Historical Evidence for the Buddha

You seem to miss my concerns, friend. It is not the out-n-out frauds; it is the best intentioned just not Enlightened yet people trying to use skillful means which inspire concern in me, for those they affect including themselves.

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As a Pure Land Buddhist, I’m most interested in Amida Buddha as a skillful device (upaya) for understanding the Dharmakaya, and the Pure Land as a skillful device for understanding the realm of Nirvana. Other forms of upaya or skillful means aren’t really an interest of mine.

According to T’an-luan, all Buddhas, including Amida, have two bodies (aspects):

  1. Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature and 2. Dharmakaya of Expediency (upaya).

The first is the ultimate, unconditioned reality beyond form, which is equally shared by all Buddhas[2], while the second is the specific and particular manifestation of each Buddha for the sake of saving sentient beings.

The relation between the two is described as follows:

"From the Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature originates the Dharmakaya of Expediency; through the Dharmakaya of Expediency, the Dharmakaya of Dharma-nature is revealed. These two Dharmakayas are different, but inseparable; they are one but not the same.”. . .

"Unconditioned Dharmakaya is the body of Dharma-nature. Because Dharma-nature is Nirvanic, Dharmakaya is formless. Because it is formless, there is no form which it cannot manifest."
Master T’an-luan on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land (the doctrine of the two Buddha bodies) | AMIDA-JI RETREAT TEMPLE ROMANIA 阿 弥 陀 寺

I see all the celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism as symbolic of the one Dharmakaya, similar to how Smarta Hindus see the various gods of Hinduism as symbolic of the one Brahman:

Because of the Buddha’s concept of skillful means, I see nothing wrong with interpreting Amida Buddha and the Pure Land symbolically.

The Dharmakaya and Nirvana are aspects of the same Ultimate Truth, and one could say that Nirvana is the ultimate experience of awakening to the Dharmakaya, or that Dharmakaya is the content of Nirvana.

Shinran, like T’an-luan and Shan-tao, understood the Pure Land as the realm of Nirvana. This is why Shinran described rebirth into the Pure Land as “the birth of non-birth,” just as the Buddha described Nirvana as “the unborn.”

As a Buddhist with out interest in PureLands however, i am disappointed that a thread on historical evidence for the Buddha keeps being used as a platform for proselytizing Pure Land / Shin.

May your practice flourish.


@Kensho I share your view that there are many devices that are useful for seeing through delusion. From my perspective the problems start when unawakened ones start to argue about who’s ‘truth’ is right, or that the things some people find useful are wrong.

In fact, from a psychological perspective, I find that many aspects of buddhist teachings cater more or less well to individual cognitive differences and learning types.

Personally I see the greatest reliability in the most ‘basic’ of the EBT’s. Going from the 4 Noble truths, everything else can be derived. That is to say - the simplest, most straight forward, unadorned, unembellished practices have the highest likelihood to be most suited to the most people. The more complex, symbolic, idiosyncratic, or ‘tailored’ the practices, the smaller the group of people who may understand the base message correctly.

LOL, I can summarize this with 2 common english sayings

  • the K.I.S.S. principle,( keep it simple ‘stupid’), and
  • Horses for courses, (ie different things work best for different people)

This is why, for example, I like Ajahn Brahms emphasis on exploring and investigating all kinds of things so that we can find what works best for each of us.

Back to the OP -
Evidence for a historical Buddha does seem consistent. Everything written about the Dhamma that didn’t come from the historical Buddha, has been to a greater or lesser degree modified or adapted (all with the ‘good’ intention of making the dhamma more accessible to more people).

The wonderful thing is that Buddhism pursues an objective search for the truth of things - which focuses on demolishing our many, many delusions. By keeping this search as the purpose of our practice, we can be thankful for the vast array of teachings. It doesn’t work though, when we cling to any of them without subjecting them to the same investigation that the Lord Buddha said we should apply to all things.

May all beings find the Dhamma

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I don’t actually see that in the chapter though, that the Buddhadharma is so subtle it is impossible to expound it directly and the use of parables is necessitated.

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D. T. Suzuki made the point that the Mahayana sutras in general aren’t dependent on literal historicity as sources of spiritual truth:

If we take it to mean the lifeless preservation of the original, we should say that Mahayanism is not the genuine teaching of the Buddha, and we may add that Mahayanists would be proud of the tact, because being a living religious force it would never condescend to be the corpse of a by-gone faith. The fossils, however faithfully preserved, are nothing but rigid inorganic substances from which life is forever departed.

Mahayanism is far from this; it is an ever-growing faith and ready in all times to cast off its old garments as soon as they are worn out. But its spirit originally inspired by the [the Buddha] is most jealously guarded against pollution and degeneration. Therefore, as far as its spirit is concerned, there is no room left to doubt its genuineness ; and those who desire to have a complete survey of Buddhism cannot ignore the significance of Mahayanism.

It is naught but an idle talk to question the historical value of an organism, which is now full of vitality and active in all its functions, and to treat it like an archeological object, dug out from the depths of the earth, or like a piece of bric-&-brac, discovered in the ruins of an ancient royal palace.

Mahayanism is not an object of historical curiosity. Its vitality and activity concern us in our daily life. It is a great spiritual organism; its moral and religious forces are still exercising an enormous power over millions of souls; and its further development is sure to be a very valuable contribution to the world-progress of the religious consciousness. What does it matter, then, whether or not Mahayanism is the genuine teaching of the Buddha?
Is Mahayana The Genuine Teaching of the Buddha? – The Endless Further

From the Mahayana perspective, the historical Buddha planted a seed which ultimately blossomed into the Mahayana. It doesn’t matter if Mahayana Buddhism isn’t the original Buddhism, if it can trace its development back to the historical Buddha.

There really isn’t any form of Buddhism today that can claim to be the original Buddhism, and that’s perfectly okay:

Whose Buddhism is Truest?
No one’s—and everyone’s, it turns out.
Long-lost scrolls shed some surprising light.
By Linda Heuman

What I said is that, according to the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra, his enlightenment is so subtle it is impossible to expound it directly and the use of parables or other forms of skillful means is necessitated. This is little different from the Buddha of the Pali canon describing his teaching as a raft to the other shore of Nirvana, rather than the ultimate truth itself.

Fair enough. The path isn’t the shore.

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Sounds somewhat interesting but also seems a different topic.

It is actually

Lotus sutra says lying is basically ok as long as it’s upaya

The upayakausalya sutra goes further and says killing is ok as upaya

EBTs would not support this


Once again, the topic of this thread is “historical evidence of the Buddha.” The latter developments of Shin Buddhism have very little, if anything, to do with this topic, as interesting as it may be. Please start another topic to discuss the Pure Land beliefs, and leave this topic for those who wish to discuss the historical evidence of the Buddha Gautama.

Thank you, most kindly!


The thread seems to have completed its useful lifespan so the mods have chosen to close the Topic. Thank you to all the participants. Hopefully @Kensho was able to glean some useful information with regard to his initial request.