Buddha (Sanskrit, Pali, others: literally Awakened One, Enlightened One, from the Sanskrit: to awaken) can refer to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who lived from about 623 BC to 543 BC attaining enlightenment around 588 BCE, or to anyone who has rediscovered enlightenment.

Buddhism recognises three types of Buddha, of which the simple term Buddha is normally reserved for the first type, that of Samyaksam-buddha (Pali: Samma-Sambuddha). The attainment of Nirvana is exactly the same, but a Samyaksam-buddha expresses more qualities and capacities than the other two.

Generally Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha (“One who has attained an aim or object”) Gautama to have been the first or last Buddha. Technically, a Buddha is one who rediscovers the Dharma (that is, truth; the nature of reality, of the mind, of the affliction of the human condition and the correct “path” to liberation) by Enlightenment, which comes to be after skillful or good karma (action) is perfectly maintained and all negative unskillful actions are abandoned.

From the standpoint of classical Buddhist doctrine, the word Buddha denotes a type of person of which there have been many in the course of cosmic time.The Buddha Gautama, then, is simply one member of the spiritual lineage of Buddhas, which stretches back into the dim recesses of the past and forward into the distant horizons of the future.

According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama did not claim any divine status for himself nor did he assert that he was inspired by any god. He claimed to be a teacher to guide those who chose to listen, rather than a personal saviour.

Gautama Buddha stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine; distant gods are subject to karma themselves in decaying heavens. The Buddha is solely an exemplar, guide and teacher for those sentient beings who must tread the path themselves, attain spiritual Awakening, and see truth and reality as they are.

A Tang Dynasty sculpture of Amitabha Buddha, found in the Hidden Stream Temple Cave, Longmen Grottoes, China indicates.According to Gautama Buddha, the Awakened bliss of Nirvana he attained is available to all beings, although orthodoxy holds that one must first be born as a human being. Emphasizing this universal availability, the Mahayana school of Buddhism in particular refers to many Buddhas and also to many bodhisattvas (beings committed to Enlightenment but who vow to postpone their own Nirvana in order to assist others on the path). In the holy Tripitaka – the core sacred texts of Buddhism – the numerous past Buddhas and their lives are spoken of, along with the next Buddha-to-be, who is named Maitreya.

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