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Friday, September 30

Buddhism

I've read a few versions of the life of Buddha (Siddartha Gautama). I don't remember the sequence of events very well and I'm not much of a story-teller, but it goes something like this:

He was born a prince. His father showered him with wealth and tried to avoid his being exposed to pain and suffering and thus being tempted to becoming a priest or clergyman. His father wasn't able to pull this off completely. The young Siddartha would notice the suffering and pain of animals. Eventually, he persuaded his father to allow him to visit the people of a nearby village. There he saw an old man for the first time. He also saw a diseased person. He was shocked and disturbed and very determined to find some way to avoid suffering. He left his young wife and child to seek a solutiong to the problem of suffering. He sought the wisdom of numerous masters and nearly died of starvation in his efforts to obtain enlightenment. A child saw that he was weak from hunger and fed him. Afterwards, he decided that it made sense to have some minimal nourishment, otherwise, he wouldn't be able (or alive even) to focus on solving problems.

He went to visit his father on his death bed and talked to his wife. She became a follower of his.

I found a site with an illustrated children's version of the story. I've often found that when I'm trying to learn about something or read a difficult fiction text, it helps to start with reading children's versions of them. They're usually somewhat entertaining and brief.

I have a lot of questions and thought about the various versions of the story I've read. Assuming the story is "true" (A big assumption, I know, even leaving out mystical aspects). I wonder whether being kept from seeing suffering also kept him from taking it for-granted in the way that a lot of people do. Perhaps if he'd been brought up with lots of wealth and without suffering hidden from him, he'd have learned to be indifferent to it more. I wonder whether keeping children from seeing suffering and dangerous things makes them more sensitive to it later. I wonder if it's a good or a bad thing.

After sitting down, the Buddha told them: "Monks! I have realised the truth of the end of suffering (nirvana), and the way to end suffering. If you learn and practice it, you will soon become enlightened. You must take responsibility for working to understand these things." At first, the five monks doubted his words and asked him many questions. But finally they began to trust him and wanted to hear his teaching. And so the Buddha gave his first teaching to the five monks at Sarnath.
He sounds arrogant to me. I guess it depends on whether what he had to offer really was the truth of the end of suffering and the way to end suffering.

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