Better known today as the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama is respected as a great teacher, whose teachings were an oral tradition for a while before being written down and became a cornerstone of Buddhism.
Buddha and Buddhism
Not the Average Joe by a long shot, his biography is marked by being orphaned by his mother from birth and then getting a privileged upbringing from his aunt in a Hindu family (not surprising given that he was likely a native of present-day Nepal or India), which was allegedly to prepare him to be a prince or great king, and which kept him from witnessing human suffering or death for a period of time. That was how his dad, King Suddhodana, raised him according to some scholars (but it’s become more debatable over time as to whether it’s true). Once exposed to these, Siddhartha Gautama began a journey of finding a middle ground (more specifically, the Middle Way) between the extremes of asceticism and sensual indulgence and teaching others to do the same, and clearly didn’t think material wealth provided any real answers to life’s serious questions, as that was something he’d already tried growing up.
Buddha not a diety
Despite the statues of Buddha that have been erected and still stand today (most prominently in parts of Asia and even a plethora of Asian restaurants), he himself didn’t claim to be a deity (and thus likely wouldn’t have encouraged anyone to commemorate him like this). On the contrary, it’s more accurate to describe him as having been somewhat of a professing agnostic, since he came to reject the pantheistic Hinduism he saw in his time and emphasized looking within rather than outward in order to solve life’s struggles and achieve liberation.
Only after marrying his cousin Princess Yasodhara and having a son with her named Rahula did he officially gain his title as the Buddha, with all three of them eventually taking up a monastic lifestyle. Rahula was outlived by Buddha, but as per the Pali Canon, some details of how Rahula’s life actually played out aren’t too clear, including the most accurate story of how he got his name. Nevertheless, it appears from writings that Buddha basically treated his son as just another one of his disciples rather than giving him special treatment because of his status as a son. In fact, it’s speculated that the more obscure details of his life are because he voluntarily faded into the background of things and wanted to avoid taking advantage of this status.
Siddhartha Gautama’s own cousin and brother-in-law Devadatta is said to have made several attempts on his life, but he ultimately died in Kushinagar, India sometime during the 400’s BC. He is described in written accounts (which much like the ones of his teachings didn’t start until hundreds of years later) as achieving parinirvana there. While he’s the only Buddha that’s documented as a verifiable part of history, tradition has it that he’s one of five to appear in the current Kalpa, or aeon, and that there’s one more yet to appear therein, namely, Maitreya.