Siddhartha Guatama (560-480B.C.) was the founder of Buddhism. His father was called Suddhodana and his mother Maya. Guatama's mother died shortly after his birth. After the mother's death, his father did his best to hide Siddhartha from the world of human misery. Primarily, he was not allowed to see diseased people, dead people, old people, or ascetic monks. As a young man he received the education of a prince. His father was a Kshatriya rajah and he was very wealthy. Sid-dhartha Guatama did not become aware of the real world until he was 13 years old.
Then, a few years later, when Guatama reached his mature years he realized that the life most people led was filled with suffering and pain. He decided that he would leave his life at his family's palace and begin searching for life's answers. Finally, one day while he was meditating near a stream he had a vision that told him that life was an endless cycle of birth and death. During this vision it was revealed to him that people were bound to this cycle by three things; desire, thirst, and craving.
Soon afterward, Guatama became known as Buddha or “Enlightened One.” Buddha believed that if you lost your desire then you could become enlightened, and that you could break this endless cycle of birth and death by following the Eightfold Path. Breaking the cycle was called Nirvana, which means to “put out like a candle.” Those who achieve Nirvana were called arabat or saint. Eventually, Buddha's teachings evolved into a religion.
Buddhism received its greatest boost in popularity when the emperor of India, Asoka converted in 297 AD. He believed that Buddhism could potentially become the religion for all of the people of the world. Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Ceylon, Syria, and Greece. At the time, India and China were major trading partners. It is believed that Buddhism was introduced in China as soon as it became popular in India. Buddhism first arrived in Japan in 522 AD. At this time, the Korean state of Paekche presented the emperor and the Yamato court with an image of Buddha and a collection of his scriptures.
Buddhism received an impetus in Japan when the ruling Soga family converted. Shortly afterward, it would received another boost when Soga Prince Shotoku became a follower. Shotoku constructed the first forty-six temples in Japan, while at the same time he dispatching Buddhist missionaries throughout Japan. Then, in 604 AD, he further endorsed the religion in his “Seventeen Article Constitution.” In the constitution he stated that Buddhism should be revered. He also stated that everyone should practice loyalty, diligence, and self-control. By the end of the sixth century Mahayana type Buddhism had a firm foothold in Japan.
The Japanese would respond to the Buddhist invasion by naming their own native religion. They called it Shinto or Kami-no-michi. This was probably the first time that they had considered their type of worship as a religion. Gradually, the two religions would mesh into one. Then after they meshed, Japanese versions of Buddhism emerged. These new versions included Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren.