- NAME: Buddha
- OCCUPATION: Religious Leader
- BIRTH DATE: c. 600 BCE
- DEATH DATE: c. 300 BCE
- PLACE OF BIRTH: (formerly Northern India), Nepal
- PLACE OF DEATH: India
- Originally: Siddhartha Gautama
- AKA: Shakyamuni
- AKA: Buddha
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Born in India in the 6th century B.C., Buddha was a spiritual leader and teacher whose life serves as the foundation of the Buddhist religion.
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So he had his rice, drank water and bathed in the river. The five ascetics decided that Siddhartha had given up the ascetic life and would now follow the ways of the flesh, and they promptly left him. From then on, however, Siddhartha encouraged people to follow a path of balance instead of one characterized by extremism. He called this path the Middle Way.
That night, Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree, vowing to not get up until the truths he sought came to him, and he meditated until the sun came up the next day. He remained there for several days, purifying his mind, seeing his entire life, and previous lives, in his thoughts. During this time, he had to overcome the threats of Mara, an evil demon, who challenged his right to become the Buddha. When Mara attempted to claim the enlightened state as his own, Siddhartha touched his hand to the ground and asked the Earth to bear witness to his enlightenment, which it did, banishing Mara. And soon a picture began to form in his mind of all that occurred in the universe, and Siddhartha finally saw the answer to the questions of suffering that he had been seeking for so many years. In that moment of pure enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha ("he who is awake").
Armed with his new knowledge, the Buddha was initially hesitant to teach, because what he now knew could not be communicated to others in words. According to legend, it was then the king of gods, Brahma, who convinced Buddha to teach, and he got up from his spot under the Bodhi tree and set out to do just that.
About 100 miles away, he came across the five ascetics he had practiced with for so long, who had abandoned him on the eve of his enlightenment. To them and others who had gathered, he preached his first sermon (henceforth known as Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma), in which he explained the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which became the pillars of Buddhism. The ascetics then became his first disciples and formed the foundation of the Sangha, or community of monks. Women were admitted to the Sangha, and all barriers of class, race, sex and previous background were ignored, with only the desire to reach enlightenment through the banishment of suffering and spiritual emptiness considered.
For the remainder of his 80 years, Buddha traveled, preaching the Dharma (the name given to the teachings of the Buddha) in an effort to lead others to and along the path of enlightenment. When he died, it is said that he told his disciples that they should follow no leader.
The Buddha is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in world history, and his teachings have affected everything from a variety of other faiths (as many find their origins in the words of the Buddha) to literature to philosophy, both within India and to the farthest reaches of the Western world.
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