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Buddhist Writings.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA, known as Buddha, the “Awakened,” was the son of the ruler of Çkya-land, a region lying to the northeast of Oude, in northern India. The date of his birth is placed about 557 B. C.

He was born a warrior prince, but at the age of twenty-nine, after having married and had a son, he determined to renounce the world. Abandoning his family and possessions, he gave himself up to asceticism and concentration of thought, under the direction of masters of this discipline. After seven years, he concluded that this method brought him no nearer to the wisdom he sought as a means of escaping rebirth into a life which he had found not worth living, and for a time he tried starvation and self-torture. This also availed him nothing; when suddenly, sitting under the sacred fig-tree at Bodhi Gay, he became illumined and saw the Great Truths. Henceforth he was “Buddha.”

Gautama’s first aim had been merely his own salvation; but moved by pity for mankind he resolved to bestow on others the Four Great Truths and the eight-fold path. Beginning his ministry at Benares, he converted first five monks who had previously been his fellows in asceticism, then many of the noble youth of the city, then a thousand Brahman priests.

The rest of his life was spent in wandering about and preaching his new creed, which spread with extraordinary rapidity. He died not far from his native region about the year 477 B. C.

The foregoing outline selects what seem the most reliable main elements in a biography which has naturally become saturated with legend of later growth. The teaching of Buddha, so similar in its pessimistic view of life to that of the Book of “Ecclesiastes,” is amply represented in the following writings.