Gautama Buddha was a contemporary of Mahavira. Gautama Buddha’s royal name was Siddhartha. He was the son of Suddhodana, the Chief of Sakya clan of Kapilvastu in the Nepal Terai area. He was born in 566 B.C. in the village of Lumbini a few miles from Kapilvastu.
Siddhartha lost his mother at the time of his birth and was brought up by his aunt and step-mother. Right from his childhood Siddhartha showed inclination towards contemplation. He loved seclusion and avoided the company of his play-mates. He spent most of his time meditating on various human problems. His father Suddhodhana tried to attract him towards worldly objects and married Siddhartha to a beautiful princess, Yashodhara, the daughter of a Sakya noble. But Siddhartha was not happy with all this. He continued to concentrate on problems of birth, old age, sickness, sorrow and impurity.
At the age of 29 he was blessed with a son but he did not feel happy, instead he considered it as a bond. Soon after the birth of his son he left his home in search of truth and became a wandering ascetic. This renunciation by Buddha is known as Maha Parityaga.
After leaving his house Gautama Buddha went to Vaishali. He lived with the famous Philosopher Adara Kalama but was not satisfied with his teachings. He therefore moved to Rajgriha, and met Rudraka and other philosophers. But here also he did not get satisfaction. After this Siddhartha practised severest penances for six years and reduced himself to a skeleton, but he did not get any satisfaction.
He remained in meditation for seven days and seven nights and was ultimately enlightened on the eighth day. On the day of enlightenment he came to be known as Buddha or Tathagat. Siddhartha discovered the Law of Causation, a cycle of twelve causes and effects conditioning the universe. This Law had not been thought of by any philosopher before him.
After his enlightenment Gautama decided to preach the knowledge to the people for their benefit. The places where his message was received with great admiration were Kashi, Kosala, Vajji, Avanti etc. Buddha continued to preach his message till his death in 487 B.C. His last words were “Now, monks I have nothing more to tell you but that all that is composed is liable to decay, strive after salvation energetically.”