The teachings and sayings of Gautama Buddha became the basis of a religion called Buddhism. He is believed to have been born in the Lumbini garden near Kapilavastu (now in Nepal) in the sixth century B.C. Before he became the Buddha (the Enlightened), he was called Siddhartha. When Siddhartha encountered an old man, another afflicted with disease, an ascetic and a corpse, he realized how short-lived are worldly passions and pleasures. Soon after, he left his family and kingdom and went to forest to lead a simple and unattached life. This is called the “Great Renunciation”.

After a long period of meditation, Siddhartha attained enlightenment under a pipal tree at Uruvela near Gaya in Bihar. He was then called the Buddha, the Enlightened one. He went to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon to five Brahmins, his old friends. This first Sermon is called “Turning of the Wheel of Law”. He renounced his mortal body at Kusinagara, the capital of the Mallas. This is called the “Parinirvana”.

The order broke into Sthaviravada (in Pali Theravada) and the Mahasanghikas in 383 B.C. while the Sthaviravadins were believers in the teaching of elders, and Orthodox school, the Mahasanghikas were members of the great communities. The sect of Lokottarvadin emerged from the latter group whose philosophy was based on the concept of Lokottara Buddha or Supernatural Buddha.

The major split took place during the reign of Kanishka in 100 A.D. and there emerged two sects: Hinayana or the Lesser Vehicle and Mahayana or the Greater Vehicle. The Hinayanists believed in the original teachings of the Buddha and worshipped him in his symbols. This sect spread in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos etc. but lost popularity in India. The Mahayana religion arose out from the Mahasanghikas and got popularity in many parts of India, spread to central Asia, China and then to Japan and Korea. They worshipped idols of Buddha and his incarnations (Boddhisattavas).

In 8th century another sect, Vajrayana or the Vehicle of Thunderbolt came into prominence. They didn't treat meat, fish, wine, etc. as a taboo in dietary habit and freely consumed them. The Tantrik schools of Sahajayana and Tantrayana developed from this sect.

Buddhists go on pilgrimages to places associated with Buddha's life. These places include his birthplace, Lumbini Grove, the place of enlightenment, Bodh Gaya, the place of his first sermon, Sarnarth(Varanasi), and the place he died, Kusinara.

Download as PDF