A golden Buddha statue in a temple in Bangkok, Thailand Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (c.563–483 BC), but it only had small groups of followers in India until the reign of Ashoka (268–232 BC), who encouraged the spread of the religion throughout his empire. The Buddha, as Siddhartha became known, was not a god and he was not worshipped as one. At first, there were not even statues of him. Buddha means "the enlightened one"—and the Buddha was a teacher. Buddhism is a religion without gods. Through the teachings of the Buddha, Buddhists follow the path to a state of peace.
Siddhartha Gautama, who was later known as the Buddha, was an Indian prince who became dissatisfied with the life of a nobleman. He left home to find a simpler and enlightened way of life. Siddhartha spent six years trying to find an answer to the sufferings of the world. Then one day he sat down under a fig tree (which came to be known as the Bo Tree or Tree of Enlightenment) in the town of Bodh Gaya and concentrated his mind. He sat there for 49 days, until he achieved nirvana, or enlightenment, a state of peace that was free from all human suffering.
The Indian state of Bihar gets its name from the many vihara, places where Buddhist monks lived, set up there by the Buddha during his lifetime.
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