Buddhism revolves around the central figure of the Buddha (sanskrit: meaning “awakened one”). This usually refers to the First Buddha, who is said to have lived around 563 BC to 483 BC. Born to Suddhodana of the Guatama Clan, who himself was king of the Shakya tribe, the First Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Guatama (also: Tathagata, “the one who has come thus,”; and Shakyamuni, “the sage of the Shakya tribe.”) is said to have renounced his family and material possessions at the age of 29, vowing instead to become an ascetic. He travelled to Magadha and spent six years learning under Brahamin doctrine. However, finding himself still unsatsifised, he is said to have eventually found enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree (“tree of wisdom”).
The nature of Buddha himself is regarded in different ways by different people, and there are a great number of legends that surround his existence. To some he was simply a very wise man with great things to teach, whilst to others he is a god in his own right, either as part of the traditional Hindu pantheon (as an avatar of Vishnu), or else as single entity above all others.
Originally Buddhism existed as an oral tradition, but eventually was composed into two main language canons: the Pali and the Sanskrit. Despite similarities, each is different enough to warrant two main schools of thought, the Mahayana school following the Sanskrit, and the Thervada school following the Pali canon.
From these two ancient sources arise the three most complete language canons of the modern era. The Pali Canon records the Buddha’s teachings as accepted by the Theravada School; the Chinese Canon records the Buddha’s teachings as accepted by the Mahayana School; and the Tibetan Canon records the Buddha’s teachings as accepted by the Vajrayana School.
Each of these three major canons have their similarities, but also their unique differences. These are further complicated by discrete but notable variations over various geographic boundaries. For example, there are notable differences between the Thai edition of the Pali Canon and the Sri Lankan edition of the Pali Canon. Within the canons derived from the Classical Chinese, different editions such as the Taisho, Tripitaka Koreana, Chung Hua (Zhong Hua) Canon have different contents because each is based on different compilations of different combinations of ancient canons. Within the canons derived from the Tibetan, there are differences reflecting the different schools of the Vajrayana School.
Buddhism is essentially focussed upon the recognition that the ego is illusory, thus allowing freedom of the self in the emptiness that is Nirvana. Essentially, it is about trancending material needs and wants to enlarge upon spiritual growth, which is seen as an essential movement towards the ending of personal and human suffering.