Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ravindu. Ravindu Wonders, “Who is buddha?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ravindu!

Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant? If so, you may have seen decorations and artwork, such as statues and sculptures, which feature Buddhist temples and maybe even the Buddha himself.

Many people are familiar with Buddha statues that portray a smiling, laughing man with a round, protruding belly. Some people even believe it's good luck to rub the belly of these statues.

These statues are of a character known as Hotei, the Laughing Buddha. This character is based upon an unusual monk who lived during the Liang Dynasty. Over time, the Laughing Buddha became associated with good luck and fortune in Asian culture.

The Laughing Buddha represents a Buddha or "Enlightened One." In the Buddhist religion, a person who has become enlightened or awakened can see the world as it really is. He or she is then known as a Buddha and is free from all faults.

According to Buddhism, there have been many Buddhas in the past, and there will be many more in the future. However, when people talk about the Buddha, they're referring to the person who founded the Buddhist religion and is often depicted in statues that portray a thin man deep in meditation.

The Buddha was a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who historians believe was born in the 6th century B.C. in southern Nepal near the border with India. The son of a tribal king, young Siddhartha was raised in a palace with little to no contact with the outside world.

At about 30 years of age, Prince Siddhartha left his life of comfort, determined to discover what the real world was like. He encountered a world rife with suffering that motivated him to undertake a six-year quest to understand the human condition.

According to legend, Siddhartha, after renouncing his title and becoming a monk, finally attained enlightenment while meditating beneath a fig tree. He became the Buddha — the Enlightened One — and spent the rest of his life teaching others what he had learned.

His teachings, known as the Dharma, became the foundation of Buddhism. The essence of his teachings is summed up in the Four Noble Truths: the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that leads to the end of suffering.

Buddhists believe that souls are reborn multiple times into different realms based upon the concept of karma. Karma holds that good actions during a lifetime will bring about happiness and rebirth into one of the three fortunate realms: demigods, gods, and men.

Bad actions during a lifetime, however, will bring about unhappiness and rebirth into one of the three unfortunate realms: animals, ghosts, and hell. Buddhists consider the realm of man to be the highest realm of rebirth.

Why? Only the realm of man gives a living being an opportunity to reach Nirvana, which is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Once Nirvana is reached, rebirths stop and a person has become a Buddha who can then lead others as a spiritual guide.

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