When I heard the Buddha’s life story I knew I was irrevocably Buddhist. Even though I had been taught Buddhism since I was a child, later, as a young girl, I had a memorable moment where everything stopped and I recognized that it was already done, there was only one direction that could unfold in my future. Upon hearing the Buddha’s life story it struck such cord in my heart, it felt complete and true. At that moment, I remembering acknowledging out loud that the study of Buddhist philosophy was absolutely the most exquisite pursuit in life.
The way the story was told to me at that time was very sober and down to earth. It didn’t have any supernatural elements. Quite the contrary it was a story of an ordinary person’s search for understanding. Even though the Buddha’s training included extreme austerities and rare altered states, ultimately the pinnacle of the Buddha’s quest for understanding was remembering a fresh state of simple presence. He achieved altered states, but then came up with the thought, “So what? What does really have to do with the human condition?!”
Now as an adult and a Buddhist teacher, I can see how the more mythic renderings of the life story can be used in a way that only mythological language can – to tease out insights that are beyond concepts and steeped with feeling. Such stories, such as the Tibetan Buddhist stories of the MahaSiddhas, when they are told in legendary tones, rich symbolism, full of mythic implications…they provoke a reaction. In that way, telling these legends serves as a method for raising awareness and eliciting the most important questions. That is the point of these stories. Such stories demand a response. They raise questions about ethics, purpose, crisis and human dilemmas, rather than just give answers, they raise questions. However despite my appreciation of the value of the more legendary tones of Buddhist life stories, whenever I think of the Buddha’s life story, and whenever I tell it in teachings, I try to stay faithful to that down to earth account which changed my life. That is a story of an ordinary person’s search for understanding. In a world full of exotic, fantastical spiritualities, religious extremes the Buddha discovered that the ultimate path was presence. In the face of the onslaught of all the mental and emotional turmoil and distractions which are possible, the Buddha remained in unwavering presence.
For the holiday when we are all celebrating the power of religion, spirituality and nature, I wanted to share a little bit of this great memory with you! This youtube video series was made in conversation between myself and my students, so sit please feel free to sit back and enjoy the story of the Buddha. You can find the rest of the videos in the seven part series on his life by clicking here at Pema Khandro Video on Youtube.