Who was the Buddha?
In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal family in northern India.
Buddhism started with the Buddha. The word ‘Buddha’ is a title, which means ‘one who is awake’ — in the sense of having ‘woken up to reality’. The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama in Nepal around 2,500 years ago. He grew up in wealth and luxury but eventually found that worldly comfort and security do not guarantee happiness. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around and resolved to find the key to human happiness. When he was 29 he left his wife and child and set off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of the day to learn from them. They taught him much but none really knew the cause of human suffering or how it could be overcome. Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards he was called the Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years in which time he traveled all over northern India teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and patience were legendary and he made thousands of followers. In his eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he finally died. He did not claim to be a god or a prophet. He was a human being who became Enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible.
Was the Buddha a god?
No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god. He was a human being who perfected himself and taught that if we followed his example, we could perfect ourselves also.
What is Buddhism?
The name Buddhism comes from the word ‘budhi’ which means ‘to wake up’ and thus Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddhata Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 35. Buddhism is now 2,500 years old and has about 300 million followers world-wide. Until a hundred years ago, Buddhism was mainly an Asian philosophy but increasingly it is gaining adherents in Europe and America.
So Buddhism is just a philosophy?
The word philosophy comes from two words ‘philo’ which means ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ which means ‘wisdom’. So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both meanings describing Buddhism perfectly. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop love and kindness so that we can be like a true friend to all beings. Thus Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a philosophy. It is the supreme philosophy.
(Source: Good Questions, Good Answers, by S. Dhammika)