Historicity of the Buddha

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:40 pm

barryevans wrote:Thanks everyone for your responses, much appreciated. I meant no offense asking the question—I think some responders may have thought I did.

I guess I thought I'd just have to google, "Historical Buddha" and the information would jump out at me! But even his birth-death dates, for instance, is all over the place. Kim says, “the Buddha lived c. 480 - 400 BCE according to recent (sound, historical) research.” (can you pls. reference, Kim?). On the other hand, “In Sri Lanka, 483 BC is accepted as the date of his nirvana while in Burma 544 BC is accepted. In Tibet it is believed to be 835 BC, while in China, 11th century BC is the accepted date. Buddha was an Indian and the Indian Puranic tradition believes that the nirvana took place in 1793 or 1807 BC.” (Bharateeya Historiography, http://www.hindubooks.org/hist_ssathe/b ... /page4.htm).

Kim writes, “You compare Buddhism to 'every other religion [you] know about' but I doubt that those include Taoism, Hinduism or Mithraism...Can you cite contemporary written evidence of their origin?” I think it’s pretty well accepted that at least some of the Vedas are Bronze Age, 1000 BCE at least (and we certainly have very old statuary). Mitra (one of the members of Zoroaster’s trinity) is mentioned 1400 BCE in the extant Mitanni treaty. Don’t know much about Taoism—Wikipedia sez, “Laozi received imperial recognition as a divinity in the mid second century B.C.E.”

I was hoping for something more concrete about historical Buddha. Any takers?

gassho, barry

Hi, Barry,
Returning after some time without checking this thread ... sorry ... I'll answer as well as I can.
The dates I gave are those I ended up with when I was looking into Buddhist history two or three years ago, and I don't appear to have kept details of my sources (more accurately, I suspect I've still got them but I can't find them at the moment :thinking: ) but I did a quick google search and found a summary of the kind of research I was looking at.
If you download http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic138396.files/Buddha-Dates.pdf you'll have an overview plus references for as much further scholarly reading as you're likely to want.
For a rather sceptical contrarian view, go to http://www.umass.edu/wsp/lectures/buddha.html. I don't think his reasoning is particularly convincing, but do note that he doesn't for a moment doubt the existence of the historical Buddha and doesn't want to change the dates by more than a century (that's about 4% of the time since the Buddha was around - hardly a huge difference!).

BTW, you haven't cited dated contemporary documentary evidence for the other religions I mentioned. :stirthepot:

I'm all in favour of knowing what is factual and what isn't, but I do acknowledge that there are real limits to accuracy and certainty in all our knowledge. At some point we have to say we do (or don't) accept that X is historical truth. The evidence for the historical Buddha is strong enough for me.
:namaste:
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Bankei » Tue Apr 13, 2010 2:07 pm

If you are interested in the dates of the Buddha check out 3 huge volumes of the proceedings of a conference on this very topic: When Did The Buddha Live? : The Controversy on the Dating of the Historical Buddha--Selected Papers Based on a Symposium held under the Auspices of the Academy of Sciences in Gottingen/edited by Heinz Bechert, 1995.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby oceanmen » Tue Apr 13, 2010 6:56 pm

in simple english, and this is but a subjective opinion that may be right or wrong

perhaps every enlightened person in history (buddha/prophet)
went through an experience that can not be transmitted to the masses

why? because it is
1.too complex and
2.it was his experience not anyone else

these people have put a simple step by step approach for the masses,
to practice and discover the truth of the dhammas, and of course there have been inflitrations,
in every culture, to match the local traditions, hence the diffrent varitions,
but with true and honest intention i think it is possible to rediscover the truth of all dhamma that we all have in common

metta
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Apr 14, 2010 7:23 am

barryevans wrote:...

I guess I thought I'd just have to google, "Historical Buddha" and the information would jump out at me! But even his birth-death dates, for instance, is all over the place. ...

I was hoping for something more concrete about historical Buddha. Any takers?


If you're serious about the question, then Google, and asking random people on the internet, is not the method to use. Get some actual books and other source materials by qualified scholars of Buddhism. There is plenty out there if you really want to know answers to questions like this. Try Warder's History of Indian Buddhism, and likewise by both Nakamura and also Hirakawa, too. Here is a fairly good overview of the methodologies of working out dates for the buddha - http://www.buddhistethics.org/15/prebish-article.pdf
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:46 am

Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:If you're serious about the question, then Google, and asking random people on the internet, is not the method to use. Get some actual books and other source materials by qualified scholars of Buddhism. There is plenty out there if you really want to know answers to questions like this. Try Warder's History of Indian Buddhism, and likewise by both Nakamura and also Hirakawa, too. Here is a fairly good overview of the methodologies of working out dates for the buddha - http://www.buddhistethics.org/15/prebish-article.pdf


Ah, but he'd never have gotten that useful answer but for "asking random people on the internet" 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby plwk » Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:53 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:If you're serious about the question, then Google, and asking random people on the internet, is not the method to use. Get some actual books and other source materials by qualified scholars of Buddhism. There is plenty out there if you really want to know answers to questions like this. Try Warder's History of Indian Buddhism, and likewise by both Nakamura and also Hirakawa, too. Here is a fairly good overview of the methodologies of working out dates for the buddha - http://www.buddhistethics.org/15/prebish-article.pdf


Ah, but he'd never have gotten that useful answer but for "asking random people on the internet" 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)

Hence, the blessing of having encountered Dhamma Wheel and other 'randomness' :toast:
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Bankei » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:14 am

But what evidence could there be to prove that the person now known as the Buddha once existed?

Possibly the closest we can get are the early inscriptions of Asoka or archaeological evidence of early monastic communities or stupas.

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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby PeterB » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:47 am

I would suggest that the best evidence is the Suttas. If the historical Buddha did not exist, whose thoughts are they ?
Clearly they are the thoughts of an Enlightened One, unless you can explain the origin of the doctrine of Dependant Origination, or show it occuring elsewhere other than in the Suttas.
So you are left with the problem of explaining this other unknown Enlightened One who is not the Buddha...
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Kare » Wed Apr 14, 2010 11:59 am

PeterB wrote:I would suggest that the best evidence is the Suttas. If the historical Buddha did not exist, whose thoughts are they ?
Clearly they are the thoughts of an Enlightened One, unless you can explain the origin of the doctrine of Dependant Origination, or show it occuring elsewhere other than in the Suttas.
So you are left with the problem of explaining this other unknown Enlightened One who is not the Buddha...


Well said.

In a parody of German classical scholarship (which was reputed to be meticulously thorough) a professor summed up his research thus: "The works of Homer are not written by Homer, but by an unknown person with the same name." :lol:
Mettāya,
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby PeterB » Wed Apr 14, 2010 12:27 pm

:smile:

There is a similar discussion in some (small ) circles about Shakespeare, Kare, to whom of course the reply is, as most of the plays bear the unmistakable imprint of the same genius, then the plays of Shakespeare must have been written by another Tudor genius calling himself Shakespeare... :tongue:
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby barryevans » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:21 pm

Thanks again everyone for the responses. Again, I'm surprised at some of the comments (I'm new to this forum) saying, in essence, "Don't ask questions!" This is headed as a discussion forum, hence my surprise.

I'm no wiser after all this, I'm afraid. David, I do think comparing the wild (hundreds of years) tradition of Buddha's birth date with that of Jesus (born between 7 BCE and 6 CE, I think all scholars agree) and Muhammed (570 CE) is a bit of a stretch.

Dhamma (Pali), Dharma (Sanskrit)--are interchangeable, no?

Let's see--cherrypicking Asoka's edicts? Have you actually read them all? It's just that the two that specifically mention the Buddha are totally different in style from the others. It's really very obvious when you read them, I'm not trying to convince anyone, the edicts speak for themselves.

I don't have any investment in whether there was a historic Buddha, I'll go on doing my practice just the same. But I am very curious why it's so hard to find answers to the question of origins.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby bodom » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:39 pm

barryevans wrote:But I am very curious why it's so hard to find answers to the question of origins.


Ancient India was not concerned with keeping record of historical chronological time lines as much as keeping record of the actual events themselves.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:37 pm

barryevans wrote:Thanks again everyone for the responses. Again, I'm surprised at some of the comments (I'm new to this forum) saying, in essence, "Don't ask questions!" This is headed as a discussion forum, hence my surprise.


Why do you need to know?

Do you know who invented the wheel? can you pinpoint it's historicity?

I suspect the answer is no yet I'm sure it doesn't diminish your ability to drive a car or bicycle.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:23 pm

Hi Barry,
barryevans wrote:Thanks again everyone for the responses. Again, I'm surprised at some of the comments (I'm new to this forum) saying, in essence, "Don't ask questions!" This is headed as a discussion forum, hence my surprise.

I'm not sure that they are saying that exactly. It seems obvious that there is no absolutely foolproof documentation that the Buddha existed, so the problem is what level of "proof" do you want, and what use is it going to be. As scholars like Richard Gombrich say, it seems highly likely that the ideas in the Canon spring from a single person, but it is not provable.

I think one thing that people are objecting to is your assumption that artefacts are more important and interesting than the orally-transmitted discourses. I'm much more impressed the consistency of ideas in the various versions of the discourses transmitted in different geographical regions, than a few rocks.

Mike
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby SDC » Thu May 06, 2010 7:07 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Barry,
barryevans wrote:Thanks again everyone for the responses. Again, I'm surprised at some of the comments (I'm new to this forum) saying, in essence, "Don't ask questions!" This is headed as a discussion forum, hence my surprise.

I'm not sure that they are saying that exactly. It seems obvious that there is no absolutely foolproof documentation that the Buddha existed, so the problem is what level of "proof" do you want, and what use is it going to be. As scholars like Richard Gombrich say, it seems highly likely that the ideas in the Canon spring from a single person, but it is not provable.

I think one thing that people are objecting to is your assumption that artefacts are more important and interesting than the orally-transmitted discourses. I'm much more impressed the consistency of ideas in the various versions of the discourses transmitted in different geographical regions, than a few rocks.

Mike


Can't really say it any better than this.

That is what many are trying to convey to you, Barry - that definite proof of the Buddha's existence is not necessary to practice. So, many of us do not dwell on it. You said it seems people are saying "don't ask questions", but most have simply conveyed that they do not need that answer.

Just out of curiousity, what are your personal reasons for needing to know this information?
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby cooran » Thu May 06, 2010 8:29 pm

Hello barry, all,

The Buddha always told people not to take his word, not to just believe because learned teachers taught something ~ he said "ehipassiko" ~

Ehipassiko

Ehipassiko constitutes an open invitation to all to come and see, to inspect, to scrutinize and if need be, even to criticize the Dhamma before accepting it because there is nothing mythical or mysterious about it.

The Dhamma is pure and crystal clear. It is as pure as solid gold. The Buddha Himself declared: "Do not accept what I say through mere respect towards me. Just as purity of gold is ascertained by melting or rubbing on a touchstone, likewise the Dhamma should be accepted only after very close scrutiny." This fearless assertion of allowing the teaching to be closely examined marks the greatness of the Buddha and the unwavering truth of the sublime Dhamma.
http://www.purifymind.com/Introduction.htm

with metta
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby Bankei » Sat May 08, 2010 9:45 am

SDC wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Hi Barry,
barryevans wrote:Thanks again everyone for the responses. Again, I'm surprised at some of the comments (I'm new to this forum) saying, in essence, "Don't ask questions!" This is headed as a discussion forum, hence my surprise.

I'm not sure that they are saying that exactly. It seems obvious that there is no absolutely foolproof documentation that the Buddha existed, so the problem is what level of "proof" do you want, and what use is it going to be. As scholars like Richard Gombrich say, it seems highly likely that the ideas in the Canon spring from a single person, but it is not provable.

I think one thing that people are objecting to is your assumption that artefacts are more important and interesting than the orally-transmitted discourses. I'm much more impressed the consistency of ideas in the various versions of the discourses transmitted in different geographical regions, than a few rocks.

Mike


Can't really say it any better than this.

That is what many are trying to convey to you, Barry - that definite proof of the Buddha's existence is not necessary to practice. So, many of us do not dwell on it. You said it seems people are saying "don't ask questions", but most have simply conveyed that they do not need that answer.

Just out of curiousity, what are your personal reasons for needing to know this information?


For me, I think it is interesting to find out what actually happened historically. Whether the Buddha existed or not doesn't really matter in terms of practice, but it is still interesting to know, or attempt to find out what happened in the past. I am just as interested to find out if Christ existed, or the circumstances surrounding his life. It is just a matter of history.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby jcsuperstar » Sat May 08, 2010 10:49 am

it is a fact that some person lived at some time in history that said or wrote the things we now have as buddhism if there was not we would not have those things, therefor there has to be a person whose these thoughts belonged to, right? there's your buddha.
now, we can look at history to try to pinpoint a time when that person lived, and it seems the consensus is around 2600 years ago. what else exactly would you want?
there are people alive today who do not even know what year they were born in ,let alone the day or month, they are just told, "oh it was the rainy season" or "this or that event happened around the same time" etc . history is not as universally coveted as we would sometimes like it to be especially in some non western cultures.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby SDC » Sat May 08, 2010 2:11 pm

Bankei wrote:For me, I think it is interesting to find out what actually happened historically. Whether the Buddha existed or not doesn't really matter in terms of practice, but it is still interesting to know, or attempt to find out what happened in the past. I am just as interested to find out if Christ existed, or the circumstances surrounding his life. It is just a matter of history.


Right on, Bankei. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely interesting, and it is not something that I dismiss, despite my above comments. But as far as 100% solid, objective evidence goes - I don't think its out there in the capacity that some are seeking. Look at it like this - for certain people, the amount of historical evidence that has been gathered about the Buddha and his teachings is enough for them to believe he existed. There are those more skeptical, but clearly see the value of the teaching that is attributed to him. For others, nothing short of DNA evidence will convince them that he once walked the earth - yet I willing to bet that those people, would see the value of the teachings if given the chance.

I believe the most we can do, and this is in regards to any past events, is acquire a well rounded body of research, piece it together in the most logical manner possible, and then conclude with a given amount of certainty how those events took place. But that's as close as we are ever going to be able to get.

But overall, I just wanted to stress to Barry that not having this evidence should not dissuade him from looking deeper into the teachings.
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Re: Historicity of the Buddha

Postby oceanmen » Sun May 09, 2010 5:42 am

every belief system and filosofy has somehow been infiltrated
if we had all the scientific proof that buddha said this and only this and no more,
if we had proof that this is fake, and that is authentic, then there would be no division
sadly even buddhism as christianity, islam and judism all have sects and divisions
which proofs that there has been infiltration, intended or not is not the question,
the point is that some truth need to be investigated by your personal experience
with honest investigation we can find it back!!
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