Did the Bodhisatta try austerities?

What are the points/argument for both the legitimacy and illegitimacy of the account of the Boddhisatta trying and giving up the Jain-like austerities as found in MN36?

The common attitude is often that of undermining the influence of the Bodhisatta’s period of training and learning with the Jains, or depicting it as useless or even destructive to his quest. I wouldn’t imagine then why add it at all in the tradition if it wasn’t even true!

These austerities still prevail in India.
Some Buddhist also resort to austerity.
Clinging to rites and rituals also a by product of austerities.
So it is a very important teaching in Buddhism.

Kumbh Mela - India


Great footage! Just the Kerouac Jr. narrator is difficult to bear :slight_smile:

In my mind there is no doubt that the Buddha - like most other serious practitioners at that time - would have practiced some austerities. It was one of the go-to practices for the ones looking for salvation. And what are ‘austerities’ anyway for us nowadays? Sleeping in the forest, walking around naked, eating little, sleeping little, enduring hardship, etc? Part of what we would call austerities today are recommended practices in Buddhism etc.

What I doubt is that the descriptions of the Bodhisatta’s practices in MN 36 and MN 12 are authentic, mainly for textual reasons - but it’s more assumptions than proof.

We know from other religious traditions that biographies are an early form of ‘fan-fiction’, added later due to the fascination with a charismatic leader. The teachings were not enough, we need a charismatic figure of ‘flesh and blood’ - exactly what a Tathagata is not.

We discussed at another place how irrelevant the Buddhas given name is/was - why should it be different with his biography? As if details of his body’s history could add or take away something from his message - and yet we find it hard to let go of this curiosity.

So the genre of ‘fan-fiction’ is one aspect, another is that the AN and SN don’t tell us about the specific austerities of the MN. And finally the point that MN 36 has an all-too obvious agenda, which is to elevate the Buddha and to diminish the other practices.

Austere ascetics have always been an object of fascination. They were living superheroes, and people continue to spread stories of arahants and sadhus who can fly or perform other tricks. Who is more awe-inspiring, the chubby Chinese ‘Buddha’, or the Lahore Bodhisatta?

Fasting Buddha Lahore Museum

I once got to know a monk who was very well fed. He said it was out of compassion with the donating lay people. It may be true, but our initial reaction I think it to see the one who denies pleasure as the more authentic practitioner. From the two mistakes (1.support a sensual fool 2.support an austere egomaniac) I think culture prefers the second. And that, in my mind, was one reason why the Buddha had a hard time promoting his middle path, and a good reason for the editors to highlight the Bodhisatta’s austere achievements. Otherwise people would have said ‘look at this well-fed ‘monk’, fancy talk, but he can’t even go without food for some days’.

Again, to repeat my main point, I would be very surprised if the Bodhisatta did not practice austerities, I just don’t think that we have specific authentic textual evidence of it…


What are these textual reasons?

I think later scholarship has now establised what is fan fiction and what is not. There is plenty of the former if needed, but the practice of the austerities seem genuine EBT material.

The Tathagata, by whom we mean the Buddha was very flesh and blood in my opinion, and that of most scholars. Austerities are not required to make him real, to anyone who has practiced any degree of his teachings.

If now we assume he does exist, what is the point of denying any bit of biography, especially if it has no impact on the overall teachings? The only justification that I can think of is to cast doubt over the validity of the rest of the texts, but the issue of authenticity has been settled a long time ago.

MN36 is an early buddhist text. It’s a discussion between Saccaka and the Buddha:

Venerable sir, here comes Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha’s son, a debater and a clever speaker regarded by many as a saint. He wants to discredit the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.

The motive behind him coming to discuss with the Buddha is possible and likely to happen even now. Unless you are saying that the Buddha mislead people by creating a debate that didnt happen, I see little to say MN36 isn’t authentic.

with metta

"What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard form… feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness as the Tathagata?.. do you regard the Tathagata as in form?” – “No, friend.” – “Do you regard the Tathagata as apart from form?..
What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard the Tathagata as one who is without form, without feeling, without perception, without volitional formations, without consciousness?” – “No, friend…

But, friend, when the Tathagata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life, is it fitting for you to declare: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death’? (SN 22.85 / SN 22.86)

It’s nothing mysterious, it’s:

“Vaccha, wanderers of other sects regard the eye thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self.’ They regard the ear … the nose … the tongue … the body … the mind thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self.’ Therefore, when the wanderers of other sects are asked such questions, they give such answers as: ‘The world is eternal’ … or ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ But, Vaccha, the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, regards the eye thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ He regards the ear … the mind thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ Therefore, when the Tathagata is asked such questions, he does not give such answers.” SN44.7

With metta