* Buddhism - Monastic life - Buddhist doctrine - The Wat
* Popular Religion * Other Religions
Finally, while sitting under a fig-tree one night in May, Sakyamuni ("Sage of the Sakyas") received enlightenment; and so at the age of 35, seven years after leaving his father's house, Gautama became the Buddha. Denying himself the prospect of attaining final deliverance for himself in the short term, he resolved to make his doctrine known to mankind and thus triumphed over Mara, the Evil One (a figure similar to the Biblical Satan), who had tempted him to enter at once into Nirvana and thus deprive the world of salvation. At Sarnath, near Benares, he set the Wheel of the Law in motion at the request of the god Brahma; and there too he met the five ascetics who had left him, revealed himself to them as the supreme Buddha and delivered his message to them in his Benares sermon. These five disciples thereupon became the first members of the Sangha. the order of monks founded by the Buddha.
For more then 40 years the Bhagavat ("Exalted One") travelled about India preaching his faith and winning many disciples to the "Good Law- (Sad-Dhamma) before dying at Kusinagara at the age of 80. In his last moments he exhorted his disciples in these words: "All that exists is transitory. Continue to strive without respite." Then he rose through successive degrees of meditation and passed into Nirvana. Western scholars date this event about 460 B.C., but various other dates are given in the Buddhist countries. In Sri Lanka the date of the Buddha's final entry into Nirvana is put at 543 B.C., and accordingly the Thai calendar differs from the Gregorian by 543 years - though it also differs from the Sinhalese calendar by a year in consequence of a different method of calculation.
The birth, life and death of the Buddha are the subject of innumerable legends which are frequently represented in Thai art. It is said, for example, that he entered his mother's womb in the form of a white elephant and that at his birth a lotus flower opened and there was an eclipse of the sun.
Buddhism spread rapidly throughout India, but very soon different schools emerged with divergent views on certain points - a consequence of the fact that the Buddha's message was at first transmitted orally by his monks. According to Sinhalese tradition the Buddha's precepts on his doctrine and on monastic discipline were established by a council. Thereafter, however, a schism arose, and two other councils were held at which the adherents of the "Doctrine of the Elders" (Theravada) finally laid down the canon of the Buddha's teachings (suttas) in the Tipitaka or Tripitaka ("Three Baskets"). King Vattagamani had this canon written down in Maghadi, a language which Ceylonese tradition holds to be Pali: at any rate the version which has come down to us is in Pali.