Siddhattha Gotama (Pali) or Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit), who was born a prince in North India about 2500 years ago, acquired enlightenment after searching for it in most of the religions of his time. With his enlightenment came the name the Buddha, because the word Buddha simply means the awakened or enlightened one. Therefore, anyone in search of enlightenment could be called a Buddhist.
The Buddha never wrote down any of his teachings. He didn't write his dhamma (dharma) - his teachings, but he delivered it verbally to all who would listen. He taught that life for the unenlightened is unsatisfactory, because it is filled with suffering and chronic frustration. Although there may be happiness in life, he taught, it is impermanent. Unhappiness also is impermanent; in fact, nothing is permanent.
To be born is unsatisfactory, to live and toil is unsatisfactory, to die is unsatisfactory. The cycle of life is one of unsatisfactoriness, caused by ignorance, which in turn causes one to crave for things one feels will alleviate the unsatisfactoriness. This is a mistake, for only by reaching a state of desiring nothing can one attain true happiness. To reach this state one must turn inward, master one's own mind and find peace within.
There are many books available relating the life story of the Buddha. However, it is sometimes difficult to separate the true facts of his life from fictional interpretations or from legendary stories. The Buddha was not a god; he was a man – a man who searched for and found enlightenment; a man who was asleep, but who woke up.
While the life of the Buddha is interesting, it is his dharma (teachings) that is most important.