Buddhists around the world will celebrate the 2,558th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha this Wednesday. In Kathmandu preparations are already on.
The word Buddha indicates an enlightened being, and Buddhists believe that there have been several of them in the course of history. The most recent of these was Siddhartha Gautam, an individual whose life is recorded in history.
Siddhartha Gautam was the son of King Suddhodhan of the Shakya dynasty, who ruled in Kapilvastu in southern Nepal in the fifth century BC. At the birth of prince Siddhartha, a wise man told the king that the boy would be either a great emperor or a great sage, destined either to rule the world or to save it. The king took this prophecy to heart and taught Siddhartha to be a warrior and statesman. The king also kept his son isolated from the outside world, and as a child Siddhartha saw nothing of aging, pain, or death.
When prince Siddhartha reached maturity he was shocked and dismayed by his discovery of the evils of the world, and he renounced his family and crown and went on a decades-long quest to find “the truth.”
Siddhartha roamed the plains of what is now north India and followed the traditional ways of seeking enlightenment: meditation, yoga and mortification of the flesh. He learned many truths but not the final truth he sought. One day at Bodhgaya in India, Siddhartha sat under a great tree and vowed to stay there until he perceived the ultimate answer. In a moment of complete understanding, he was released from attachment to the world and became enlightened.
For the rest of his life, Siddhartha Gautam, now a Buddha, taught his Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. The Buddha’s teachings were a personal philosophy and a structure for living a good life. He clearly did not intend to start a religion and expressly forbade his followers to worship him.
When the Buddha died, eighty years to the day from his birth, his cremated remains were divided, distributed, and placed under eight burial mounds at places where he had taught. Those mounds became some of the earliest symbols of Buddhism, and throughout the Buddhist world those mounds are remembered still in the monuments called, in various places, stupas, chortens, and chaityas.
At the main stupas in Kathmandu, all more that 1,500 years old, devotees will light butter lamps and string prayer flags on Wednesday to celebrate the day.