Also Known As: Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddha, Tathagat
Famous As: Founder of Buddhism
Nationality: Nepalese, Indian
Born: 563 BC
Born In: Lumbini, Nepal
Father: King Śuddhodana
Mother: Mahamaya(birth), Mahapajapati Gotami
Siblings: Sundari, Nanda
Spouse/Partner: Queen Yashodhara
Children: Rāhula, Rahul
Religion: Buddhism
Died On: 0483 / 544 BCE
Place Of Death: Kushinagar
Died At Age: 80 years

Siddhartha Gautama, the Bodhisattva or Buddha-to-be, was born in the Sixth century BCE in Lumbini, to the north of the holy Indian city of Varanasi. His father Suddhodana was King of the Shakya clan, ruler of one of several kingdoms that existed in India and Nepal at the time.

One night Mayadevi the Queen had an extraordinary dream in which a white elephant descended from heaven, walked around her three times and entered her womb. Thus, the Bodhisattva (or Buddha-to-be, Shakyamuni) was conceived immaculately. His mother, Mayadevi, was also conceived immaculately.

As the time of the child's birth drew near, and Queen Mayadevi was seized with a longing to return to her parent's home at the foot of the Himalayas. Preparations were made for the journey and the Queen set out in a palanquin accompanied by her attendants. They passed by a beautiful garden at Lumbini where a grove of trees lay close by the road and one beautiful flowering tree captured the Queen's attention. She alighted from her palanquin and went to admire the tree, which seemed to bend down towards her.

Reaching out to clasp a branch of the tree it is said Siddhartha was born miraculously from her right side. He was born on the eight day of the fourth lunar month.

The gods attended Siddhartha's birth and witnessed the miracles which occurred. Emerging from his mother's side, Siddhartha immediately took seven steps. At each step, a lotus grew out of the ground to receive the future Buddha, and the child stepped from blossom to blossom.

The infant arose, pointing one finger to the heavens and one to the earth, declaring, “In the heavens and on the earth, I am the most venerable teacher of Gods and Men." The child took birth to demonstrate to mankind that an ordinary man can rise to become the teacher of all living beings, a Buddha.

The Queen then returned to the Shakya capital of Kapilavastu, where she and her newborn child were received with great jubilation. The child was named Siddartha, which means "Every wish fulfilled."

The King and Queen summoned the wisest sages and the most learned men in the kingdom to interpret Siddhartha’s future. They were told that the Queen’s son would grow up to be exceptional: If he remained in the palace, they said, the child would be a great universal monarch ruling the entire world. If, however, their son was to renounce the world and abandon the comforts of the palace, he would gain enlightenment and find a path which would bring an end to the sorrows of mankind.

Queen Mayadevi died soon after the birth. So, Siddhartha was brought up by his aunt. From early childhood, Siddhartha showed compassionate and meditative qualities.

When a great sage by the name of Asita came to visit the Shakya court, he told the King that Siddhartha would not become a Universal Monarch, but instead a Buddha, an Enlightened One. The sage showed that the child was endowed with the thirty-two auspicious marks of spiritual awareness, such as a broad forehead, large eyes, thick eyelashes and so on, which indicated a life of spiritual achievement. The sage burst into tears because even though the child would become a Buddha, the sage Asita knew he would not live to see Siddhartha achieve Buddhahood.

King Suddhodana was disturbed by this prophesy. He wanted his son to take a worldly path and to become a great King who would carry on the Shakya Dynasty. Suddhodana did everything in his power to direct Siddhartha's energies towards worldly life.

The Prince was surrounded by luxuries and diversions of every description. He was given instruction in all the pursuits that befitted his position by the best teachers of his time. The young Prince excelled in all that he undertook, and his days were filled with studying the scriptures, mastering arts such as archery and riding, listening to music, playing with his companions.

One day the young child, Prince Siddhartha, went for a walk alone in a royal garden and was resting under a jambu tree. Almost without realizing it, he drew his legs into meditation posture, his mind became stilled and free of worldly thoughts; he was filled with peace and serenity.

Some courtiers came upon Siddhartha as he sat in meditation. The courtiers noticed with awe that the shadows of all the other trees in the garden had moved with the passage of the sun, but the shadow of the jambu tree had remained where it was, in order to shade the Prince.

Worried by this turn of events, the King's advisors suggested that a wife and children would help to turn the Prince's attention to worldly matters and so the search for a bride began. After considering all the eligible girls in the kingdom, Yashodhara, the daughter of a Shakya nobleman was selected. She was beautiful and well accomplished with great inner strength.

According to the custom of the time, Prince Siddhartha had to compete for the hand of his chosen bride in a tournament of skill, and he thus showed his prowess in archery and wrestling, and in all the branches of intellectual knowledge. The wedding of Prince Siddhartha and Yashodhara was celebrated; the King was overjoyed. He felt that the Prince would now settle down and involve himself more completely in the affairs of the kingdom. He made sure the Prince was surrounded by beauty and graciousness, and protected him from anything that may cause distress.

One day Siddhartha went out riding with his charioteer Chandaka. As he left the palace, he came upon an old man with bent body and legs trembling with the decrepitude of old age.

Slowly, painfully and leaning heavily upon his stick, the old man was struggling down the road. Siddhartha never before seen the infirmity of old age. He pulled his chariot to a halt and asked his charioteer Chandaka what ailed the man. Chandaka replied that the man was old and his body was failing. In an anguished voice, Prince Siddhartha asked if all human beings were fated to grow old. Chandaka replied this was a fact of life. Siddhartha returned to the palace in a troubled state of mind.

Shortly after this, the Prince went riding along another road that led southwards out of the city. He hadn't gone far when he saw a man who was desperately ill. The sight shocked him and he stopped to ask Chandaka what the matter was. Chandaka replied that the man was mortally ill and no one could help him. Once again the Prince turned homewards in a troubled mood.

Later, Siddhartha again left the city and saw a dead body being carried to the cremation ground. Behind the body walked a group of people wailing and crying. Siddhartha asked Chandaka why the procession of people was so sad. Chandaka replied that the man had died and his family would never see him again. Disturbed and anguished by what he had seen, the Prince again returned home.

A short while later the Prince went riding along the road leading northwards. He saw a monk dressed in saffron robes. The monk carried a bowl in his hand and begged people for food and alms. The Prince asked Chandaka who the monk was and why he was dressed that way. Chandaka replied that the monk had renounced the world and all material possessions.

These four happenings marked a turning point in Siddhartha's life. The harshness of the sights he had seen brought about a realization that old age, sickness and death were the fate of all human beings. He began to understand the illusory nature of the existence he had led so far.

The King heard of Siddhartha's unrest and redoubled his efforts to keep him entertained and distracted. He strengthened the doors of the palace and set guards around the gates in an effort to prevent the Prince from leaving.

Meanwhile Siddhartha had decided to leave the palace and take to a life of asceticism in an effort to find the truth, so he went to seek his father's permission to do so. Due to the spell cast by worldly deities, King Suddhodana, in the grip of their spell, granted permission to his son. After Siddhartha had left his chamber, however, the King ordered his courtiers and soldiers to prevent the Prince from leaving the palace.

That evening, Siddhartha’s wife gave birth to their son, Rahula.

Siddhartha meanwhile sent for Chandaka and asked him to saddle Kanthaka, his horse. Worldly deities once again aided the Prince's departure, causing the guards to fall asleep. The gates and doors opened of their own accord.

Accompanied by Chandaka, Siddhartha rode out of the city and traveled far beyond his father's kingdom. He dismounted from his horse and removed his Princely ornaments, giving them to Chandaka to be returned to his father. Then taking his sword he cut his long hair (a symbol of his princely status) and bade Chandaka farewell.

Upon meeting a poor hunter he exchanged his fine silk robes for the man's shabby saffroncolored clothing. He was no longer Prince Siddhartha, heir to the throne of the Shakyas, but Siddhartha, a wandering mendicant. His goal was to not only end the sorrows that himself, his wife, child and family were to one day face, but also to end the suffering of all mankind.

Siddhartha traveled through the Gangetic plain in search of truth. He paused now and again to study with renowned teachers and in time came to the city of Vaishali. He had heard of a great teacher living there named Kalapa Arada who lived with 300 disciples in strict monastic discipline. Siddhartha listened and practiced the instructions of the sage but remained unsatisfied. He realized that Kalapa Arada's path was not the one he wished to pursue and so he moved on.

Soon afterwards he came to the city of Rajagriha in the state of Magadha. As he walked through the streets people were struck by his look of calm contemplation. Word reached Bimbisara, the King of Magadha, that a great monk had arrived in the city and so courtiers were sent to give alms to Siddhartha.

The King's men brought back the news that the monk was sitting in meditation at the foot of Pandava Parvataraja hill, so early the next morning King Bimbisara hastened to pay his respects to Siddhartha. He too was awed by the sense of great peace and serenity that seemed to emanate from the monk.

After bowing to Siddhartha, Bimbisara begged him to make his home in Magadha, promising him land, a home and all the comforts that he desired. Siddhartha thanked the King but refused his offer, explaining that desire for worldly comforts was a poison. Desire, he explained, was the source of all the miseries of mankind and he had renounced worldly life to find an answer to mankind's misery.

Siddhartha then made his way to the home of Ramaputra, a famous sage who lived near Rajagriha with seven hundred disciples. Siddhartha joined them and devoted himself to learning all that the sage taught. He mastered the sage's system of meditation and faithfully carried out all the wise man's instructions.

Five of Ramaputra's disciples decided to go with Siddhartha to practice Ramaputra’s teachings of self-mortification They traveled to the area near Bodh Gaya. Here they lived for a time at Gayashirsha Hill and Siddhartha pondered deeply all that he had learned since leaving the palace.

Siddhartha came to the banks of the Niranjana river near the village of Uruvela. The place was quiet and tranquil, so he decided to settle and undertake rigorous austerities. Here he meditated, stilling thought and bodily needs. Practicing the methods taught to him, he ate less and less, until his daily diet consisted of a single grain of rice. His body became thin and skeletal.

Siddhartha meditated this way for six years. He was disturbed neither by hunger nor by the scorching sun or torrential rains. He remained fixed in his purpose, his mind unswerving from the truth he sought. At the end of six years he realized that severe penance would not bring the enlightenment he sought, it would only diminish his physical and mental abilities. He broke his fast, drinking a little yogurt pudding offered to him by the girl Sujata who lived in the village of Uruvela. By the uptake of this food, his body instantly regained all its previous glory and splendor. Then he went to the Niranjana river to bathe.

Siddhartha’s five peers abandoned him in disgust for giving up the austere practices. In the days that followed, Siddhartha returned to his former life as a wandering ascetic. He regained his health and strength. He was preparing himself for the final struggle to attain the supreme truth.