Among all the protestant religions Buddhism enjoyed the greatest popularity and acceptance. Unlike the Jainas, the Buddhists did not claim any earlier antiquity for their religion beyond the life of Buddha. It had a more popular social base than any other contemporary religion. Budha successfully delivered to the world his message of compassion, love, self-restraint and self-culture.
Gautam, alias Siddhartha was the son of Suddhodhana, the Chief of the Sakya clan of Kapilavastu, which is presently in the Tarai region of Nepal. The place of his birth was a grove of Saal trees called Lumbini Gama (or Lumbini Vana) near Kapilavastu. The famous Rummindei Pillar with an inscription has been erected there by Asoka to mark its importance. His mother Mahamaya, a Koliyan princess, was the Chief queen of Suddhodhana, who died seven day after his birth. His mother's sister and Step-mother Mahapraapati Gautami brought him up.
The date of the birth of Gautam is not known. According to one theory he was born in 568 B.C. and died in 506 B.C. In another source it is stated that the coronation of Asoka took place 218 years after the death of Buddha, which makes (269 B.C. + 218 years) 487 B.C. the year of his death and 567 B.C. (487 + 80) as the year of his birth. As a young prince he received normal training befitting of a Kshatriya. At the age of sixteen he was married to his causin Yasodhara also named Bhaddakachchana, Subhadraka, Gopa or Bimba, daughter of Sakyan, Suppabudhha and had a son, Rahul. Gautam himself named his son Rahul, meaning an impediment or hindrance.
Inspite of all his prosperity he was not inwardly happy. The idea of renunciation came to his mind seeing four persons in four different stages of life : an old man bent with age, a sick man shivering with fever and a corpse being carried to the cremation ground followed by weeping relations, and finally, a wandering monk, peaceful and calm radiating inward joy. On seeing him Siddhartha realized where his destiny lay and set his heart on becoming a wanderer. The misery of the mundane world weighed on his reflective mind. He felt dissatisfied with life and at the age of 29 on a Baishakha Purnima night, when all were busy in festivities celebrating the birth of his son, he rode off with his charioteer Channa on his favourite horse Kanthaka up to the end of the city, where he cast off his princely robes, renounced everything and became an ascetic. This journey "from a home to a homeless life" is famous as the "Great Renunciation", Mahabhiniskarmana.
For six years he wandered as an ascetic in search of true knowledge. During this period he met Arada Kalama on the outskirts of Vaisali and became his disciple. There he learnt about the seventh stage of meditation (akinchanyayatana or sphere of desirelessness - nothingness) as a part of the Sankhya school of philosophy. However, he was not satisfied and became a disciple of another teacher, Rudraka Ramaputra on the outskirts of Rajagriha. Here he reached the stage of highest meditation but could not achieve final liberation. Thereupon he took up deep meditation subjecting his body to extreme physical pain along with five other Brahmin ascetics. One night when he was on the verge of death due to exhaustion and starvation he decided to take food just enough to keep his body active. On account of this, his five Brahmin companions deserted him.
At last, at Uruvela near Gaya under a pipal tree on the banks of river Niranjana (modern Phalgu) he sat in deep meditation after accepting milk from a milkmaid named Sujata with a vow either to perish or to attain knowledge. There he finally attained knowledge from the "Great Unknown" and became Buddha (the enlightened one) or Tathagata (the one who attained truth) at the age of 35. The tree has been named Bodhi tree (tree of wisdom) and the place as Bodh Gaya. At first he thought of his two teachers Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra but they were no more. So he proceeded to Saranath to preach five Brahmin companions who had deserted him earlier.
Buddha preached his first sermon in a Deer Park at Saranath near Varanasi before his first five Brahmin disciples and the event has been described as the "Turning of the Wheel of Law" or Dharma Chakra Pravartana. Some of his earliest converts were Sariputta and Mogallana Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana Sutra, which is said to be the first discourse of Buddha. The Eight Fold Path lies between two extremes, namely gross sensualism or vile pleasure-seeking on one hand and extreme asceticism or severest self-mortification of the other. Hence the Eight-Fold Path of Buddha was called the Middle Path (Madhayama Pratipat) as it keeps clear of the two extreme ways of life. This is also called the Right Path.
Buddha prescribed Five Fundamental Precepts or a moral code. These were to refrain from killing, stealing, adultery, indulging in falsehood and drunkenness. He also recommended for the monks as well as for the laity the observance of Six Fundamental Virtues such as charity, purity, patience, courage, contemplation and knowledge. Buddha discouraged speculation on the Gods or the origin and end of the universe. He did not recognize the authority of the Vedas and rejected its infallibility.