Siddhartha Guatama is known as the Buddha or Awakened One. He left a life of ease in search of answers to why people and other living things suffer and how to overcome suffering. Once he discovered the path of enlightenment and no longer needed additional rebirths to reach Nirvana, he set out to teach what he had discovered to others.
Today Buddhism has two major branches: Theravada (School of the Elders) and Mahayana (Great Vehicle). The former is prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia and the latter in Eastern Asia. The latter encompasses the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism, and Tendai. Some consider Vajrayana a third branch.
Although Buddha (Siddhartha Gotama) left no writings, the source of inspiration for Buddhists are the Legend of The Four Passing Sights, Sermons known as the Four Noble Truths and Flower as well as Five Precepts, Pali Canon, and Dhammapada.
To become a Buddhist one takes Refuge in the Three Jewels--Buddha, Dharma, and Sangra--and generates bodhichitta (compassion) or the altruistic mind, a good heart. The Buddha is the Awakened One and Dharma are his teachings also known as The Way of Truth. Sangra is the community of practitioners.
Buddhism offers insight into the ultimate nature of reality and a way to enlightenment that can end the constant rebirths from one lifetime to the next. Unlike other religions, Buddhism does not depend on the divine but rather on developing our mental capacities and actions to enable us to live a happier life.
Excerpts from Buddhist Texts
The Four Noble Truths include dukkha often interpreted as suffering (unsatisfactory conditions of life), tanha (desire) or the cause of the suffering, nirodha (cessation of suffering), and magga (path to enlightenment).
The Dharma teaches that the path to enlightenment includes eight steps in three major categories:
"Charity is fruitful only when we feel the three pure feelings: Feeling joy before the gift is given, giving gracefully, and having pleasure of it after; that is perfect charity." Jataka 390
"Misers certainly do not go to heaven. Fools don't like being generous. But the wise, rejoicing in giving, finds joy in the higher worlds." Dhammapada 270
"Some people are like big children, harming others without even seeing it. Staying angry with these fools is like being mad at fire because it burns." Bodhicharyavatara 6.39
"The family stands together like a forest, while storms blow down the tree that stands alone." Jataka 74
"I will never abandon any living thing. I will love all living things as one. I will lead all living things to nirvana!" 18,000 Verse Perfection of WisdomSutra 11
"He makes his body into food and drink, first relieving hunger and thirst, then teaching people the truth. Where there are those in poverty and need, he comes with unending supplies, allowing them to encourage and lead others." Vimalakirti Sutra 8
A friend in need walks seven steps to help us. A real comrade walks twelve to give us aid. A person walking weeks with us is kin; walking longer they become ourself." Jataka 83
"When someone goes wrong, it is right for his real friends to move him, even by force, to do the right thing." Jatakamala 20.
"Look upon one who tells you your faults as giving you a hidden treasure, as a wise person who shows you the dangers of life. Follow that person: if you do, you will see good and not evil." Dhammapada 76
"....I will teach the truth for the sake of saving the world." Buddhacharita 15. 81-82
"Do not examine the limitations of others. Examine how you can change your own." Dakini Teachings 1
"It's not right for the good person who desires happiness to pray for it...Instead, the good person who desires happiness should walk the path of practice leading to happiness." Anguttara Nikaya 5.43
"Moderate effort over a long time is important, no matter what you are trying to do. One brings failure on oneself by working extremely hard at the beginning, attempting to do too much, and then giving it all up after a short time." The Dalai Lama