From Prince to Buddha

Here you can read about the Buddha’s life story.

Discover how Prince Siddhartha of India set out about 2,500 years ago in search of answers to life's big questions.

The story of the Buddha’s life and work evolved over the centuries, with ever more wondrous details being added to it bit by bit.

The first written narratives about his life emerged around the 1st century CE, or roughly 500 years after he is said to have lived. They begin with his previous lives and go on to recount the events of his life from birth to death.

To this day, across all Buddhist communities in Asia, episodes from the life of the Buddha are retold in order to teach the basic values of Buddhism.

The story below compiles some of the most frequently narrated episodes in the Buddha’s life, which are taken from various Buddhist sources. 

Queen Maya’s Dream

Queen Maya’s Dream

Before the Buddha came into the world in the body of Siddhartha Gautama, he had already been reborn many times and had lived countless lives.

At last, the Buddha was ready for his ultimate rebirth as the son of a young king and queen in northern India.

One night, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant had entered her belly. Shortly afterwards she learned that she was pregnant.

Buddha Shakyamuni as a Newborn Infant

The Birth of the Buddha

Heavy with child, Queen Maya, Siddhartha’s mother, set out for her parents' home to give birth there. But whilst she was still underway the labour pains set in.

In a garden by the wayside, the baby prince emerged from the left side of her body. He immediately rose to his feet and took seven steps. After scanning the four cardinal points he exclaimed: “I have been born as the Buddha.”

The earth shook and the air was filled with the sweet scent of sandalwood. Blue and pink blossoms fell from the sky.

The Prophecy of the Wise Asita

Asita’s Prophecy

After the queen had returned home with her son, her husband summoned the sage Asita to read the boy’s future. Wise Asita realized immediately that the person before him was someone special. He predicted that the prince would become either a mighty king or a religious teacher.

The Prophecy of the Wise Asita

Life in the Palace

Siddhartha’s father wished for his son to become a mighty king.

The prince was therefore not allowed to leave the palace so that he would not experience the ugly sides of life.

In this way, his father hoped to prevent Siddhartha from being overcome by doubts as to whether he was really meant to be king.

Prince Siddhartha’s Wedding

The Prince’s Wedding

So the prince spent his youth at court and grew into a young man.

He received a proper education and proved himself as a talented warrior and huntsman.

When it came time to marry, the handsome young man wed the beautiful Princess Yashodhara. She soon bore him a son, whom they named Rahula.

The Four Excursions

The Four Excursions

Despite the many comforts and luxuries at court, the prince wished to learn more about life beyond the palace walls.

He travelled to the city three times. On his first outing he came across an old man hobbling on a stick. On his second visit he met a sick man writhing in pain. And on his third trip he encountered the body of a recently deceased man surrounded by his family in mourning.

Prince Siddhartha was deeply moved. For the first time in his life he had witnessed pain, sorrow, and suffering.

The Four Excursions

The prince then realized that all humans grow old and die. He saw the grief people suffered when they lost someone dear to them. He saw their despair when they realized everything around them was constantly changing, leaving them with nothing to hold on to. This made him very sad.

On his fourth excursion he met a monk who had given away all his possessions, keeping nothing for himself but a simple garment and living off what others gave him to eat. Nevertheless, he seemed happy and content.

Leaving for Homelessness

Flight from the Palace

Like many people in India, Siddhartha believed that a person was born not just once but again and again. He decided to seek a way out of this painful and eternal cycle and to become a monk.

Since his family did not want to let him go, he stole away quietly one night. Heavenly beings raised the hooves of his horse to prevent any noise from waking the sleeping palace.

The prince cast off his possessions and dressed himself in a simple cloth. From then on he lived off what people placed in his alms bowl.

Buddha Shakyamuni

The Years of Learning

Under the guidance of two teachers, Siddhartha practised meditation day in and day out.

He began to understand that nothing in the world is permanent or unchangeable. What emerges one day will eventually pass. Nothing can be held onto forever – neither objects, nor people, nor pleasant situations. But since people crave these things and are not willing to let them go, suffering is inevitable.

Siddhartha now saw that suffering comes from craving and that only by eliminating craving could suffering be brought to an end.

Mara’s Daughters Tempt the Buddha

The Ultimate Awakening

The path to this insight was arduous and full of obstacles.

After a long period of practice and meditation, Siddhartha had almost reached his goal. Then Mara, the god of death, tried to startle him out of his contemplation and stop him from attaining supreme knowledge.

He first tempted Siddhartha with all kinds of riches. But as the prince had relinquished all worldly possessions and was free of all desires, he did not fall for this trick.

The Buddha Invokes the Earth Goddess as his Witness

Then Mara sent his three beautiful daughters to seduce the young man.

This, too, failed, so Mara sent an army of demons.

But since the prince had realized that the human body was worthless and only a temporary part of the cycle of all things, this too did not deter him.

To mark his victory over Mara, Siddhartha touched the ground with his hand and called on the earth goddess to witness his awakening.

The Buddha Begins Teaching

The Years of Teaching

Prince Siddhartha had become the Buddha, the Awakened One. He was now ready to share his insights with others. He gathered followers around him and began to teach.

More and more people wished to hear the words of the Buddha. But of course, there were also some who were envious of his success.

Buddha Shakyamuni Tames the Wild Elephant Nalagiri

The Miraculous Taming of the Elephant

His cousin Devadatta, in particular, was so full of envy that he repeatedly tried to kill the Buddha.

Once he even set a raging elephant upon him. The wild creature trampled everything in its path and no one could stop it.

When the Buddha came face to face with the animal, he gently raised his hand, at which the elephant immediately became calm and knelt before him.

The Buddha’s Parinirvana

Complete Extinction

At the age of 80, the Buddha died.

For him the death of his body meant that he had reached his ultimate goal. By attaining parinirvana, “complete extinction”, he stepped out of the eternal cycle of death and rebirth and was forever freed from human suffering.


Tombs for the Buddha

The Buddha’s body was cremated and his ashes were distributed among his followers.

The followers then buried his remains in tombs known as stupas.

The stupa became a symbol of the Buddha, the Awakened One, but also of his teachings and complete awakening.

Great Stupa at Sanchi

According to legend, the Indian emperor Ashoka (reigned ca 272–236 BCE) had the Buddha’s bodily remains dug up and distributed throughout Asia. He is believed to have built 84,000 stupas.

Stupas, different forms


In the various countries across Asia where Buddhism is practised, stupas take on different forms.

In early India, most stupas were in the shape of a hemisphere. In eastern Asia they became tall towers, called pagodas. And in Tibet they occasionally resemble a mountain peak.

Stupas are venerated by ritually circling them clockwise.


Stupas may take the form of a large building or a small vessel.

Of course, not all stupas contain the Buddha’s ashes. Buddhist scriptures and symbols are also considered “remains” or relics of the Buddha and his teachings.

For this reason, people often placed in a stupa sacred texts or a crystal, considered to be as pure and indestructible as the Buddha’s ultimate wisdom.

Someone once asked: What is the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings?

Yunmen replied: You must turn south to see the constellation of the Big Dipper.

From Prince to Buddha