It all started with a prince named Siddhartha Guatama. He lived a happy life in his palace sheltered from the danger of the real world. One day he decided he needed to see what the rest of the world was really like, so he left his palace. He saw all of the dark sides of life that his royal life had previously shielded him from: sickness, old age, death, and he saw an ascetic begging for food. Needless to say this was quite the shock for poor Siddhartha. In response to the horrors he witnessed, he decided to set out on a quest for truth and to escape samsara, or the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. After meditating for 7 days under the Bodhi Tree, he finally reached nirvana, or the release from samsara, and became the Enlightened One. He dedicated the rest of his life to helping others realize what he had learned.
The general ideas from his teachings are as follows. He simplified the idea of enlightenment into The Four Noble Truths, which are
Life is suffering.
Suffering is caused by desire, and by clinging to the notion of self.
It is possible to end suffering. To end the suffering caused by desire and ego, one must eliminate the cause.
Suffering can be ended by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration)
After the Buddha’s death different sects appeared based on the different interpretation of the doctrine. It can be generally said, however, that the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to reach Nirvana.