Being dissatisfied with the princely life and seeing the four sights, namely, an old man; a diseased man; a corpse and an ascetic, Siddhartha, the prince, renounced the worldly life and became an ascetic. He had spent six long years accompanying other ascetics to find answers to what truth and good are.
He had gone through all kinds of austere practices known at that time an account of which was recorded in the Mah?saccakasutta [MN: 36] and the Mah?s?h?n?dasutta [MN:12]. Finally one day he realized that the path he was following was an extreme asceticism, which would not lead to emancipation (vimutti). He then had decided to follow a different path, which he designated as ‘the middle path’ (majjhimapa?ipada). Having seen such changes in him, his other friends, who had accompanied him for so long, had lost hope in him and left him alone.
The ascetic Siddhartha, however, having received the offering from Suj?ta, daughter of Senani-the land lord, sat on meditation with the vow that even though the flesh and bone of his body might dry up or he might faint yet he would not open his eyes and get up from the seat until he had attained the supreme enlightenment. The earth, it is said, had trembled as a result of a vow of a Great Being. It was the full moon day of May. After the whole night of meditation, the next day, Siddhartha had transformed into the ‘Enlightened One’, the ‘Buddha’. He was extremely joyful with his attainment of enlightenment, but then when he thought of sharing the dhamma, he soon realized that the worldlings are always overcome by lust, hatred and delusion and thus they are shrouded by darkness. It is not easy for them to understand this noble dhamma which is against the stream, which is abstruse, profound, difficult to perceive and subtle. Yet with the request from Br?hma Sahampati he decided to share it with others. First of all he thought of two of his teachers namely ?rada K?l?ma and Uddaka R?m?putta under whose guidance he was once taught.
When he came to know that they died recently then he thought of his colleagues with whom he had practiced austerities for past six years. The Buddha then started his journey to the Deer Park of Isipatana where these ascetics were dwelling. As he was approaching to the park they first thought of not welcoming him for they thought he was misled. But gradually when the Buddha, with each step mindful with his calm and serene appearance, was approaching them, a strange change took place in their hearts. Forgetting all dissatisfactions they had towards the Buddha, they all proceeded to welcome him and gave him best of their service.
Now the question is – what made them change their mind? Why they were not able to remain angry with the Buddha? It is because the Buddha was approaching them with a boundless kindness in his heart to teach them the dhamma that he gained recently under the bodhi tree on the bank of river Neranjara. He did not go to them to ask why they left him alone in Budhgaya rather he told them:
“Hey! Look, what I found, friends, under the bodhi tree the day you left me. I thought you might be interested in this, so, without going anywhere I directly came over here to share it with you, my friends, who accompanied me for past six years.”
The Buddha then taught them his first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta (SN: 56.11), the discourse on the turning of the wheel of dhamma. Through this discourse, he taught them the nature of dukkha, its cause(s), its cessation and the way leading to its cessation. He taught them the nature of existence as conditioned co-production (pa?iccasamupp?da). He taught them that there is no permanent substance (att?/svabh?va) of anything, that whatever that comes into being must cease. He taught them purely out of compassion expecting that they would realize the supreme bliss of nibb?na.
At this point it should be mentioned here that the complete boundless compassion could be exercised only by someone who has understood the reality of existence ‘as it becomes’ - yath?bhuta?. On the contrary the reality of existence ‘as it becomes’ could be comprehended by someone who initially takes up the practice of compassion (that comprises the s?la) at the beginning of his spiritual journey.
The Buddha-mind which radiates the complete boundless compassion for all living beings is one of unthinkable (acintaniya). However, from the incidents in his life and the discourses he taught we can get a fairly good idea of his compassionate heart. For example the Buddha says; “enmity is not to be overcome by enmity but by non-enmity” - (Dhp:5). And in his life we see the Buddha subduing N?l?giri, the drunken elephant, by spreading compassion towards it. Moreover, he had preached numerous discourses on the practice of loving kindness and compassion.
In the discourse of loving kindness - Karaniyamettasutta? (Kup:9) the Buddha says:
Just as with her own life, a mother shields from hurt her own son, her only child. Let all-embracing thoughts, for all beings be yours.
He continues: “whatever living creatures there be, without exception, weak or strong, long, huge or middle-sized, or short, minute or bulky, whether visible or invisible, and those living far or near, the born and those seeking birth, may all beings be happy!”
In the Kakac?pamasutta (MN:21) the Buddha says: “Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill-will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching.”
The Buddha, even in such a situation, encourages his followers not to generate hatred but to practice compassion towards them. If anyone fails to do so he is not a true follower of the Buddha. Therefore from this perspective one does not become a true Buddhist by birth or by performing certain ceremonial rituals or even by taking ordination into any Order. A true Buddhist is one who cultivates loving kindness and compassion to all living beings including himself or herself. It does not matter which caste, color, race or religion he belongs to.