Buddha, Gotama

Buddha, Gotama
   (BCE 563-483)
   Also Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Born into a wealthy and prominent family in the north Indian state of Sakka (Sakya), Siddhartha Gotama renounced the world and achieved Enlightenment (bodhi, thus his name, the Enlightened One) through meditation. He devoted the last 40 years of his life to preaching and established the monastic order, or Sangha. At his death, he passed into nibbana (nirvana), freeing himself from samsara, or the cycle of rebirth. Theravada Buddhists believe that Buddha was a man, not a divine being, and upon entering nibbana no longer exists in the ordinary sense. Thus, he cannot intercede on behalf of believers or answer their prayers. All that remains are his teachings (dhamma), which the Sangha preserves and propagates. However, there is also a long-established belief among Buddhists that veneration of the Buddha's personal possessions and bodily relics (for example, Buddha tooth relics) brings the devotee a deeper comprehension of the dhamma. Such relics have been housed in pagodas, of which the most famous in Burma is the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon (Yangon).
   Through the ages, there have been many, perhaps numberless, Buddhas, each preaching the same doctrine. Gotama Buddha was the 25th of 26 to appear in the present "world cycle" (kappa); the last Buddha of the cycle, Metteya (Maitreya), will appear 5,000 years after the death of Gotama. There are two kinds of Buddhas: "private Buddhas," including arahants, who achieve nibbana on their own but do not teach the dhamma, and "perfect Buddhas," such as Gotama, who do teach dhamma. The latter are considered superior. The Jataka, or "birth-tales," recount episodes in Gotama Buddha's former lives and are a formative influence on Burmese literature, drama, and art, as well as religion.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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