The historicity of the Buddha

Titled edited to reframe the intentions of the OP.

I was recently in a conversation on DhammaWheel concerning whether a “historical” Buddha or a “historical” Jesus is most likely, and ultimately, this is what I had to say: [quote]Regarding the “historical” Jesus vs the “historical” Buddha: the same argumentation for a historical Buddha applies as the argumentation used to establish the likelihood of a “historical” Jesus, however there is much much less time between the writing of Christian scriptures and the teaching of Christian teachings (by Jesus) than there is between the ministries of the Buddha and the eventual writing down of the suttāni (suttas). Given this alone, a historical Jesus is far more historically verifiable (if either are at all, since we have to adjust our standards of proof when dealing with ancient history, otherwise almost no one in sufficiently ancient history “definitely exists”) than a comparatively historical Buddha.

Both teachers are likely to have “existed”. Whenever someone comes along and says “Confucius didn’t really exist” or something of the like, the only other possibilities are 1) someone lied and invented X historical character and their teachings, or 2) many historical characters “converged” into one (this is not as ridiculous an idea as it may seem, both “Christ” and “Buddha” were titles for people before “the” Christ and “the” Buddha came to be exclusively associated with the words).

To me, if either of these is the case, it seems that 2) is more reasonable, but even then, it still makes sense for these figures to have been substantially based on one particular figure among the many and other teachings were gradually attributed to them, rather than a whole body of teachings arising naturally via societal exchange without any actual teaching (but ineffably with the shared common mythology of a “real teacher” in the past? It just seems to unlikely)[/quote]The same is the situation with EBT studies and “traditional” Theravāda.

"traditional" Theravāda

At the risk of mischaracterizing Theravāda, I have chosen the caveat “traditional”, but this too is insufficient, as “traditional” is not synonymous with what I am trying to say, however, to cut through all this attempts to not offend anyone: the claim of “traditional Theravāda”, as I know it, is that the entire Pāli Canon and commentaries constitute “the Buddhadharma” in its expressly literary form.

EBT studies assumes option 2, with the caveat I included, namely, that there is a historical Buddha, but the collection of teachings that is attributed to the Buddha today also contains the teachings of others.

What is your response to doubts of a historical Buddha? I would have liked to get more in-depth with archaeological attestations, etc, but I am simply not knowledgable enough on the subject.

I disagree. From what I’ve heard, none of the Gospels were written by eye witnesses. And they seem to contradict each other quite heavily. So it seems the earliest sources on Jesus are already of highly questionable content.

And to add to that, there seem to be clear examples of elements of the Gospels being adoptions of beliefs from other religions known at the time and place of Jesus, making those earliest of texts even more questionable.

And add again that there are no eye witness accounts from any sources on Jesus. While the same can be said about the Buddha regarding non-Buddhist sources, that is easily explainable by the lack of writing, whereas in Jesus’ context, that seems very suspicious - why did no-one at all among the many writers of the time mention him?

The Buddhist teachings may have been written much longer after the death of the Buddha compared to the Gospels after Jesus. But it would seem that many of them, or parts of their content, were composed while the Buddha was still alive. Since there was no writing in that time and place, they were not written, but they were still preserved by the well developed oral tradition, just as the Vedas were preserved, and so far as I understand it has been established that such oral traditions were very conservative. In which case I do not think that the date of texts first being written should be overemphasised.

The early Buddhist texts seem also to be far less self-contradictory, even though far greater in volume, compared to the Gospels.

Therefore I would suggest that the historical Buddha is far more verifiable than the historical Jesus.

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[quote=“Senryu, post:2, topic:5804”]
From what I’ve heard, none of the Gospels were written by eye witnesses. And they seem to contradict each other quite heavily.
[/quote]If one thinks Christian testament to the life of Jesus is incoherent, how can one think that Buddhist testament to the life of the Buddha is coherent? It is completely _in_coherent, hence why we have EBT studies.

However, rather than having this be a pile up on the historicity of Jesus, the intended goal of the OP is seeking answers to this particular question:[quote]What is your response to doubts of a historical Buddha?[/quote]

If you would like to discuss textual criticism of early Christian literature/texts, you can PM me if you so desire and I can send you some resources, but I can only think that discussion of ECTs (Early Christian Texts, I just made that acronym up, I think) is a better topic for the Watercooler, and possibly off-topic considering the larger purpose of this forum, given that I can only imagine such a thread going down into ahistorical and unscholarly Christian-bashing (forgive me if I am pessimistic, that is just how I see it going, no offence meant to you particularly).

Can you outline the points which you feel reveal any heavy contradictions in the EBT regarding the life of the Buddha?

[quote=“Senryu, post:4, topic:5804”]
Can you outline the points which you feel reveal any heavy contradictions in the EBT regarding the life of the Buddha?
[/quote]In the EBTs? I could not say. Perhaps the 32 marks of a great man? If the Buddha was born with these surely someone would have said something before they turn up, indeed, people would be constantly mentioning it, because the physical features they describe are simply odd.

However, this is a nonsequitor. I was talking about Buddhist literature earlier, not EBTs exclusively.

I am not aware of these marks being attributed to the Buddha as being considered authentic early material, but rather a later addition.

You were saying that “a historical Jesus is far more historically verifiable” than the Buddha. I suggest that your strategy of investigation is faulty if you look outside of the EBTs and see the contradictions within the earliest material on Jesus to be equivelent to the contradictions between early and late Buddhist material. Someone could write in the 19th century an inauthentic account saying that Jesus went to Ladakh, for example, but that should not bring the authenticity of the Gospels into question. Just so, later inauthentic material about the life of the Buddha should not make you discredit older material.

If you want to check whether the Buddha existed, ignore later material and focus on the EBTs or any other early sources, such as archaeology and so on.

[quote=“Senryu, post:6, topic:5804”]
You were saying that “a historical Jesus is far more historically verifiable” than the Buddha. I suggest that your strategy of investigation is faulty if you look outside of the EBTs and see the contradictions within the earliest material on Jesus to be equivelent to the contradictions between early and late Buddhist material.
[/quote]The texts attesting to Jesus come from less than 100 years after Jesus. Therefore Jesus is by “default”, more historically attested, but that is not the Buddha’s fault. He was born ~500 years earlier in a largely illiterate society, unlikely Hellenic Judaism, which had remarkable literacy for the ancient world. It is not the Buddha’s fault that Jesus was born later and that therefore more historical evidence substantiates his living, it is simply an issue of time and place.

Furthermore, you are failing to distinguish ECTs from “Christian literature” (i.e. the Bible) in general, and treating all Christian literature equally. This will create an incoherent image of Jesus from a “historical” perspective.

You seem to have totally ignored all that I have written above.

Contrary to what it may seem, I have read everything you have written to me.

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So then what makes you still seem to believe that merely the fact that some texts were written down earlier regarding Jesus, makes him more historically verifiable? I see no logic in that at all.

[quote=“Senryu, post:10, topic:5804, full:true”]
So then what makes you still seem to believe that merely the fact that some texts were written down earlier regarding Jesus, makes him more historically verifiable? I see no logic in that at all.
[/quote]It is literally a matter of documents surviving erosion. Jesus was born later --> documents attesting to his existence are less eroded and survive (unlike “superauthentic EBTs”, of which none exist, that are “eyewitness accounts written by people who witnessed the Buddha preach and/or were the Buddha himself”. For the matter, superauthentic ECTs to not exist either, as pointed out by @Senryu, unless one counts the testimony of Suetonius, which is debatable as it is ambiguous as to if Suetonius speak of “the Christ” or “a Christ”).

Mahāyāna texts were “written down later”, and I do not contest their (some of their) wisdom, however, I do contest that they are Buddhavacana in the same sense as, for instance, the Paccayasutta.

Fact of the matter is, we are not talking about how accurately their existence is attested, or how much their teachings agree with what we conceive as “true”, but rather, we are talking about “if any one fellow who is “Jesus” (or “Buddha”, or any similarly historically complicated figure to whom quotes and teachings are attributed) ever existed”.

This seems like false logic to me. If you bury an iron coin for 100 years and a gold coin for 10,000 years, which ends up more eroded? The iron coin by far!

And more importantly, it is vital to consider how authentic the texts were when they were written. If a false story was written even at the time of Jesus, it is still less true than a true story written hundreds of years after the time of Jesus.

So you must examine this. And so far as I understand, the EBTs give a far more apparent reliability as a source, than the Gospels.

And, you still seem to be clinging on to the idea of when a text was written, which, as I said above, seems to be an illogical bias. A physical text can undergo change (being copied and re-copied, edited, re-written) just as an ‘oral text’ can. In my opinion it is a severe mistake to put oral and written texts into such separate categories as you seem to be doing, relying only on written texts for supporting historical reliability.

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[quote=“Senryu, post:12, topic:5804”]
This seems like false logic to me. If you bury an iron coin for 100 years and a gold coin for 10,000 years, which ends up more eroded? The iron coin by far!
[/quote]If you will forgive me, this seems like “more false” logic, if my logic is “false”. I will illustrate this below:

“Authentic” does not mean “true” in a Buddhist context solely, it simply means “authentic”. Jesus could have been an entirely deluded fool, that doesn’t effect the authenticity of testimonies to Jesus as a “historical” figure. For that matter, Buddha could (to be thorough) have been wrong and/or a “fool”, but that wouldn’t effect, in any way, the authenticity of EBTs or the here-named “ECTs” in the context for the ministry of Jesus. Furthermore, the accuracy or inaccuracy of these texts does not technically effect their “authenticity” from a “purely historical” perspective, if we want to split hairs here.

It is technically possible that people told nothing but lies about “Jesus” in the time of “Jesus”, and then suddenly arbitrarily starting telling the “truth” later, but it strikes me as unlikely.

[quote=“Senryu, post:12, topic:5804”]
So you must examine this. And so far as I understand, the EBTs give a far more apparent reliability as a source, than the Gospels.
[/quote]The only ECTs are the Pauline Epistles***, the Gospels are later Hellenic biographies. This perspective is informed by textual criticism, and clashes with “traditional Christian perspectives” much like EBT studies clashes with “traditional Buddhism”.

I will quote some of the ur-OP which inspired this OP, since it seems the “historicity” of Jesus is still considered “ambiguous”, as off-topic as this is on this forum:[quote][in responce to Dr. Bart Ehrman] Dr. Bart Ehrman was raised in a very specific tradition of Christianity (modern “Biblical literalism” that arguably did not exist before ~1650) and critiques only that very specific tradition of Christianity as if it were actually representative of mainstream Christianity globally. This is usual in America though, where it is generally this kind of Christianity that claims monopoly on what is “truly Christian,” so one can easily understand where this man’s mistakes concerning “Christianity,” as a whole, come from: mainstream American society in general. His arguments are completely bewildering and nonsequitous to someone exposed to the dominant hermeneutics for reading Christian scripture before his sect came to the decisions they did regarding their interpretations.

The Gospel’s “traditionally” aren’t supposed to be read as “history” in the sense that we read history today (i.e. frequently out of an “infallible textbook”). They are traditional Hellenic biographies early Christian writers were compiling based on 1) traditional accounts of Jesus preserved orally, and 2) traditional miracles and episodes to be expected of a “holy figure” in their culture (for instance, Jesus is not the only “messiah” to perform the miracles he did and to say the things he did, consider the 32 marks, this is a Buddhist example of the same thing).[/quote]

***furthermore, the reason why “ECTs” constitute a much smaller collection that “EBTs” is also, quite literally, a issue of time, erosion, societal literacy, as well as the person in question delivering the teachings.

I have not read carefully all of the posts here, but one response I might add is to read carefully https://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/authenticity.pdf and determine for yourself the weight of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the Buddha.

I have strong confidence in the case being made here, and it’s interesting that scholars who do not consider themselves Buddhists accept the historicity of the Buddha. If one approaches the question of the Buddha’s historicity from a scientific or evidentiary basis, the evidence, in my view, is clear and convincing.

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Okay, to start with, any argument based on the primacy of writing vs. oral tradition is wrong. There is no, none, zilch, zip, nada, suñña evidence that an oral tradition is any less reliable than a written one. To imagine otherwise is 100% the product of Western bias. Any text, no matter what form it is in, is subject to change. It is true, the manner of change is influenced to some degree by the means of transmission. But whether any change is significant depends almost entirely on the care and scrupulousness of those entrusted with the transmission.

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Not at all.

What makes the Jesus character so easily refutable is there is basically nothing original in any of the teachings attributable to him.

Where as the core supramundane (lokuttara) teaching of Buddhism are both unique & verifiable as coming from the mind of a Buddha (fully enlightened mind).

Christianity is the Led Zeppelin of religion (biggest religion in history based on borrowing or ‘ripping off’ various ideas from other religions).

This video is very logical & possible and shows how easy it is to debunk Christianity.

Usually, when I encounter this kind of skepticism, I assume it is coming from someone who is not very familiar with the four major nikayas. I think once when spends any extended amount of time with those texts, it is hard to take seriously the idea that they are predominantly fictional works whose central character is a sheer invention. Of course, that doesn’t rule out that they sometimes attribute words to the Buddha that he didn’t utter, or include some events that didn’t actually happen.

The suttas are not simply spiritual, moral, magical or philosophical treatises in which the Buddha sits on clouds, hobnobbing with bodhisattvas and gods, and shoots moon beams out of his hands. They are filled with an abundance of humdrum, naturalistic incidental detail about a fairly large cast of named characters: many many hundreds of characters in fact. Taken together they comprise a vast and complex narrative of certain events in social circumstances that are clearly pre-Mauryan India. The details are often prosaic and unpleasant. Could this whole world of individuals have been invented? Perhaps they are a kind of spiritual novel, in which this vast cast of characters, and an abundance of detail about their daily lives was created for didactic purposes? But in that case, why did the authors not impart to them an interesting literary form? Although there are moving passages in the suttas , their potential artistry is cloyed by the strange, stiff and repetitive structure which seems very evidently to be an artifact of an oral memory tradition from which they were transcribed. If some persons or persons wanted to compose memorable didactic literature about a fictional character, surely we would have gotten something more like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, or even like the Rig Veda. After all, we do have examples even in the canon of folk tales - the Jatakas - and clearly the latter differ greatly in style and artistry from the repetitive and narratively clumsy discourses in the four main nikayas. These texts betray in their form an almost obsessive concern with passing down certain words and teachings as they were believed to have occurred, while neglecting opportunities for artistic embellishment.

We might imagine that what we have here are the doctrines of a whole school of thought, drawing on many different teachers, and for some reason these teachings were eventually put into the mouth of a single figure as the tradition was handed down. But even if that is the case, isn’t it most natural to think that he figure these teachings were eventually attributed to would have been a real person, who happened to be the most distinguished
and revered representative of that school?

Some of the details that give Gotama a feeling of historical reality:

  • He has backaches.
  • He dies from relatively undignified medical causes.
  • He dies in a place that was not prominent.
  • He hails from an outlying region that is not prominent.
  • There is an attempted takeover of the community, and the details that are conveyed are embarrassing to the community and its founder. These have the feel of a traumatic event that was remembered with pain.
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The idea that Jesus of Nazarath was not a real person seems extremely unlikely to me. The early Christian community was clearly obsessed with some traumatic event in the recent past. And the Gospels, although differing in sometimes very significant ways, record a core of parables, sayings and deeds attributed to a revered and named figure. The most probable explanation of these facts is the face-value explanation: some charismatic but controversial and iconoclastic rabbi named Yesu was executed by the Roman governor of Palestine following some kind of disturbance, and his followers made a religious movement out of those events.

Josephus doesn’t have much to tell about Jesus and his followers. But he does relay the stoning of Jesus’s brother James and the execution of John the Baptist.

Did you watch the whole video?

[quote=“Deeele, post:19, topic:5804, full:true”]
Did you watch the whole video?
[/quote]You misspelled “misinformation” as “video”.

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