'Buddha' is a title and not a name. It means 'one who is
awake' in the sense of having 'woken up to reality'. It was
first given to a man who was born as Siddhartha Gautama in
Nepal 2,500 years ago. He did not claim to be a God and he
has never been regarded as such by Buddhists. He was a human
being who became enlightened, understanding life in the
deepest way possible.
Siddharta was born into the royal family of a small kingdom
on the Indian-Nepalese border. According to the traditional
story he had a cloistered upbringing, but was jolted out of
complacency on understanding that life includes the harsh
facts of old age, sickness, and death.
He left home to follow the traditional Indian path of the
wandering holy man, a seeker after Truth. He practiced
meditation under various teachers and then took to
asceticism. Eventually he practiced austerities so severe
that he was on the point of death - but true understanding
seemed as far away as ever. He decided to abandon this path
and to look into his own heart and mind. He sat down beneath
the pipal tree and vowed that 'flesh may wither, blood may
dry up, but I shall not rise from this spot until
Enlightenment has been won.' After fourty days, the Buddha
finally attained Enlightenment.
Buddhists believe that he attained a state of being that
goes beyond anything else in the world. If normal experience
is based on conditions - upbringing, psychology, opinions,
perceptions, and so on - Enlightenment is Unconditioned. It
was a state in which the Buddha gained insight into the
deepest workings of life and therefore into the cause of
human suffering, the problem that had set him on his
spiritual quest in the first place.
During the remaining 45 years of his life he travelled
through much of northern India, spreading his teaching of
the way to Enlightenment. The teaching is known in the East
as the Buddha-dharma - 'the teaching of the Enlightened
One'. Travelling from place to place, the Buddha taught
numerous disciples, many of whom gained Enlightenment in
their own right. They, in turn, taught others and in this
way an unbroken chain of teaching has continued, right down
to the present day.
The Buddha was not a God and he made no claim to divinity.
He was a human being who, through tremendous efforts,
transformed himself. Buddhists see him as an ideal and a
guide who can lead one to Enlightenment oneself.