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What makes the Buddha such a powerful figure in Buddhism?

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What makes the Buddha such a powerful figure in Buddhism?
(other than he invented it!)
And why is the eight fold path so important?

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The Buddha's true name was Siddhartha Guatama. He was (and is) so important in Buddhism because he was the first Buddha (contrary to popular belief, he is not the only Buddha. Buddha means "Enlightened One," so according to Buddhism, anyone who follows the Eightfold Path - which is intended to be a way to spiritually transcend the material world - can become enlightened, and therefore, a Buddha).

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Its teachings that he learned from life, not what he learned from other people, and everyone is invited.
"Learning from life is knowledge, learning from people is ignorance."

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His wisdom!
He didn't invent anything, he realized the ultimate truth and laws and taught them accordingly. You can't invent truth and laws. Thus, he want you to realize the same truth.
His profound teaching are not found anywhere else, only in Buddhism. In addition, his total approach on a complete teaching including morality, equality, mindfulness and wisdom is unmatched (all other teachings are either biased or neglected some aspects). Most importantly, his teaching focused on human (us), you have total control over your future.
The eight fold path is important because it is the path towards enlightenment, liberating one from all sufferings.

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The Buddha is a powerful image to me because he is human, just like me, and it means that I, as a human, have the potential to become as great as him.
The Eightfold Path ensures not only good living through moral precepts but supports the development of inner happiness and positive states of mind. And what do people want other than to be happy?

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What makes the Buddha such a powerful figure in Buddhism?
The teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma, are not something he invented. Instead, it is something that, like the Law of Gravity, must be discovered. In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is highly revered because he discovered the Dharma with no one to help him. The actual term for this is samma-sam-buddho (fully and self-awakened one) in Pali language.
The second reason why he is revered so greatly is that after he attained Nirvana, he lived an exemplary life. He did not crave anything, but just dwelt in peace. When someone needed his help, he went out of his way to help them. Read the story of Angulimala for example. He averted wars between neighboring tribes, helped a woman who had lost her son, and so on.
Because he had let go of his selfish, petty nature, he became the consummate altruist.
As to the Eightfold Path, and why it helps, allow me to quote from the Buddha's first sermon:
"And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata [the Buddha] that – producing vision, producing knowledge – leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that – producing vision, producing knowledge – leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding."
Found here:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html
In short, the Eightfold Path is the essence of the Middle Way, and the Middle Way is the road away from the extremes of hedonism and self-mortification.
Hope that helps.

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The greatness of the Buddha is not only his power but His compassion to people in the world. The Buddha Shakyamuni gave up his prince crown and became enlightened in order to spread his teaching to helps his disciples to reach Enlightenment.
Buddha Shakyamuni also told the prophecy about the udumbara flowers:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7mycKWApIc
http://en.epochtimes.com/news/7-6-13/56426.html
The 'eight fold path' maybe important to certain sect in Buddhism. For example, a rediscovered Buddhist belief, Falun Gong holds that the universal principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance as the highest standard.

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