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  • Born: c. 563 BCE
  • Died: c. 483 BCE
  • Other Names: Siddhartha Gautama, Shaka, Shaka Nyorai, Buddha
  • Japanese: 釈迦牟尼 (Shakamuni)

Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the historical Buddha, or, in Japanese, Shaka or Shakamuni,[1] was the Indian/Nepalese founder of Buddhism, and is worshipped as an enlightened being, a Buddha; he is sometimes referred to in this context as Shaka Nyorai.

Though the two would of course never meet in person, Siddhartha was a contemporary of Confucius (c. 551 BCE - c. 479 BCE). He was born a prince, in an area in what is today Nepal. Shortly after his birth, it was prophesied that he would grow up to be either a chakravartin ("world-conquering ruler") or a buddha, a fully enlightened being. He was raised in a quite opulent, privileged environment, sheltered from the world, and granted a myriad of comforts and luxuries. It is said he was even sheltered from being exposed to, or aware of, aging, disease, and death. Yet, eventually, he learned of such things, and, disturbed, at the age of 29, fled the palace. He abandoned his family, title, and wealth, and became an ascetic, meditating in the wilderness. He is particularly known for having meditated under a bodhi tree, a type of tree which would then, as a result, acquire considerable symbolism in Buddhism.

After six years of meditation, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment at a site in modern-day India today known as Bodh Gaya. He then delivered his famous first lecture at the Deer Park in Sarnath, a site to which the deer park in Nara is meant to refer, or symbolically reproduce. He espoused a philosophy based in Four Noble Truths: that life is suffering, that suffering derives from desire, that desire can be overcome, and that the way to do this is through the Eightfold Path of "right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration."[2]

Siddhartha is said to have lived to be about 80, and acquired many followers over the course of his life. Though he, and many other figures including some of his direct disciples, would come to later be worshipped in a form quite similar to that of "deities," during his life and for a long time afterwards, Buddhism was more of a philosophy of life, rather than a religion with a pantheon of deities.

At the age of 80, surrounded by his followers, Siddhartha experienced parinirvana, transforming more fully into a Buddha - his skin turned gold, and the form of his body changed in other ways - and passing into Nirvana.


  • Stokstad, Marilyn and Michael Cothren. Art History. Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall, 2011. p297.
  1. Sakyamuni (J: Shakamuni) means, roughly, "sage of the Sakya tribe," while Siddhartha was his given name, and Gautama the name of his family or clan.
  2. Stokstad. p297.