He who once was called Siddhartha, now transformed into Buddha, left behind him the tree under whose branches he had managed to reach enlightenment, and set out for the city of Sarnath, where he met his old companions and drew a circle on the ground to represent the wheel of existence that leads constantly to birth and death. He explained that he had not been happy as a prince who owned everything, nor had he learned wisdom through total renunciation. What human beings should seek in order to reach Paradise was the so-called “middle way”: neither seeking pain, nor being a slave to pleasure.
Impressed at what they heard from Buddha, the men decided to follow him on his pilgrimages from town to town. As they heard the good news, more and more disciples joined the group, and Buddha began to organize communities of devotees, following the principle that they could help one another mutually in the duties of body and spirit.
On one of his journeys, Buddha returned to his home town, where his father grieved deeply on seeing him begging for alms. But he kissed his father’s feet and said: “you, Sire, belong to a lineage of kings, but I belong to a lineage of Buddhas, and millions of them also lived begging for alms.” The king remembered the prophecy that had been made when his son was conceived, and made his peace with Buddha. His son and his wife, who for so many years had complained of having been abandoned, eventually understood his mission and founded a community which began to spread his teachings.
When he was approaching the age of eighty, he ate something spoiled and realized he was going to die of food poisoning. Helped by his disciples, he managed to travel as far as Kusinhagara, where he lay down for the last time beside a tree.
Buddha called his cousin Ananda and said:
- “I am old and my pilgrimage in this life is nearing its end. My body looks like an old cart that has been used a great deal and is still working only because some of its parts are precariously tied up with straps of leather. But that’s enough, now it’s time to go.”
Then he turned to his disciples and asked if anyone had any doubts. Nobody said a word. He asked the same question three times, but they all remained in silence.
Buddha died smiling. His teachings, today codified in the form of a philosophical religion, are spread across most of Asia. In essence, they consist of understanding oneself profoundly and having a deep respect for one’s neighbor.
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