Thiền Tông Việt Nam
Keys to Buddhism (Chìa Khóa Học Phật)
Who was the Buddha?

The word "Buddha" means "awakened one." More than 2500 years ago, in the North central Indian city of Kapilavastu, a prince was born in the palace of King Suddhodana. He was given the name Siddhartha. When grown, while visiting the gates of the palace walls, he saw the four messengers: an old person, a sick person, a corpse and religious seeker. He suffered when he saw the first three and was inspired by the fourth. Therefore, he decided to leave the luxurious life of the palace to go into the forest in search of a path out of the cycle of birth and death. After eleven years2 of different practices, including six years of ascetic life and 49 days of meditation under the bodhi tree, he attained completely enlightened, from then on called "Shakyamuni Buddha."

After enlightenment, the Buddha saw clearly the original causes which carry human beings along the cycle of birth and death. He also understood completely the way out of this cycle. In order words, he knew the cause and effects of suffering and its solution, the way to emancipation. He knew clearly how all things come into existance and are destroyed. This wisdom of his is called Sarvathajnana, or omniscience. Embodying this wisdom, he taught others how to become enlightened.

The Buddha's solution to the suffering from the continual involvement in the cycle of birth and death is the teaching of Interdependent Origination3. Looking at these twelve steps, we see that ignorance is the initial element of the cycle. To eliminate ignorance is to be free from the cycle of birth and death. When the initial element remains, the branches keep on developing; when the initial element is eliminated, the branches stop growing.

What is it about ignorance that gives it such a powerful capacity? Ignorance is false perception, a lack of awareness of the true nature of things or the true essence of existence. We are often mistaken yet will not admit that we do not know what is true or false in life. On the contrary, the Buddha knew clearly that which is false and recognized that which is true, so he was called "The Awaken One." When he became enlightened, not only was he freed from the cycle of birth and death but he also was able to develop wonderful means which are beyond human understanding. This state is called "inconceivable liberation."

The Buddha was a real person, not a myth or a legend. We can learn about his genuine enlightenment through the teachings in the Tripitaka4. At this time, he also introduced the achievements and vows of other buddhas in the ten directions.

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