Sakyamuni Buddha are both sanskrit terms that refer the person that is known to have founded Buddhism. Sakya is the name of the clan that the Buddha was born into and Muni means sage. So Sakyamuni meants sage of the Sakya clan. Buddha means the awakened one. These are the more respectful terms that people had used to address the Buddha after He had started his teaching mission.
The Buddha’s birth name was Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha means one who has accomplished a goal and Gautama refers to the family name.
There are a few ways that we can look at the Buddha.
Traditional Buddhist Perspective
This is commonly taught in buddhist classes and to the public, that, there was a prophecy told on the Buddha after he was born which he would be the awakened one to spiritually liberate many others.
However, his father, King Suddhodana, was more concerned that he would lose his only heir, He did give his son all the learning and training expected from a warrior caste. The young Siddhartha had saw a series of activities, that a farmer was driving his buffalo to plough his farm by which the action unearthed worms that had eaten by birds in the end. He was greatly disturbed by what he had saw and started contemplating on this casual link that led to his first meditative experience. King Suddhohana saw how the young Siddhartha looked so dignified and serene while meditating under the tree and he was, of course, not pleased with what he saw.
So King Suddhohana provided the young Siddhartha with more luxury and comfort hoping to keep his son away from having a deeper interest in spirituality.
An arranged marriage soon happened for Siddhartha and soon had a son with his wife.
Not long after, Siddhartha had experienced the famous Four Sights that were widely taught to be his tipping point in setting his mind to pursue spiritual path.
Eventually, Siddhartha left the palace secretly under the cover of night and started his spiritual pursuit.
He gave up the asceticism after six years, realising that radical path towards either luxurious or sufferings cannot lead to the Enlightenment.
Siddhartha regained his strength after receiving the alms of a bowl of milk porridge from Sujata and he found a suitable spot under a Peepal Tree for him to go into deep and profound contemplation.
Through his self effort in overcoming different obstacles that Mara had delivered, Siddhartha eventually attained Enlightenment and proclaimed himself as the Buddha, which means The Awakened One.
Siddhartha, now known as the Gautama Buddha or the Buddha, traveled widely and taught the Dharma that He had realised in diverse ways to suit audiences with different capacities for over forty years before entered Parinibbana.
Much of what led up to Siddhartha’s Enlightenment were tales that were accepted by various buddhist traditions and had little to no canonical or historical support. So from this perspective, the focus is primarily on what the Buddha had to offer from his Enlightenment onward. There are two main collections of scriptures that recorded the different teachings that the Buddha had made during his lifetime. They are the Pali Canon and the Mahayana Tripitaka. Hence, much of the Buddha’s attributes are impressions drawn from the scriptures.
From the above perspectives, it is accepted that Siddhartha, later known as the Buddha did exist in current-day Nepal some 2600 years ago. However, as time went by, various schools of thoughts were formulated due to focusing on different areas in both collections of scriptures. Some schools focus on certain techniques that were derived from the scriptures; while some schools focus on worshiping characters other than Sakyamuni Buddha.
Sakyamuni Buddha is often brought up in proper Dharma/Buddhist class as a mean to justify whatever that was meant to be taught. Outside classroom domain, Sakyamuni Buddha is rarely revered except in the Theravada tradition.
Lotus Sutra Perspective
The Lotus Sutra is an outstanding scripture found in the Mahayana Tripitaka. It is reputed as King of Sutra in (Chinese) Mahayana tradition generally. The Lotus Sutra focuses on the devotion of Sakyamuni Buddha and contains descriptions and parables that give details on the character of the Sakyamuni Buddha.
為度眾生故 方便現涅槃 而實不滅度 常住此說法
To save sentient beings, I appeared to enter Parinirvana as an expedient mean, but I did not enter into extinction, I am always here teaching the Dharma
– The Lifespan of the Tathagata
This line shows a very different understanding of Sakyamuni Buddha, that, He did not enter into extinction, also known as Parinirvana but He is still here teaching the Dharma.
我亦為世父 救諸苦患者 為凡夫顛倒 實在而言滅
I am the Father of this World, saving everyone that suffers, for the confused mortals, I said I have entered extinction
– The Lifespan of the Tathagata
This line speaks that the Sakyamuni Buddha sees Himself as the spiritual father responsible in alleviating the suffering of everyone. He said that he had entered Parinirvana because of confused mortal.
But did He?
Hence, the Lotus Sutra gives a very different perspective of Sakyamuni Buddha from the traditional, historical and contemporary perspective. In short, it is saying that Sakyamuni Buddha is active in teaching the Dharma over a long period of time, so long that, it gives rise to the concept of Eternal Buddha.
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