CHAPTER 6 Early India 205
A new religion, Buddhism, appealed to
many people in India and other parts of Asia.
Reading Focus What do you think makes a person
free and happy? Find out how the Buddha answered this
important question as you read this section.
By 600 B.C., many Indians began to ques-
tion Hindu ideas. The Brahmin priests
seemed to care only about their temple cere-
monies and not about the needs of the peo-
ple. Ordinary Hindus wanted a simpler,
more spiritual religion. Many would find
what they needed in Buddhism (BOO •DIH •
zuhm), a new religion founded by Siddhartha
Gautama (sih•DAHR•tuh GOW•tuh•muh).
Who Is the Buddha? Prince Siddhartha
Gautama was born around 563 B.C. in a
small kingdom near the Himalaya. Today,
this area is in southern Nepal (nuh•PAWL).
Siddhartha seemed to have it all. He was
wealthy and handsome, happily married,
and had a fine new son. Then one day he
decided to explore the kingdom beyond the
palace walls. As he traveled, he became very
upset. He saw beggars, people who were ill,
and people broken down by age with no
home and nowhere to go. For the first time,
he was truly aware of suffering.
Then and there, Siddhartha decided to
seek an answer to this great riddle: Why did
people suffer and how could their suffering
be cured? He left his family and riches and
began his search. At first he lived like a her-
mit, fasting and sleeping on the hard
ground. Siddhartha nearly starved, but he
still had no answer to his questions.
Then he decided to meditate for as long
as it took to get the answer. Legend tells us
that Siddhartha sat under a tree to meditate,
and after 49 days, he finally understood. It
was as if he had seen a great light.
Siddhartha spent the rest of his life wan-
dering the countryside and telling people
what he had discovered. His lessons about
life and the nature of suffering became
known as Buddhism. To his followers, he
became known as the Buddha, or
What Is Buddhism? To understand the
Buddha’s ideas, one first has to see the world
as he did. Like many Hindu, Siddhartha did
not think that the normal, everyday world
was real. Trees, houses, animals, the sky, and
the oceans were just illusions. So were
poverty and sickness, pain and sorrow.
Siddhartha believed that the only way
to find the truth about the world was to
give up all desires. By giving up the desire
for fame, the desire for money, and the
desire for all worldly things, pain and sor-
row would vanish.
If a person gave up all desires, he or
she would reach nirvana (nihr •VAH •nuh).
Nirvana is not a place but a state of wisdom.
The word nirvana came from the Sanskrit
word for blowing out a candle flame.
This shrine in northern India marks the location
where it is believed the Buddha delivered his
first sermon. With what groups of Indians did
the Buddha’s message become popular?
Rajesh Bedi/National Geographic Image Collection
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