The historical Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, called Shakyamuni, was born almost 2,600 years ago in what is present-day Nepal.
He left a comfortable life to seek wisdom that could free humans from suffering and allow them to pursue their true, innate potential. After six years of struggle, he was enlightened and spent the rest of his life sharing his realizations with others so that they too could free themselves from suffering. Over time, “buddha” (which means ‘awakened one’) came to refer not only to Shakyamuni, but to anyone who embodies the profound wisdom and compassion that the historical Buddha demonstrated.
Shakyamuni’s followers transmitted his teachings, first orally, then as written sutras to others and the teachings were soon carried throughout Asia to India, Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. Notable among the Buddha’s many teachings is the principle of ‘karma’ or cause and effect: everything in the universe is inter-connected and each of our actions is related to other occurrences.
Today, Buddhism is practiced throughout the world by both monastics and lay people. Any person who follows the teachings of Shakyamuni and strives to become a Buddha or awakened one can be considered a Buddhist. There are many sanghas or Buddhist communities, each based upon different traditions or aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.