BUDDHAS: ORIGIN, HISTORY, MEANING AND TIES TO HINDUISM

GAUTAMA SIDDHARTHA, THE BUDDHA

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Buddhism began with Gautama Siddhartha (563-480 B.C.), The Buddha. Regarded as both a real-life historical person and religious figure, he was the son of a rich Hindu raja from the Sayka clan and lived 500 years before Jesus Christ and was a contemporary of Confucius, Socrates and Plato. In the centuries after his death fact and myth became intertwined and a legendary Buddha was created. One early Buddhist chant that pays tribute to him goes: “He is indeed the Lord, perfected, whole self-awakened, endowed with knowledge and right conduct, well-farer, knower of the worlds, incomparable charioteer of men to be tamed, teacher of “devas” and mankind.”

According to tradition, the historical Buddha lived from 563 to 483 B.C., although scholars postulate that he may have lived as much as a century later, proposing 565-486 B.C. 463-383 B.C. and 624-544 B.C. and other dates for his life. After years of meditating and wandering, Gautama Siddhartha reportedly became "enlightened" and was recognized as such by others who asked him to guide them to enlightenment. His answers to their questions became the core of Buddhist teachings. In India, by the Pala period (A.D. 700–1200), the Buddha's life was codified into a series of "Eight Great Events". These eight events are, in order of their occurrence in the Buddha's life: 1) his birth, 2) his defeat over Mara and consequent enlightenment, 3) his first sermon at Sarnath, 4) the miracles he performed at Shravasti, 5) his descent from the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, 6) his taming of a wild elephant, 7) the monkey's gift of honey, and 8) his death.

Based on the number of books written about him (2,446 in 1999 in the Library of Congress collection), Buddha is the world's 12th most famous person. He ranks behind Jesus and Plato but ahead of Freud and Mozart. The story of Buddha’s life is based in historical fact, legends and poetry. Perry Garfinkel wrote in National Geographic: “The Buddha did not intend his ideas to become a religion; in fact, he discouraged following any path or advice without testing it personally. His dying words, as it's told, were: "You must each be a lamp unto yourselves." Nonetheless, within several hundred years of his death, the Buddha's teachings had taken strong hold [Source: Perry Garfinkel, National Geographic, December 2005]

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index

Books: “Buddhism” by Christmas Humphrey (Pelican); “Buddhism Explained” by Phra Khantipalo; “Buddhist Dictionary” by Mahathera Nyanatiloka; “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. Also recommended are books by the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, a respected Buddhist scholar and former Tibetan Buddhist monk; and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam who has been involved with various anti-war activities. Film: “Little Buddha”

Meaning of Buddha


Nagaerapata (Chinese) worshopping Buddha Bharhut,early 1st century BC

The term "Buddha" can be translated as “the Enlightened One”, “the One Who Knows'”, “The Awakened One” or "Enlightened Person." 'The Buddha' is not a personal name but a title and is somewhat similar to Messiah or Christ. The word “Buddha” is the past participle of the Sanskrit verb “buddha” , which means to awaken or know. The proper name of The Buddha that Buddhists worship is Gautama Siddhartha. Many followers also refer to him as Sakyamuni, the "Silent Sage of the Sakya clan” or “Samma-sam Buddha", “The Wholly Self Awakened One.”

The Buddha — Guatama Siddhartha — was not born the Buddha but became the Buddha through his realisation of full and perfect Enlightenment. This state is also known as Nirvana (Sanskrit) or Nibbana (Pali) and occurs when a person sees and understands the true nature of all things. As a result, all their greed, hatred and delusion is extinguished, which in turn means that there will be no more re-birth.

A buddha is an all-knowing being who has personally been able to perceive the ultimate truth and has reached a perfect state of transcendent knowledge in which the fires of greed, hate, and delusion are extinguished, passing into nirvana and never having to experience rebirth again. Anyone can become a Buddha, in theory anyway. But when we say "the Buddha," unless otherwise specified, the term refers to the founder of Buddhism as a religion — Gautama Siddhartha, sometimes also called "the Historical Buddha." [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org~]

The Theravada Buddhists tend to see The Buddha as a historical figure who truly underwent an Enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists tend see him as more metaphysical being summed by the doctrine of the Three Bodies Buddha: 1) the fictitious, conjured up body; 2) the communal body; and 3) a Dharma (teaching) body. On the issue of his identity, the Buddha himself one said: “What was to be known is known by me...What is to be cast out is cast out by me, therefore am I Buddha.”

Some see the Buddha as a practical philosopher who concluded that the ego is a source of suffering and developed a series of techniques to make individuals more self aware and move beyond their existence in the direction of nirvana. In “The End of Suffering: The Buddha in the World”, journalist Pankaj Mishra wrote: “It was the Buddha’s achievement as it was that of Socrates, to detach wisdom from its basics in fixed and often esoteric forms of knowledge and opinion and offer it as a moral and spiritual project for individuals.”

Buddhist Sources on the Buddha

The Buddha, O king, magnifies not the offering of gifts to himself, but rather to whosoever ... is deserving.—Questions of King Milinda. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

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Buddha visiting Kapilavastu
2nd or 1st BC
If you desire to honor Buddha, follow the example of his patience and long-suffering.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king. Radiant with heavenly pity, lost in care For those he knew not, save as fellow-lives. —Sir Edwin Arnold.

Who that hears of him, but yearns with love?—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

The Buddha has mercy even on the meanest thing.—Cullavagga.

The words of Buddha, even when stern, yet ... as full of pity as the words of a father to his children.—Questions of King Milinda.

The Royal Prince, perceiving the tired oxen, ... the men toiling beneath the midday sun, and the birds devouring the hapless insects, his heart was filled with grief, as a man would feel upon seeing his own household bound in fetters: thus was he touched with sorrow for the whole family of sentient creatures—Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king.

Ofttimes while he mused—as motionless As the fixed rock his seat—the squirrel leaped Upon his knee, the timid quail led forth Her brood between his feet, and blue doves pecked The rice-grains from the bowl beside his hand. —Sir Edwin Arnold.

Religion During the Time of Buddha

Buddhism originated in northeast India in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. at a time when the local religion was Brahmanism, the predecessor of Hinduism. Brahmanism was dominated by Brahman priests who presided over rituals and sometimes practiced asceticism. Many of the ascetic Brahmin believed in a concept of the universe known as “brahman” and a similar concept of the human mind, known as “atman”. and thought it was possible to achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by achieving oneness with the atman. These concepts became cornerstones of Buddhism

The 6th, 5th and 4th centuries B.C. were a time of worldwide political upheaval and intellectual blossoming. It was an age of great thinkers, such as Socrates and Plato in Greece, and Confucius and Laozi in China. In India, Hinduism and animist beliefs are thought to have been the dominate forms of religion. At the time when The Buddha was born there was a great spiritual revolution in India, and many young men left their homes to take up an ascetic life of celibacy and holiness.

This period of time in India was also a time of curiosity, tolerance, and experimentation. Religious scholars and intellectuals speculated about things like the existence of other worlds, the finiteness or the infinity of the universe and whether existence was dominated by is or is not. The conditions were ripe for people to throw out traditional beliefs and accept new ones. A number of movements and leaders appeared. Their success often seemed based on their political skill, and their ability to organize and consolidate their followers with a simple, easy-to-embrace message.

There were a great many holy men and women wandering about. Some were hermits who lived in the forest or jungle. Others were ascetics who practiced various forms of austerities and offered sacrifices to things like fire and the moon. There were also charismatic leaders and sects of movements of various kinds and sizes. Early Buddhist texts counted 62 “heretical” sects. Among these were the Jains, the Naked Ascetics, the Eel-Wrigglers, and the Hair-Blanket sect. The Buddha’s greatest rivals were Nataputa, leader the Jains, and Makkhali Godla, the leader of the Naked Ascetics.

Buddhism was influenced a great deal by Hinduism and the other sects. It adopted Hindu beliefs about karma and reincarnation; followed Jain and traditional Indian views about not destroying life forms; and copied forms of organization for other sects for monks communities. The Buddha himself was like an ascetic Brahmin but was regarded as a heretic among Hindus because he emphasized the impermanent and transitory nature of things, which contradicted the Hindu belief in “Paramatman” (the eternal, blissful self).



Buddha and Hinduism

Jayaram V, a leading author of Indian religions, wrote in Hinduwebsite.com: “Prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha was brought up in a traditional Hindu family. Before finding his own path, he went to Hindu gurus to find an answer to the problem of suffering. He followed the meditation techniques and ascetic practices as prescribed by the Hindu scriptures and followed by the Hindu yogis of his time. It is said that after becoming the Buddha, he showed special consideration to the higher caste Hindus especially the Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors). He exhorted his disciples to treat especially Brahmins with respect and consideration because of their spiritual bent of mind and inner progress achieved during their previous births. It is said that certain categories of Brahmins had free access to the Buddha and that some of the Brahmin ascetics were admitted into the monastic discipline without being subjected to the rigors of probation which was other wise compulsory for all classes of people. The Buddha converted many Brahmins to Buddhism and consider their involvement a sure sign of progress and popularity of his fledgling movement. Much later, we find a similar echo of sentiment in the inscriptions of King Ashoka where he exhorted the people of his empire to show due respect to the Brahmins. [Source: Jayaram V, Hinduwebsite.com |*|]

“The Buddha was not the first teacher in ancient India to contemplate upon suffering and find solutions to remedy it. It has been part of a long tradition in the subcontinent, starting with the Vedic sages and the Jain Tirthankaras who lived at least a thousand years or so before him. The growth of cities in the plains of India along river banks, famines, pandemics, epidemics and natural calamities, and frequent warfare among neighboring kingdoms must have made people acutely aware of the nature of suffering and occupied the minds of scholars and philosophers. |*|

“The Buddha continued the tradition at a time when India was teeming with scores of ascetic movements and teacher traditions. He was also not the first to find a link between desire and suffering. The ascetic and renunciant traditions that preceded him also considered desire as the root cause of suffering. It is also difficult to believe that the Buddha had the first glimpse of suffering only when he went out into the streets. As a prince and as the designated successor to his father's kingdom, he must have had formal education and interacted with several teachers and spiritual masters as he grow up. The knowledge he gathered and the experiences he had in the public must have triggered in him the resolve to find a solution to the problem of suffering.” |*|

Buddha and Mahavira, the Founder of Jainism

The Buddha lived around the same time and was similar to Vardhamana Mahavira (599 and 527 B.C.), the founder of Jainism and the prophet and prince of the Jains. He is mentioned in Buddhist scripture as the “Naked Ascetic” and was a contemporary of Confucius in China and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah in Israel and Aristotle and Plato in Greece. Like Buddha he forsook his life of wealth and privilege for a spiritual life, and rejected the sacrificial rites of the Hindus and the caste system. Vardhaman. Mahavira means “great hero.”

Alfred J. Andrea wrote: “Many parallels exist between the legendary lives of the Mahavira (the founder of the Indian philsophy of Jainism) and the Buddha, and several of their teachings are strikingly similar. Each rejected the special sanctity of (the Old Indian) Vedic literature, and each denied the meaningfulness of caste distinctions and duties. Yet a close investigation of their doctrines reveal substantial differences. [Source: Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, The Human Record: Sources of Global History, Vol 1, 2d. ed., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), pp. 72-74]

Like the Mahavira, young Prince Siddhartha Gautama, shrinking in horror at the many manifestations of misery in this world, fled his comfortable life and eventually became an ascetic. Where, however, the Mahavira found victory over karma in severe self-denial and total nonviolence, Prince Gautama found only severe disquiet. The ascetic life offered him no enlightenment as to how one might escape the sorrows of mortal existence. After abandoning extreme asceticism in favor of the Middle Path of self-restraint, Gautama achieved Enlightenment in a flash while meditating under a sacred pipal tree. He was now the Buddha.


Jain statues in Gwailior


Buddhas Every 5,000 Years

Buddhists believe that Buddhas have appeared throughout history, and will continue appearing, some say, at a rate of about one Buddha every 5,000 years. The Buddha that is worshiped is believed by some to be the 24th Buddha in the present state of the world, a period of history that spans about 120,000 years. Others say he is the forth Buddha or the 7th or the 26th .

The Buddha defines a "Buddha" as “being a man who has first enlightened himself and will thereafter enlighten others.” By some reckonings Dipankara was the First Buddha, appearing innumerable aeons ago. By other reckonings Vipassin was the first, appearing 91 aeons ago. Some believe that when his teachings fall into decline, as inevitably they will, the future Buddha Maitreya will appear after a long wait in the world of the gods of delight.

At least in theory, anyone can become a Buddha. But when we say "the Buddha," unless otherwise specified, the term refers to the founder of Buddhism as a religion — Guatama Siddhartha, sometimes also called "the Historical Buddha." After years of meditating and wandering, he apparently became "enlightened" and was recognized as such by others who asked him to guide them to enlightenment as well. His explanations became the core of Buddhist teachings. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

Present, Past and Future Buddhas

Sakaymuni (Sakya Thukpa in Tibet) is the historical Buddha, who lived in Nepal in the 5th century B.C. He has blue hair and a halo of enlightenment around his head. He is always depicted in a sitting position, with his legs crossed in the lotus position and has 32 marks on his body, including a dot between his eyes, the Wheel of Law on the soles of his feet, and bump on the top of his head. Manifesting the “witness” mudra, he holds a begging bowl in his left hand and touches the earth with his right hand. He is often flanked by two bodhisattvas. [The name before the parenthesis is Sanskit, the name in parenthesis is Tibetan]

Dipamkara (Marmedze) is the Past Buddha. He preceded the historical Buddha and spent 100,000 years on earth. His hands are pictured in the “protection” mudra and he is often pictured with the Present and Future Buddha.

Maitreya (Jampa) is the Future Buddha. He is currently in the form of a bodhisattva and is waiting for his chance to return to earth, 4000 years after the death of Sakaymuni. He is usually seated, with a scarf around his waist, his legs hanging down and his hands by his chest in the turning of the Wheel of Law.

It said the Maitreya, the Future Buddha, will appear around 30,000 years from now. At present Maitreya is believed to reside in the Tutshita. heaven, awaiting his last rebirth when the time is ripe. His name is derived from mitra, 'friend.' Friendliness is a basic Buddhist virtue, somewhat like Christian love.

Amitabha (Amitabha Opagme in Tibet) is the Buddha of Infinite Light. He resides in the “pure land of the west,” where he looks after people on their journey to nirvana, and is regarded as the original being from which the Panchen Lama was reincarnated. He is red. His hands are held together on his lap with a begging bowl in the “meditation” mudra.

Prophecy Concerning Maitreya, the Future Buddha

The section in the 'Maitreyavyakarana' on “The Prophecy Concerning Maitreya, the Future Buddha” goes: “ Sariputra, the great general of the doctrine, most wise and resplendent, from compassion for the world asked the Lord: 'Some time ago you have spoken to us of the future Buddha, who will lead the world at a future period, and who will bear the name of Maitreya. I would now wish to hear more about his powers and miraculous gifts. Tell me, 0 best of men, about them !' [Source: Translation by Edward Conze, in his “Buddhist Scriptures” (Penguin Books, 1959), pp. 238-42, Eliade Page website]

“The Lord replied: 'At that time, the ocean 'will lose much of its water, and there will be much less of it than now. In consequence a world-ruler will have no difficulties in passing across it. India, this island of Jambu, will be quite flat everywhere, it will measure ten thousand leagues, and all men will have the privilege of living on it. It will have innumerable inhabitants, who will commit no crimes or evil deeds, but will take pleasure in doing good. The soil will then be free from thorns, even, and covered with a fresh green growth of grass; when one jumps on it, it gives way, and becomes soft like the leaves of the cotton tree. It has a delicious scent, and tasty rice grows on it, without any work. Rich silken, and other, fabrics of various colours shoot forth from the trees. The trees will bear leaves, flowers, and fruits simultaneously; they are as high as the voice can reach and they last for eight myriads of years. Human beings are then without any blemishes, moral offences are unknown among them, and they are full of zest and joy. Their bodies are very large and their skin has a fine hue. Their strength is quite extraordinary. Three kinds of illness only are known-people must relieve their bowels, they must eat, they must get old. Only when five hundred years old do the women marry.


Buddha and Hindu gods at Ellorca Caves


'The city of Ketumati will at that time be the capital. In it will reside the world-ruler, Shankha by name, who will rule over the earth up to the confines of the ocean; and he will make the Dharma prevail. He will be a great hero, raised to his station by the force of hundreds of meritorious deeds. His spiritual adviser will be a Brahmin, Subrahinana by name, a very learned man, well versed in the four Vedas, and steeped in all the lore of the Brahamins. And that Brahman will have a wife, called Brahmavati, beautiful, attractive, handsome, and renowned.

"Maitreya, the best of men, will then leave the Tushita heavens, and go for his last rebirth into the womb of that woman. For ten whole months she will carry about his radiant body. Then she will go to a grove full of beautiful flowers, and there, neither seated nor lying down, but standing up, holding on to the branch of a tree, she will give birth to Maitreya. He, supreme among men, will emerge from her right side, as the sun shines forth when it has prevailed over a bank of clouds. No more polluted by the impurities of the womb than a lotus by drops of water, he will fill this entire Triple world with his splendour. As soon as he is born he will walk seven steps forward, and where he puts down his feet a jewel or a lotus will spring up. He will raise his eyes to the ten directions, and ill speak these words: "This is my last birth. There will be no rebirth after this one. Never will I come back here, but, all pure, I shall win Nirvana!"

"And when his father sees that his son has the thirty-two marks of a superman, and considers their implications in the light of the holy mantras, he will be filled with joy, for he will know that, as the mantras show, two ways are open to his son: he will either be a universal monarch, or a supreme Buddha. But as Maitreya grows up, the Dharma will increasingly take possession of him, and he will reflect that all that lives is bound to suffer. He will have a heavenly voice which reaches far; his skin will have a golden hue, a great splendour will radiate from his body, his chest will be broad, his limbs well developed, and his eyes will be like lotus petals. His body is eighty cubits high, and twenty cubits broad. He will have a retinue of 84,000 persons, whom he will instruct in the mantras. With this retinue he Will one day go forth into the homeless life. A Dragon tree will then be the tree under which he will win enlightenment; its branches rise up to fifty leagues, and its foliage spreads far and wide over six Kos. Underneath it Maitreya, the best of men, will attain enlightenment- there can be no doubt on that. And he will win his enlightenment the very same day that he has gone forth into the homeless life.

"And then, a supreme sage, he will with a perfect voice preach the true Dharma, which is auspicious and removes all ill, i.e. the fact of ill, the origination of ill, the transcending of ill, and the holy eightfold path which brings security and leads to Nirvana. He will explain the four Truths, because he has seen that generation, in faith, ready for them, and those who have listened to his Dharma will thereupon make progress in the religion. They will be assembled in a park full of beautiful flowers, and his assembly will extend over a hundred leagues. Under Maitreya's guidance, hundreds of thousands of living beings shall enter upon a religious life.

'And thereupon Maitreya, the compassionate teacher, surveys those who have gathered around him, and speaks to them as follows: "Shakyamuni has seen all of you, he, the best of sages, the saviour, the world's true protector, the repository of the true Dharma. It was he who has set you on the path to deliverance, but before you could finally win it you have had to wait for my teaching. It is because you have worshipped Shakyamuni with parasols, banners, flags, perfumes, garlands, and unguents that you have arrived here to hear my teaching. It is because you have offered to the shrines of Shakyamuni unguents of sandalwood, or powdered saffron, that you have -arrived here to hear my teaching. It is because you have always gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Samgha, that you have arrived here to hear my teaching. It is because, in Shakyamuni's dispensation, you have undertaken to observe the moral precepts, and have actually done so, that you have arrived here to hear my teaching. It is because you have given gifts to the monks-robes, drink, food, and many kinds of medicines-that you have arrived here to hear my teaching. It is because you have always observed the sabbath days that you have arrived here to hear my teaching.". . .

'For 60,000 years Maitreya, the best of men, will preach the true Dharma, which is compassionate towards all living beings. And when he has disciplined in his true Dharma hundreds and hundreds of millions of living beings, then that leader will at last enter Nirvana. And after the great sage has entered Nirvana, his true Dharma still endures for another ten thousand years. Raise therefore your thoughts in faith to Shakyamuni, the Conqueror! For then you shall see Maitreya, the perfect Buddha, the best of men! Whose soul could be so dark that it would not be lit up with a serene faith when he hears these wonderful things, so potent of future good! Those therefore who long for spiritual greatness, let then, show respect to the true Dharma, let them be mindful of the religion of the Buddhas!'”

Arhants (Buddha's Disciples)

The first Buddhist monks were called “arhants” . They were regarded as men well on their way down the path to seeking nirvana. One passage from an early Buddhist text goes: “Ah, happy indeed the Arhants! In them no craving’s found. The “I am” conceit is rooted out; confusion’s net is burst. Lust-free they have attained; translucent is the mind of them. Unspotted in the world are they...all cankers gone.”

The first five ascetics who became the first monks under The Buddha were joined by 55 others. They together with The Buddha are known as the 61 arhants. The were ordained by The Buddha by repeating the simple phrase: “Come monk; well-taught in the Dharma; fare the attainment of knowledge for making a complete anguish.” Others that came later were ordained after cutting their hair and beard, donning a robe and uttering three times: “I go to The Buddha for refuge, I go to Dharma for refuge, I go to the sangha for refuge.” This ritual remains the basis of the Theravada monk ordination process today.

Aanada was The Buddha constant companion. His two chief disciples’sariputta and Moggallana — were two ascetics who for were known for seeking the Dharma to deathlessness Mahkaccan was ranked the highest for his ability to interpret the Buddha’s brief statements. Buddha instructed his disciples on methods that could be used to discover the eternal truth.


ruins within Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini


Find Suggests Buddha Lived in 6th Century B.C.

In November 2013, AFP reported: “The discovery of a previously unknown wooden structure at the place of the Buddha’s birth suggests the sage might have lived in the 6th century B.C. — two centuries earlier than thought — archeologists said. Traces of what appears to have been an ancient timber shrine were found under a brick temple that is itself within Buddhism’s sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, southern Nepal, near the Indian border. In design it resembles the Asokan temple erected on top of it. Significantly, however, it features an open area, unprotected from the elements, from which it seems a tree once grew — possibly the tree under which the Buddha was born. “This sheds light on a very very long debate” over when the Buddha was born and, in turn, when the faith that grew out of his teachings took root, archaeologist Robin Coningham said. [Source: AFP-Jiji, November 26, 2013]

It’s widely accepted that the Buddha was born beneath a hardwood sal tree at Lumbini as his mother, Queen Maya Devi, the wife of a clan chief, was traveling to her father’s kingdom to give birth. But much of what is known about his life and time has its origins in oral tradition — with little scientific evidence to sort out fact from myth. Many scholars contend that the Buddha — who renounced material wealth to embrace and preach a life of enlightenment — lived and taught in the 4th century B.C., dying at around the age of 80. “What our work has demonstrated is that we have this shrine (at Buddha’s birthplace) established in the 6th century B.C.” that supports the hypothesis that the Buddha might have lived and taught in that earlier era, Coningham said.

Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques were used to date fragments of charcoal and grains of sand found at the site. Geoarchaeological research meanwhile confirmed the existence of tree roots within the temple’s central open area. The team’s peer-reviewed findings appear in the December issue of the journal Antiquity, ahead of the 17th congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies in Vienna in August next year.

Lumbini was overgrown by jungle before its rediscovery in 1896. Since it’s a working temple, the archeologists found themselves digging in the midst of meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims. It’s not unusual in history for adherents of one faith to have built a place of worship atop the ruins of a venue connected with another religion. But what makes Lumbini special, Coningham said, is how the design of the wooden shrine resembles that of the multiple structures built over it over time. Equally significant is what the archaeologists did not find: signs of any dramatic change in which the site has been used over the ages. “This is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together,” he said.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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