Buddha: How Giving up Everything Led to Happiness

Madhav Malhotra
7 min readOct 12, 2019

What would you be willing to give up to find the solution to all of humanity’s problems?

Sounds like a legend or the next Mission Impossible movie, right 🎥? But if you think about it, you don’t have to be some magical hero to be in that position anymore.

In our modern worlds, most people in developed countries have great lives with a lot to lose — while others in developing countries have a whole lot of problems. The choice really does apply to you; would you be willing to give up all the (relative) wealth you’ve gained to solve everyone else’s problems?

Most people in the developed world have a lot they could sacrifice… but would they?

As it turns out, people have been making this choice throughout history. The further back you go though, the fewer luxurious lives there were. So for each of those few lucky people, this was a more special problem.

Recently, I learned about one of the most famous people who faced this choice (and actually chose to give up everything he had to help the world). He even started a religion out of it!

No, I’m not talking about Jesus this time (you’d be surprised at how many religious leaders fit that description 😮).

This week, I actually learned about Buddha, the founder of the world’s 4th-largest religion. On the way, I discovered his crazy life story, his side-hustle in being a philosopher extraordinaire, and the influence he’s had.

So to start, here’s what I mean by how he gave up everything to help humankind.

Buddha: When the Champion becomes an Underdog???

We’ve all seen the inspiring underdog stories, but Buddha wasn’t one of those.

He was actually the son of a rich Indian king, who was the most overprotective father *EVER*. Long story short, a bunch of prophets did their prophesying thing and told the king that Buddha would grow up to be a great king or a spiritual leader.

So the king (wanting to hang on to his royal king-ness 👑) locked Buddha up in a palace of overflowing luxuries so he would forever love the royal life and go on to lead the empire. BUT Buddha had other plans in mind.

Buddha wanted to know about the world outside his golden-palace cage. So one day, he took his curious young self (at the age of 29… 😨) to explore the world of underdogs.

*And they say curiosity killed the cat, but it set the Buddha alive ;-)

When Buddha went out into the harsh world of underdogs (having spent his whole life in a luxurious reality), he was shocked to see the suffering around him.

Legend has it that for the first time in his life, he saw people who were old, sick, or dead. (The king somehow managed to hide EVERY old person in the kingdom from Buddha when he grew up? 😕) He was so confused, his driver had to explain to him what it meant to be sick or old.

At this point, Buddha was in despair about all the problems he had never even imagined. He had lived comfortably all his life, so he never realised any other reality (like us today, but he was one of like 5 people who had comfortable lives back then… 😢).

Eventually, he ran into a type of monk (‘ascetic’ in fancy terms) who refused all of the pleasures Buddha had grown up with. When Buddha asked him why, the monk told him that it was to avoid the suffering that Buddha had just witnessed by limiting all unnecessary wants.

After this, Buddha decided to give up EVERYTHING he had gotten in his life of luxury and go from champion to underdog. He left his family, riches, and kingdom to go join the monks in living a devoid life.

Again, it sounds all simple, but would you ever do that today?

The Perfect Life: Not too Much, Not too Little… Just Right.

When Buddha started his new life as a humble monk, he spent a long time living without the pleasures he had grown used to. Despite that, he couldn’t find the solution to human suffering he was looking for.

So one day, he stopped fasting and meditating with the rest of the monks and just decided to leave to find his own path in life. He had lived a life of luxury as a prince and a life of nothingness as a monk… but neither of these extremes felt right to Buddha.

Instead, Buddha went off to meditate on his own for weeks on end. And at the end of this… he found what he had been looking for.

Nirvana.

NO… not the rock band 😄🎸. Nirvana for Buddha was the perfect peace and happiness he had been looking for amidst human suffering. When it came to him, Buddha realised the four noble truths that allowed him to overcome suffering:

  1. Life’s suffering is inevitable
  2. Suffering is caused by desire
  3. Suffering can be overcome
  4. The solution to suffering is the middle path

That last truth was the one he couldn’t find in his royal or monk life. Neither of those extremes could overcome suffering, but the middle path could.

Of course you might be wondering, “what exactly *was* that middle path he suddenly found???”

To put it simply, Buddha believed in 8 principles for the balanced life which you need for happiness:

By optimising your life to achieve these principles, you would be able to get to Nirvana — that state where you don’t have to worry about human suffering.

Now that Buddha had found his solution to humanity’s issues by giving up everything, he faced a problem: what to do with this new knowledge?

He LITERALLY had the chance to start again with a completely new life… what kind of life should it be?

Ultimately, Buddha was convinced by others to share the new knowledge he had found. So he started teaching other monks to find nirvana themselves by living according to his 8 principles. And eventually, his followers grew from hundreds to thousands to people of all backgrounds across India. 🚀

Buddhism: The BEST Teachers’ Lessons Turn into a Religion

Quite literally, Buddha just started off by sacrificing his *own* life to find the answer to suffering. Then, he started sharing his discovery to those who would listen. Little did he realise that his teachings would soon become a new religion.

As the many kings of India learned about Buddha’s teachings and how he gave up his own throne to find nirvana, some of them also started to adopt his lessons. Most notably, King Ashoka converted to Buddhism after creating an empire across all of India and beyond.

From Buddha’s teachings spreading across India thousands of years ago to now, no one could have imagined the impact he would go on to have. Today, Buddhism has reached almost 500 MILLION people 🤯🌎

How Buddha’s lessons reached half a billion people.

People all across Eastern Asia practice Buddhism today, from India to Japan. Buddha’s initial sacrifice paid off more than he ever could have imagined. That being said, he never became egotistical due to his new position.

As Buddha started reaching the end of his life, he never saw himself as anything more than a teacher. He still lived humbly, even as his following grew larger and larger.

And when he died, he left behind a religion that was inclusive to all and specifically told his followers to treat each other equally instead of adopting an all-powerful leader. Thus, we still have this unique lifestyle from his teachings which focuses on the self and not the divine.

All things considered, Buddha’s story is a rare reminder of how many opportunities we have in our lives today and what it would mean to truly give it all up. That being said, it’s also an example of what might be possible if we took risks (big or small) to look for solutions, knowing that we might lose it all along the way.

Top 3 Quotes

  • Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
  • We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
  • Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

Key Takeaways

  • Buddha grew up in an illusion of perfection. When he realised life’s true harshness, he gave up all he had to find the solution to suffering.
  • Buddha couldn’t find happiness in extreme wealth or extreme poverty. But he found it in the middle way of living a balanced life.
  • His lessons spread across Asia and created a new way of life (which exists to this day): focusing on the self instead of gods.

Before You Go

Hey, I’m currently trying to find that balanced life with school and Buddha research. If you were also inspired by his #goals, feel free to:

  • connect on Linkedin
  • check out some other work on my website (100% non-shady :-)
  • subscribe to my newsletter (because I’m really extra)

So we can join forces on that balancing act ;-)

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