Suttavadin Buddhist Blog

Jay Forrest Suttavadin Buddhist Blog

Month: March 2022 Page 1 of 4

The Dating of the Buddha

Chronology in ancient India is extremely difficult until we get to King Asoka. “The dates of King Asoka’s reign,” writes Hiralawa Akira, “usually given as 268-232 B.C.E., are based on Rock Edict XIII” (95). These edicts were inscribed on conveniently located rock surfaces and were distributed throughout his kingdom. These have been found and studied.

Romila Thapar gives similar dates for the reign of Ashoka, saying that he ruled from “268-231” (xiv). The dating of the Buddha is not as clear or certain.

As Piya Tan explains, “Traditionally—according to the Theravāda monastics and teachers, represented by the ethnic Buddhisms of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos—the Buddha was born in 623 BCE and died in 543 BCE.” These are based on the Sri Lankan chronicles (Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa).

Hiralawa Akira mentions a number “difficulties of accepting the traditional Sri Lankan account of the early Buddhist order” (91). This begins with the dating of the Buddha’s passing away. Most scholar agree that the traditional date is wrong.

Contemporary Western scholars generally accept the Buddha’s final passing away,” writes Piya Tan “as being between 410 and 400 BCE, probably 404 BCE, which then gives his dates as 484-404 BCE.”

Vishvapani Blomfield sums up our situation, we “cannot be certain when he lived. Buddhist traditions agree that Gautama gained Enlightenment aged thirty-five and lived to eighty” (8).

Richard Gombrich believes he has solved this problem, and most scholars seem to agree. As Peter Harvey states, “Gombrich sees Gotama’s death as between 422 and 399 BCE, with c. 404 as most likely, giving his dates as c. 484-404 BCE” (8).

Having looked at the evidence, I follow Vishvapani Blomfield in placing the Buddha’s “birth around 484 BCE, his Enlightenment in 449 BCE and his death in 404 BCE” (8). This will be the dates I use in my writings.

Those who are interested in delving deeper into the subject are encouraged to read the articles by L.S. Cousins and Charles S. Prebish and check out the references below.

References

  • Akira, Hiralawa. A History of Indian Buddhism: From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana. Translated and Edited by Paul Groner. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2007.
  • Blomfield, Vishvapani. Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One. London: Querus, 2012.
  • Cousins, L.S. “The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 6, 1 (1996) pp. 57 – 63.
  • Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Prebish, Charles S. “Cooking the Buddhist Books: The Implications of the New Dating of the Buddha for the History of Early Indian Buddhism.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics (ISSN 1076-9005).
  • Tan, Piya. “The Oral Tradition of the Early Buddhists.” The Dharmafarers. PDF file. 2021.
  • Thapar, Romila. The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. Haryana, India: Penguin Random House India, 2021.

The Buddha Was a Buddhist

I have occasionally run across the saying that “the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist.” This proves that the person saying this doesn’t know the early Buddhist teachings.

The Buddha was actually a Buddhist, at least in a previous life. We read in the Pali Buddhavaṃsa and Jataka about Sumedha. This is the name Gotama, the future Buddha, went by in a previous life.

In this life, Sumedha meets the current Buddha named Dīpankara. The story says that Sumedha was living as an ascetic in the mountains. One day he meets the Buddha Dīpankara and offers his own body for him to walk over, so his feet don’t get muddy. Sumedha then makes a vow to become a Buddha in a future life. And it says that Buddha Dīpankara confirmed this through a prophecy.

Remember that Buddha is not a name but a title. It means a “fully awakened one.” So the Buddha was a Buddhist before he became a Buddha. And that means that the statement that the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist is false.

References

  • Lopez, D. S. “Buddha.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 19, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Buddha-founder-of-Buddhism.
  • Wikipedia contributors, “Sumedha,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sumedha&oldid=1077863032 (accessed March 29, 2022).

Three Goals of Buddhism

There are three different goals for Buddhists. The first goal is to go to heaven. The second goal is for peace of mind here and now. And the last, and highest goal, is to attain nirvana. Let’s look at each of these goals.

The Goal of Heaven

The Buddha said:

The first assurance he has won is this: “If there is another world, and if there is the fruit and result of good and bad deeds, it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death, I will be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world” (AN 3.65 Bodhi).

It might seem strange to some people, but Buddhism also teaches the way to get to heaven. The Buddha was clear, “evil-doers go to hell; the good go to heaven” (Dhp 126 Radhakrishnan).

The way to heaven is the path of doing good deeds with a pure motive. This result is based on the law of karma, that what a person sows they will reap. Even the Christian Bible agrees with the Buddha, “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7 NIV). And remember the Buddha lived 500 years before the birth of Christianity.

But Buddhism is different than Christianity. There is no forgiveness, only retribution. In Buddhism, the murderer doesn’t get to go to heaven by simply saying a little prayer. Karma requires the penalty to be paid by spending time in hell. You do the crime, you do the time.
But Buddhism is not completely unreasonable. In Christianity, everyone is born a sinner and is headed for everlasting hell. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are. It doesn’t matter how many good deeds you have done. Everybody gets the same penalty – everlasting hell. Ridiculous!

With Buddhism, you reap the appropriate penalty or reward depending upon whether or not your thoughts, words, and deeds were good or bad. And heaven and hell are temporary. They are not everlasting. There are longer sentences for those people who did worse things. The penalty, in other words, matches the crime.

But for those who do good, the rewards also match the goodness done. Heaven is longer and better for the person doing the most good in thought, word, and deed. And this takes into consideration one’s motives. Unselfishly promoting the good of others is the path to heaven.

The Goal of Peace of Mind

The Buddha said:

The second assurance he has won is this: “If there is no other world, and there is no fruit and result of good and bad deeds, still right here, in this very life, I maintain myself in happiness, without enmity and ill will, free of trouble” (AN 3.65 Bodhi).

There is now solid scientific evidence to back up the Buddha’s claim that his path of practice leads to peace of mind. Just look in the psychology section of your local bookstore. There you will find book after book about how mindfulness will help you find psychological health, peace, and wellness.

What some people may not realize is that all this teaching about mindfulness originates in Buddhism. Psychologists have purposely removed the overt Buddhist labels, but under the hood it is Buddhism.

I can only add my own testimony. Buddhism has done more for me in the last decade of my life than Christianity ever did. Buddhism has made me calmer, nicer, and wiser. My meditation practice has truly transformed my heart and life, as well as given me peace of mind.

The Goal of Nirvana

The Buddha said:

Some enter the womb; evil-doers go to hell; the good go to heaven; those free from worldly desires attain nirvana (Dhp 126 Radhakrishnan).

The other two goals are fine, but they can be found in other religions. Only Buddhism can offer you the path to “attain nirvana.” Nirvana means to “blow out” the fires of attraction, aversion, and delusion. It is these three fires that bind on to conditioned existence. Nirvana frees one from conditioned existence.

In order to attain nirvana, you need more than morality and meditation, you need wisdom. In Buddhism, wisdom is insight into the true nature of reality. It is the discernment that allows one to see past the illusions of permanence, self, and happiness in a realm of captivity and lostness.

So nirvana requires the full implementation of the Noble Eightfold Path. As the Dhammapada states, “Of all the paths the Eightfold Path is the best…. This is the only path; there is none other for the purification of insight” (273-274 Buddharakkhita). Only in Buddhism can you d=find the escape from samsara, the captivity of repeated rebirths.

Conclusion

As Buddhists, we must meet people where they are. Some have the goal of a better rebirth. Others just want a little peace of mind in the here and now. But others, who see the dangers of samsara, strive for nirvana.

Guide each person on their path, according to their needs and goals. Love them but don’t push them. If they are ready, they will seek. If they are not seeking, then they are not ready. Do good but be silent.

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