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by Dr Anthony E. Smart
The founder and father of the Buddhist religion, Buddha was said to have been an Avatar of the great god Vishnu. Gautama Siddartha, who became the Buddha, urged his followers to isolate themselves from worldly life. In order to attain Nirvana, the highest possible and most desirable state in the religion, adherents of Buddha were required to completely extinguish their ego, free themselves from aversion and desire.

Before he was incarnated as Gautama Siddartha, the Buddha resided in heaven, and told his followers that he had been Indra thirty-six times, and many hundred times ruler of the world. As the time approached for his birth, earthquakes and miracles occurred on the Earth. In Kapilavastu, on the Indo-Nepalese border, his earthly mother, Queen Maya, experienced a vision in which she beheld the Buddha come down into her womb as a white elephant. This was interpreted as the birth of a world savior, and when the time came for Maya to give birth, she went to a grove, where the child was born, emerging from her right side without causing her the slightest pain. The child was almost instantly endowed with the power of speech, and every time he took a step there appeared on the ground before him a lotus. Instantaneously was born his wife, Yasodhara Devi, his horse Kantaka, his charioteer Chandaka, Ananda, his chief disciple, and the Bo Tree, under which he received Enlightenment.

Maya, however, died seven days after the Buddha was born, and he, having attained supreme knowledge, ascended to the Trayastrimsa Heaven and preached there to his mother for three months. His father, King Suddhodana, did his best to insulate the young Siddartha from the outside world (for fear that the youth would become a great sage, rather than a great ruler, should he become mindful of the injustices of the world). However, Siddartha encountered a corpse being carried to the cremation ground and, seeing the evil things of the world come to life before his eyes, he abandoned throne, family and offspring, and became a wanderer, a hermit, seeking enlightenment. This did not come until six years later, however, when Siddartha paused for rest under a Bo Tree. There he received Enlightenment, and became the Buddha.

Neither the attack of the demon Mara, nor the attraction of his daughters, nor the rush of an army of hideous devils could sway Buddha from his meditations, and when Mara used his final weapon, a fiery discus, and flung it at the monk's head, it turned into a canopy of flowers. For five weeks Buddha remained under the tree, while all his previous lives were revealed to him, and then the mighty tempest occurred, but Muchalinda, king of the Nagas, protected the monk by wrapping his serpentine body around the youth.

Having attained Enlightenment, the Buddha was now faced with a choice: he could either enter Nirvana, or forsake this, and instead travel the world preaching the law. Mara urged the former course, but the Buddha chose the latter, on the advice of Brahma.

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