The first impression I get of “Buddha” –the Enlightened One—is one who has relatively easily reached high spiritual status and that is because we all know him after he attained Nirvana (a state of peacefulness in quenching the thirst for knowledge). But when I began to study Buddha’s life and learn about his challenges, I was surprised to feel the pain and difficulties he faced in his own life. Some of which resonate with those of ordinary human beings, including myself. His mind was uneasy and he responded to the pain of the world with further pain festering within him. Siddhartha (Buddha’s name) had a sensitive nature and cared deeply about human and animal lives, he was tormented by the jealousies and envies of his own close family members, who are described as “rough-spoken”. Attempts were made to stop, crush and reject him by a certain family, clan members, and aristocrats of the time. Yet overcoming his life’s difficult journey, he withdrew, meditated, and finally attained patience, peace, and truth in searching for knowledge. I feel particularly close to the religious communities of Pakistan, and Buddhism in Pakistan with its message of non-violence and peace flourished to the extent that Pakistan is, according to Rajkumari Troya (a Pakistani Buddhist), “the cradle of Buddhism.” Taxila once housed the great Buddhist knowledge center of South Asia. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha, was born in an aristocratic family called the Shakya clan in Kapilavastu about 500 years before Jesus Christ, and about 2530 years ago. Rather than being allured by the wealth of the world in which he was born, he was tormented by people’s harsh language, injustices, cruelty, and hunger for war. The impression is that his family, especially his father, was of a rough nature focusing on tribal warrior-type behavior based in revenge. A scholar by nature with deep spirituality, Siddhartha began to question the “whys” and “wheres” of things around him. He was mentally tormented by aristocrats killing animals for games and Hindu priests sacrificing animals in rituals. It is upsetting and disrespectful to life when so many cows and goats are slaughtered and their remains wasted. Last Eid when friends and family bought cattle for sacrifice, I sent out messages to have mercy on the lives over age-old traditions of making a sacrifice by slaughtering. Most ignored my pleas and a few wrote back questioning my judgment. Siddhartha was kind-hearted and empathetic towards animals and humans and their suffering pained him deeply. He was brought into crude awareness of human suffering when he saw poverty, death, illness, old age, and so forth from which his parents had sheltered him in childhood. There are a number of incidents from his childhood and adulthood that reflect his respect for life, both animal and human, regardless of caste or class. Siddhartha, as the prince, showed respect towards women and changed laws to protect them. He even protected courtesans from being exploited. They, as women, were treated by him as full and complete human beings, and not objects of lust as was and is the norm by some men in power. Throughout his life, Siddhartha’s closest relatives and fellow housemates – his cousin, aunt, uncles, courtiers – tried poisoning his path, jealous of his status and talents, and often misleading him and poisoning other people’s minds against him. This emotional trauma and constant tension in the early life of Siddhartha was particularly painful. The Muslim saint-scholars, Bhit Shah and Waaris Shah, have described the bitter toxic politics and opposition that families can place on individuals pushing them out from what should ideally be loving families. Siddhartha’s mean cousin Devadatta and wicked aunt instead of supporting him acted like enemies by harming Siddhartha and tried repeatedly to belittle and overthrow him. This is reflective of tensions in most South Asian families: in the looks of some women and their innuendos, avoiding direct constructive conversations. Toxic relationships are extended to neighbouring countries. Instead of working towards friendship and making diplomatic moves through dialogue, India and Pakistan and the region continue to express a tense and painful relationship through generations. Yet individuals in this region will do well if they begin to learn, understand and teach ahimsa (nonviolence) which Buddha advocated. As Buddha would say, “violence can not be overcome with violence, nor hatred with hatred, but both can be overcome with love.” Because Siddhartha was trained as a warrior-prince he was extremely strong, yet tremendously merciful and kind; the paradox frustrated him and tore him apart internally. The tensions of life, family and kin caused great pain to Siddhartha. Waaris Shah in Heer Ranjha describes this deep pain in the guts of Ranjha. Siddhartha’s way to cope with mental tension and the questions that arose in his intelligent mind was to meditate and retreat to nature. Sitting under the shade of a Peepal tree, he would close his eyes and escape from the buzz and the turmoil of our world. After years of hard struggle and meditation, Siddhartha transformed into the Awakened One, “The Buddha,” and he would preach, “have love and acceptance for everyone. Don’t hate even those who are cruel to you.” He realized that all the things around him – his family, his wealth, his clothes, his court were hindrances towards “the Path” of righteousness. They were all chains on his spiritual wings. So leaving his family, his most beloved beautiful wife Yashodhara, and his adored son Rahul (which ironically means “fetters”), he unlocked himself from these worldly fetters. Marvi in Bhit Shah’s story of Umar Marvi talks of being chained in the fetters (of the world). The concept of Takhalli which Data Ganj Bakhsh described in his book the Kashful Mahjub is a comparable concept: it is to get rid of everything that is a hindrance to the path of God, the siraat al mustaqeem. Allah in the Quran says you cannot attain spiritual heights until you give up what you love most (Quran 3: 92), as Abraham, the father of the three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was ready to do when he severed his relations with his unsupportive father and was prepared to sacrifice his own beloved son. Buddha urged people to walk on “the Path” of overcoming one’s ego and towards humility, truth, compassion, justice, kindness, and righteousness. But he warned that “it is the most difficult path. Only the bravest of the brave can walk this path. Leading an ascetic life is like walking on the edge of a sword.” All the lives of prophets and saints have been difficult. Indeed, the Sufi scholars Bhit Shah and Waaris Shah too talk about “the difficulties of the path” and at least 1.8 billion Muslims pray five times a day asking for guidance towards the path, the siraat al mustaqeem. Learning and teaching on the path for 45 years, Siddhartha attained the status of Buddha. This is an ideal state of intellectual and ethical perfection. Through meditation, he overcame his worries, his thoughts, his negativities by treading the middle path, where he learned to become neutral towards the world around him and as a result practice compassion and righteousness. “Let the world be in chaos, but your mind should be calm” Siddhartha’s teacher had taught him. Buddha said, “Let light enter you. Be your own guide.” Rumi would reflect those words too. Buddha is described by many names including the one who knows. On the path towards righteousness, he destroyed his own vices, ego and overcame the bottomless rage of human desires. He was completely liberated through knowledge. He is thus known as “the Torchbearer of humankind”, “a jewel,” and though he may not hold a modern-day university doctoral degree, he is known as the “unsurpassed doctor.” In attaining Nirvana after a painful and arduous journey on “the path”, Buddha eliminated all desires, drew closer to The Eternal, and quenched the thirst for knowledge. As an enlightened one, he killed the three poisons of ignorance, passion, and aversion. The pain Buddha had felt was now overcome. Through meditation and a calm mind, Shakyamuni Buddha, the Sage of the Shakyas finally gained shanti (peace), knowledge, and mastered how to spread his love, through kind and wise words, amongst the family of humanity. Every living being must decide their own life’s goal. They must awaken their consciousness. Ride on your own ideas and soar to the skies and yet remain grounded. When you wake up every morning it is like being re-born: so what you do every day is of utmost importance. Wake up! If you awaken yourself you are already on the path to becoming enlightened. If you are not awake or conscious you will have no interest in my (Buddha’s) philosophy. Smile. (Buddha’s philosophy) The writer is an interfaith activist with a PhD from the University of Cambridge. She is an author and poet and has just written Gems and Jewels: the Religions of Pakistan (forthcoming).