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Buddhism can be seen as one of the oldest religions still in existence, and simply put, can be described as a path to liberation - a means for obtaining mental transformation and deep insight into the true nature of things. The longevity and timeless nature of Buddhism may be due to the fact that the teachings, known as the Dharma, are as relevant in today's society as they were centuries ago in ancient India. In the following essay I will discuss the life of the Buddha, outline his teachings and evaluate whether it is possible to separate his life from his teachings.

The central figure in the tradition of Buddhism is Gautama the Buddha. Historically speaking, it is difficult to separate the facts of Gautama's life from the legend as there are no birth records and his teaching were not recorded for centuries after his death. However, from the information that is available we know that he was born in Southern Nepal somewhere around '480-400 BCE' (Friedlander 2002, p. 34), probably to a wealthy family and he lived for approximately 80 years, his life coming to an end in the village of Kusinara where he lay under a tree and passed away into Nibbana. Although there is little concrete evidence about the life of Gautama, Harvey (2004, p. 16) outlines the key events in Gautama's life as being; conception, birth, enlightenment, first sermon and death.

Gautama left his family at age 29 and began his quest for enlightenment. He travelled seeking out those who could teach him spiritual techniques to help him find the truth and liberation he was looking for. At age 35 he gained enlightenment while in deep meditation sitting under the Bodhi tree. It was only after his enlightenment that he became known as the Buddha - the 'Awakened One'. After finding liberation he began teaching and became known as a skilful and analytic teacher and for the next 45 years wandered around showing others how, by understanding the Four Noble Truths and following the Noble Eight Fold Path, liberation can be attained.

As touched on earlier, the teachings of the Buddha were not written down for centuries after his death, therefore there may be some debate as to what his original teachings were. However, the doctrines central to Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight Fold Path and are a very important aspect of the Buddha's teachings. The Buddha taught that because we do not understand the Four Noble Truths we continue to experience the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. This cycle is known as Samsara, which means 'wandering on', and simply put, is a result of one's actions or Karma. Although the doctrines of Samsara and Karma have only been touched on briefly here, their importance to the Buddhist teachings must not be underestimated. Buddha's first sermon was at Sarnath and consisted of the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble truth is Duhkha or suffering and this truth teaches that we need to recognise the impermanent nature of life and the suffering that is accompanied by this. The Second Noble Truth highlights that desire and attachment are the cause of Duhkha. The Third Noble Truth shows us that by eliminating desire and attachment we can put an end to Duhkha. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Noble Eight Fold Path which shows us the way to Nibbana - the final goal of all Buddhists.

Sri Dhannananda (1993, p. 79) compares the Noble Eight Fold Path to a 'road map' which will show us how to eliminate greed, hatred and delusion and lead us to Nibbana. This path is also known as the 'Middle Way' which, as noted by Harvey (2004, p. 23), is 'a way which avoids both the extremes of devotion to mere sensual pleasures and devotion to ascetic self-torment' and can be seen as a way for all, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, to live in harmony with the laws of the universe. The Noble Eight Fold Path consists of eight elements, the first two; right view and right intention aid in the development of wisdom. Right speech, right action and right livelihood are moral factors. The final three include right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration, which are concerned with meditation. By cultivating the elements of the Noble Eight Fold Path one can be released from the cycle of birth, death and re-birth and experience enlightenment.

The Buddha is the central figure in the Buddhist tradition and his role in that tradition is to show the way to attain liberation. His life before his enlightenment illustrates the situation all who have not attained liberation are in and, in that sense, can be seen as important for teaching how one



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