Sometime in the 6th or 5th century B.C. prince Siddhartha Gautam of the small Shakya kingdom in what is now a part of southern Nepal, abandoned family and country and set forth to discover the true meaning of life. As a mendicant wandering through northeast India he became known as Shakyamuni, "Sage of the Shakyas." At length through intense meditation he realized that human suffering is caused by desire. Thus he became a "buddha", an "Enlightened one" and the insight he propounded became knowon as Buddhism. Its central doctrine was contained in the Four
NobleTruths and the Eightfold Path, an ethical way of individual conduct. The goal was terminate the presumed endless cycle of rebirths with its accompanying suffering and to attain a state of unchanging bliss called "nirvana."
The historical Buddha claimed only to be a human being who had found the way to salvation. Soon his doctrine took root and spread widely throughout northern India. Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. In succeeding centuries, Buddhism came to be interpreted in different ways and by the first century A.D. the founder had become deified and the first Buddha images were made. By then also monks, pilgrims, and traders were carrying the various forms of Buddhism to Central Asia along the Silk Roads and by land and sea to China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia. Including today's
renaissance in the West, Buddhism now encompasses more than five hundred million followers worldwide. In India Buddhism conformed to so many kindred Hindu beliefs that in time it lost its identity as a separate religion. After about A. D. 1200, following the establishment of Islamic dynasties in northern India and the destruction of the Buddhist monasteries and university centers, Buddhism ceased to be a major force in the land of its origin. In India Buddhism has essentially died out altogether but in manifold forms is everywhere on its periphery .