His given name was Siddhartha and his family name Gautama (or Gotama). He was born the son of a king of the Sakya clan of the Kshatriya, or warrior, caste (hence his later epithet Sakyamuni, "the sage of the Sakyas") in the Himalayan foothills in what is now S Nepal. It was predicted at his birth that he would become either a world ruler or a world teacher; therefore his father, King Suddhodana, who wished Siddhartha to succeed him as ruler, took great pains to shelter him from all misery and anything that might influence him toward the religious life.
Siddhartha spent his youth in great luxury, married, and fathered a son. The scriptures relate that at the age of 29, wishing to see more of the world, he left the palace grounds in his chariot. He saw on successive excursions an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a mendicant monk. From the first three of these sights he learned the inescapability of suffering and death, and in the serenity of the monk he saw his destiny. Forsaking his wife, Yashodhara, and his son, Rahula, he secretly left the palace and became a wandering ascetic.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.