We’ve all heard of this Buddha guy, but apart from the fact that he is a fat, bald man who spends a lot of time sitting down, what does the average person really know of this legendary figure? Not much, certainly not in my case, so I set out to get the lowdown on one of the world’s greatest religious figures and after many hours of research I feel that I have attained a good grasp of both the man and his message. In the increasingly likely event that some natural or man made disaster destroys every last copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica – a fine publication from which I garnered most of the facts presented below – I have decided to set my findings down in this brief but highly informative article.
The man known today as the founder of Buddhism was born an exceedingly long time ago, around 563 BC, as Siddhartha Gautama, which translates roughly as “Cannot Be Trusted with Chickens.” Though often thought to have been born in Nepal or India, Siddhartha was in fact born in Helsinki, Finland but as a child he and his family moved to India because his parents felt the weather would be better for everyone’s sinuses. Shortly after Siddhartha’s birth, a famous oracle named Frutoloopo Narnodinno (The Elder) traveled from a distant Finnish municipality to see the infant, and predicted that the child would grow up to be either a great ice hockey player or a terrible disappointment, though the boy’s parents were hard-pressed to see the difference between the two.
Shortly after arriving in India, the father of the Soon To Be Enlightened One set up shop as a seller of cheaply made Chinese air conditioners. By the time Siddhartha was 16, the family had made enough money to be able to buy out the titles and properties of a local royal family who had lost all their money in the great stock market crash of 529 BC. The Gautamas moved into their newly acquired palace and proceeded to throw a series of wild parties. Soon they were known to the whole neighborhood as “Those wild Gautamas up the street.” This was not a situation welcomed by young Siddhartha, who thought one’s time should be spent contemplating the wonders of the universe, such as how a local squirrel named Sandeep managed write an entire symphony without ever learning to read music.
Troubled by his parents’ wild ways, and now on the cusp of his 18th birthday, Siddhartha decided to explore the city in a chauffeured chariot, an act of great bravery considering that the young man had suffered from a deadly fear of horses ever since one had stolen his lunch at the age of 8 (it was Siddhartha who was 8 at the time of the incident, not the horse.) Much to his dismay, things were even worse outside the palace than inside. Having been shielded all his life from the sick, the dying and the aging (Siddhartha was always made to wear a blindfold when the family visited his grandparents) the curious youngster was appalled at the signs of suffering all around him. Deciding that the way to alleviate the suffering of the world was to do some suffering himself, Siddhartha gave up his comfortable life at Chez Gautama and became a homeless ascetic, which is a sort of pretentious beggar.
Siddhartha’s search for enlightenment through extreme asceticism led him to restrict his diet to a small bowl of beetle soup per day. At first, the vain and youthful Siddhartha was much pleased with the fact that he was looking more svelte than ever, but after a couple of months a series of incidents led him to conclude that asceticism, though good for the soul, could be a bit hard on the physique. Not only did Siddhartha find that he had developed a tendency to fall over, but when he did manage to stand he was often mistaken for a lamp-post, an unfortunate state of affairs that led to several embarrassing run-ins with members of the city’s canine population. Eventually Siddhartha became so weak from hunger that one day, as he was eating his daily bowl of beetle soup, he passed out from exhaustion and fell face first into his supper. Luckily, one of his followers fished the Sacred One’s head out of the soup before he could drown, but not before he developed a lifelong aversion to strict dieting. After this, Siddhartha developed what has come to be known in Buddhism as “The Middle Way,” namely the idea that the proper path to enlightenment is to divide one’s day equally between meditation and prayer, and the eating of copious amounts of donuts. It was this way that Siddhartha discovered that eating donuts in a large quantity led to a state of bliss and focus that he named Jhana, after the Indian word for donut. This is how Siddhartha found himself on the road to becoming the world’s biggest religious figure.
One day, after many weeks sitting under a Bodhi tree meditating, Siddhartha started to nod off, and just as he did so a large Bodhi fruit fell on his head, causing him to wake and jump up uttering the now immortal phrase, “Ow! My freaking head!” It was thus that Siddhartha simultaneously discovered the mysterious force known as gravity – or as he called it, “That invisible force which causes terrible headaches” – and proved that meditating under a Bodhi tree is a stupid thing to do. It was thanks to this historical moment that Siddhartha became known as the Buddha, which means “The Awakened One,” though it is also sometimes translated as “He Who Swears Freely.”
From this unpleasant occurrence the Buddha formulated some epoch making observations about suffering, and these he developed into his “Four Noble Truths,” a set of philosophies that have become the foundation of Buddhism. If one follows these rules for long enough, it is said that one will achieve something called Nirvana, which is a state of blissful peace in which one is free of all of life’s irritations, or defilements as the Buddha called them – in other words, things such as greed, hatred, pain, illness, and Miley Cyrus.
In order to spread his message on how to attain Nirvana, the Buddha traveled to Istanbul where he stood on a mound outside the city and delivered a sermon while his assistants handed out fish sandwiches to the assembled throng, who were rather puzzled by the entire thing as they had been led to believe that they were there to see a wet t-shirt competition. It was here that the Buddha first made the Four Noble Truths known to the general public.
The Four Noble Truths are…
One – Life is suckiness. Not being very observant, the Buddha’s followers were shocked to learn that being sick, crippled, or subjected to a Justin Bieber concert are bad things.
Two – The reason life sucks is that people are stupid and do stupid things. For example, they go to a Justin Bieber concert and then complain that they went to a Justin Bieber concert. If they are really stupid, they sit under trees and then complain that fruit falls on their heads.
Three – The way to avoid life’s suckiness is to stop being stupid and the only certain way to stop being stupid is to achieve a state of non-being. This state of non-existence is said to bring about a total absence of suckiness, though it also carries the negative aspect of making it harder to access the beer in your fridge.
Four – There is actually no fourth Noble Truth. The Buddha was simply told by Lance in his marketing department that he should claim there was a fourth truth as “Four is a nice, round figure.”
Interestingly, it was at this sermon that the Buddha decided to commemorate the occasion by giving each of the many thousands of attendees a hair from his head. This is why he is now bald. A couple of these hairs have survived into the modern day and are housed at a temple in Burma, where they are said to spend their time meditating, giving sage advice to troubled locals, and playing Guitar Hero on their Wii.
After this groundbreaking sermon, the Buddha spent the rest of his life traveling around the world spreading the message about suckiness and how it can be avoided. Not one to limit his teachings to the already pure, the Buddha imparted his wisdom to not only the common man but also to lowlifes such as murderers, cat-killers, and the judging panel on American Idol. He even went so far as to teach a cannibal called Alavaka – at least until the latter started giving the by then fat and succulent guru funny looks and trying to convince him that it would be good for his health if he were to spend a few hours soaking in a bathtub filled with a mixture of soy sauce, peanut oil, ginger, garlic, and just a smidgen of salt.
This unsettling run-in led the Buddha to realize that what goes around comes around and that if you stuff enough things into your face, sooner or later someone will try to stuff you into theirs. This realization caused the Buddha to develop the concept of what is now known as Karma, which is the idea that what we do today affects what happens to us after we are re-incarnated, or tomorrow, or, for all I know, even just five minutes later. For example, if you put a dozen eggs in the microwave, five minutes later you will find yourself acted upon by some very loud bursting sounds which will cause you to leap high in the air, possibly hitting your head on the ceiling. The Buddha himself preferred to explain Karma using a more esoteric parable the details of which escape me, but I think it had something to do with a camel running around inside a dress shop, causing much damage to the merchandise and later being sued by Alan Dershowitz. If you are really that interested, you can always look it up yourselves. I can’t do all the work, you know.
Surprisingly, though now widely seen as a saintly figure, there were those in his day that wanted Gautama whacked, by which I mean dead. One would-be assassin, a cousin of the Buddha’s by the name of Devadata The Vacuous, twice tried to kill the great leader. He first did this by trying to convince the Buddha to sit on a large box labeled “dynamite,” but the Buddha was too smart for him, made up some excuse about the box not being strong enough to take his weight, and instead proceeded to sit on Devadata’s head, an act that would later lead to a centuries-long feud between the two branches of the family. The second attempt involved Devadata and his sidekick Sanjay The Sneaky rolling a boulder down a hill in the direction of the meditating Buddha. Just as the rock was about to reach the Buddha, it realized it was in the presence of greatness and refused to crush him, instead rolling back up the hill and squishing the two miscreants flat as a pair of Indian pancakes. The Buddha, having been roused from his meditations by all the commotion, was last seen running into the sunset while uttering the mantra “Beep! Beep!”
Despite these setbacks, the Buddha remained undaunted and continued to spread the word, living frugally and traveling throughout Asia year round, except in the winter when he would hole up at the Mumbai Hyatt and hold court, receiving visits from other holy men, devout followers (the proper name for this group is a “sangha”) and foreign pop stars (the proper name for this group is “pretentious morons”). It was during one of these stays that Siddhartha was visited by his father Suddhodana, a man who he had not seen for many years as the two had had a falling out over their conflicting lifestyles and the father’s insistence that a papadum is a type of fish. Upon being reunited, the Buddha’s father invited him home, where he slaughtered a fatted calf in honor of his wayward offspring’s return. This turned out to be a faux pas, not only due to the Buddha’s respect for all life but as the calf in question was widely suspected of being the re-incarnation of Udaka Ramaputta, one of the Buddha’s early teachers. Offended by his father’s insensitivity, the Buddha grabbed the nearest box of donuts and stormed out of the palace. The two men never spoke again, though years later, after Suddhodana’s death, Siddartha visited the old man’s grave, upon which he laid a box of donuts as a peace offering. It is said, however, that the box was empty.
This trip to Mumbai was not a total disaster, though, as it was here that the Buddha found his most ardent followers, his inner circle. This highly privileged coterie consisted of people with unusual and confusing names such as Sariputta, Maudgalyayana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda, Anuruddha, Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna. This bewildering alphabet soup at first caused great trouble, especially when the Buddha confused Mahakasyapa with Mahakaccana (the two men had an intense dislike for one another due to the latter’s contempt for the former’s dancing abilities.) The good news is that the problem did not last long – it was fixed when the Buddha wrote the men’s names on small pieces of paper and stapled them to their foreheads, thereby inventing the name tag.
In 483 BC, after many decades of teaching, the 80 year old Buddha realized that he was on the verge of attaining Nirvana, a feat that would require him to vacate his earthly body, i.e. drop dead. Soon the Buddha retired to a nearby municipal park and sent for the cook from the local greasy spoon, and this man prepared for him as his last meal a tasty mélange of stir fried pork and Jalapeno beans topped with sour cream and chives. This sumptuous repast led the Buddha to have terrible stomach cramps and to writhe around while lamenting his culinary choices. After a while the Buddha took some Pepto-Bismol and settled down to die. After several hours of lying peacefully on a bed of grass and discussing philosophy with his disciples, the Buddha passed on and entered the blessed state of Nirvana. According to the disciples at his bedside at the time, the great man’s last words were “Follow no leaders, all they get you is trouble. And, oh yeah – got any donuts?”