The origin, traditional Buddhism began in the 6th century BC with the historical person 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.
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. 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 renounce 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...