Buddhism Simplified
Brief notes on Buddhist thought and practice
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The Buddha's Family and Society

The man we call "The Buddha" was born about 2,500 years ago in northern India, at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains, in an area that is now part of modern Nepal.

His personal name was Siddhartha, and his family name was Gautama (sometimes spelled "Gotama"). He was part of the Shakya clan or tribe. For this reason he is often called "Shakyamuni," meaning "Sage (muni) of the Shakyas."

His father, we are usually told, was a king. We must not mistake this for the European idea of a king. You can think of something more like a petty chief, a tribal leader or warlord. Still, compared to most of the other people in that day, his position was an exalted one.

Siddhartha's father was named Shuddhodana, and he was "king" of a city called Kapilavastu. His mother was named Maya.

Shuddhodana was a member of the Kshatriya caste. These were the administrators ("kings") and warriors of that Indian society. The other castes were the Brahmins, who were the scholars and priests, and were higher than the Kshatriyas; the Vaishyas, who were merchants and farmers; and the Shudras, the workers and craftsman. The last two castes were lower than the Kshatriyas.

This caste system will be of great importance in the story of the Buddha later on.


  1. We seldom think of rich men becoming spiritual teachers. How do you think this might have affected the Buddha's teachings?
  2. Wouldn't you expect a spiritual teacher to come from the Brahmin caste? What is the significance of Siddhartha being born a Kshatriya?

Next time: The Birth of the Buddha

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