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).