[According to legend, the Buddha] was conceived when his mother, Maya, dreamed that a white elephant entered her body through the side. When her delivery time was approaching, she retired to the wooded garden of Lumbini, near Kapilavastu. There — standing with her upstretched right hand on the branch of a tree, a familiar fertility pose in Indian art — she gave birth to the Bodhisattva. The newborn child stood up, strode seven paces, and declared that this was his last birth: He was destined for Awakening. Shortly thereafter, Asita, an aged sage, examined the infant and prophesied that he would become a Buddha. Other accounts specified that he would become such only if he chose to leave the palace to become a wandering ascetic; otherwise, he would become a universal monarch, ruling over the entire Indian subcontinent. The parents named the boy Siddhartha, “he who has achieved his ultimate goal.” [The Buddhist Religion, 11]

The Great Renunciation
One day, the young prince, longing to see the outside world, went out for a chariot ride through the capital city. There, for the first time, he saw a decrepit old man. Shocked, he asked his charioteer about the man’s condition; the charioteer replied that such is the destiny of all human beings. The prince turned back to the palace and brooded in melancholy, taking no relish in the gaiety around him. On a second ride, he saw his first diseased man and reflected that people are foolish to revel under the constant shadow of illness. On the third trip, he saw his first corpse. Dismayed, he marveled that people could live heedlessly, forgetting the certainty of death. ... While meditating on the truth of suffering, he saw a religious mendicant and made up his mind to leave the household life, for only as a renunciate would he have the chance to follow rigorously the Path of mental training to see if it led to the impeccable happiness — beyond the reach of aging, illness, and death — that he sought. [The Buddhist Religion, 12]
The new mendicant, then 29 years old, went first to an ascetic teacher named Arada Kalama, who taught a form of meditation leading to the “attainment of the state of nothingness.” Gautama practiced the method and quickly attained the goal. ... He then studied under another ascetic leader, Udraka Ramaputra, who taught the way to a higher state, the “attainment of neither perception nor non-perception.” Gautama mastered this state and was proclaimed a teacher, but abandoned the method because it was inadequate for attaining his goal of “disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, tranquility, superknowledge, Awakening, and nirvana.” [The Buddhist Religion, 13]
Leaving Udraka Ramaputra and the path of formless absorptions, the Bodhisattva then went eastward to Uruvela near Bodhgaya, where he found a pleasant spot and settled down to try the path of austerities. He practiced holding his breath in order to induce trances and was not deterred by the resulting violent headaches. Fasting, he came as close as he could to eating nothing at all, becoming utterly emaciated. ... Then, seeing that severe mortification had not led to liberating knowledge, and having exhausted the various forms of ascetic practice current in his day, he tried to think of another way. [The Buddhist Religion, 13-4]
As the full moon rose over the river before him, the Bodhisattva focused on his in-and-out breathing and ascended the four stages of dhyana. The first stage is a meditative absorption produced by detaching from sensual thoughts and unskillful attitudes. The mind attains a state of unity while evaluating the object to which it consciously directs its thoughts, giving rise to a sense of rapture and ease born of seclusion. The second stage is an absorption free from the activity of evaluation and directed thought.  There is singleness of mind and internal assurance, in addition to rapture and ease born of composure. The third stage — dispassionate rather than rapturous — is mindful and fully aware, with a feeling of bodily ease. The fourth stage is a state of pure equanimity and mindfulness, free of elation and sorrow, pleasure and pain. [The Buddhist Religion, 15]
The Four Noble Truths
Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering. Involvement with what is unpleasant is suffering. Separation from what is pleasant is suffering. Also, not getting what one wants and strives for is suffering. ... [In sum, the] five agglomerations (skandhas), which are the basis of clinging to existence, are suffering. [The Experience of Buddhism, 33]

And what is the [second] Noble Truth of the origination of suffering? It is the thirst for further existence, which comes along with pleasure and passion and brings passing enjoyment here and there. This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the origination of suffering. [The Experience of Buddhism, 33]
And what is the [third] Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering? It is this: the destruction without remainder of this very thirst for further existence, which comes along with pleasure and passion, bringing passing enjoyment here and there. It is without passion. It is cessation, forsaking, abandoning, renunciation. This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering. [The Experience of Buddhism, 33]
So who’s the pessimest now?

The Buddha’s path towards the cessation of suffering can be divided into 3 groups:


Right Understanding

Right Intention


Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood



Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration

How does the Buddha’s perspective on the problem of suffering compare with the Confucian and Daoist responses to the collapse of the Zhou sociopolitical order?