This literally means ‘The Awakened One’ or ‘Enlightened One’. The Buddha was a human being – he did not claim to be a god or prophet – who became ‘enlightened’, which means that, through his own efforts, he came to understand what life was all about. In Mahayana Buddhism there are many Buddhas. For them, the word ‘Buddha’ can also refer to the way things really are as opposed to the way things seem to be to human perception.
Along with the Dhamma and the Sangha, the Buddha is one of the ‘three jewels’ of Buddhism that followers depend upon for their lasting happiness. A Mahayana temple might contain images of several different Buddhas.
Buddhism is a religion (followers prefer the term “spiritual path”) of around 500 million people, who follow the teachings that began with the Buddha, a man who lived in ancient India around the 5th Century BCE.
Buddhist texts were written in many different languages. Pali is the language of the texts of the Theravada school, whilst Sanskrit is used for general Mahayana texts. Although Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan texts are important too, we have just provided Pali words first and Sanskrit where there is an alternative.