Buddha: Life & Moral Teachings

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  • 0:02 India Before Buddha
  • 0:49 Early Life of the Buddha
  • 2:19 Enlightenment
  • 3:43 Teachings
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

With hundreds of millions of believers, Buddhism is one of the most influential religious traditions in the world. Learn more about its founder, his surprising early life and his basic teachings.

India before Buddha

The sixth century BC was a time of great change in Northern India. The region was gaining extended contacts with the greater world, while a new group of invaders from the North, the Aryans, were still making their presence known, most notably on the predominant faith of India, Hinduism. However, in the coming years, a challenge to mainstream Hindu thought would emerge from an unlikely place, and while it would never unseat Hinduism as the dominant faith of India, it would make its influence known throughout all of Asia. This new faith tradition was known as Buddhism after its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, or more simply, the Buddha.

Early Life of the Buddha

The person who would eventually become known as the Buddha was first known as Siddhartha Gautama and was a member of the Brahmin caste of Indian priests and princes that ruled much of Northern India. According to legend, Siddhartha's father was warned to guard his son from any sign of human suffering and went to great lengths to do so. The future Buddha entered adulthood, married and fathered a son without knowing that people suffered, got sick or died. That is, until one day, when he sneaked out of the palace grounds.

Upon leaving the palace, Siddhartha found an old man, someone dying and a body being prepared for cremation. These all shook up the young prince, but what really got his attention was that amidst all this suffering, a humble holy man, asking only for food and wearing rags, was the only person who he saw to have any real inner peace. Immediately, Siddhartha abandoned his life of luxury, including his family and spent years begging and fasting, trying to figure out what the meaning of life was. In this, Buddhists point out, he went from the extreme of living lavishly to living poorly. In neither extreme was Siddhartha able to find any sort of truth.


Finally, Siddhartha sat down under a great tree and began to meditate. For 49 days, he was lost in deep contemplation, tempted by demons, all the while searching for what he could find as truth. Finally, after 49 days, he achieved enlightenment, the state of knowing the truth about life, and therefore, escaping having to live life after life, or reincarnation. From this point on, Siddhartha became known as Buddha, or Enlightened One, and began to preach what he had learned.

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