Historians, religious scholars, and various Buddhist sects debate the actual year of the Buddha's birth; it may have been as early as 644 BC or as late as 540 BC. It is, however, relatively certain that he was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha, the son of Suddhodana, king of the Shakya tribe. His birthplace was the forest grove of Lumbini in the hilly regions of what is today northeastern India and Nepal.
Miraculous events surrounded his birth. Sages prophesied that he would become either a powerful king or, renouncing his royal life, an enlightened being and religious leader.
King Suddhodhana, wanting the former and fearing the later, sought to insulate his son from religious and philosophical concerns by surrounding him with a life of ease and plenty.
Enclosed within palace walls, the prince grew to manhood and fatherhood never having seen old age, sickness, poverty or death.
Yet this blindness to the full range of human experience was not to last. One day the prince ventured beyond the castle walls and, witnessing the inevitable sufferings of human existence, recognized the shallowness of his pampered life. Metaphysical questions filled his mind and with them the conviction that he must seek and know the great truth of life. Thus, at the age of twenty-nine, he let go the constraints of family and worldly responsibility to tread the path of self-discovery.
Following the ancient traditions of Hinduism, Siddhartha sought out spiritual teachers, or gurus. Inquiring of their knowledge, he diligently practiced various yogas and meditations.
Seven years passed, the last three in extreme asceticism, yet still he had not achieved his goal of enlightenment. Finally recognizing that such practices had served him well but were no longer appropriate, Siddhartha journeyed toward the ancient sacred forests of Uruvela (modern Gaya in Bihar, in north India) with the intention of finally and completely realizing the infinite.
According to Buddhist tradition, Siddharta Gautama finally abandoned years of rigorous fasting and asceticism by accepting milk and honey from a young woman. He then sat down beneath the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to move until he attained enlightenment.
According to some Buddhists, the Bodhi Tree is the center of the world and the site at which all Buddhas (enlightened ones) attain enlightenment......and so my friends....today we are off to Bodh Gaya, a village in the state of Bihar in India........