(623 B.C. – 543 B.C.)
The Buddha was thirty-five years old when he attained Full Enlightenment and everywhere he went, crowds gathered to see him and hear his teaching. For the next forty-five years, he walked with his disciples in northern and eastern India teaching the Dharma. Kings, noblemen and wealthy merchants generously donated monasteries and parks in which he and his disciples could live.
Later times, monasteries became places of learning and the Buddha’s teaching spread over Asia into lands such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan. Today, it is the religion of over five hundred millions people worldwide. The cultural advancement of all Buddhist nations was mainly due to his teachings. No arms were used, no wars were fought and no drop of blood was ever shed in its mission. It spread peaceably due to the love and compassion it taught and its appeal to the reasoning mind.
The Buddha advised the Sangha to lead a very simple, calm life in the service of the people. Monks were to have food, clothing, shelter and medicine but were not to have luxurious homes or many possessions. For those who follow his teaching, the Buddhist way of life is one of training to be unselfish and to be free from greed.
The aged Buddha was dying. He became ill near Kusinara, in modern Uttara Pradesh. On the fifteenth day of the second lunar month, under a pair of Sala trees, the Buddha lay down on his side with his head toward the North, he addressed the monks round him,
“All things decay. Be mindful, be righteous and be vigilant. Be lamps, unto yourselves. Transient are all component things. Therefore, strive earnestly to attain perfection.” These were the Buddha’s last words.
The Buddha passed away at the age of eighty. There was to be no more birth or death for him. Sacred texts state that at the moment of his passing, a violent tremor shook the Earth. The young monks who were still searching for liberation and enlightenment expressed grief at the Buddha’s passing, and at the loss of his guidance and teaching. But the arhats reflected serenely on his liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
On the full moon day in the month of Vesak as the dusk fell in peace and quiet on the birds and animals, the Buddha was cremated with all the pomp and ceremony due to royalty. His relics found their way to many Buddhist countries to be treasured and revered for all time.
The legacy that Shakyamuni Buddha left his disciples was profound, for the Buddha had dedicated his earthly life to teaching others the Four Noble Truths, the Law of Dependent Origination, Cause and Effect, Karma, the Three Dharma Seals, Emptiness, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Precepts, the Six Perfections, and the Middle Way. Ever since the Buddha transmitted the Dharma to his disciples, countless sentient beings through the centuries have heard the teachings, cultivated the Path, and attained enlightenment.
The Buddha taught the concepts of suffering, emptiness, and impermanence, but at the same time, he also taught us to seek joy and happiness in the Dharma. He taught an unbiased love that reaches the farthest corners of the world. Not omitting a single creature from your radius of concern. The true picture of Buddhism is represented by contemplative happiness and Dharma joy. In Buddhism we find the teachings of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity;and the sacred path of bringing aid and comfort to the world.