Peter's Science and Religion Pages

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Science and Religion

Not being a Buddhist scholar, the source for much of these notes is "The World's Religions", Lion Publications 1982 where Wulf Metz writes about this and much more.


Siddharta Gautama, was born around 560 BCE at Lumbini (near the modern border between India and Nepal). His father Shuddhodanna was rajah of a small principality there. His mother’s name was Maya and she died seven days after his birth.

He says, "I was spoiled, very spoiled. I anointed myself only with Benares sandalwood and dressed only in Benares cloth. Day and night a white sunshade was held over me. I had a palace for the winter and one for the summer and one for the rainy season. In the four months of the rainy season I did not leave the palace at all, and was surrounded by female musicians."

He married Gopa (or Yashodara), and had a harem of beautiful dancers. Yet he called his only son "Chain" (Rahula), for he said life gave him no satisfaction.

On his third journey he saw the suffering of the world in three ways.

• He saw a frail old man,

• an invalid racked with pain, and

• a funeral procession with weeping mourners.

When asked what all this meant, he was given the answer that this was merely the fate of all mankind. He returned to his palace deeply troubled about suffering.

On his fourth journey he met a monk who was contented and joyful. The monk travelled around homeless with just a begging bowl.

Siddharta now looked for a better way for him to live as he decided that all life’s pleasures and attractions were empty and worthless. He left home one night while his wife and child were sleeping.

He began to search in the traditional Hindu way, through constant yoga exercises, which had the aim of uniting his self (atman) with the origin and meaning of the world (Brahman).

He continued travelling throughout northern India and finally stayed at Uruvela for six years.

Here, he and his five followers lived in extreme self denial and discipline.

When he ruined his health he decided that extreme asceticism was not the way.

Abandoning that asceticism (to the horror of his followers), he directed his energies into achieving holiness by meditation.

After three nights in contemplation under a fig tree (which came to be known as the tree of enlightenment) he is said to have reached the highest knowledge and so became Buddha (enlightened one).

• In the first night, he saw his previous lives pass before him.

• In the second night he formulated a law about the cycle of re-birth.

• In the third night four noble truths were propounded:

He said that he could have immediately entered the blessed state (nirvana), but for the sake of a few people he set into motion the wheel of teaching.

At his famous first sermon at Benares, his five former companions were present and became his first disciples.

He discarded the caste system but included women only after continued persuasion. He felt that women were dangerous because they kept the cycle of re-birth in motion and thus encouraged greed for life. After his enlightenment he travelled about for about 44 years living as a beggar monk and teaching. He died at 80 after he had taken ill during a meal.

The four noble truths

• The knowledge of suffering.

"Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, illness is suffering, worry, misery, pain, distress and despair are suffering: not attaining what one desires is suffering."

• The source of suffering

"It is that desire (tanha) which results in re-birth, that desire bound up with longing and greed, which indulges itself - now here, now there; the desire of the senses, the desire to be, the desire to destroy oneself."

• The removal of suffering

This is by being freed from the endless cycle of re-birth and entering the blessed state (nirvana)

• The way to the removal of suffering

This is by the noble eightfold way.

1. Right knowledgeor understanding (i.e. recognising the four noble truths.)

2. Right attitudeor thought (goodwill, peaceableness, avoiding sensual desire, hate and malice)

3. Right speech(no lying, gossip or useless chatter. Speech is for wisdom, truth and to be directed towards reconciliation)

4. Right action(no murder, stealing or adultery)

5. Right occupation(not harmful to others)

6. Right effort(foster good impulses to develop noble words, thoughts, and deeds)

7. Right mindfulnessor awareness (no desire in thought, speech, action and emotion)

8. Right composure(which is achieved by intense concentration)

The eightfold way is concerned with morality, spiritual discipline and with insight.

It avoids the extremes of asceticism and sensuality.

Nirvana is derived from the verb "to waft away." An early Buddhist writing called the tripitaka says:

"Nirvana is the area where there is no earth, water, fire and air; it is not the region of infinite space, nor that of infinite consciousness; it is not the region of nothing at all, nor the border between distinguishing and not distinguishing; not this world nor the other world; where there is neither sun nor moon. I will not call it coming and going, nor standing still, nor fading away nor beginning. It is without foundation, without continuation and without stopping. It is the end of suffering."




Contact: Peter Eyland