Buddha was an ordinary man but was of noble birth, being the son of a rajah from the Shakya clan. He was born 2600 years ago in a little kingdom in the north of India, at the foot of the Himalayas. He had a good intellectual, physical and artistic education, a training designed to make of him a perfect gentleman.
He had everything in life to meet his needs, he loved his wife, he loved his son… but he became aware of sickness, old age and death as inexorably linked to the human condition. So, inspired by a meeting with a religious person, Shakyamuni turned to the many philosophical and religious schools in India at the time. He left his family and palace and went into the forest with the ascetics; he decided to dedicate himself to working out the human condition of suffering and to attain peace.
He studied and practiced the philosophies of his time, some were spiritualist, others materialist; but none satisfied him. In the end, desperate and motivated by a strong determination, he sat down in the dhyana posture (zazen), determined not to move as long as he had not resolved the problem of life and death.
History tells us that, after going through all the infernal states of ignorance, greed, and aversion, and after conquering all his illusions, he found in himself the supreme and eternal peace. He had reached his core, his original nature, empty of all form. From this moment on, he was called Buddha, the Awakened One, Shakyamuni, the silent sage of the Shakya clan.
He continued sitting, clarifying the problem of suffering: how does it arise? How does it develop? How can we be free of it? During this time he formulated the fundamentals of the teaching that he would outline throughout his life to his contemporaries.
After finding the path to the heart and travelling it, he was the first to define a unified and rational doctrine for the human mind. He had penetrated all his illusions and fearlessly sat up straight, fearlessly, under an empty sky.
After his awakening, he spent his life calling upon his fellow humans to free themselves and to help others to do the same.
His teachings would form the sutras of the Buddhist canon. But we should not forget that it was sitting in equilibrium, utterly still, seeking nothing, that he awakened to and understood the origin of suffering, as well as its remedy.
Good men gathered around him and became his disciples. One of them, Mahakashyapa, became his successor and transmitted the essence of the teaching to Ananda… This transmission from person to person, from master to disciple, has continued up to the present day.
It is in this way that we, practitioners of Zen, are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha: we hear his teaching, we continue his practice. This is the origin of Buddhism.