Buddha – Enlightened One
Buddha means “enlightened one”. It is not a name but rather a title of respect. The Buddha or Gautama is the founder of Buddhism.
Siddhartha Gautama was the son of a king. He lived sometime in the 500s to 300s BC and was born near the border of what are today Nepal and India. His mother was visited in a dream by a white elephant, which touched her side with a fragrant blossom from the lotus tree, before she became pregnant. The newborn baby could speak and walk, and lotus blossoms sprouted where his feet had trod. Once Siddhartha Gautama saw in turn an old man, a sick man, and a dead man, sights that made him ask why suffering existed. At the age of sixteen Siddartha married a princess named Yasodhara. They had a young son.
When he was 29 years old, Siddhartha left his home in search of truth. At one point he decided to sit under a tree and began meditating. At the age of 35 he reached enlightenment. He became the Buddha. He taught people a way of thought and living that involved meditation and a freedom from suffering. He discovered Four Noble Truths: life is full of suffering, suffering is caused by desire, humans can free themselves from the desires through a state of inner peace (or nirvana), told the way to achieve this freedom.
He is said to have died at age 80, in a city called Kusinara (now Kasia, India).
Buddhism began in India and spread to central and southeastern Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. It plays a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of Asia.
Buddhists believe they can achieve enlightenment through a life of good work for others.
In the 200s BC Asoka, the ruler of an empire that spanned most of South Asia, promoted the religion. He built many Buddhist monuments and monasteries.