Many speak of Buddhism as a religion of ideals, without speaking of Buddha himself. Because of this, many outside of the teaching of Buddhism do not realize that Buddha was a real person, or that the life of Buddha did much to shape the religion of Buddhism that we know today.
The Theravada Tipitaka scriptures place Siddhartha's (Buddha's) birth in Lumbini, which is now part of Nepal. As legend holds it, an astrologer came to Siddhartha's father, King Suddhodana, and warned him that his son would become either a great king or a great holy man. This choice depended solely on whether or not Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace walls.
Suddhodana was adamant in keeping his son within the palace walls, wishing to make him into a great king. Siddhartha, however, managed to escape the walls when he was 29. He ventured beyond the wall four times, each time learning something new about human suffering. From observing an old man, he learned of aging; from a diseased man, he learned of sickness; from a corpse, he learned of death; from a holy man, he learned of peace. These encounters are known as the four sights. The road that Siddhartha began with these sights changed him, and to mark it, his name was changed as well.
Shakyamuni Siddhattha Gotama began to explore the ways of monks, and paths to enlightenment. First, he tried to starve himself, imitating the ascetic monks. Weak and starving, he accepted milk and rice from a young girl and changed his approach. After this, he claimed that denial was self-hatred, and could not help a person grow. After much contemplation, Gotama discovered one of the key principles of Buddhism: The Middle Way. By choosing neither the path of over-indulgence nor the path of starvation, a monk could come to terms with the world around him.
When he turned 35, Gotama went to the town of Bodh Gaya, and sat beneath a sacred fig tree, vowing not to rise before achieving enlightenment. For many days, he sat without moving. Eventually, he awakened to the reality around him, and achieved enlightenment.
Not long after this achievement, Gotama gathered followers and instituted a monastic order. Acknowledged as the Buddha, the rest of his life was spent spreading his teachings. The life of Buddha was complete, and his teachings were passed down, offering peace and enlightenment to all who sought them.