nanamoli, B., & Bodhi, B. (Trans.). (1995). The middle length discourses of the Buddha: A new translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
  4. Radhakrishnan, S. (Trans.). (1950). The Dhammapada. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
  5. Rahula, W. (1978). What the Buddha taught (Rev. ed.) London: G. Frasier.
  6. Walshe, M. (Trans.). (1995). The long discourses of the Buddha: A translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

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