Today, Buddhists across the world celebrate Wesak (sometimes spelled Vesak) Day, the day that Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was born, achieved Enlightenment and also died (not in the same year mind you).
The highlight of the Buddha's life is his attaining of Enlightenment, or Nirvana. On the night of his Nirvana, as he sat under the Bodhi Tree to meditate, 3 watches, or periods along with corresponding events had occurred:
During the first watch of the night, when his mind was calm, clear and purified, light arose in him, knowledge and insight arose. He saw his previous lives, at first one, then two, three up to five, then multiples of them .. . ten, twenty, thirty to fifty. Then 100, 1000 and so on.... As he went on with his practice, during the second watch of the night, he saw how beings die and are reborn, depending on their Karma, how they disappear and reappear from one form to another, from one plane of existence to another. Then during the final watch of the night, he saw the arising and cessation of all phenomena, mental and physical. He saw how things arose dependent on causes and conditions. This led him to perceive the arising and cessation of suffering and all forms of unsatisfactoriness; paving the way for the eradication of all taints of cravings. With his complete cessation of craving, his mind was completely liberated. He attained to Full Enlightenment.
In other words, the Buddha attained Nirvana when the 10 Chains that tied him to the Cycle of Endless Suffering and Rebirth were dissolved, liberating him from all forms of suffering. The 10 Chains are:
Belief in a permanent individual self
Doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings
Attachment to rites and rituals, the infatuation that these rituals will suffice;
Lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth
Lust for immaterial existence
Pride in self, conceit, arrogance
Along with the dissolving of the 10 Chains, he also reached Nirvana after fulling understanding his two teachings; the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the latter now being one of the main practices of Buddhists everywhere.
Four Noble Truths-
1) The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha)
"This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."
2) Suffering's Origin (Samudaya)
"This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."
3) Suffering's Cessation (Nirodha)
"This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it."
4) The Way (Mārga) Leading to the Cessation of Suffering
"This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
Just before Gautama Buddha died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how devotees are expected to celebrate Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.
We need not necessarily look upon Buddhism as a religion, although there is no wrong or harm in doing so, as it is just our perception and belief that it is a religion. Gautama Buddha is actually not a god nor goddess, as he is actually a spiritual teacher, and regarded as the Supreme Buddha. We do not necessarily worship him as the almighty, or the creator of the universe, what is important is that we follow and practice his teachings, for it is his teachings which guide us to a better living, making us better humans, and ultimately a life without suffering, not by merely praying to Gautama Buddha everyday for protection and happiness, etc.
I'm taking this 1 1/2 hour or so to reflect on how much Buddha's teachings have made me who I am today. I thank the Gautama Buddha for his teachings which have kept me away from the realms of corruption and wrongdoings, and just thinking about The Buddha, Buddhism and it's teachings are enough to bring me at peace whenever in stress.
Before I end, I wish Happy Wesak Day to all my Buddhist friends and Family.