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A statue of the Buddha from Sarnath, 4th century CE
|Born||c. 563 BCE or c. 480 BCE|
Lumbini, according to Buddhist tradition[note 1]
|Died||c. 483 BCE or c. 400 BCE (aged 80)|
Kushinagar (present-day in Uttar Pradesh, India)
|Known for||Founder of Buddhism|
A statue of the Buddha from Sarnath, 4th century CE
|Born||c. 563 BCE or c. 480 BCE|
Lumbini, according to Buddhist tradition[note 1]
|Died||c. 483 BCE or c. 400 BCE (aged 80)|
Kushinagar (present-day in Uttar Pradesh, India)
|Known for||Founder of Buddhism|
|Part of a series on|
|Vietnamese alphabet||Tất-đạt-đa Cồ-đàm|
Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama,[note 2] Shakyamuni,[note 3] or simply the Buddha, was a sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.[web 1] He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in eastern India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.[note 4]
The word Buddha means "awakened one" or "the enlightened one". "Buddha" is also used as a title for the first awakened being in an era. In most Buddhist traditions, Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme Buddha (Pali sammāsambuddha, Sanskrit samyaksaṃbuddha) of our age.[note 5] Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Sramana (renunciation) movement common in his region. He later taught throughout regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kośala.
Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism and accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.
Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order during the Mahajanapada era in India during the reign of Bimbisara, the ruler of the Magadha empire, and died during the early years of the reign of Ajatshatru who was the successor of Bimbisara, thus making him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain teacher. Apart from Mahavira and the Jains as well as Vedic Brahmin priests, Buddha's lifetime coincided with the flourishing of other influential sramana schools of thoughts like Ājīvika, Cārvāka, and Ajñanas. It was also the age of influential thinkers like Pūraṇa Kassapa , Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, whose viewpoints Buddha most certainly must have been acquainted with.[note 6] However, most scholars do not consistently accept all of the details contained in traditional biographies.
The times of Gautama's birth and death are uncertain. Most historians in the early 20th century dated his lifetime as circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE. More recently his death is dated later, between 411 and 400 BCE, while at a symposium on this question held in 1988, the majority of those who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha's death.[note 4] These alternative chronologies, however, have not yet been accepted by all historians.[note 8]
The evidence of the early texts suggests that Siddhārtha Gautama was born into the Shakya clan, a community that was on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. It was either a small republic, in which case his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his father was an oligarch. According to the Buddhist tradition, Gautama was born in Lumbini, nowadays in modern-day Nepal, and raised in Kapilavastu. [note 1]
No written records about Gautama have been found from his lifetime or some centuries thereafter. One edict of Emperor Ashoka, who reigned in the 3rd century BCE, commemorates the Emperor's pilgrimage to the Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini, and another one mentions several Dhamma texts which may be precursors of the Pāli Canon. The Gandhāran Buddhist texts, the oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts, reported to have been found in or around Haḍḍa near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and preserved in the British Library today, were written in the Kharoṣṭhī script and the Gāndhārī language on twenty-seven Birch bark scrolls from the first century BCE to the third century CE.[web 10]
The sources for the life of Siddhārtha Gautama are a variety of different, and sometimes conflicting, traditional biographies. These include the Buddhacarita, Lalitavistara Sūtra, Mahāvastu, and the Nidānakathā. Of these, the Buddhacarita is the earliest full biography, an epic poem written by the poet Aśvaghoṣa, and dating around the beginning of the 2nd century CE. The Lalitavistara Sūtra is the next oldest biography, a Mahāyāna/Sarvāstivāda biography dating to the 3rd century CE. The Mahāvastu from the Mahāsāṃghika Lokottaravāda tradition is another major biography, composed incrementally until perhaps the 4th century CE. The Dharmaguptaka biography of the Buddha is the most exhaustive, and is entitled the Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra, and various Chinese translations of this date between the 3rd and 6th century CE. Lastly, the Nidānakathā is from the Theravāda tradition in Sri Lanka, was composed in the 5th century CE by Buddhaghoṣa.
From canonical sources, the Jātakas, the Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14), and the Achariyabhuta Sutta (MN 123) include selective accounts that may be older, but are not full biographies. The Jātakas retell previous lives of Gautama as a bodhisattva, and the first collection of these can be dated among the earliest Buddhist texts. The Mahāpadāna Sutta and Achariyabhuta Sutta both recount miraculous events surrounding Gautama's birth, such as the bodhisattva's descent from Tuṣita Heaven into his mother's womb.
Traditional biographies of Gautama generally include numerous miracles, omens, and supernatural events. The character of the Buddha in these traditional biographies is often that of a fully transcendent (Skt. lokottara) and perfected being who is unencumbered by the mundane world. In the Mahāvastu, over the course of many lives, Gautama is said to have developed supramundane abilities including: a painless birth conceived without intercourse; no need for sleep, food, medicine, or bathing, although engaging in such "in conformity with the world"; omniscience, and the ability to "suppress karma". Nevertheless, some of the more ordinary details of his life have been gathered from these traditional sources. In modern times there has been an attempt to form a secular understanding of Siddhārtha Gautama's life by omitting the traditional supernatural elements of his early biographies.
Andrew Skilton writes that the Buddha was never historically regarded by Buddhist traditions as being merely human:
It is important to stress that, despite modern Theravada teachings to the contrary (often a sop to skeptical Western pupils), he was never seen as being merely human. For instance, he is often described as having the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks or signs of a mahāpuruṣa, "superman"; the Buddha himself denied that he was either a man or a god; and in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta he states that he could live for an aeon were he asked to do so.
The ancient Indians were generally unconcerned with chronologies, being more focused on philosophy. Buddhist texts reflect this tendency, providing a clearer picture of what Gautama may have taught than of the dates of the events in his life. These texts contain descriptions of the culture and daily life of ancient India which can be corroborated from the Jain scriptures, and make the Buddha's time the earliest period in Indian history for which significant accounts exist. British author Karen Armstrong writes that although there is very little information that can be considered historically sound, we can be reasonably confident that Siddhārtha Gautama did exist as a historical figure. Michael Carrithers goes a bit further by stating that the most general outline of "birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death" must be true.
The Buddhist tradition regards Lumbini, present-day Nepal, to be the birthplace of the Buddha.[note 1] He grew up in Kapilavastu.[note 1] The exact site of ancient Kapilavastu is unknown. It may have been either Piprahwa, Uttar Pradesh, present-day India, or Tilaurakot, present-day Nepal. Both places belonged to the sakya-territory, and are located only 15 miles apart from each other.
Siddharta Gautama was born as a Kshatriya,[note 11] the son of Śuddhodana, "an elected chief of the Shakya clan", whose capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing Kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha's lifetime. Gautama was the family name. His mother, Queen Maha Maya (Māyādevī) and Suddhodana's wife, was a Koliyan princess. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side, and ten months later Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father's kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a sal tree.
The day of the Buddha's birth is widely celebrated in Theravada countries as Vesak. Buddha's birth anniversary holiday is called "Buddha Purnima" in Nepal and India as Buddha is believed to have been born on a full moon day. Various sources hold that the Buddha's mother died at his birth, a few days or seven days later. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhattha), meaning "he who achieves his aim". During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man. By traditional account,[which?] this occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita's hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. Suddhodana held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight Brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man. Kaundinya (Pali: Kondañña), the youngest, and later to be the first arahant other than the Buddha, was reputed to be the only one who unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.
While later tradition and legend characterized Śuddhodana as a hereditary monarch, the descendant of the Solar Dynasty of Ikṣvāku (Pāli: Okkāka), many scholars think that Śuddhodana was the elected chief of a tribal confederacy.
Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest, which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the human condition. The state of the Shakya clan was not a monarchy, and seems to have been structured either as an oligarchy, or as a form of republic. The more egalitarian gana-sangha form of government, as a political alternative to the strongly hierarchical kingdoms, may have influenced the development of the Shramana-type Jain and Buddhist sanghas, where monarchies tended toward Vedic Brahmanism.
Siddhartha was brought up by his mother's younger sister, Maha Pajapati. By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince, and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built for him. Although more recent scholarship doubts this status, his father, said to be King Śuddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, is said to have shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering.
When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā (Pāli: Yasodharā). According to the traditional account,[which?] she gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life's ultimate goal.
At the age of 29, the popular biography[which?] continues, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.
Accompanied by Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. It's said that, "the horse's hooves were muffled by the gods" to prevent guards from knowing of his departure.
Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara's men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimbisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.
He left Rajagaha and practised under two hermit teachers of yogic meditation. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama (Skr. Ārāḍa Kālāma), he was asked by Kalama to succeed him. However, Gautama felt unsatisfied by the practise, and moved on to become a student of yoga with Udaka Ramaputta (Skr. Udraka Rāmaputra). With him he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, and was again asked to succeed his teacher. But, once more, he was not satisfied, and again moved on.
Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practising self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season's plowing. He attained a concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing, the jhāna.
According to the early Buddhist texts,[web 11] after realizing that meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn't work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way[web 11]—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, or the Noble Eightfold Path, as was identified and described by the Buddha in his first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.[web 11] In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata.[web 12] Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.[web 12]
Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment.[web 13] According to some traditions, this occurred in approximately the fifth lunar month, while, according to others, it was in the twelfth month. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or "Awakened One" ("Buddha" is also sometimes translated as "The Enlightened One").
According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the "Four Noble Truths",[web 13] which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that's free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states,[web 13] or "defilements" (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the "end of the world", in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.
According to a story in the Āyācana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1) — a scripture found in the Pāli and other canons — immediately after his awakening, the Buddha debated whether or not he should teach the Dharma to others. He was concerned that humans were so overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred that they could never recognise the path, which is subtle, deep and hard to grasp. However, in the story, Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some will understand it. The Buddha relented, and agreed to teach.
After his awakening, the Buddha met two merchants, named Tapussa and Bhallika, who became his first lay disciples. It is said that each was given hairs from his head, which are now claimed to be enshrined as relics in the Shwe Dagon Temple in Rangoon, Burma. The Buddha intended to visit Asita, and his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, to explain his findings, but they had already died.
He then travelled to the Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first saṅgha: the company of Buddhist monks.
All five become arahants, and within the first two months, with the conversion of Yasa and fifty four of his friends, the number of such arahants is said to have grown to 60. The conversion of three brothers named Kassapa followed, with their reputed 200, 300 and 500 disciples, respectively. This swelled the sangha to more than 1,000.
For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain, in what is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to servants, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka. Although the Buddha's language remains unknown, it's likely that he taught in one or more of a variety of closely related Middle Indo-Aryan dialects, of which Pali may be a standardization.
The sangha traveled through the subcontinent, expounding the dharma. This continued throughout the year, except during the four months of the Vāsanā rainy season when ascetics of all religions rarely traveled. One reason was that it was more difficult to do so without causing harm to animal life. At this time of year, the sangha would retreat to monasteries, public parks or forests, where people would come to them.
The first vassana was spent at Varanasi when the sangha was formed. After this, the Buddha kept a promise to travel to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, to visit King Bimbisara. During this visit, Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were converted by Assaji, one of the first five disciples, after which they were to become the Buddha's two foremost followers. The Buddha spent the next three seasons at Veluvana Bamboo Grove monastery in Rajagaha, capital of Magadha.
Upon hearing of his son's awakening, Suddhodana sent, over a period, ten delegations to ask him to return to Kapilavastu. On the first nine occasions, the delegates failed to deliver the message, and instead joined the sangha to become arahants. The tenth delegation, led by Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Gautama's (who also became an arahant), however, delivered the message.
Now two years after his awakening, the Buddha agreed to return, and made a two-month journey by foot to Kapilavastu, teaching the dharma as he went. At his return, the royal palace prepared a midday meal, but the sangha was making an alms round in Kapilavastu. Hearing this, Suddhodana approached his son, the Buddha, saying:
"Ours is the warrior lineage of Mahamassata, and not a single warrior has gone seeking alms."
The Buddha is said to have replied:
"That is not the custom of your royal lineage. But it is the custom of my Buddha lineage. Several thousands of Buddhas have gone by seeking alms."
Buddhist texts say that Suddhodana invited the sangha into the palace for the meal, followed by a dharma talk. After this he is said to have become a sotapanna. During the visit, many members of the royal family joined the sangha. The Buddha's cousins Ananda and Anuruddha became two of his five chief disciples. At the age of seven, his son Rahula also joined, and became one of his ten chief disciples. His half-brother Nanda also joined and became an arahant.
Of the Buddha's disciples, Sariputta, Maudgalyayana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha are believed to have been the five closest to him. His ten foremost disciples were reputedly completed by the quintet of Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna.
In the fifth vassana, the Buddha was staying at Mahavana near Vesali when he heard news of the impending death of his father. He is said to have gone to Suddhodana and taught the dharma, after which his father became an arahant.
The king's death and cremation was to inspire the creation of an order of nuns. Buddhist texts record that the Buddha was reluctant to ordain women. His foster mother Maha Pajapati, for example, approached him, asking to join the sangha, but he refused. Maha Pajapati, however, was so intent on the path of awakening that she led a group of royal Sakyan and Koliyan ladies, which followed the sangha on a long journey to Rajagaha. In time, after Ananda championed their cause, the Buddha is said to have reconsidered and, five years after the formation of the sangha, agreed to the ordination of women as nuns. He reasoned that males and females had an equal capacity for awakening. But he gave women additional rules (Vinaya) to follow.
According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandon his earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal, which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ānanda to convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with his passing and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit as it provided the last meal for a Buddha.[web 14] Dr Mettanando and Von Hinüber argue that the Buddha died of mesenteric infarction, a symptom of old age, rather than food poisoning.[note 12]
The precise contents of the Buddha's final meal are not clear, due to variant scriptural traditions and ambiguity over the translation of certain significant terms; the Theravada tradition generally believes that the Buddha was offered some kind of pork, while the Mahayana tradition believes that the Buddha consumed some sort of truffle or other mushroom. These may reflect the different traditional views on Buddhist vegetarianism and the precepts for monks and nuns.
Waley suggests that Theravadin's would take suukaramaddava (the contents of the Buddha's last meal), which can translate as pig-soft, to mean soft flesh of a pig. However, he also states that pig-soft could mean "pig's soft-food", that is, after Neumann, a soft food favoured by pigs, assumed to be a truffle. He argues (also after Neumann) that as Pali Buddhism was developed in an area remote to the Buddha's death, the existence of other plants with suukara- (pig) as part of their names and that "(p)lant names tend to be local and dialectical" could easily indicate that suukaramaddava was a type of plant whose local name was unknown to those in the Pali regions. Specifically, local writers knew more about their flora than Theravadin commentator Buddhaghosa who lived hundreds of years and kilometres remote in time and space from the events described. Unaware of an alternate meaning and with no Theravadin prohibition against eating animal flesh, Theravadins would not have questioned the Buddha eating meat and interpreted the term accordingly.
Ananda protested the Buddha's decision to enter Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra (present-day Kushinagar, India) of the Malla kingdom. The Buddha, however, is said to have reminded Ananda how Kushinara was a land once ruled by a righteous wheel-turning king that resounded with joy:
44. Kusavati, Ananda, resounded unceasingly day and night with ten sounds—the trumpeting of elephants, the neighing of horses, the rattling of chariots, the beating of drums and tabours, music and song, cheers, the clapping of hands, and cries of "Eat, drink, and be merry!"
The Buddha then asked all the attendant Bhikkhus to clarify any doubts or questions they had. They had none. According to Buddhist scriptures, he then finally entered Parinirvana. The Buddha's final words are reported to have been: "All composite things (Saṅkhāra) are perishable. Strive for your own liberation with diligence" (Pali: 'vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā'). His body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the present. For example, The Temple of the Tooth or "Dalada Maligawa" in Sri Lanka is the place where what some believe to be the relic of the right tooth of Buddha is kept at present.
According to the Pāli historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, the Dīpavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa, the coronation of Emperor Aśoka (Pāli: Asoka) is 218 years after the death of Buddha. According to two textual records in Chinese (十八部論 and 部執異論), the coronation of Emperor Aśoka is 116 years after the death of Buddha. Therefore, the time of Buddha's passing is either 486 BCE according to Theravāda record or 383 BCE according to Mahayana record. However, the actual date traditionally accepted as the date of the Buddha's death in Theravāda countries is 544 or 545 BCE, because the reign of Emperor Aśoka was traditionally reckoned to be about 60 years earlier than current estimates. In Burmese Buddhist tradition, the date of the Buddha's death is 13 May 544 BCE. whereas in Thai tradition it is 11 March 545 BCE.
At his death, the Buddha is famously believed to have told his disciples to follow no leader. Mahakasyapa was chosen by the sangha to be the chairman of the First Buddhist Council, with the two chief disciples Maudgalyayana and Sariputta having died before the Buddha.
While in Buddha's days he was addressed by the very respected titles Buddha, Shākyamuni, Shākyasimha, Bhante and Bho, he was known after his parinirvana as Arihant, Bhagavā/Bhagavat/Bhagwān, Mahāvira, Jina/Jinendra, Sāstr, Sugata, and most popularly in scriptures as Tathāgata.
After his death, Buddha's cremation relics were divided amongst 8 royal families and his disciples; centuries later they would be enshrined by King Ashoka into 84,000 stupas.[web 16] Many supernatural legends surround the history of alleged relics as they accompanied the spread of Buddhism and gave legitimacy to rulers.
An extensive and colorful physical description of the Buddha has been laid down in scriptures. A kshatriya by birth, he had military training in his upbringing, and by Shakyan tradition was required to pass tests to demonstrate his worthiness as a warrior in order to marry. He had a strong enough body to be noticed by one of the kings and was asked to join his army as a general. He is also believed by Buddhists to have "the 32 Signs of the Great Man".
The Brahmin Sonadanda described him as "handsome, good-looking, and pleasing to the eye, with a most beautiful complexion. He has a godlike form and countenance, he is by no means unattractive."(D,I:115).
"It is wonderful, truly marvellous, how serene is the good Gotama's appearance, how clear and radiant his complexion, just as the golden jujube in autumn is clear and radiant, just as a palm-tree fruit just loosened from the stalk is clear and radiant, just as an adornment of red gold wrought in a crucible by a skilled goldsmith, deftly beaten and laid on a yellow-cloth shines, blazes and glitters, even so, the good Gotama's senses are calmed, his complexion is clear and radiant." (A,I:181)
A disciple named Vakkali, who later became an arahant, was so obsessed by Buddha's physical presence that the Buddha is said to have felt impelled to tell him to desist, and to have reminded him that he should know the Buddha through the Dhamma and not through physical appearances.
Although there are no extant representations of the Buddha in human form until around the 1st century CE (see Buddhist art), descriptions of the physical characteristics of fully enlightened buddhas are attributed to the Buddha in the Digha Nikaya's Lakkhaṇa Sutta (D,I:142). In addition, the Buddha's physical appearance is described by Yasodhara to their son Rahula upon the Buddha's first post-Enlightenment return to his former princely palace in the non-canonical Pali devotional hymn, Narasīha Gāthā ("The Lion of Men").[web 17]
Recollection of nine virtues attributed to the Buddha is a common Buddhist devotional practice. The nine virtues are also among the 40 Buddhist meditation subjects. The nine virtues of the Buddha appear throughout the Tipitaka,[web 18] and include:
Information of the oldest teachings may be obtained by analysis of the oldest texts. One method to obtain information on the oldest core of Buddhism is to compare the oldest extant versions of the Theravadin Pali Canon and other texts.[note 13] The reliability of these sources, and the possibility to draw out a core of oldest teachings, is a matter of dispute. According to Vetter, inconsistencies remain, and other methods must be applied to resolve those inconsistencies.[note 14]
According to Schmithausen, three positions held by scholars of Buddhism can be distinguished:
A core problem in the study of early Buddhism is the relation between dhyana and insight. Schmithausen, in his often-cited article On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism notes that the mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya 36.
According to Tilmann Vetter, the core of earliest Buddhism is the practice of dhyāna. Bronkhorst agrees that dhyana was a Buddhist invention, whereas Norman notes that "the Buddha's way to release [...] was by means of meditative practices." Discriminating insight into transiency as a separate path to liberation was a later development.
According to the Mahāsaccakasutta,[note 24] from the fourth jhana the Buddha gained bodhi. Yet, it is not clear what he was awakened to. "Liberating insight" is a later addition to this text, and reflects a later development and understanding in early Buddhism. The mentioning of the four truths as constituting "liberating insight" introduces a logical problem, since the four truths depict a linear path of practice, the knowledge of which is in itself not depicted as being liberating:
[T]hey do not teach that one is released by knowing the four noble truths, but by practicing the fourth noble truth, the eighfold path, which culminates in right samadhi.
According to Vetter, the description of the Buddhist path may initially have been as simple as the term "the middle way". In time, this short description was elaborated, resulting in the description of the eightfold path.
According to both Bronkhorst and Anderson, the four truths became a substitution for prajna, or "liberating insight", in the suttas in those texts where "liberating insight" was preceded by the four jhanas. According to Bronkhorst, the four truths may not have been formulated in earliest Buddhism, and did not serve in earliest Buddhism as a description of "liberating insight". Gotama's teachings may have been personal, "adjusted to the need of each person."
The three marks of existence[note 26] may reflect Upanishadic or other influences. K.R. Norman supposes that the these terms were already in use at the Buddha's time, and were familiair to his hearers.
In time, "liberating insight" became an essential feature of the Buddhist tradition. The following teachings, which are commonly seen as essential to Buddhism, are later formulations which form part of the explanatory framework of this "liberating insight":
The Buddha is also regarded as a prophet by the Ahmadiyya Muslims[web 19][web 20][web 21] and a Manifestation of God in the Bahá'í Faith. Some early Chinese Taoist-Buddhists thought the Buddha to be a reincarnation of Lao Tzu.
The Christian Saint Josaphat is based on the life of the Buddha. The name comes from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva via Arabic Būdhasaf and Georgian Iodasaph. The only story in which St. Josaphat appears, Barlaam and Josaphat, is based on the life of the Buddha. Josaphat was included in earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology (feast day 27 November) — though not in the Roman Missal — and in the Eastern Orthodox Church liturgical calendar (26 August).
Disciples of the Cao Đài religion worship the Buddha as a major religious teacher. His image can be found in both their Holy See and on the home altar. He is revealed during communication with Divine Beings as son of their Supreme Being (God the Father) together with other major religious teachers and founders like Jesus, Laozi, and Confucius. This concept is similar to the Trinity concept in Christianity.
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