Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
He was born into the Kshatriya (warrior) caste. Legend has it that there was a prediction that he would become either a world ruler or a world teacher. His father, King Suddhodana, wished Siddhartha to succeed him as ruler. For this reason he attempted to shelter him from all misery and anything that might influence him toward the religious life. For 29 years, Siddhartha lived a life of luxury inside the palace and was married (to Yashodhara) with a son (Rahula).
He spent the next seven years seeking out and learning from teachers. He tried various ascetic practices to gain enlightenment including fasting, meditation and other austerities. Everything failed. Eventually, at the age of 35, he sat and meditated beneath a bodhi tree (in Bodhgaya - modern India). Here (legend says under the Full Moon) he achieved enlightenment after realising what are known as the Four Noble Truths.
He was then known as the Buddha (from Sanskrit meaning "enlightened one"). He is also known by other Sanskrit names: Tathagata ("he who has come thus"), Bhagavat ("the Lord") and Sugata ("well-gone").
At Sarnath (near the holiest Hindu city of Varanasi in India) he preached his first sermon to his companions. Legend states that even the grazing deer turned the heads when they heard what he had to say. In this sermon, the Buddha described the Eightfold Path which offered a middle way between self-indulgence and self-mortification.
In Hindu belief, a person is endlessly re-incarnated after death to a level (or caste) dependent on the life led - a good life leading to a better incarnation in the next. According to Buddhist faith, a person who reaches enlightenment escapes the ever-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth (nirvana).
He instructing his companions to become monks and spread his ideas, doing the same himself around the plains of the River Ganges for the rest of his life. He taught anyone who came to him regardless of caste, gender or religion.
Legend says that the Buddha died after eating poisonous mushrooms served to him by accident. His body was cremated and shrines called stupas were built over his relics.
His teachings spread throughout northern India but were eventually dispelled by a resurgent Hinduism. However, during the 3rd century BC, the Indian emperor, Ashoka (who had adopted Buddhism) sent missionaries to spread the religion throughout Asia. By this means it reached (and is still practiced in) Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and Tibet.
The Eightfold Path involves:
Sayings attributed to the Buddha:
"Everything changes, nothing remains without change."
"Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."
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Biography and teachings from Wikipedia.
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