The story of Gautama the Buddha

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Great Masters / Storytelling


The journey of Gautama - 'The Buddha' from being born as a prince of a small kingdom in India to becoming an enlightened being is nothing short of drama.  Did the astrological prediction of a seer about Gautam's future had anything to do with Gautama's spiritual quest? Sadhguru narrates the story of Buddha's life journey, explaining what does the word 'Buddha' actually mean.


Duration: 23 min


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14 min read

The story of Gautama the Buddha

The following is an unedited transcript of Sadhguru's video. For better readability, breaks and highlights have been added by the editors.

Intoxication is the nature of the moon. May 10th is a special Pournami or a special full moon day because it’s called Buddha Pournami. This is the day Gautama, the Buddha got enlightened, you know this? This year, it’s on 10th of May. This full moon day is the day Gautama, the Buddha got enlightened.

There are many aspects to his life. The most important aspect is that he is a Bu-ddha, that’s not his name. His name is Gautama Siddhartha, but he is a Buddha. Buddha means, he transcended his intellect. Bu means buddhi, dha means dhadha. Buddhi means the intellect, dhadha means one who is above.

One who is above his intellect is a Buddha. One who is in his intellect, is a non-stop suffering human being. Something happens they suffer, nothing happens they suffer – whichever way. That is if you are below the mind we call them buddhu. You’re missing the point. If you are above the mind, you are a Buddha, if you are below the mind you are a buddhu, if you are in the mind, you are non-stop suffering.

So how did he become this? He tried many things in his life. He was a prince of a small princely state. Because some yogi predicted that this will either become a great emperor or become a great sage. When he made this prediction, the father got little excited. He did not want him to become a great sage, he wanted to become a great emperor. So he decided he will not expose him to – because he thought by being exposed to some suffering or misery, he may turn into a sage. So he kept him in utter pleasure – the best of food, best of clothes, best of pleasures, everything.

When he was nineteen years of age, he got him married to a very pretty young woman. Kept him in a palace secluded form the rest of the society where he lives in pleasure, never exposed to any kind of suffering.

One day he thought he will just take a drive through the town. He asked his charioteer to take him across. So he was going and then he saw a man who was old, who was going like this [stooped]. So he had never seen a old man in his life, his father had protected him from all this. He said, ‘what happened to him?’ So the charioteer, Oh! He is just a old man.’ ‘How does it happen’ he asked. He said, ‘everybody gets old someday.’ He looked at himself, he was a nice youth. ‘What! Me also?’ Said, ‘yes, everybody! Everybody gets old. They live long enough, they get old.’ This was a realization for him. I will become like this!

Then he saw a man lying on the street who was ill with something, not able to get up, in great suffering. He said, ‘stop! What is this guy? What’s he doing?’ He said, ‘Oh! He is sick unfortunately.’ ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘a body, sometimes it gets sick. It can happen to anybody. It can happen to just anybody.’ ‘Me? A Prince! It can happen to me?’ ‘It can happen to anybody. Then he saw, oh! I can become like this.

Then they were going further, he was completely disturbed by this, then he saw a funeral. They were carrying a dead body of a man. ‘What happened to that guy?’ ‘Oh, he just died, that’s all.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘That happens to everybody without exception.’ Then he said, ‘what am I doing? Just eating, pleasures, nonsense, what am I doing with myself? And he struggled, he went into turmoil within himself. This suddenly being a prince and these pleasures and all this palace suddenly broke apart for him, and he started looking, what is the point of all this.

This [self] is going to get old, this may get sick, for sure this will be dead. What am I investing my entire life in this? But by then he had an infant boy. He looked at his wife and his child, this loving wife and this lovely little baby, he could not leave. He struggled and struggled and struggled. By then a little over one-and-a-quarter years passed. When the boy was one-and-a-half years of age, he could not hold it anymore. In the middle of the night, like a thief, without telling anybody he slipped out of the palace, and left for good.

He went in search – I want to know the truth about this life. He went from school to school – these are times when different schools were established in India. At one point there were over 1,800 schools, I’m saying not just institutions. 1,800 different ways of doing things, 1800 different varieties of yoga. Not the kind that you are seeing in California, somebody doing like this, somebody doing like this, really intricate expressions. It is like how the Medical Science is becoming today. Twenty-five years ago, you wanted a medical check-up, all you needed was your family doctor.

Today for every part of your body, there is a doctor. I was few years ago I had a, you know, I had a knee injury I was playing soccer and I broke something in the knee. And I was all packed up and I was speaking. That’s how I got into golf because of this knee injury. Somebody gifted me a golf kit and said, ‘Sadhguru you’re too old for any other game, you just play golf.’

So I was sitting there in Atlanta and talking, speaking at a place. Then I was in pain, I couldn’t even move. So, when this is over, I mean when I was speaking, one person raised his hand, I thought he wants a question – but then he said, ‘Sadhguru I would like to examine your knee after this is over. I’m a knee doctor.’ I said, ‘come on, you are an orthopedic.’ Said, ‘no, no, I’m a knee doctor.’ Then I said, ‘right or left? Which one are you?’ So specialization, specialization is going. A time will come probably in fifty years’ time, if you want a medical check-up, you need one hundred doctors to check you. By the time you get these one hundred appointments, maybe you need an undertaker. Then it’ll become ridiculous. Okay you went to three doctors, alright. You went to five doctors, alright. If it becomes fifty-hundred doctors for a medical check-up, it’s become ridiculous, isn’t it?

This happened to yogic system, people started specializing and specializing in variety of small things. Each specialization has a whole thing by itself. Someone just came and told me, there are dentist – okay, I am not speaking in any this thing. For example dentistry, just thirty-two teeth, alright? They study for nine years. Thirty-two teeth, nine years of study, still they don’t know everything about it. That’s the nature of creation. If you start studying one tooth at a time, you will see each one of them has something specific about it. Somebody can spend a lifetime of study just learning about one tooth, just see if you had thirty-two dentist to look into your mouth, disaster you are, isn’t it?

So as specialization, specialization happens, when it crosses a certain point, it’ll become ridiculous. This happened to yoga. It crossed that point where 1,800 schools, different specializations of yoga happened. So that is when Patanjali came and kind of assimilated everything into Yoga Sutras to minimize this expanse that was growing endlessly.

So when Gautam came, it was post-Patanjali but still there were many things. So he went from school to school. He pursued eight different forms of Samadhi. We are talking about Samadhi, okay? He pursued eight different forms of Samadhi. He saw all of them were wonderful experiences but still it did not liberate him. So in this condition he was walking as a Samana. There is a certain system of practice called as Samanas. Their fundamental practice is this – they will never ask for food. You should not go in pursuit of food because they want to beat the fundamental instinct of survival.

No matter what you are always going in pursuit of food, please understand this. You may complicate it in so many ways but fundamentally – you’re talking so much about economy means you’re just thinking about survival all the time, isn’t it? Survival glorified, but still it is survival. So one fundamental sadhana for them is, you never pursue your instinct of survival, you simply keep going. So Samanas used to just walk, never asking for food. But the culture was sensitive, if they saw a spiritual person walking, people will cook at home and run behind him and serve him wherever he is, because they know he will not ask for food.

Today if you become a Samana, you will walk yourself to death. Those days people were sensitive to his sadhana and responded. So, there were thousands of Samanas walking the country. So Gautama became a Samana, and even if you are not asking for food, you will walk near a town. So that food will come. But Gautama took it too seriously and just walked. He became all bones, just bones and a bag of skin, like that he became.

Then he came to a place where there was a river called Niranjana. Unfortunately that river is gone now, no more river. Just about eighteen-to-twenty inches of water, maybe moving little rapidly. He stepped into it, halfway down into the river he did not have the energy to cross. There was a tree branch, a dead branch, he just held onto it. He doesn’t have the strength to take the next step but he is not the kind of man to let go. He held on, we don’t know for how long, people say for a very long time. Maybe it was two minutes – when you are feeling so weak, those two minutes might have looked like many years.

Then as he hung on, he just realized what is it that I am striving for? What is it I’m wandering the entire country, going from school to school, learning this, learning that, what is it that I’m looking for? Then he realized, there’s really nothing, this life is on. All I have to do is just take away the barriers which are not allowing me to experience this. When he realized that everything is within him, there is no way to search, suddenly he had the energy to take the next step and the next step.

He crossed the river, came and sat down under that now very famous Bodhi tree, which has become more famous than the Buddha himself. A part of the tree, a remnant or a progeny of the tree still exists in Bodhgaya, and he sat under the tree. It was this full moon night which is coming now on 10th of May. He sat there and he sat there with this determination – either I must see the ultimate nature of my existence now, or I will sit here and die, I will not open my eyes till I know this.

Once he made that resolve – because the only problem is there is no resolve, every two minutes your intentions are changing. If you are totally on, to know what is within you, how long should it take? Hmm? It should happen in a moment, isn’t it? Because there is no distance to travel. Time is a quantity which is necessary only when there is a distance to travel, isn’t it? If there is no distance to travel, if I ask you how long does it take for you to sit here? You’re already siting, it’s already there. It doesn’t take any time. So you are already alive and on, it doesn’t take any time for realization because you don’t have to do anything particular.

When he saw this, he was fully enlightened and the moon was shining, and he had not eaten for many months on end properly, years actually, four years he was a Samana. And people around him – he had gathered about five disciples I think, these guys thought he’s real because he doesn’t eat, he’s really rigid. And they saw, he’s in some state, exuberant state and they could see the light on his face. Then they were waiting for him to open his eyes and give the teaching. He opened his eyes, looked at them, smiled and said, ‘cook something, let’s eat!’. They were totally disappointed, they thought he’s lost it. They walked with him for four to eight years when he had nothing but torture. When he got enlightened, they left him, because they wanted to hear something severe. He said, ‘cook something, let’s eat.’ We’ve been wasting our time.

There are many beautiful episodes in his life – when he one day walked upon the riverbank after he has become a Buddha and went and sat down under a tree. Tree not because tree is the best place to sit under, you know ants can get you. Because that was the only real estate of those times, there were no buildings and buildings and buildings everywhere. So tree was a good place, a pleasant place to sit under. Rather than sitting in harsh sun, you sit under a tree.

An astrologer, who is of great proficiency in his trade saw the footprint on the riverbank. He had come to – In India people of any this thing means, bath means always river. Those rivers are going away, I will tell you later. Bath means always river. So, he came for a bath to the river, then he saw the footprint. There is a whole science or rather observations, through which by looking at the way one’s feet is, somebody predicts exactly what he will do.

So he saw the footprint and then he saw that this is the footprint of an emperor, somebody who should rule the world. Then he wondered, why would such a person be in this remote place near a jungle. Then he followed the footprint thinking he will meet an emperor. Then he saw this monk – Gautama sitting under a tree. Then he looked at this, he thought either my astrology is gone all wrong or I’m being fooled or I’m in some kind of a hallucination, what’s happening here? Then he went to Gautama and asked, ‘who are you?’ Gautama was, in this kind of, Jasjeet [participant] kind of state, he said, ‘I’m nobody. I’m just a nobody.’ But you have the feet of an emperor, you should conquer the world. Gautama said, ‘that I will, but not by conquest.’

See, there are two ways you can have the world, either by conquest or by inclusion. Yes? I can make you yours, either by capturing you, chaining you and making you do what I want or by including you as a part of myself. Yes! Both ways something or somebody becomes yours, isn’t it? But if you go by conquest, it will be a pain in your neck, always. If you include, this will become a great enhancement of life.

He said, ‘I am the emperor of the world.’ Then he said, ‘you are a monk! You own nothing.’ I own nothing and I am a nobody, that is why everything is mine. Even mathematicians are trying to teach you the zero and the infinite are one and the same! So you becoming a no-thing does not mean you are no use. You are a no-thing means, you’ve become all inclusive, isn’t it? You are something means you can only be that. You are a no-thing, you can be any way you want. This is how this life is made – if your ability to respond is not curtailed, you can be anything you wish at any given moment, isn’t it? So Gautama said, ‘I’m anyway the emperor of the world, if that’s a word you like but I’m actually a nobody, because everything is anyway mine.’

If you see I’m responsible for everything, everything is yours, isn’t it? How does somebody become yours? Hmm? Because you own them or take responsibility for them? Because you take responsibility for them, they become yours not otherwise, isn’t it? If you own them forcefully, they will never be yours. Yes or no? If you forcefully own somebody, will they ever be yours? They’ll never ever be yours.

So this astrologer sat down. He said, ‘you are a monk, you have nothing, on top of it you say I am a nobody and everything is yours’ what is this? Gautama said, ‘you come. I have a way for you. You are busy making predictions of life. I have a plan.’ Why do you make predictions of life? You are incapable of making a plan and executing a plan, that is why you fall back on predictions, isn’t it? Yes or no? If you are capable of making a plan and executing a plan, would you fall back on predictions? No. So, Gautama said, ‘you are busy making predictions. I am here, I have a plan. Come become a part of my plan. We’ll make something else happen.’

You must become a part of this plan. We can make something wonderful happen. This same world, this same world can be turned into paradise if all of us go by a paradise plan, isn’t it? Yes or no? The question is only – because between a possibility and a reality there is a distance. Do we have the courage and the commitment to walk the distance? That’s all it is. Yes?

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