Fasting Siddhartha (Sakyamuni Buddha) - Lahore (Pakistan), a photo by zygmontek on Flickr.
Most historical depictions of Siddhartha Gautama’s conception and birth show his mother dying during or shortly after childbirth, and a seer, Asita, announcing that the young price would be either a great king or a great holy man.
Gautama’s father shielded his son from religion and human suffering in hopes that Gautama would indeed grow to be a great king rather than a holy man, says fundamentalbuddhism.com.
Despite predictions that Gautama would be the Buddha while still a baby, his father arranged a marriage at the age of sixteen. Gautama married a cousin of the same age and produced a son. Despite being a wealthy prince for twenty-nine years, however, Gautama was not satisfied with his life and was generally unhappy.
At the age of twenty-nine, while wandering outside his palace, Gautama encountered an old crippled man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic, or holy man. These sights are now referred to as the four heavenly messengers.
The inspiration of these four sights caused Gautama to leave his family, wealth, and inheritance behind and begin life anew as an ascetic in hopes of ending the suffering of old age, disease, and death.
Despite meditation and deprivation, Gautama was unable to find the satisfaction and purpose he was looking for, but after nearly starving to death, remembered the peaceful bliss of a naturally concentrated state, and decided to purse this course.
Having made this discovery, Gautama left the asceticism and meditation behind and focused on The Middle Way, a path away from all extremes. History tells that Gautama then accepted some rice pudding, sat beneath a papal tree and refused to arise until he had discovered the truth.
At the age of thirty-five, or six years after beginning his quest, Gautama obtained enlightenment.
Gautama, now Buddha, then conceded to become a teacher and instructed monks and other followers in the ways of Nirvana, or the shedding of suffering, and bodhi, the pathway to enlightenment, among many other lessons and concepts.
Buddha was very clear to emphasize that he was not a god, but rather an enlightened man. He shared his teachings for another forty-five years, and then passed to Parinivana, or the final deathless state, fully abandoning the human body. His teachings have lived on, however, and become the fourth largest organized religion in the world today.