Dating the Buddha (563 BCE), EBT milestones and abhidhamma


@sujato and others…
I had to research a little bit about Panini, and his classic dating by Agrawala puts his work Ashtadhyayi between 450-400 BCE - but he definitely favors 450. Agrawala draws on many sources of evidence, also astronomy, kings, social considerations, Greeks, Persians etc.

It’s also clear that Panini is post-Buddhist, and the references don’t sound like the master just passed away. How is that to reconcile with the median chronology? If Argawala’s latest date, i.e. 401 BCE was correct that must mean a Parinibbana at least around 450 BCE. If his conclusion of around 450 BCE is correct that would indeed speak for the long chronology.

Does anyone know if Agrawala’s date has been revised, or is it still valid?

Here is Argawala’s thesis, for chronology see p. 455-475


Wiki says:

Nothing definite is known about when Pāṇini lived, not even in which century he lived… According to Rens Bod, a professor of Humanities specializing in comparative history, Pāṇini must have lived sometime between seventh and fifth centuries BCE

According to Hartmut Scharfe, Pāṇini lived in Gandhara close to the borders of the Achaemenid Empire, and Gandhara was then an Achaemenian satrap. He must therefore have been technically a Persian subject, but states Scharfe, his work shows no trace of Persian. Inferences, however, vary between scholars. According to Patrick Olivelle, Pāṇini’s text and references to him elsewhere suggest that “he was clearly a northerner, probably from the northwestern region”.

Probably the fact that Panini was all the way over in Gandhara with the other Vedic tribes; early Buddhist proselytization didn’t get out that far until Asoka. But…

… this isn’t really true. He wouldn’t think of the Buddha as ‘the master’ anyway.


I think this is correct - I came across a sutta reference in this book about Queen Mahamaya going to the park in Lumbini about to give birth to Prince Siddharta which was using quite flowery language which was suggesting a late work. Also all the quotes from the Buddha sounded quite pat, much like what we have now in the texts -suggesting to me, at least, the redactors hand in them.

with metta


But I do, if I may :slight_smile:

I don’t understand why you think Wiki is a better source. I gave the reference if you’re interested - but also a specific question, i.e. if someone knows a refutation of Argawala’s reasoning.


That wiki is a good summary source, offering many references for you to follow up on. I’m not sure why you think it wasn’t worth exploring; remember, without a familiarity with the field, we’re only dilettantes. So, it might be up to you to present the work you’ve cited, summarizing the argument & why it’s preferred over the current consensus, etc.

For example, from the wiki:

Some proposals have attempted to date Pāṇini from references within the text. The first proposal is based on sutra 2.1.70 of Pāṇini, which mentions kumāraśramaṇa, with the word śramaṇa interpreted to imply that he may have had “Buddhist nuns” in mind, and therefore he should be placed after Gautama Buddha. Other scholars question this theory because nuns in the Indian traditions existed outside of and before Buddhism, such as in Jainism.[19]

[19] Cardona, George (1998), Pāṇini: A Survey of Research, Motilal Banarsidass

The above; additionally, I have no idea if this is any good:


Thanks, I had looked at the article ‘a critique…’, it doesn’t concern his dating.
And Cardona, I don’t know why, references mostly literature from the 19th century. Or, in the passage you quoted, from 1921.


Well, then good luck on your search. :man_shrugging: I got nothin’.


I’m not familiar with the specific field, but it’s not unusual to find that serious Indological work has largely stopped in the mid to late 20th century.


Dear Gabriel,
unfortunately I am unable to answer your question regarding Agrawala’s date but it might be relevant to note that the notion of the Buddha’s parinibbaana having occurred around 400 B.C. rests to a very prominent degree on an article in Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung I concerning the archaeological evaluation of the habitations mentioned in the suttas (I could find you the exact reference if you wish). Narain Prasad in The Date of Buddha’s Mahāparinirvāna I think it was which pointed out quite some flaws as to the methodology of this paper and citing evidence and suggesting a date around 480 B.C., the most commonly accepted view among investigating Western scholars prior to the symposium. I am not certain as to this reference but again I could find out if you wish, sorry for the vagueness.



It was this review paper of the mentioned symposium publication which argued well for a date of 480 B.C.: Narain, A.K.: Review of The Dating of the Historical Buddha – Die Datierung des historischen Buddha, Part I



Thanks so much Bhante! I just read in a review of Ruegg to the three volume Bechert edition that from about 50 contributors… “Only two contributors to these volumes-G. Yamazaki and A. K. Narain-seem in fact still to adhere to the earlier dating of the Buddha according to the Corrected Long Chronology.”

Not meaning that they are wrong of course, but they seem to represent a clear minority. I wish I had the time to go into the details myself, but eh, priorities…

I’ll keep an eye open, esp. if Panini as an external source can indeed contribute to the discussion

[Edit: I read Narain’s review and think his points to be interesting… I wish there was a condensation of the debate since the Bechert edition to keep us up-to-date]


Here is an interesting summary of the post-Bechert symposion by Loeschner - very detailed with anyone geeking out on numismatic findings :slight_smile:


Actually at present I too am rather inclined to accept a date around 480 B.C. :slight_smile: So one more for the minority … although outside this professional field of course, so maybe only me …

Yes, we cannot grasp all at once unfortunately, not even hoping to grasp it all anyway.

The thing is, if we can go a little further, that his point was that the archaeological article by Haertel was just to easily accepted and even eminent scholars like, Andre Bareau, altered their statements, though on other grounds they opted clearly in the majority for this date. After all this issue is so untransparent that Cousins argued that even the long chronology (Parinibbaana in 544 B.C.) could at the end respresent fact best. In addition most scholars expressed their views with reservation.

I would be very happy if you would share your research findings with us …

I glanced over the paper by Loeschner, seems quite well written, thank you. He seems to corroborate the bent against Haertels evaluation of the archaeological material …


It amazes me that we still have these kinds of unknowns. My general impression is that we have such a congruent knowledge of the last 2500 years, but that is quite illusory with many topics.

An example that has impressed me is Pontius Pilate. As the Roman prefect of Judaea for 10 years you would think that he’d be an established historical figure. But in fact outside of the Bible (and Philo and Josephus) there is in archeology only one limestone block that gives evidence of his existence - pure luck that we have it!

So there you go, many unknowns in historiography that keep us invested :slight_smile:


This shows the wobbly nature of a “consensus”. Most scholars these days (including Brahmali and myself) accept the “median” chronology, so it could be called a (more or less) consensus. But no-one, I think, regards it as firmly established, and it would take very little to shift this consensus.


Here is probably the best detailed review I came across of aspects to date the Buddha:

Sarao, K. T. S. (2010). Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism.


Nice, thanks for the link. I got in touch with Prof Sarao when I was in Delhi, and would have had the chance to meet him, but alas I was too sick and stayed in bed instead!

It’s a detailed and interesting work. I like how he emphasizes the importance of both neutrality and empathy, something too often overlooked. Approaching ancient texts with empathy, we treat them as voices that actually have something to say if only we listen carefully enough.

One mistake I noticed, which appears to be an oversight, but might be confusing for anyone reading it. On page 26 he says:

In all the recensions of the Vinaya Piṭaka, it is pointed out that the Buddha died 100 or 110 years before the consecration of Asoka.

If this was really the case, there would be no controversy about the Buddha’s date! But in fact, Asoka is not mentioned in any of the Vinaya Piṭakas at all. The span of 100 or 110 years refers to the Second Council.

While Sarao makes a strong case for the the Short Chronology, which would place Asoka and the Second Council around the same time, the above fact is a problem for this theory. Given that all the Vinayas all mention the Second Council, why do none of them mention Asoka? If they are contemporary, why are the very frequent mentions of Asoka in Buddhist literature entirely confined to the post-canonical literature?

The proponents of the Short Chronology account for this by arguing that the date for the Second Council is actually too late, and should be shortened to about 60 years after the Parinirvana. This may be so, but I don’t find it a very compelling argument. The fact is, all the sources say it was 100 or 110 years. Sure, it’s an approximate date, but it should still serve as a median probability; what is it that compels us to shift it?

The main argument here is that too many of the Elders at the Second Council are said to be contemporaries of Ānanda. But there is no particular reason why students of Ānanda should not have been alive at the Second Council. He was, say, forty years younger than the Buddha, so may have died at around 40 AN. Given his character, it is likely that he still took students at quite an old age, following the example of his teacher, who took took on Subaddha immediately before his death. So if he took on young monks in their early twenties at 40 AN, they would be around 80—even less if novices are included—at the time of the Second Council if it took place in 100 AN. This seems not merely possible but probable. Surely any direct students of Ānanda would have had a special prestige in the Sangha, and would have played a major role in Sangha events. Over time, in the usual mythic manner, the number of such students may well have been exaggerated; but this is no reason to doubt that there may have been one or more actually present at the Second Council.

Anyway, this is just one line of reasoning, but I have to stay, I am still not comfortable with the Short Chronology’s overly brief gap between the Second Council and Asoka. Nonetheless, some of Sarao’s other arguments, particularly on the state of technology and urbanization at the time, are quite compelling.


Bhanthe, are there any factors siding against the Short chronological dating?

with metta


While I was reading it I found the references to cities, using bricks for building and other technological aspects difficult to brush aside. Still I was wondering, is it possible that especially these elements are part of the narratives and added later? Lots of these circumstances evidences are from the DN and MN and it wouldn’t surprise me if those were later embellishments, but still, they are in AN and SN as well…


To some degree, yes. If you compare the Suttas and vinaya, for example, the Suttas have a lot of references to monastics wandering alone, or staying in ill-defined monastic settings, whereas the (later) Vinaya goes into a lot of details as to building techniques, use of bricks, and so on. Nothing definitive, but it does align with the idea that buildings got more substantial, and the Sangha kept pace.

But still, as Sarao points out in the article, the evidence for urbanization is so pervasive that it’s hard to imagine that it’s all a late insertion.

A more serious doubt I have is with the completeness and reliability of the archaeology. It would only take one or two finds or redatings to shift the date. Are existing archeological methods and findings really accurate enough to determine events 2,500 years ago within a few decades one way or the other? I have my doubts.

I haven’t really looked into it in detail for a long time, but for me, it just feels too short. There were a huge amount of social and political changes between the Buddha and Asoka; and the whole feel of the Asokan period seems to me like it treats the Buddha as a figure becoming legend, not as the teacher of people still alive (or recently deceased). Not very hard-nosed, I’m afraid!