Buddha was born the son of the rajah of the Sakya tribe ruling in Kapilavastu, 100 miles (160km) north of Benares, in Nepal. When about 30 years old, he left the luxuries of the court, his beautiful wife, and all earthly ambitions in exchange for the life of an ascetic; after six years of extreme self-mortification he saw in the contemplative life the perfect way to self-enlightenment. According to tradition, he achieved enlightenment when sitting beneath a banyan tree near Buddha Gaya in Bihar. For the next 40 years he taught, gaining many disciples and followers, and died at the age of about 80 in Kusinagara in Oudh.
His system was perhaps a revolutionary reformation of Brahmanism rather than a new faith, the keynote of it being that existence necessarily involves suffering, and that 'Nirvana', or nonexistence, the chief good, is to be attained by diligent devotion to Buddhistic rules. The death of the body does not bring Nirvana: the unholy are condemned to transmigration through many existences. Buddhism spread steadily over India, and during the 3rd century BC was dominant from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. In the earlier centuries of our era it began to decline; it was relentlessly persecuted by triumphant Brahmanism in the 7th and 8th centuries, and stamped out of continental India (except Nepal) by invading Islam. Meanwhile it had spread to Tibet, Ceylon, Burma, Siam, China, and Japan, where it is still popular.
'The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.'
Robert M Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, pt.1, ch.1 (1974).