Shakyamuni's Life

Buddhism In A Nutsell: Shakyamuni’s Life | Shakyamuni’s Teachings

The information on these pages is excerpted from Ken McLeod’s book, Wake Up To Your Life.

Wealth and Luxury

Approximately 2,500 years ago, Siddhartha, a prince of the Shakya clan in northern India, abandoned his royal heritage to seek the source of human suffering.

Siddhartha grew up in the greatest luxury that his time could provide, sheltered by an overly protective father who wanted his son to succeed to the throne. Not until his twenties did the prince venture beyond the palace grounds. His illusions about life were quickly shattered as he encountered illness, old age, and death among his subjects. Soon afterward, Siddhartha saw an old religious mendicant who was utterly present and at peace. How could that be? How could anyone be at peace in the midst of all that suffering?

No matter how we grow up, in wealth or poverty, in love or adversity, we form a view of life. Everything we do subsequently is based on the belief that that view of life is how things are. Perhaps you grew up in an environment in which you could easily trust everyone not to hurt you, but then you encounter a person who, for no reason you can imagine, is intent on doing you harm. Perhaps you grew up learning to trust no one and can’t imagine trusting another person with anything that is important to you. We first encounter the mystery of being when our view of life is called into question. All too often, we react by ignoring, closing down, manipulating, or controlling what arises in experience to avoid questioning that view of life and what we feel we are.


Siddhartha could not simply ignore what he had seen. Power, wealth, and position became meaningless to him in the face of illness, old age, and death. His conception of life and what he was were turned upside down and inside out. He saw another possibility, however, in the presence and peace of the religious mendicant.

The first encounter with the mystery of being momentarily shatters the structures of ordinary life. When everything falls away, a moment of opening takes place. In that moment, we are free – free from the fetters of beliefs and ideas about who and what we should be. In other words, in the midst of the destruction of our illusions about life, we experience being what we actually are – free, open awareness. Most of the time, we don’t notice that freedom and open awareness. We’re too busy putting our view of life back together. Even if we do notice it, we don’t stay there for long. But we have, like Siddhartha, encountered the religious mendicant and the possibility of presence.

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