Aquestion for us to consider is whether we can relate to the life of the Buddha, both in our formal practice and in our everyday lives, in a way that is meaningful for us in these times. Can we relate to his life in some way that gives perspective and context to our own? One possibility is to see the Buddha as a particular historical figure, a person who lived in what is now northern India in the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, and who went through a powerful awakening transformation at the age of thirty-five. We can relate in a very human, historical way, understanding his struggles, his quest, his enlightenment, from the perspective of one human being to another.
Another level on which we can relate is to view the Buddha as a fundamental archetype of humanity; that is, as the full manifestation of buddha-nature, the mind that is free of defilement and distortion, and understanding his life story as a great journey representing some basic archetypal aspects of human existence. By viewing the life of the Buddha in both of these ways, as a historical person and as an archetype, it becomes possible to see the unfolding of universal principles within the particular content of his life experience. We can then view the Buddha’s life not as an abstract, removed story of somebody who lived twenty-five hundred years ago, but as one that reveals the nature of the universal in us all. This becomes a way of understanding our own experience in a larger and more profound context, one that connects the Buddha’s journey with our own. We have undertaken to follow the same path, motivated by the same questions: What is the true nature of our lives? What is the root cause of our suffering?