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Gautama Buddha (563 BC - 483 BC), founded Buddhism, one of the greatest religions of the world. He was a contemporary of Mahavira. He was born in a Kshatriya family in Kapilvastu, in the foothills of Nepal. His father, who feared a prophecy, according to which his only son would renounce the world, kept him in a little Garden of Eden, surrounded by luxury & beauty.

One day, the young prince drove his chariot through the city unannounced, and for the first time in his life, saw an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. The shock was so great that he began to meditate on the meaning of life. At the age of twenty nine, he abandoned his beautiful wife, who had just borne him a son and left home. After prolonged wandering, studies and mortification he arrived at Bodh Gaya (in what is now Bihar). There, under a pipal tree, he attained enlightenment at the age of thirty five.

From then on, he became known as the Buddha. He passed away at the age of eighty at Kusinagara in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Buddha discarded Vedic religion in its totality. He strongly opposed rituals, sacrifices and ceremonial worship. He condemned the caste system as being false and wrong. Like Jainism, it was also atheistic in nature. The existence of God is irrelevant to the Buddhist doctrine. Buddha laid emphasis on self-effort and nothing was left to divine intervention. He also believed that the soul does not exist. The attainment of Nirvana (Salvation) is the chief objective of Buddhism.
The four truths enunciated by Buddha form the basis of Buddhism :
1. Suffering (Dukha) exists wherever there is life.
2. Desire is the cause of suffering.
3. Release from pain can be achieved only by abandoning desire.
4. The last concerns the way out of this circle of suffering and rebirth.

The universal appeal of Buddha's message captured the imagination of the intellectuals and the common man alike. And Buddhism spread like a breath of fresh wind from the mountains. It won the patronage of many states like Magadha, Kosala and Kausambi. Great kings like Ashoka and Kanishka were great patrons of Buddhism. Ashoka' son, Mahendra preached Buddhism in Ceylon and the king of Ceylon became Buddhist.

It is well known that the Buddha himself wrote nothing. Spiritual influence, and personal example apart, his teaching was communicated entirely by oral means. After Buddha's death, the first Buddhist council met at Rajgriha. Here, the discourses of Buddha were collected, compiled and embodied in the Pali Cannon, also known as Triptika.

It was at the fourth council, held in Kashmir in the early second century AD, that the schism in Buddhism was recognised. One branch was called Hinayana and the other, Mahayana. Eventually, Hinayana Buddhism found its stronghold in Ceylon, Burma and the countries of south-east Asia, whereas Mahayana Buddhism became the dominant sect in India, central Asia, Tibet, China and Japan.