The origin, traditional Buddhism began in the 6th century BC with the historical personage born Siddhartha Gautama, but better known by a variety of titles including Shakyammi, Tathagata, or most commonly Buddha, the enlightened one. The legend of the Buddha's life has acquired plenty of variations and embellishments over the years, but the basic facts are accepted as traditional, including the dates of his birth and death (563-489 BC by Western reckoning, 624-544 according to Sri Lankan tradition). The story of Buddha's birth is encrusted with myth and fable as that of any God-figure in human history. For instance, he is said to have issued from his mother's womb stating that his cycle of rebirths was about to end. Again, some Buddhists devoutly accept the fables as we in the west accept Christmas narratives, while others choose to focus on the truths beneath the myths. We do know with some certainty that the Buddha was born to a royal family in northern India, in the foothills of what is now Nepal. Siddhartha Gautama led a sheltered existence in the court of his father, Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakya clan, who shielded him from any knowledge of human suffering or religions of the time. Soon after his birth a soothsayer named Asita predicted that he would become either the emperor of all India or if the \"Four Passing Sights\" should come to pass he would renounced the world and would become the greatest spiritual leader the world has ever known. Shuddhodana, Gautama, a member of the warrior-ruler caste, preferred the royal vocation and provided his son with three palaces located so that his son would not experience the dramatic seasonal changes. He place at his son disposal anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 dancing girls to keep his mind firmly rooted in the \"real\" world. He also gave orders that his son should never see the sick, the aged, dead bodies, and nor should a monk be allowed near his son. But, as so often happens when manipulative fathers groom their sons to take over the family business, Siddhartha rebelled. At 16 he married a beautiful young princess named Yasodhara, by whom he fathered a son, Rahula. Over the ensuing years Gautama, was shielded from the facts of the real world. But legend states the gods intervened with what is now called the \"Four Passing Sights.\" In essence, the many variants of this story run something like this. Gautama is either riding or being driven along the roads of his fathered lands when on successive days he first catches site of an ancient man frail with age, representing the miserable close of every man's life. The next day he encounters a man covered with repulsive sores and shaking with illness, so he may know how physical illness and misery may attend man all the days of his life. On the third day he sees the body of a dead man, which teaches him the dreadful fact of death and his limited time in this world. These three sights robbed him of all peace of mind. (It is a fact, and perhaps the legend is based upon it, that in one of the oldest passages in the Buddhist writings he is reported as saying: \"I also am subject to decay and am not free from the power of old age, sickness and death. Is it right that I should feel horror, repulsion and disgust when I see another in such plight? And when I reflected thus to my disciples, all the joy of life which there is in life died within me.\") The prince remained distraught throughout the remainder of that day pondering these revelations. On the fourth day he behelded a calm ascetic walking toward him as he traveled the road, from this person, who had gained true peace of soul, he learned how freedom from the miseries of old age, disease, and death may be won. His father sensing his son's troubled thoughts over the past few days decided to hold a great feast in Gautama honor, something to sway his son back to the path chosen for him at birth, but Gautama surveying the scene of debauchery was revolted by its apparent meaninglessness. After the feast when he was awake, alone, and sober he decided it was time to renounce his present life and to seek his own way in the world. So later that night, he bided his wife and son goodbye and set out on a six year quest, searching for an end to life suffering, its true meaning. At the beginning Gautama was anxious not to reject the prevalent Brahmin philosophy until he had tested it for himself. So, for awhile, he traveled India and experimented with the yoga meditation traditions. For years he practice the asceticism of the yogis of the time, nearly staving to death in the process of finding a permanent release from suffering. Finally he came to the conclusion that asceticism in and of itself was not the answer. No matter how much he fasted, he eventually had to replenish his body so that he could continue traveling and learning. Furthermore, he surmised that the only logical conclusion of denying the physical body is death. During his last, life threatening fast, he realized that enlightenment could be reached only through the vessel of the body, and there was a limit to how much deprivation his body could safely endure. So he abandoned the extreme asceticism he had been practicing in favor of what came to be called the Middle Way a path between devotion to pleasures of the senses and the complete denial of them. Accepting food and drink offered him; he ate, to regain his strength. He then went and sat under a nearby Bodhi tree refusing to move until he became enlightened. In the early morning hours as he sat under the tree, he realized the nature and cause of suffering and the way of release from these causes that constituted his enlightenment. He came to understand that one could be freed from suffering in this life by moderating its real causes: passionate craving, hatred, and ignorance. According to legend, after sitting in meditation for seven days, Gautama looked up at the heavens and said, \"How wonderful, How wonderful. All things are enlightened exactly as they are!\" He then continued to meditate for a total of 49 days, for it was at this time all Buddhist down through the ages believed, Gautama, first experienced Nirvana: the goal of Buddhism; it means freedom from karma; extinction of all craving; the realization of the true nature of the mind. This is the closest thing in Buddhism to the western world's idea of salvation, the ultimate goal of all religious faiths. The word itself is a Sanskirt word meaning \"blown out,\" like a candle, representing the extinguishing of all craving. It is believed that during this time he was tempted by Mara, the evil one, to keep this insight to himself and continue to realize this bliss, to shed his body and forego a return to the real world. The Buddha: the Enlightening One, as Gautama later became known, chose to wander the land begging for food and shelter and teaching the Middle Way to the men and women of his time. When Buddha preached his first sermon, following his enlightenment, the sermon is usually titled \"Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dharma,\" he put forth the Four Noble Truths that he experienced in the course of his enlightenment. 1) All existence involves suffering (duhkha). 2) The cause of suffering is craving (trishna). 3) Release from suffering (nirvana) comes through eradicating passionate craving for material or sensual satisfaction. 4) The way to achieve that release is the Eightfold Path. These eight ways of right being encompass right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. For the next 45 years, Buddha preached this path to all that would listen, and at the age of 80, the Buddha died. He left no writings. All Buddhist scriptures are based on accounts of his life and teaching passed down orally by his disciples from generation to generation. Traditionally, the accounts were committed to writing in Sanskrit and in Pali, a Sanskrit derived Indian dialect within 100 years of the Buddha's death, but modern scholars places the dates closer to the 2nd and 1st century BC. The written records of his sermons and dialogues are known as sutras. Unlike other major religions of the world the concept of a divine being, as in, Hinduism's Atman-Brahman, Judaism's Yahwey, and Islam's Allah, Buddhism does not proclaim any worship of any god. Buddhist believes that the divine being, per say, is not something you believe in, or worship, or can describe but instead something you experience. Buddhism's concepts of deliverance rest's solely within the individual experience. Because of this emphasis on experience, the terminology of Buddhism is often elusive. More attention is given to how to attain the experience than a specific description of its character. Indeed Buddhism teaches that no verbal description of the rapture is possible. That is, Buddhism insists that experience is indescribable. This, I believe, can be explained by Buddha's revelation under the Bodhi tree when he exclaimed, \"All things are enlightened exactly as they are!\" with no other explanation necessary in his initial experience. With this we can deduce that Buddha believed that all he has searched for was within him and all things all along. To expand upon this let say that if all things are already enlighten as Buddha exclaimed, then we can assume the search for enlightenment should begin and end within ones self. Taking this further we should be able to see that Buddha believed his deliverance from human suffering rested within his own means and that no divine intervention was essential to achieve true awaking. One other thing, we the western world misperceived the life's true nature, we think of it as relative. The Buddhist believes that when we truly understand the world then and only then will we experience nirvana. Also remember, when Buddha chose the Middle Way, he sheded all pre-concepts of the Hinduism teachings in proscribing a path to moksha, the attainment of the Atman-Brahman relationship, and the release from Maya, or the illusion world of the Hindu faith. He theorized that a release from suffering (duhkha) or from the cravings, hatred, and ignorance of ones life were the keys to nirvana, the awaking, the only thing needed to find ones true self or salvation for want of a word. Rituals and Practices Buddhism is not a single monolithic religion. Many of its adherents have combined the teachings of the Buddha with local religious rituals, beliefs and customs. Little conflict occurs, because Buddhism at its core is a philosophical system to which such additions can be easily grafted. After the Buddha\'s death, splits occurred. There are now three main systems of thought. First, there is Southern Buddhism or Therevada Buddhism, is mainly found in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam. Second, Eastern Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism\'s is the predominant religion in China, Japan, Korea and much of Vietnam. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals, and five anniversaries from the lives of Buddha and of the Bodhissattva Kuan-yin. They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting, Worship and Pilgrimage. Third there is Northern Buddhism which has perhaps 10 million follows in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia and Tibet. The heads of the Gelu School of Buddhist teaching became the Dalai Lama, and ruled Tibet. They developed the practice of searching out a young child at the time of death of an important teacher. The child is believed to be the successor to the deceased teacher. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals and anniversaries of five important events in the life of the Buddha. Common rituals and practices between the three denominations are as follows: Dana - thoughtful, ceremonial giving. Sila - accepting Buddhist teaching and following it in practice of refraining from killing, stealing, wrong behavior, use of drugs, and on special days, three additional precepts may be added, restricting adornment, entertainment, and comfort. Karma - the balance of accumulated sin and merit, which will determine ones future in the present life, and the nature of the next life to come. The Cosmos - consists of billions of worlds grouped into clusters; clusters are grouped into galaxies, which are they grouped into super-galaxies. The universe also has many levels: our underworlds and 21 heavenly realms. Paritta - ritual chantingWorship - of relics of a Buddha, of items made by a Buddha, or of symbolic relics. Festivals - days of the full moon, and three other days during the lunar cycle are celebrated. There is a New Year\'s festival, and celebrations tied to the agricultural year. Pilgrimages - particularly to Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka and India.