Buddhists are people who follow the teachings of The Buddha. Most Buddhists live in South Asia (which includes India, Nepal and Tibet) and South-East Asia (which includes Japan and China, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Borneo, Sumatra and Java).
The Buddha was a man who lived in India about 2500 years ago. His real name was Siddhartha Gautama but the people who follow his teachings call him The Buddha. It is not a name. It means the one who has gained enlightenment. For Buddhists, the word enlightenment means knowing and understanding how to overcome suffering.
Buddhists believe that The Buddha learned why there is suffering in the world and how to overcome it. They believe that if they follow his teaching they, too, will be able to overcome suffering.
Read the story of The Buddha and Draw pictures to illustrate his life.
The Story of the Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince. He was born about 560 years before the time of Jesus in a place called Lumbini which is near the river Ganges in the very north of India, within sight of the Himalayas. When he was born a wise man prophesied that if he ever saw suffering he would become a religious leader instead of a king. His father decided that he must never see suffering so he decreed that Siddhartha must never go outside the royal palace and its grounds.
When he was 16 Siddhartha married a beautiful princess and they soon had a baby son. For a while he was happy with his wife and family and stayed inside the palace as his father had ordered.
Eventually Siddhartha became bored and wanted to know more of the world. One day, when he was 29 years old, he sneaked out of the palace while his father was not looking. While he was outside he saw 4 things that surprised and worried him. He thought about those things for a long time.
The 4 Things That Siddhartha Saw:
He saw an old man. He had never seen an old person before.
He saw a sick man. He had never seen anyone unwell before.
He saw a dead body and relatives weeping around it. He had never heard of anyone dying.
He saw a holy man. He had never seen a holy man before. He spoke to the man who told him that he had left his home, his friends and his family and was wandering from place to place trying to find the meaning of life.
These things worried him. He asked himself why there was so much suffering in the world. He decided to become a holy man himself and to go off in search of an answer.
He took off his royal robes and put on simple clothes. He shaved his hair. He said goodbye to his wife and son and left the palace.
Siddhartha spent 6 years travelling around northern India. He spent some time with a group of monks who believed that if they ate and drank as little as possible and spent a lot of time thinking they would come to understand the meaning of life. Siddhartha found that this did not work for him. So he left the monks and travelled on.
He came to a holy fig tree and rested in its shade. For 46 days he stayed there thinking deeply and paying no attention to what was going on around him. This kind of deep thinking is called meditation. As he sat and meditated, he realised that he understood the answers to his questions. Buddhists say that he became enlightened. He became The Buddha.
He went back to Benares, the place where he had lived with the monks, and in the park there he told them about what he had discovered. They understood what he was saying and became his first disciples. The Buddha lived until he was 80 years old and during the rest of his life he travelled about teaching and preaching. After he died his disciples went on travelling and teaching the things he had told them. Today there are millions of people in the world who follow the teachings of the Buddha.