In EBTs the Buddha sometimes talks about previous Buddha’s. In some cases he recall and share details about how those previous Samma SamBuddhas awakened and how they went about teaching and bringing back to the world the Dhamma-Vinaya.
In other cases we see the Buddha helping others make sense of stanzas attributed to the immediate past Buddha, Master Kassapa, indicating that while there was some memory of those special beings their message had been totally lost by the time Buddha Gotama was around.
What can we say about the veracity or reasonableness of the belief in such accounts?
Where in time and space can we place such previous Buddhas?
What is the likely doctrinal relevance of the factuality of such previous Buddhas?
I view it more as understanding the process of the Dhamma being discovered by Buddhas, then being totally lost, then rediscovered. Cycles. My own take on it is that the process exists, and will continue at least once more with Maitteya. So the Dhamma exists whether there is a Buddha there to point it out or not.
But not really that much can be said about where and when in space/time the previous Buddhas existed. I know they are named and spoken about in the Canon, and named, but I’m not sure you can do much else with that information in your day to day practice.
Just to help us focus on EBTs, the seven Buddhas mentioned in DN14 are:
In the Vinaya Vibhanga’s section on the origin of the monastic law we find the six previous Buddhas mentioned as well when the Buddha answers the question:
“For which Buddhas did the dispensation not last long? For which Buddhas did the dispensation last long?”
The Saɱyutta Nikāya (SN) has got as well a section dedicated to these six previous Buddhas, each of them having a respective “Buddha sutta”, followed by a sutta on Buddha Gotama: SN12.4, SN12.5, SN12.6, SN12.7, SN12.8, SN12.9 and SN12.10
Some suttas refer to places in India where past Buddhas dwelt, in one of the Buddha sits down on the same spot as a previous Buddha, to the joy of Ananda. In MN19, we also have a reference to a small fragment of a Dhamma verse spoken by a previous Buddha and remembered partially by the brahmans (“the greatest of all gains is health, Nibbana is the greatest bliss”). I always loved this tiny anecdote, it’s mind-blowing.
So to me it sounds like previous Buddhas appeared on Earth and in particulalry in India, a sort of spatial cyclicity. But how is this possible knowing the age of the Earth and of human civilizations? Maybe the model of the theosophists could have some truth. In their theory, the universe is continually destroyed and recreated (in line with the DN suttas), but the solar system is also destroyed and recreated continually. According to them there were many generations of our Earth. And maybe (this is not mentionned by the theosophists I believe), the continents and a country such as India are also recreated more or less in the same way… This model could explain the facts that the Buddha appeared on Earth and in India since a long long time: because our Earth is just one iteration among many previous and future Earths.
Note that India has a very peculiar geological history! It was attached to Madagascar at the beginning of the Tertiary and then detached itself and drifted through the Indian Ocean until it collided with Asia 10 millions years ago! Among tectonic plates, the Indian plate is one of the wildest one. The collision created ranges of mountains all around India: natural barriers that have offered a great protection for the civilizations emerging there… (/tin foil hat on: it sounds almost intentional! /tin foil hat off )
There are some references to Kassapa Buddha’s stupa, but I suspect the actual story is long lost in the mists of time:
“The village that surrounds the great Kāṣyapa stupa is generally known by the name of Bauḍḍha. …which in Tibetan is called Yambu Chorten Chenpo (Tibetan: ཡམ་བུའི་མཆོད་རྟེན་ཆེན་པོ། Wylie: yam bu’i mchod rten chenpo). Yambu is the general name by which Kāthmāndu is known in Tibet, and Chorten Chenpo means great stupa. The real name of the stupa in full is, however, Jya Rung Khashor Chorten Chenpo, which may be translated into: “Have finished giving the order to proceed with.” The stupa has an interesting history of its own which explains this strange name. It is said in this history that Kāṣyapa was a Buḍḍha that lived a long time before Shākyamuni Buḍḍha. after Kāṣyapa Buḍḍha’s demise, a certain old woman, with her four sons, interred this great sage’s remains at the spot over which the great mound now stands, the latter having been built by the woman herself. Before starting on the work of construction, she petitioned the King of the time and obtained permission to “proceed with” building a tower. By the time that, as a result of great sacrifices on the part of the woman and her four sons, the groundwork of the structure had been finished, those who saw it were astonished at the greatness of the scale on which it was undertaken. Especially was this the case with the high officials of the country, who all said that if such a poor old dame were allowed to complete building such a stupendous tower, they themselves would have to dedicate a temple as great as a mountain, and so they decided to ask the King to disallow the further progress of the work. When the King was approached on the matter his Majesty replied: “I have finished giving the order to the woman to proceed with the work. Kings must not eat their words, and I cannot undo my orders now.” So the tower was allowed to be finished, and hence its unique name, “Jya Rung Khashor Chorten Chenpo.” I rather think, however, that the tower must have been built after the days of Shākyamuni Buḍḍha, for the above description from Tibetan books is different from the records in Sanskrit, which are more reliable than the Tibetan.” the biggest stupa in Nepal[Link]
The present kalpa is called the bhadrakalpa (Auspicious aeon). The five Buddhas of the present kalpa are:
Kakusandha (the first Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
Koṇāgamana (the second Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
Kassapa (the third Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
Gautama (the fourth and present Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
Maitreya (the fifth and future Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
Koṇāgamana was born in Subhagavati Park in Sobhavati (now known as Araurakot, located about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) southwest of Nigalihawa) on Wednesday; because of this Koṇāgamana is placed on the Wednesday pedestal.
According to Xuanzang, Koṇāgamana’s relics were held in a stupa in Nigalisagar, in what is now Kapilvastu District in southern Nepal. There is an Ashoka pillar at the site today. Ashoka’s inscription in Brahmi is on the fragment of the pillar still partly buried in the ground.[Link]
So essentially, 4 Buddhas have come and gone. The next one is the last, and the one after that wont be around for a while. Don’t miss the bus again!
It is interesting to see that science is not yet decided on for how long humans have been humans on this rock we all live in:
If indeed he have been around as a human specie on this rock for over 300,000 years what should stop us from acknowledge that maybe in such a long span of time there has been time enough for the Dhamma-Vinaya to have emerged more than once, as the Buddha of EBTs seems to have suggested?
Think about it, 300,000 years is really a lot of time! Most of what we consider nowadays basic knowledges of humankind such as maths, written language, physics etc is no older than few centuries, a couple of millennia at most.
Who knows, maybe some 150,000 years ago things got stable enough for the sort of contemplative culture required for a Samma Sambuddha, like Lord Kassapa, to have arisen but not structured enough for things like written language and technological advancements to take place leave archeological findings for us to study nowadays.
I got a similar impression! The ancient Buddha’s were all part of ancient Indian civilization. Terms like Buddha, pacceka-Buddha, bhikku etc. are found in the language group that we find in India. There is no mention of Buddha’s in any other culture or civilization in the ancient world.
The idea of an ancient India recurring over and over is a bit challenging! That would mean that all the other cultural developments may also be repeats. This includes bible-belt Christians and Australian bhogans. How much can a koala bare?
The Harrapan civilization was the earliest on the sub-continent. They sailed goods down the Indus River and into the Arabian sea to trade with Mesopotamia. The Brahmi script was derived from writing systems that first appeared in the Middle East. Chinese monks came to India from the north. There were also connections with Burma to the east and, Sri Lanka to the south and, by way of extension, the territories of South-east Asia. The Buddha was a descendant of Aryan invaders from the north. The idea of a culturally or geographically isolated India makes little sense.
The first civilization discovered that came into being after the agricultural revolution, is the ‘Accadian’. It started around 2,250 BC. Around 8,500 BC the largest settlements in the world were villagers such as Jericho that contained a few hundred individuals. Before that there were tens of thousands of years of hunter-gatherer cultures. The kind of culture we are required to envision - that the ancient Buddha’s lived in - with agriculture and the trappings of civilization did not exist 150 thousand years ago. However, the time-frame we are asked to consider is not in the hundreds of thousands but millions of years ago - correct?
Another important thing to consider is what you had to say about the Vinaya teachings given in some instances by ancient Buddha’s. As I understand it, you may have in mind practices like going on alms round, not eating after midday, having 3 robes etc. If a bhikku/bhikkuni had gone on alms round many millions of years ago, what kind of bowl would they carry, what kind of robes would they wear, what kind of food would they receive? If it was a million years ago it would not have been a metal bowl because smelting, melting, moulding metal artifacts and metal working techniques did not exist that long ago. Their robes would have to be made of tree bark or animal skins as growing cotton and weaving it to make cloth had not been developed yet. They would have to have had wild grains in their bowls as the agricultural revolution had not happened yet. And, their lay supporters would have been ancient hunter gatherers of a pre-homo sapien species because modern humans did not exist that long ago. Taking all this into consideration makes the existence of Buddha’s on this Earth in prehistoric India millions of years ago exceedingly unlikely.
The Vipassi Buddha’s dispensation would have happened before the dinosaurs and possibly before the Earth’s atmosphere contained oxygen. Did these early Buddha’s and Buddhists breathe oxygen?
The question is, what would the people contemporary with the EBTs have thought? No dinosaurs, no reference to anything but a standard sort of renunciate troupe, nothing that would set them apart as non-human human-plane denizens (…does that even make sense? I think the Iron Age folk had anatomically modern humans in mind; that seems quite obvious).