How old is Buddhism?

One of the great Asian religions, Buddhism dates back to ancient times: It was founded in India in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. by Siddhartha Guatama (c. 563-c. 483 B.C.), who became known as Buddha, or Enlightened One. Born in what is today Nepal, Siddhartha’s father is described in stories as a king or a warrior prince, and the family lived in luxury. When he was 29 years old, Siddhartha had a series of four visions that prompted him to leave his wife, young son, and the palace and venture out in search of spiritual enlightenment and truth. He wandered for six years, traveling to the ancient kingdom of Magadha (in present-day India). During this time he led a life of extreme austerity and even self-torture. He finally decided that his ascetic life would not lead him to truth, and he abandoned his practice of self-denial. One day, when he was 35 years old, Siddhartha went to meditate under a banyan (shade) tree, also called a bodhi tree. There he claimed to achieve enlightenment. Thereafter, Buddha traveled through the Ganges River valley, teaching meditation and adherence to moral conduct as the way to enlightenment. He established a community of monks to continue his work.

Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion (after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism). Most of the estimated 360 million Buddhists in the world today live in Asia (Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and Japan, predominately).


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