Traditionally, there are three “Jewels” in Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Saṃgha. The Buddha is the founding Master, the Dharma is his teaching (doctrine and practice) and the Saṃgha is the name given to the community of his disciples, who put this teaching into practice.
Buddha is an honorary title attributed to all beings who, through their own efforts, have reached Enlightenment, “bodhi”. Used absolutely, "the" Buddha (with a capital letter) designates a man in particular, Siddhārta Gautama Śākyamuni, whose teaching gave birth to what the West calls "Buddhism" and which we know in the East under the name name of Buddha-Dharma, “the teaching of the Buddha”.
The Buddha's teaching (the Dharma) comes from his own experience and not from a divine revelation: it finds its origin in Enlightenment (bodhi), an experience of the mind, free from any error or illusion . This teaching is made up of a doctrinal set (the fundamental notions) and a set of advice and methods (practice).
The community (saṃgha) of the Buddha's disciples is traditionally made up of "four quarters": the "monks" (bhikṣu), the "nuns" (bhikṣunī), the lay men (upāsaka) and women (upāsikā). They are distinguished by their social status and their commitment to practice, depending on the “precepts” (or “training”) that they undertake to implement.
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The life of Buddha is documented by a set of texts, the oldest of which were written down around the 1st century AD, approximately five centuries after his nirvana. They are based on an oral tradition or even older texts, which have since disappeared, each presents only a partial account of his life and contains numerous “wonderful” elements.
Therefore, if the existence of the “historical” Buddha is not contested, the reliability of these sources for reconstructing his “real” life is discussed, even if they are important for their exemplary value among the faithful. But it is generally considered that they have enough in common to allow a relatively reliable biography to be drawn in broad terms.
The Buddha's life dates according to Buddhist tradition range from about 560 to 480 BCE, but current studies place him about a century later, with nirvana somewhere between 420 and 350 BCE.
The future Buddha, called Siddharta84 (“He who achieved his goal”) in certain Sanskrit texts, was born in the country of Magadha, in the Shakya clan, among the line of descendants of Gautama (or Gotama). This explains why he is also called in the texts Siddharta Gautama, or Shakyamuni, the “Sage of the Shakyas” (rather in the Mahayana tradition). He has an important social status, his father Shuddhodana being an eminent person in the country of the Shakyas. Around the age of 29, although married and a young father (or in the process of becoming one), Siddharta is dissatisfied with this pleasant life and leaves his family to become an ascetic.
Unconvinced by the teaching given to him by several masters and ascetic practices, he turned to the “middle way” which combines both opulence and asceticism. Then he experiences “Awakening” seven years after leaving his home, which gives him the condition of “Awakened One”, Buddha.
He then began to deliver his teachings, beginning with his first sermon, delivered according to tradition in the Deer Park of Benares to those who were to become the first members of the Buddhist community. He sets out the Four Noble Truths, the foundations of Buddhist doctrine. He acquired an important reputation, and gradually constituted a community of disciples, laying the foundations of Buddhist discipline.