Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. His original name was Siddharth (meaning one who has accomplished). He was also called Sakyamuni, i.e. the sage of the tribe of Sakya. He was born in the year 563 B.C. in the village of Lumbini near Kapila Vastu, within the present borders of Nepal.
According to legend, an astrologer foretold his father, the king, that young Gautama would give up the throne and luxury and renounce the world the day he would see four things (i) an old man, (ii) a sick man, (iii) a diseased man and (iv) a dead man. Hence, the king confined Gautama in a special palace which was provided with all worldly pleasures. He was married at the age of sixteen to Yasoddhra.
At the age of 29 after the birth of his first son, Gautama on the same day saw an old man, a sick man, a diseased man and a dead man. The impact of the dark side of life made him renounce the world that same night and he left his wife and son and became a penniless wanderer.
He studied and practiced Hindu discipline initially, and later, Jainism. For several years he observed rigorous fasting along with extreme self-mortification. On realising that tormenting his body did not bring him closer to true wisdom, he resumed eating normally and abandoned asceticism.
At the age of 35, one evening as he sat beneath a giant fig tree (Bodh tree), he felt that he had found the solution to his problem and felt that he had attained enlightenment. Thus, he came to be known as 'Gautama', 'The Buddha', or 'The Enlightened One'.
Later, he spent 45 years in preaching the truth that he felt he had discovered. He travelled from city to city bare-footed, clean-headed, with nothing more on his self than his saffron robe, walking stick and begging bowl. He died at the age of 80 in the year 483 BC.
Buddhism is divided into two sects ie, Hinayana and Mahayana.
Historical criticism has proved that the original teachings of Buddha can never be known. It seems that Gautama Buddha's teachings were memorized by his disciples. After Buddha's death a council was held at Rajagaha so that the words of Buddha could be recited and agreed upon. There were differences of opinion and conflicting memories in the council. Opinion of Kayshapa and Ananda who were prominent disciples of Buddha were given preference. A hundred years later, a second council at Vesali was held. Only after 400 years, after the death of Buddha were his teachings and doctrines written down. Little attention was paid regarding its authenticity, genuineness and purity.
Buddhist Scriptures can be divided into Pali and Sanskrit Literature:
The Pali literature was monopolized by the Hinayana sect of Buddhism.
The most important of all Buddhist scriptures is the TRI-PITAKA which is in Pali text. It is supposed to be the earliest recorded Buddhist literature which was written in the 1st Century B.C.
The TRI-PITAKA or Three Baskets of law is composed of 3 books:
his is a book of discipline and mainly deals with rules of the order.
It is a collection of sermons and discourses of Gautama Buddha and the incidents in his life. It is the most important Pitaka and consists of five divisions known as Nikayas. Dhammapada is the most famous Pali literature and contains aphorisms and short statements covering the truth.
This third basket contains meta physical doctrines and is known as Buddhist meta physicals. It is an analytical and logical elaboration of the first two pitakas. It contains analysis and exposition of Buddhist doctrine.
Sanskrit literature was preferred by the Mahayana. Sanskrit literature has not been reduced to a collection or in Cannon like the Pali literature. Thus much of the original Sanskrit literature has been lost. Some were translated into other languages like Chinese and are now being re-translated into Sanskrit.
Mahavastu is the most famous work in Sanskrit which has been restored from its Chinese translation. It consists of voluminous collection of legendary stories.
Lalitavistara is one of the holiest of the Sanskrit literature. It belongs to the first century C.E., 500 years after the death of Buddha. It contains the miracles which the superstition loving people have attributed to Buddha.