SuttaCentral

Disscussion of Bhante S Dhammika's Life of the Buddha - week 2

I enjoyed the Venerable’s second recorded talk (available on YouTube here) on what we know of the Buddha’s life; this material will be familiar to many people here. Venerable asked for topics that we’d like to have covered in the last two talks; so if you are enrolled mention them in the course, abd otherwise write them here and I’ll pass them on.

I enjoyed even more the Zoom Q & A, which was relaxed and full of random bits of information, some very random. Here’s some of what took my attention:

The historical facts around the Buddha’s wife: sadly I missed this bit.

He was asked about the origins and meanings of the Buddha’s names: I didn’t make decent notes here. (Siddhartha – siddha = one who’s attained their goal, used once in the Upadana (very late sutta). Probably a title, but also possible it was his name and preserved outside the tipitika. Gotama is surprisingly a Brahmin name and translates literally as “the best cow.”

The Jātaka Tales: these are always structured in four parts

  1. A setting in the present, which describes an incident which prompts the Buddha to tell the tale.
  2. A story that purports to be told by the Buddha, but which really has its origins elsewhere.
  3. Verses, that contain points of Buddhist teaching
  4. A conclusion in which the Buddha explains who he and his followers were in the past lives depicted in the story.

The tales are arranged accoring to the number of verses; this is an indication that they are the canonical bitsof the tests.
The latest Jatika is 6th century CE, but the earliest ones are in the Tipitika.
Many of the stories are preBuddhist, but they they have been ‘Buddhistised’, to display the best that we can be,
so there is disagreement about their origins but he thinks they are Indian, esp the verses, unlikely to have been written in Sri Lanka.
There are other collections, eg Hindu Panchatantra, which has a different spirit, ie “never trust anyone” having been Hinduised It’s purpose is to train young princes.

Kapilavastu was excavated in the 1970s; the earliest structures were very simple. Baked brick structures that survived better were after the Buddha’s time. It was a small village it was an administrative centre (as seal rings were found). It has no stone inscriptions; the earliest extant Buddhist inscription is on Asoka’s pillar at Lumbini.

Veneral recommended these books:
Hans Schumann, The Historical Buddha.
Micahel Carrithers, The Buddha.
Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism (chaps 1-5 highly rec).
Richard Gombrich, Buddhism and Pali (argues that Pali was the language the Buddha taught in after all).
Charles Allen, The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer: an archeological scandal.
Charles Allen, Ashoka: the search for India’s lost empire.

7 Likes

Thank you for the summary @Gillian. I enjoyed the session very much. Sadly, I can’t make it to the live discussion due to time zone issues, but am glad the main lecture is on YouTube.

I had a question come up that may have have come up for discussion, if I must’ve missed it.

In the Digha Nikita, there is a sutta where Gotama Buddha describes to some mendicants discussing past lives, about the previous Buddhas.
DN14 Mahāpadāna Sutta

Here the Buddha describes how the enlightenment journeys of previous Buddha’s occurred. What caught my attention was the description of the Four Signs- the old man, the sick man, dead corpse and mendicant.

———————————————
QUOTE: [DN14 Mahāpadāna Sutta]

5. The Old Man

Then, after many thousand years had passed, Prince Vipassī addressed his charioteer, ‘My dear charioteer, harness the finest chariots. We will go to a park and see the scenery.’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied the charioteer. He harnessed the chariots and informed the prince, ‘Sire, the finest chariots are harnessed. Please go at your convenience.’ Then Prince Vipassī mounted a fine carriage and, along with other fine carriages, set out for the park.

Along the way he saw an elderly man, bent double, crooked, leaning on a staff, trembling as he walked, ailing, past his prime. He addressed his charioteer, ‘My dear charioteer, what has that man done? For his hair and his body are unlike those of other men.’

‘That, Your Majesty, is called an old man.’

‘But why is he called an old man?’

‘He’s called an old man because now he has not long to live.’

‘But my dear charioteer, am I liable to grow old? Am I not exempt from old age?’

‘Everyone is liable to grow old, Your Majesty, including you. No-one is exempt from old age.’

‘Well then, my dear charioteer, that’s enough of the park for today. Let’s return to the royal compound.’

‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the charioteer and did so.

6. The Sick Man

Then King Bandhuma thought, ‘Prince Vipassī must not renounce the throne. He must not go forth from the lay life to homelessness. And the words of the brahmin soothsayers must not come true.’ To this end he provided the prince with even more of the five kinds of sensual stimulation, with which the prince amused himself.

Then, after many thousand years had passed, Prince Vipassī had his charioteer drive him to the park once more.

Along the way he saw a man who was ill, suffering, gravely ill, collapsed in his own urine and feces, being picked up by some and put down by others. He addressed his charioteer, ‘My dear charioteer, what has that man done? For his eyes and his voice are unlike those of other men.’

‘That, Your Majesty, is called a sick man.’

‘But why is he called a sick man?’

‘He’s called an sick man; hopefully he will recover from that illness.’

‘But my dear charioteer, am I liable to fall sick? Am I not exempt from sickness?’

‘Everyone is liable to fall sick, Your Majesty, including you. No-one is exempt from sickness.’

‘Well then, my dear charioteer, that’s enough of the park for today. Let’s return to the royal compound.’

‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the charioteer and did so.

Back at the royal compound, the prince brooded, miserable and sad: ‘Damn this thing called rebirth, since old age and sickness will come to anyone who’s born.’

7. The Dead Man

Then King Bandhuma thought, ‘Prince Vipassī must not renounce the throne. He must not go forth from the lay life to homelessness. And the words of the brahmin soothsayers must not come true.’ To this end he provided the prince with even more of the five kinds of sensual stimulation, with which the prince amused himself.

Then, after many thousand years had passed, Prince Vipassī had his charioteer drive him to the park once more.

Along the way he saw a large crowd gathered making a bier out of garments of different colors. He addressed his charioteer, ‘My dear charioteer, why is that crowd making a bier?’

‘That, Your Majesty, is for someone who’s departed.’

‘Well then, drive the chariot up to the departed.’

‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the charioteer, and did so.

When the prince saw the corpse of the departed, he addressed the charioteer, ‘But why is he called departed?’

‘He’s called departed because now his mother and father, his relatives and kin shall see him no more, and he shall never again see them.’

‘But my dear charioteer, am I liable to die? Am I not exempt from death? Will the king and queen and my other relatives and kin see me no more? And shall I never again see them?’

‘Everyone is liable to die, Your Majesty, including you. No-one is exempt from death. The king and queen and your other relatives and kin shall see you no more, and you shall never again see them.’

‘Well then, my dear charioteer, that’s enough of the park for today. Let’s return to the royal compound.’

‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the charioteer and did so.

Back at the royal compound, the prince brooded, miserable and sad: ‘Damn this thing called rebirth, since old age, sickness, and death will come to anyone who’s born.’

8. The Renunciate

Then King Bandhuma thought, ‘Prince Vipassī must not renounce the throne. He must not go forth from the lay life to homelessness. And the words of the brahmin soothsayers must not come true.’ To this end he provided the prince with even more of the five kinds of sensual stimulation, with which the prince amused himself.

Then, after many thousand years had passed, Prince Vipassī had his charioteer drive him to the park once more.

Along the way he saw a man, a renunciate with shaven head, wearing an ocher robe. He addressed his charioteer, ‘My dear charioteer, what has that man done? For his head and his clothes are unlike those of other men.’

‘That, Your Majesty, is called a renunciate.’

‘But why is he called a renunciate?’

‘He is called a renunciate because he celebrates principled and fair conduct, skillful actions, good deeds, harmlessness, and compassion for living creatures.’

‘Then I celebrate the one called a renunciate, who celebrates principled and fair conduct, skillful actions, good deeds, harmlessness, and compassion for living creatures! Well then, drive the chariot up to that renunciate.’

‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ replied the charioteer, and did so.

Then Prince Vipassī said to that renunciate, ‘My good man, what have you done? For your head and your clothes are unlike those of other men.’

‘Sire, I am what is called a renunciate.’

‘But why are you called a renunciate?’

‘I am called a renunciate because I celebrate principled and fair conduct, skillful actions, good deeds, harmlessness, and compassion for living creatures.’

‘Then I celebrate the one called a renunciate, who celebrates principled and fair conduct, skillful actions, good deeds, harmlessness, and compassion for living creatures!’

END QUOTE
———————————-

To my knowledge and as described in Ven Dhammika’s talk there is no reference to Gotama Buddha having personallly Witnessed these signs ( specifically, in such a poetic manner, commonly retold today as part of the life story of Gotama Buddha). There is a great detail of hagiography and borrowing involved in all religions and Buddhism is not immune to it.

Could the life story of our current Gotama Buddha have been mistakenly ( or intentionally) flourished with these details that he attributed to Buddha Vippasi? Or is it meant to assume all Buddhas go through this ‘initiation’ as part of their journey to discover the Dhamma and be Fully Awakened?( In the sutta, Gotama Buddha does say that certain occurrences, features etc. are considered “ normal to One intent on AwakeNing”.

Please forgive me if I am in error or have missed something. Also if my post is not formatted properly.

Much metta :pray:t3:
Ficus

4 Likes

Re :recommended reading
Hans Schumann, The Historical Buddha.
Micahel Carrithers, The Buddha.
Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism (chaps 1-5 highly rec).
Richard Gombrich, Buddhism and Pali (argues that Pali was the language the Buddha taught in after all).
Charles Allen, The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer: an archeological scandal.
Charles Allen, Ashoka: the search for India’s lost empire.

I also would add

Charles Allen, The Buddha and the Sahibs

I discovered this book in a bookshop in New Delhi, and since have read the author’s books Recommended here . A very engaging, and investigative read about the “ re-discovery” of Buddhist monuments, culture and history in India driven mainly by the much maligned “Orientalists”. Very much like a historical “ Whodunit” :blush:.

4 Likes

That book would be right up my street. :pray:

I’ll pass your question on. It sounds like good fodder for a talk. :smiley:

1 Like

Thank you for the great notes, @Gillian!

I unfortunately couldn’t make the Zoom Q&A in my time zone, but got a lot out of the lecture. As someone new to the EBTs my understanding of the Buddha’s life included a lot of later materials. So it was really helpful to hear what was based on the Pali Canon and what were later additions.

2 Likes

Thanks for this. I listened in on the one in the first week. I was planning to do the same for the second week’s discussion, and had my “homework” done, but then nodded off to sleep half an hour before it started (the slot is somewhat late here)! :slight_smile: Good to get a summary of what went on.

1 Like

Hi, there’s a typo here, it should read jātaka tales, right?

Jātaka texts at SC

1 Like