Gautama the Buddha
The Buddha, originally known as Siddhārtha Gautama, lived around 500 BCE in Northern India. The precise dates of birth and death are not certain. His birthplace was Lumbini, which is in the plains of present day Nepal. He was born as a prince in the Shakya clan and was brought up to become a king, but he left his wife and son and renounced lay life. After several years of living as a wandering monk, where he focused on meditation and asceticism, he was transformed through a profound awakening. His enlightenment happened under a Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya (nowadays in Bihar).The Buddha then traveled throughout the Ganges plain teaching and forming a religious community of wandering monks. He taught a middle way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism practiced by many other contemporary monks. He taught a spiritual path that included discipline and meditative practices. He died in Kushinagar (nowadays in Uttar Pradesh). A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the name Buddha, which means “Awakened One” or the "Enlightened One".
Statues of the Buddha are found all over the world as a symbol for transcendence, tranquility and peace of mind, like this statue from Dhauli near Bhuwaneshwar, where the Buddha's arms and hands form the Bhumisparsa Mudra (earth touching gesture).
Here are some of his most famous teachings:
The Dhammapada, literally “the sayings of the dhamma [dharma],” is perhaps the most popular book in the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism. It consists of some 423 verses, all said to be the words of the Buddha. Many of these verses are also found in other parts of the Buddhist canon, and there are very similar works in other, non-Buddhist Indian texts such as the Mahabharata. The contents of the Dhammapada were collected over time. We therefore can say that they carry a large amount of local folk wisdom from ancient Indian times, as well as Buddhist thought.
The Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sutra is an early Mahayana text dating from 150–200 C.E. that has continued to be popular into modern times. The sutra means literally “The sutra of diamond-cutting ultimate wisdom.” It is part of the vast Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) literature. The Diamond Sutra is believed by most Buddhists to record the words of the Buddha, passed down to later generations by disciples who were present when the words were spoken. The sutra tells how the Buddha answered a disciple’s question concerning the means to gain enlightenment. His answer focused on the understanding of emptiness (Shunyata).
Emptiness here refers not to a vacuum or meaninglessness, but to the conditioned nature of all phenomena, and the true absence of attachments among phenomena. All things are interrelated and connected, empty of isolated identity, and this is the nature of reality. Furthermore, emptiness itself is empty.
The Heart Sutra
The Heart Sutra is an early Mahayana text from the Greater Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) family of texts that remains one of the most popular texts in East Asian Buddhism today. The Heart Sutra (Prajna-paramita-hrdya-sutra) is the shortest of the group. It can be interpreted as a brief compilation of Prajnaparamita (wisdom) thought, with a focus on the Shunyata (emptiness) of all phenomena.
quoted from "Encyclopedia of Buddhism" by Edward A. Irons