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Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical figure born 2,500 years ago who we today recognize as "the Buddha" is not the "one and only" Buddha. Buddha is a title that means "enlightened one" or "awakened one" and refers to someone who has awakened to the true nature of things. All schools of Buddhism recognize more than one Buddha—there were Buddhas before Siddhartha and there will be many that follow him; he was the Buddha for our time. For this reason, he is often referred to as Shakyamuni Buddha.

The "Laughing Buddha," the popular Buddha image of a big-bellied jolly man, is not a representation of Siddhartha, or the Buddha, but of a wandering Chinese monk who lived over a thousand years ago and is believed to be the future Buddha Maitreya. Today there are many Buddhist sects that revere the Amitabha, or Amida, Buddha, who oversees a pure land, or paradise, where followers hope to go upon their death because it is viewed as a jumping off point for enlightenment.

In Buddhist theory, we all have the potential to become a Buddha, although it may take many lifetimes to reach enlightenment.

—Heidi Schultz