The Buddha had no Wife and Son?

Dear all,

I found this article about the possibility that the Buddha has no wife and son:

Did the Original Buddha Really Have a Wife and Son?

There are next to no details about his childhood. The Buddha tells us that he was very wealthy, having separate homes for each season, and eating only the best foods (Sutta on Refinement, AN 3.38). The Buddha tells us that despite this refinement he was horrified and humiliated to see the indignities of “aging, sickness, and death” and considered that these would happen to him too. “Should I not seek a release from aging, illness, and death?” he asked himself.

He next tells us that he left home as a young man. There is no mention of his father’s efforts to protect him, or his going out and being shocked by first seeing the “four sights” after a life sheltered from them. He just noticed aging, sickness, and death like anyone else would, but had a more profound response to them than the average.

Not only is there no mention of a wife or child in the Buddha’s recounting of his renunciation, he seems to suggest that he was still living at home with his parents: “So . . . while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life—and while my parents, unwilling, were crying with tears streaming down their faces—I shaved off my hair & beard, put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness.” (The Sutta on The Noble Search, MN 26).

The absence of a wife or child is striking. Without the claims of later tradition, we would assume the Buddha had left home as an unmarried youth.
The suttas do explicitly identify one relative, the monk Nanda, as the Buddha’s cousin, son of his maternal uncle (Ud 3.2). The specificity of this identification only makes starker the lack of similar identification when other characters traditionally believed to be the Buddha’s relatives are mentioned. Neither Rahula nor Mahapajapati appear with kinship information. And there is no mention of the Buddha’s former wife.

We get some more additions of a fantastical nature from a later stratum of material in the suttas that are rife with supernatural details. It is in this strata that we learn that the Buddha was a prince whose father was Suddhodana, that after he descended from Tusita heaven to be born to the rejoicing of the gods, a Brahmin made fateful predictions at his birth. Here we learn of his miraculous birth, of lotuses sprouting under his infant footsteps and him pronouncing his identity when only a few minutes old.

It is in the Cullavagga, the stories explaining each rule in the monastic code, that we first hear that Rahula was ordained as a child, and that his mother, simply called “Rahulamata” (Rahula’s mother) sent him off to join the Buddha with the poignant words “go get your inheritance” (this is a cautionary tale of the pain that a child’s ordination can cause parents). This story does seem to suggest that the Buddha was Rahula’s father. It must have been based on a familiar, older tradition, but that tradition may still have come to be hundreds of years after the Buddha died (it was written down between 500 and 1000 years after his death).

The legends of the Buddha’s family are elaborated in various versions by the Buddhacarita, the earliest full biography of the Buddha, written by the poet Asvaghosa in the first century CE; the Lalitavistara, a Mahayana/Sarvastivada biography dating to the third century CE; the Mahavastu from the Mahasamghika Lokottaravada, which was composed incrementally until perhaps the fourth century CE; and the Nidanakatha from the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, composed in the fifth century by Buddhaghosa. Most of our ideas of the Buddha legend come from these works.

It seems that EBTs do not see the Buddha was a married man who left his family for enlightenment quest.


Is this critical to your enlightenment?
It appears that who wrote this watch only reality TV but no idea of real life.
He appears to be a person who eats the banana skin, not the banana flesh.
There is no single mention of Buddha’s teaching.

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While there is certainly room for legitimate doubt regarding the details of the Buddha’s family, the linked article does only a shallow job of representing the issues.

The basic problem with this theory is the treatment of Rāhula. True, Rāhula is not explicitly stated to be the Buddha’s son in the early suttas, only in the Vinaya. But he features in many texts, and in highly distinctive ways. Who could sympathetically read SN 35.121, MN 61, or MN 62, and not see them as conversations with a young man with a special, close relationship with the Buddha? Such embedded understanding may be more certain than an explicit statement, which could easily be inserted. If we are to propose that he was not the Buddha’s son, then who was he? But if he was the Buddha’s son, then his existence implies a mother. And who else could that be than the woman identified as such?

The article thinks it has a powerful point by showing that Nanda is identified as the Buddha’s cousin, so why then not his wife and child? But the answer to this is obvious: because everyone knew his immediate family, but not more distant relatives. At the time this would have been common knowledge. Only in later days, with a growing distance from the people themselves, was there a need for the family details to be spelled out more explicitly.

Arguments that advocate such extreme skepticism often fall into the same fallacy of those that argue for a fundamentalist traditionalism. That is, they fail to adequately account for the actual textual situation, thus misrepresenting the facts. For example, the article says:

Here is the Buddha’s biography according to the Pali suttas, which according to some are our earliest records

The idiom “according to some” is used here to cast doubt on those who hold this view, without having to take up the burden of showing why one should so doubt. Oddly enough, it is the same idiom that is used in the Pali commentaries for exactly the same purpose. But that the early texts are our most reliable record is on the one hand accepted by all reputable scholars (if we take it as referring to the EBTs rather than just the Pali), and on the other hand a straw man argument (if it is taken as referring to the Pali texts alone.)

This kind of casually dismissive aside is characteristic of postmodern denialist Buddhism. The article stakes out a familiar denialist position, claiming to say something radical, new, and important. But when examined, what it says about the facts of the Buddha’s family as represented in the Pali texts are familiar to any scholar. It establishes its radical position not by bringing any new evidence to the table, but by asking for kinds of information that it knows are lacking—explicit family identifications in the suttas—and ignoring the fact that other scholars were well aware of this, but reached their conclusions on other grounds. The denialist scholars are in search of unknowing, and they do not stop until they have found it. Science, on the other hand, is a search for knowledge, not ignorance.

Further, the quote above introduces, not a quote from the Pali texts, but an unidentified passage from some modern work, which provides a highly inadequate summary of the information actually found in the EBTs. Omitting a range of relevant passages, inadequately exploring those that are mentioned, and completely ignoring the non-Pali EBTs: this is not the way to establish such a striking thesis.

The article finishes with a rejoinder from another scholar, Vanessa Sasson, who urges that we don’t strip away the stories, as this merely impoverishes the tradition. And of course she is right; but her response concedes ground too readily. There is a need for both rigorous and careful historical analysis and an appreciation of the full complexity of the mythology in its context: one does not preclude the other. A failure to carefully and sympathetically read the source material, however, merely obscures both tasks.


Wow, I need to be “slowly” to digest your comment, Bhante :smiley:

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This particular issue is no different to the claims that there was not a person called Buddha. I think we are wasting our time to prove whether these stories have any credibility or not. It is immaterial whether Buddha exist or whether he had a wife or not. What matters is his Dhamma.
If they can prove Buddha Dhamm is wrong then it is the time well spent.
By the way I rather watch the following video instead of arguing in this useless issues.

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Slowly, brother, maybe I have to put this thread on Watercooler instead :slight_smile: