Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince, the son of a ruler of a small kingdom in northern India, at Kapilavastu... Read More
Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince, the son of a ruler of a small kingdom in northern
India, at Kapilavastu in the Himalayan foothills around 560 BCE. At the age of 29 he left his
wealthy privileged life to seek an answer to the problem of human suffering, wandering around
as a beggar. He tried fasting and meditation, but rejected extreme solutions. According to
the famous tradition Siddhartha sat down in the shade of a banyan tree and after a night of
meditation he began to understand the meaning of things and became enlightened, achieving
nirvana. Sculptures of the Buddha, as he became known, often show him seated in meditation
recalling the occasion under the banyan tree. The Buddha died at the age of 80 having
infl uenced many by his teachings and sermons.
After the Buddha’s death the new teachings spread fi rst through northern India and over the
following centuries were carried north into central Asia, southwards towards Sri Lanka and
South East Asia and eastwards towards China and Japan.
Some Buddhists, especially of the Tibetan tradition, refer to Siddhartha Gautama as the Buddha
Shakyamuni, which means “the sage of the Sakya clan” (denoting the area of Nepal where the
Buddha was born).
A familiar symbol of Buddhism is the eight-spoked wheel which reminds people of the
eightfold path of the Buddha’s teaching. Another common symbol is the lotus fl ower. The
roots of the lotus are in the mud at the bottom of the pond, which represents human life, while
the flower itself represents enlightenment.