Buddhism began in the 7th century B.C., when Buddha Shakyamuni began teaching the path to enlightenment after he himself was enlightened under a Bodhi tree while living in the forest after renouncing his role as prince. Buddha began spreading the four noble truths. These truths were the first spokes in the first turn of the wheel of Dharma.
Buddha's wheel symbol explaining Dharma became one of the most important symbols in Buddhism. Buddha later taught more truths that applied to the second and third turns of the wheel. Ultimately, the four truths are the precursors to an eightfold path to the liberation of mankind from suffering and, ultimately, enlightenment. The eight spokes of the wheel represent the eight steps to enlightenment. The truths are essentially that suffering is inevitable, one must let go of suffering in order to control it, understanding man's true nature through Nirvana or "the awakening" is the key to freedom from suffering and letting go of the limitations of reality is the only way to achieve enlightenment. Although Buddha gave many speeches throughout his life, it was not until several hundred years after his death that Buddhism began to gain a significant following. Today, Buddhism is the 4th most practiced religion in the world after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The name Buddhism, however, was not given to the practice until the early 19th century.