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Dates of the Buddha’s Birth and Parinibbana


#1

Dear Bhante,

Page 10 in the Authenticity of Buddhist Texts states: " Our dating is based on the “median chronology” [2] [4, 237–259], which places the birth of the Buddha at around 480 BCE. According to the Thera- vāda tradition, the birth of the Buddha was in 623 BCE and the Parinibbāna in 543BCE. According to the “long chronology” the dates are 563 BCE and 483 BCE respectively."

UNESCO states that the Buddha was born “in 623 B.C”. Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha - UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Research by Prof Coningham’s team puts the dates back by 300 years: Archaeologists' discovery puts Buddha's birth 300 years earlier | World news | The Guardian

Which date to settle for?

Thank you.


#2

I’m changing the category of your inquiry, @yasajaya, as the Meta catefgory is for “Discussion about SuttaCentral and this forum, its organization, how it works, and how we can improve it.” Though your answer won’t be found within the EBTs, I think the Discussion category is a better fit.

With metta


#3

I am also tagging venerables @sujato and @brahmali as it seems @yasajaya is trying to ask him about what is written in their book (link below)?

https://ocbs.org/the-authenticity-of-the-early-buddhist-texts-2/

:anjal:


#4

The UNESCO date is just repeating a tradition, it’s not a serious assessment of the date.

The story in the Guardian is incorrect on multiple counts.

  • There is no scholarly consensus that puts that date of the Buddha’s birth in the “third century BCE”. The story seems confused about the date of the setting up of the pillar by Asoka with the date of the birth.
  • The findings by Coningham do not date the Buddha at all. At best, and with a lot of uncertainty, they date an early wooden construction at the site, which may be a kind of shrine. Given that tree-shrines were extremely popular, and that Māyā would have chosen to rest on her journey at a “civilized” spot, it is entirely likely that a shrine existed in Lumbini long before the Buddha was born there. So these findings are interesting, but they don’t really affect the Buddha’s dates.

In adopting the “median chronology” for Authenticity we followed what seems to be the best established and most widely endorsed date for the Buddha. It is still far from certain. Barring unexpected archeological discoveries, however, it seems that the bulk of evidence converges on this date, or not too far from it.


#5

The UNESCO date is just repeating a tradition, it’s not a serious assessment of the date.

The story in the Guardian is incorrect on multiple counts.

  • There is no scholarly consensus that puts that date of the Buddha’s birth in the “third century BCE”. The article seems to confuse the date of the pillar with the date of the birth.
  • The findings by Coningham do not date the Buddha at all. At best, and with a lot of uncertainty, they date an early wooden construction at the site, which may be a kind of shrine. Given that tree-shrines were extremely popular, and that Māyā would have chosen to rest on her journey at a “civilized” spot, it is entirely likely that a shrine existed in Lumbini long before the Buddha was born there. So these findings are interesting, but they don’t really affect the Buddha’s dates.

In adopting the “median chronology” for Authenticity we followed what seems to be the best established and most widely endorsed date for the Buddha. It is still far from certain. Barring unexpected archeological discoveries, however, it seems that the bulk of evidence converges on this date, or not too far from it.


#6

Thank you. Quite a lot has been written about Prof Coningham’s work, even The Smithosonian:

Article in The New York Times


Contains quotes as follows:

"The archaeologists, led by Robin A. E. Coningham of Durham University in England, reported the findings on Monday in an article published online in the December issue of the international journal Antiquity. This was, they said, “the first archaeological evidence regarding the date of the life of Buddha.

“They also described the new line of research as having “the potential to provide yet more evidence for the earliest expressions of Buddhist architecture and ritual practice.”

"Concluding its report, Dr. Coningham’s group wrote that “the sequence at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a global religion.” The shrine, for example, was transformed from a localized timber temple into “a monumental Asokan-period temple and pillar complex inscribing it as a site of imperial pilgrimage.”

Article in the Antiquity Journal, published by the Cambridge Press:

The Abstract says: “Recent UNESCO-sponsored work at the major Buddhist centre of Lumbini in Nepal has sought to overcome these limitations, providing direct archaeological evidence of the nature of an early Buddhist shrine and a secure chronology.”

Prof Coningham’s keynote statement on Lumbini: YouTube

Lumbini, of course, is a World Heritage Site, within the UNESCO ambit. Prof Coningham works within this programme. I am surprised they have gone for the traditional dates. The research is funded by the Government of Japan.

Prof Coningham is at Durham University. He holds UNESCO’s 2014 Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage in the Department of Archaeology, the Chair in Early Medieval Archaeology, and is Associate Director (World Heritage) of Durham’s Institute of Mediaeval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS).

As a matter of interest, has anyone or a Buddhist organisation raised queries with UNESCO, concerning the dates or the work of Prof Coningham and his team?

Thank you.


#7

I see that these two references are from 2013, which makes them 7 years old; have there been no updates during the following years?

This Wikipedia article indicates that there are doubts about the conclusions drawn at the time.


#8

Here’s an interesting Tricycle article on the subject written by Richard Gombrich:


#9

Thank you for this article. I have read it with interest and also comments about it. Which leaves a seeker wanting to know the dates of the Birth and Parinibbana in limbo. It did not turn up in any of the Google searches I made. Tricycle operates through subscriptions. I hope this article has been made known to Antiquity, Smithsonian, UNESCO and the University of Durham. I haven’t come across any considered responses to it. As the research has been initiated by UNESCO and Lumbini is a World Heritage Site, will be keeping an eye on the project’s activities.