Gautama Buddha: The Founding of Buddhism

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

Siddhartha Gautama is the founder of Buddhism. Explore his early roots as a royal prince, discover how he reached nirvana under the Bodhi tree, and learn about the spread of Buddhism through the Indian subcontinent. Updated: 09/30/2021

Founding of Buddhism

Considered by many to be an offspring of Hinduism, Buddhism has its origins in the country of India, but unlike Hinduism, it no longer has a strong presence in the country of its birth. However, it's the leading religion in much of the Eastern world, especially in places like China, Korea, and Japan. Today, we're going to explore the founding of this rather ancient faith.

For starters, the founder of Buddhism was Siddhartha Gautama, known to history as Buddha. When studying him, we need to keep in mind it's very hard to tell fact from fiction. Since there was really nothing written about him until centuries after his death, much of his life has become the stuff of myth. Even the most scholarly of scholars disagree and contradict one another when it comes to Siddhartha Gautama. With this in mind, we'll work to cover some of the most agreed upon aspects of his life.

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  • 0:01 Founding of Buddhism
  • 0:59 Wealthy Prince
  • 2:36 Bodhi Tree
  • 3:49 Spread of Buddhism
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Wealthy Prince

It's believed Siddhartha Gautama was born sometime around the year 560 BCE. He was born to a very wealthy family, with his father ruling over an area near modern day Nepal. Because of his family wealth, Gautama was very sheltered from the outside world. Some even refer to him as a prince and believe his father confined him to the palace, where he showered him with all the trappings of wealth and pleasure. In other words, Gautama lived in a very, very, very comfortable cage.

Desiring more and despite his father's efforts, Gautama escaped from his gilded cage to see the outside world. On this field trip of sorts, he was shocked to see real life and the suffering that came with it. Legend tells us there were four people he saw who changed his life. They were a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and an ascetic, or in Western terms, 'a monk.'

Seeing the suffering of the sick and old man and especially seeing the corpse shocked the young prince who had lived such a cushy life. With this, he began to grapple with questions like, 'Why must humans suffer?' and 'Why is there pain in this world?' Upon seeing the monk, Siddhartha Gautama took it as a sign. Deciding to leave his family and his lavish life, he turned to a life of asceticism, or severe self-discipline, avoiding all forms of indulgence. Many scholars feel this was his attempt to reach enlightenment and the avoidance of sickness, pain, and death.

Bodhi Tree

Upon leaving his sheltered life, Gautama traveled around India studying under Hindu priests. However, he soon became disenchanted with Hinduism so he threw himself into complete asceticism. Some legends go as far as teaching that he was so strict he would only allow himself to eat one grain of rice per day. Eventually, and being thin as a rail, Gautama thought better of this idea, coming to the awareness that this sort of life would kill him before it enlightened him.

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