The teaching and practices of Buddhism go back 2,500 years to the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. Many others before and after have awakened to enlightenment. Shakyamuni was born into a royal family in North India. The story tells of a person kept in luxury and pleasure within the palace for twenty nine years. Finally, on trips outside the palace, he became aware of sickness, old age, and death; the conditions that affect all of us. He escaped from the palace and his protective father and started a search for the end of this suffering.
For six years he practiced an extreme form of asceticism and denial. This did not remove his suffering and eventually he found a middle way between indulgence and denial. This middle way led to his enlightenment, removing all his suffering. He spent the remaining forty five years of his life helping others.
His teachings were made suitable for the many types of people and many types of suffering. Awakened beings who lived after Buddha have bought Buddhist teachings to accord with the changing times and cultures that Buddhism has entered. The many, many teachings, practices, schools, and sects have arisen from Shakyamuni's original varied teachings.
The Buddhist teachings point to the fact that our essential, fundamental nature is pure, clear, and complete. It is full of wisdom and compassion. This has become obscured by defilements and afflictions of the mind. Even so, these defilements do not remove or affect our essential natures. All the Buddhist practices, methods, and teachings are to remove the obscurations and make manifest our essentially pure nature.
If we are sincere and diligent in our practice our essential nature begins to manifest. It is then possible to see this pure nature mirrored in others. We then relate to other people's pure nature in a way that helps them have faith in it themselves. Before this, when we see only our defilements, we see the world in the same way, projecting our inner reality on the outer reality.
When we have contacted and are manifesting our true nature, we relate and reflect the same in other people, in our situations, in the way we view the world. We are now unselfconsciously helping the world. Buddhism calls this the way of the Bodhisattva.