Their Travel Changed Your World – Buddha

This is the third in a series of articles about the transformative power of traveling.  No one really knows the impact a trip is going to have on their life.  It can be a restorative escape, educational, or thought provoking – often all at the same time.  Sometimes the experiences a person has while traveling, can inspire them to not only change who they are, but also, to change the world.  Other entries in this series are Julia Child, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mark Twain.

There’s little doubt that Sidhartha Gautama was one of the most influential people in the history of the world. He was a prince who walked away from his lush life so that he could live in simplicity. His followers today, number in the billions. He’s better known as “Buddha,” the enlightened one.

He changed himself and the world through travel.

Much of Buddha’s early life remains unclear, lost to history, and some even seems romantically mythological in nature. Tradition holds that Sidhartha was born the son of a powerful, king-like figure in Nepal, near the Indian boarder. On the night of his conception, his mother dreamed of a powerful white elephant, and he gestated for ten full months before being born. Prophets told his father that the child would either unify India or redeem the world, depending upon how “earthly” an existence Sidhartha would live. By his father’s orders anything that might show the “horrors” of the world, sickness, poverty, or hardship, were kept far from the palace’s walls. He was determined to raise a conquer.

No expense was spared, and palaces were built, riches and women were given to the prince, but he was bored by it all. He had a longing for something else – something he couldn’t be given. He wasn’t entirely sure of what it even was he was missing.  He began to travel outside of the palace walls, but guards would forcibly empty the streets of all people ahead of him. However, on one of these explorations he saw a frail, old man that the guards had missed, and Sidhartha was introduced to the idea of growing old, and youth fading. On subsequent rides, he saw a diseased person. On another, he saw a dead body. On the fourth outing he saw a monk, and he learned that it was possible for a person do dedicate themselves to something other than the material world, and that it was even possible to withdraw from the world completely.

These images stayed with Sidhartha, and throughout his twenties, he increasingly became disenchanted with palace life. When he was twenty-nine, a married father by this point, he could no longer endure that existence. In the middle of the night, he left the palace and rode his horse into the forest. He changed his clothes  and put on rags, shaved his head, and began a six year journey of self exploration. This journey brought him into contact with three distinct groups of thinkers. First, he studied with Hindu scholars, until he felt as though he had nothing more to learn from the yogis. Then he lived with and studied asceticism, the idea that living without earthly pleasures, including food can bring spiritual enlightenment. He was intense in his studies and nearly starved to death in the process, before determining that this was a false path. However, he learned to compromise, and came to believe that life should not be one of extremes, but rather to be lived in the middle between absolute pleasure and absolute self-denial. Finally, he dedicated himself to intense meditation and inward thought. One night he sat under a tree and meditated. While doing so he was tempted by evil to distract him, but his focus intensified, he drove the evil away and out of his mind, and became so powerful that a simple touch of his finger to the ground not only chased away the evil, but also allowed for the heavens to open and knowledge to be granted to him.

He began to meditate more deeply than ever before in his life and he transcended the universe, and discovered the true being. This is known as “The Great Awakening.” He would spend the next forty-five years traveling throughout India teaching his new belief system, and founding orders of monks and nuns. His followers began to call him “Buddha,” which means “the enlightened one.” During this time he lived as a part of the world for nine months of each year and then retreated for three months of intense meditations. He taught his followers about the importance of suffering in life in order to help one learn, but also that one must embrace and enjoy life. All the while, one must keep a focus on escaping of the falsities of life in full, by reaching nirvana in the afterlife.

It’s interesting to note that Buddha also died while visiting friends. He was fed a meal of boar’s meat, developed dysentery.  However, he  was grateful to the cook. Buddha could sense death coming, and was thankful to finally be reaching nirvana.

Buddha traveled, and he found himself and enlightenment in the process.  He changed the world and made life better for billions of people as a result.


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Categories: Asia, My View of Things, Stories


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