It is Belived that siddhartha gautam was born about the year 566 B.C.E
He was the son of a wealthy and powerful ruler in a region which we now call southern Nepal. Prior to his birth a sage foretold that he would become a chakravartin (turner of the wheel). A chakravartin becomes either a great king and turns the wheel of conquest or a religious teacher and turns the wheel of Dharma (religious teaching). Siddhartha’s father was eager to ensure that his son became a great King rather than a religious leader. In order to ensure his sons future greatness the King kept his son isolated within the Kingdom’s walls and gave him a life of supreme luxury. Siddhartha was raised as a prince, married and had a child.
In his early 30s he finally made his way outside of the palace walls. He was confronted with old age, illness and death. These human conditions had previously been hidden from him and his revelations upon seeing these things forever changed his life. He renounced his life of luxury and left the palace to become and ascetic.
He vowed to become a holy man and pursued a life of deprivation and asceticism. He followed a path of severe fasting and self-discipline. He found that this method to enlightenment was unproductive and developed a mode of discipline known as the Middle Path (avoiding the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence). Some time after this realisation, he sat under a tree to meditate. Following a period of intense meditation Siddhartha woke up to the truth.
Following this experience he became known as the Buddha (a fully enlightened being). He achieved the sate that Buddhists call nirvana (which means to extinguish or to blow out). A Buddha is a person who understands the causes of suffering and has “blown them out” and therefore, no longer suffers from the ignorance and desire that feed the fire of death and rebirth.
The Buddha got up from the tree of his awakening and walked to a village near-by and began preaching to a small group of his former companions. He spent the rest of his life travelling the countryside to preach and organize a monastic community called the sangha.
At about the age of 80, the Buddha lay down between two trees and passed gently from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. This is referred to as the parinirvana (complete extinction). His body was cremated.
The Buddha did not appoint a formal successor before he died, however, soon after his death a council was created to settle arguments among the Buddhist followers. The first council was lead by a monk called Mahakasyapa, he marks the first of many attempts over the centuries to settle the varying doctrinal disputes. Over time, many sects of Buddhism emerged, at one time there were 18 schools or disciplines that were acknowledge. Today only one of these is still in existence, the Theravada (doctrine of the elders) school. There are currently two major schools of Buddhism – Theravada and Mahyana.
Theravada Buddhism holds the most sacred text to be the teachings of the Buddha himself. It emphasizes a solitary life of personal religious discipline. The Theravada school of Buddhism survives today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Mahayana Buddhism emerged around 100 C.E. This view of Buddhism focused more on the importance of compassion and service and the notion of emptiness. This form of Buddhism is mostly likely to be found in Japan, Korea, Mongolia and China.
There are also other forms of Buddhism. Two other forms which are derived from Mahayana Buddhism are Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhist consider the most important Mahayana teachers to be Bodhisattva (one who deserves Nirvana but who postpones entry to it until all sentient beings are rescued from the rebirth and suffering). In addition (and outside of the two major schools of Buddhism), Tibetan Buddhists use yogic discipline to transcend and redirect desire with the ultimate goal of uniting with the Ultimate Reality. This practice, called Vajrayana, ties in with the Hindu tantric practice.
Zen Buddhism major focus is on the value of personal meditation. The word Zen means “meditation”. Zen sprang forth from the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Zen stresses the importance of discovering one’s own “original mind and true nature”.