The historical Buddha
Shakyamuni was born a prince of the Shakya nation, in what is today northern India. According to legend, his mother, Queen Maya had a dream where a six tusked white elephant descended from the heavens and entered her womb through the right side of her body.
Ten lunar months later, the Buddha-to-be was born in Lumbini, which is in present day northern India. He was named Siddhartha, meaning "he who accomplishes all goals."
Pampered by his father until the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha lived in comfort until growing tired of his easy life, he set out on chariot rides around the city.
On his rides, he saw an old man, a sick man, a dead man each time out. Siddhartha realized that all people are subject to these fates.
On his fourth trip out of the palace, Siddhartha encountered a model of a solution to the problem of human suffering, a wandering ascetic. The ascetic's dedication to the quest for spiritual freedom inspired young Siddhartha to embark on a like journey.
Unable to find an adequate master to learn from, Siddhartha sat under a rose-apple tree where he comtemplated the arising and end of life.
It is here, that the historical Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment or the great awakening. (bodhi in sanskrit.) by defeating the forces of passion and confusion. (Tradition depicts this as a great battle with the God of death and passion, Mara.) The place is now called Bodh-Gaya.
What Shakyamuni discovered was the Dharma, the fundamental truth and method leading to liberation. Determined to preach the Dharma to othere, he set out to what is today called Sarnath, where he gave his first sermon in a deer park.
The sermon summarized the gist of Buddhist teachings in the four noble truths.
Siddhartha Gautama lived to the age of 80, teaching the Dharma. During this time, he came to be known as Shakyamuni. (Muni is sanskrit for "silent sage", and Siddhartha was known as the "sage of the Shakyas")
Shakyamuni died in Kushinagara, presumably on his way home to die at his birthplace, Lumbini. Thus ended Shakyamuni's life and series of miracles, as in the case of a Buddha, this death was to be his last, ending the series of transmigration.