Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, was the Indian spiritual teacher who founded Buddhism. It is generally agreed that he was born circa 563 BCE—though estimates range a century to each side—as a prince in the Shakya Kingdom in modern-day Nepal. Upon becoming aware of human suffering, he left his kingdom to become an ascetic. He then developed the Middle Way—a moderate path between self-mortification and self-indulgence—and soon attained enlightenment into the causes of and solutions to human suffering at age 35. He spent the next 45 years preaching his philosophy across what are today northern and eastern Indian and Nepal. As he gained followers, he established the first sangha—a body of Buddhist monks—that would go on to preserve and spread his teachings after his death circa 486 BCE, at which time Buddhists believe he abandoned his body and achieved parinirvana, the final deathless state for those who have achieved complete enlightenment in life.
By founding Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama forever changed the religious, social, and cultural fabric of East and Southeast Asia, where the tradition most strongly took hold. He also presented a tremendous challenge to Hinduism and the culture that developed around it by preaching to all regardless of caste and race, and by offering a different approach to familiar Vedic concepts. The Buddha also rejected ritualism and discounted the importance of deity worship, striking at the core of Vedic practices. In addition to the reverence Buddhists accord him, many Hindus recognize him as an avatar of the god Vishnu and Baha’is believe him to be a manifestation of God.