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            Buddhism is a religion and philosophy founded by Siddhartha Gautama in northeast India during the period from the late 6th century to the early 4th century BC. Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played an influential role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of much of the Eastern world. The Buddha, which means the "Enlightened One," died in northeastern India between 500 and 350 BC. According to tradition, his family name was Gautama; later sources call him Siddhartha, which means "He Who Has Reached His Goal." He was reared in a minor royal family of the ruling Kshatriya, or warrior, caste. Shocked as a young man after wittness by pure accident sickness, old age, and death, he renounced his family life in order to wander as a shramana, or ascetic, in search of religious understanding and a way of release from the human condition. Discarding the teachings of his contemporaries, through meditation he achieved enlightenment, or ultimate understanding. Thereafter, the Buddha instructed his followers (the sangha) in the dharma (Pali dhamma, "truth") and the "Middle Way," a path between a worldly life and extremes of self-denial. The essence of the Buddha's early preaching was said to be the Four Noble Truths: (1) life is fundamentally disappointment and suffering; (2) suffering is a result of one's desires for pleasure, power, and continued existence; (3) in order to stop disappointment and suffering one must stop desiring; and (4) the way to stop desiring and thus suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path--right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, and right concentration. The realization of the truth of anatman (no eternal self) and pratitya-samutpada (the law of dependent origination) was taught as essential for the indescribable state of release called nirvana ("blowing out").

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