All physical existence is in a cycle much like the "big Bang" theory of modern astro-physics where all matter come together in a big ball and then explodes. It expands for billions of years and then collapses back into a ball for billions of years until it and explodes again. This the Buddhist system this cycle is called a kalpa and these cycles will repeat infinitely. The physical form of the world is a Vast mountain in the center of the universe, with all of the continents around it: At the top are 28 heaven worlds, next, below them there are the five realms of Mount Meru itself, after that there are alternating rings of mountains and seas and after that there is a great sea with the continents in it. Various heavenly beings live in the heaven worlds, humans animals and ghosts live on the continents, and beings who have been reborn in the hells live in six realms that are under the continents. They are not shown in this drawing.
All life emerges from disturbances in the dharma. Life is also eternal and any individual may be reborn an infinite number of times. He or she can be reborn as anything from a bacteria to a heavenly being in the highest heaven. The cycle of lives of an individual continues so often and in so many ways that some Buddhists have developed a saying. "Every being now alive has been your mother at some time in the past," and they really do mean to count all of the insects, and even earthworms.
The Buddhist theory of the end of the being/world/universe (eschatology) states that the universe will go on for all infinite time. World cycles, or kalpas, will repeat over and over and the life cycle of individual beings will repeat over and over- infinitely!
The Buddhist view of personal salvation (soteriology) is that the individual may escape the endless cycle of rebirths by attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment is essentially knowledge of how the system works and how the individual is literally identical with the totality of the universe. This knowledge is called enlightenment. It may be attained through:
3) ethical/moral behavior/well being
--All of these beliefs were in existence before the lifetime of the person we call the Buddha.
Its founder was Gotama Siddhartha who became known as the Buddha or "Enlightened One." He lived about 2500 years ago in a small kingdom in the Indian-Nepalese border region. There are four main events in his life.
1) The first was his birth which was accompanied by many good omens and events. After his birth, he grew up as a well educated prince of his kingdom and married a young woman who gave birth to their son. However, he tired of the princely life and, feeling dissatisfied, soon left home to become a wandering ascetic, a beggar. He joined a band of such beggars and wandered about from place to place seeking teaching from great masters. What he sought from these teachers was a special kind of knowledge that would allow him to understand the nature of the universe. For six years the young prince lived a beggar's life. During this time he nearly starved to death through deliberately depriving himself of food.
2) The second great event is his enlightenment in which he attained that special knowledge. There is a very long story of this event. Essentially it is as follows. Prince Gotama, having nearly starved to death from his ascetic practices, resolved to eat again and to then meditate (essentially sitting quietly and thinking about it) until he attained the knowledge that he was seeking. To gain this knowledge, he sat down under a big tree and begin to meditate. At one point in his meditations, an evil being, named Mara attacked the prince with an army of evil warriors representing hate, lust and greed. A great battle followed in which the weapons of the evil army turned into flowers and Mara, the evil being, was defeated. At the defeat of Mara, Prince Gotama had won the right to the knowledge he sought. That knowledge is called enlightenment or bodhi. Once he attained that knowledge, Gotama became known as the Buddha which means the "enlightened one." The name is actually the word bodhi combined with the verb ta, "to be," combined into one word, i.e. bodhi+ta = Buddha. So when we say Gotama the Buddha we are actually saying "Gotama the Enlightened One."
3) The third great event is the first sermon. After he had attained his special knowledge, Gotama the Buddha decided to teach his special way of attaining this knowledge to others. He went to a place known as the deer park where the ascetics who had been his former companions were living. They quickly realized that Gotama the Buddha had attained the special knowledge and asked him to teach them how to attain it. What he taught them will be talked about later. The act of teaching it to his former fellow ascetics is called the first sermon. From this first teaching arose all future teachings by Gotama the Buddha and his followers. He would teach for over forty years.
4) The fourth event is his last death, which is called the parinirvana. The word parinirvana means something quite different than just death. The Buddhists believe that an individual life force would live forever. It does this by being born and dying over and over again. If one has been good, he or she will be reborn in the higher levels of birth such as in the human realms or in the worlds of the heavenly beings. However, if one has been bad, he or she will be reborn in the lower levels of birth, as an animal, a ghost or even in one of many hells. To die to be reborn is ordinary death to the Buddhists. However the Buddha was not to be reborn again. Thus his death was like the flame of a candle going out. It was the cessation of all rebirths. Gotama the Buddha had attained his final release. What would happen to his individual being? He would reunite with the totality of the universe- like a drop of water falling into the ocean.