Brief History of Buddhism
Buddha Shakyamuni was born as a royal prince in 624 BC in a place called Lumbini, which was originally in northern India but is now part of Nepal.
‘Shakya’ is the name of the royal family into which he was born, and ‘Muni’ means ‘Able One’. His parents gave him the name Siddhartha and there were many wonderful predictions about his future.
In his early years he lived as a prince in his royal palace but when he was 29 years old he retired to the forest where he followed a spiritual life of meditation. After six years he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India.
He was subsequently requested to teach. As Geshe Kelsang says in Introduction to Buddhism:
As a result of this request, Buddha rose from meditation and taught the first Wheel of Dharma. These teachings, which include the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths and other discourses, are the principal source of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, of Buddhism.
Later, Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma, which include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention respectively. These teachings are the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism.
In the Hinayana teachings Buddha explains how to attain liberation from suffering for oneself alone, and in the Mahayana teachings he explains how to attain full enlightenment, or Buddhahood, for the sake of others.
Both traditions flourished in Asia, at first in India and then gradually in other surrounding countries, including Tibet. Now they are beginning to flourish in many countries throughout the world.
In all, Buddha Shakyamuni gave eighty-four thousand teachings.
His intention in founding Buddhism was to lead living beings to permanent liberation from suffering because he realized temporary liberation from suffering and difficulties is not enough.
Motivated by love and compassion his aim was to help living beings find lasting peace or nirvana.