SuttaCentral

The Wikipedia article for the Buddha


#1

Being somewhat dismayed at the state of the Wikipedia article for the Buddha, I’ve made some edits to it. I started with the “Teachings” section and also rewrote a lot of the “Biography” section. Its definitely not perfect atm but I was wondering if some folks would be willing to provide some feedback, notice what is important that is missing, etc.

Also, on a related note, does anyone have access to a PDF or other file of Analayo’s “Dīrgha-āgama Studies” (Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, 2017).

This text has a comparative study of the Mahaparinibbanasutta that would really help me in fleshing out the sources for the Buddha’s death.


#2

Here’s the DA Studies pdf


#3

A medium to long term goal could/should be to get the article to “featured article” status. It’s currently rated B class (Template:Grading scheme - Wikipedia). Some biographies with featured article status can be found here:


Don’t have the time to comment in detail (i.e. on the “Biography” and “Teachings” sections), but I’m not so happy with Wikipedia’s introduction:

Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit/Devanagari: सिद्धार्थ गौतम Siddhārtha Gautama , c. 563/480 – c. 483/400 BCE)[note 1] or Siddhattha Gotama in Pali,[note 4] also called the Gautama Buddha ,[note 5] the Shakyamuni Buddha (“Buddha, Sage of the Shakyas”)[4][note 6] or simply the Buddha , after the title of Buddha , was a monk (śramaṇa),[5][6] mendicant, sage,[4] philosopher, teacher and religious leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.[7]

  1. I’m not sure why the first-listed name should be in Sanskrit. His normal English name is simply
    “Buddha”.
  2. His names in other languages are weirdly edited. And why should Devanagari be included?
  3. I feel uncomfortable with “philosopher”. It’s anachronistic and, I think, misleading.
  4. Why does the old chronology feature prominently? It gets even weirder; Note 1 says:

Adherents of Theravada Buddhism, especially India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. cf Sixth Buddhist Council, take these dates to be 624 – 544 BCE; in Thailand it is 623 – 543 BCE. Besides monastic acceptance of these dates, the above mentioned governments also accept these dates as shown by their issuance of commemorative stamps for the 2500 Jayanthi of Buddha’s Parinibbana in 1956 and subsequent commemorative issuances for later Jayanthi celebrations.

No sources are provided for these supposed believes. But more to the point, shouldn’t the focus be on those dates on which scholars generally agree? After all, Wikipedia intends to be an encyclopedia, not a catalogue of geographically dispersed beliefs.

As a comparison, here’s the first paragraph of the Encyclopedia Britannica article on the Buddha (I’d like to see the Wikipedia entry more like this article):

Buddha, (Sanskrit: “Awakened One”) clan name (Sanskrit) Gautama or (Pali) Gotama , personal name (Sanskrit) Siddhartha or (Pali) Siddhatta , (born c. 6th–4th century BCE, Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, Shakya republic, Kosala kingdom [now in Nepal]—died, Kusinara, Malla republic, Magadha kingdom [now Kasia, India]), the founder of Buddhism, one of the major religions and philosophical systems of southern and eastern Asia and of the world. Buddha is one of the many epithets of a teacher who lived in northern India sometime between the 6th and the 4th century before the Common Era. (Buddha | Biography & Facts | Britannica)


Second sentence of the first paragraph:

He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the northeastern part of ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE

“Believed”?! Is this simply a matter of opinion? “Mostly”? Where else? I’d like to see more clear and confident language here. Regarding "sometime between . . . ", I’d propose to delegate the long chronology to the footnotes and simply use the short chronology, which has been gaining academic traction since Heinz Bechert’s symposium in 1988.


IMO it would be best to rewrite the introduction so that it’s clear and reflects up-to-date academic knowledge. Each paragraph should serve a distinct purpose, so not this:

Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the śramaṇa movement[9] common in his region. He later taught throughout other regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kosala.[8][10]

Both of these sentences are more or less correct, but whereas the first mentions his teachings, the second abrubtly switches to the later regions where he taught. This awkward juxtaposition seems to suggest/imply that asceticism wasn’t as common in the other regions of “eastern India”?


#4

Hoping that this will succeed! One idea: perhaps you could develop it both here and on Wikipedia, so in case the Wikipedia version gets horribly compromised you can at least have a decent backup.

A few thoughts.

For myself, the focus would be on making the introductory portion simple and clear. I would try to keep technical details like Sanskrit/Pali variations for later explanatory sections.

Like it or not, the Sanskritic form is better-known in modern English. But sure, I think the primary form of reference should be simply “the Buddha”.

It absolutely should not.

I don’t have a problem with it.

I mean, there needs to be a discussion of dates, as it is not a fixed thing. But the best approach would be to state a specific dating approach, say why that is chosen, then give the various dating systems in a subsection, or maybe a separate page.

I don’t think the scholarly consensus on the “short chronology” is as robust as you imply. Gombrich’s “median chronology” is what we adopt. More to the point, none of the chronologies is particularly strongly founded, and the consensus may well change at any point.

Yes, it’s a bit over-hedged.

“Mostly” is weird here, he certainly didn’t go anywhere else. Also, why “ancient”? the date is given!

Agreed. Such awkward editing is an unfortunate consequence of encyclopedic writing-by-committee.


#5

Oops, my bad. I didn’t know that Gombrich’s chronology was called the ‘median chronology’.

Exactly, I think that’d be best. :slightly_smiling_face:


#6

Thanks! I had not thought of editing the introduction, but now that I look at it carefully, it is pretty bad! Let me see what I come up with and I’ll post it here for further input. I think we can safely model it after the wiki article for Jesus if we want it to be a “Featured Article”.

How would we go about doing that?

Also, I would like some input on the “Biography” and “Teachings” sections though which are the ones I have recently overhauled.


#7

Here is what I have so far (minus the references that I need to track down - anyone who has references that could help with this go ahead and share!):

Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit, Pali: Siddhattha Gotama; c. 563/480 – c. 483/400 BCE)[note 1][note 2] also referred to as Gautama Buddha ,[note 3] Shakyamuni Buddha (“Buddha, Sage of the Shakyas”)[1][note 4] or simply "the Buddha" , after the title of Buddha , was a śramaṇa (ascetic),[1][2] mendicant, philosopher, and religious leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.[3] He lived and taught in northeast India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.[5][6]

After several years as a wandering ascetic, Gautama is reported to have had a spiritual awakening and thus was known as the Buddha (“Awakened One”). Following this he traveled throughout the Ganges Plain teaching and building a religious community until his death at 80. Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the śramaṇa movement.[7] He taught a spiritual path that included ethical training and meditative practices such as jhana . The ultimate goal of this path is liberation from suffering and the round of rebirth, which is known as Nirvana.
The Buddha also critiqued the practices of brahmin priests, such as animal sacrifice, and certain views held by other sramanas, such as fatalism and materialism.

Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism. He is believed by Buddhists to be an enlightened teacher who attained full Buddhahood and shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering. Accounts of his life, discourses and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarised after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

In the Theravada tradition, the Buddha is believed to have ended his ties to rebirth completely and thus no longer personally appears in the world. In the Mahayana tradition, the historical Gautama is believed to be just one of the many emanations of a transcendental divine being that still exists.

The various Early Buddhist Texts contain the earliest material attributed to him. The Theravada tradition attributes much of the Pali Canon to the Buddha, though it contains much material that modern scholars consider to be later (such as the Abhidhamma Pitaka). Likewise, the Mahayana tradition attributes the Mahayana Sutras to Gautama, which most modern scholars attribute to a later date (post 1st century BCE).


#8

Hi Bhante,

can you point to some good sources that discuss and outline the different chronologies? I’d like to add a section that summarizes this information.


#9

We could make a “wiki” page here that multiple people could edit. The problem is that the markup system is different, we don’t have native support for footnotes etc. But personally I find its best to write without footnotes. Ensure everything is actually phrased well, then add the support.

I’d definitely rewrite the first paragraph. It is what will appear in summaries, google searches and the like, and should be short and readable. Something like:

The Buddha was a mendicant, meditator, and spiritual teacher who lived in northeast India in the 5th century BCE. Rejecting the religious ideas of his time, his teaching is based on his own insight into suffering and the end of suffering. For forty-five years he built a large following, both monastic and lay. The religious movement of Buddhism was founded by his followers based on his teachings.

By who? This is weasel words.

If it’s going to include his age, it should include the three basic dates: going forth at 29, awakening at 35, death at 80.

This is way over-cautious. Obviously teachings exist, this is not just a “belief” of Buddhists. And anyway, in trying to avoid saying anything wrong, it totally misrepresents the “beliefs” of Buddhists. The actual belief of most Buddhists is that the Buddha’s words were memorized in total by Ananda and the other followers, recited literally word-for-word at the First Council, and passed down unchanged since then.

The word “belief” is a secularist dogwhistle: it signifies that what is to come is not actually true. But it is a perversion of scholarship to pretend that the eccentric views of a tiny cohort of non-specialist postmodern skeptics deserve anything more than a footnote. Better:

After his death, his followers compiled his teachings in extensive collections, the Discourses (Suttas) and Monastic Code (Vinaya). These teachings were passed down by oral tradition in the various communities that spread over India, and over time became regarded as unchangeable canon. Later generations composed additional texts, such as systematic treatises (Abhidhamma), biographies of the Buddha, and collections of folk tales (Jataka).

I would recommend to avoid such formulations based on sectarian identity, reserving them for dedicated sections. Moreover, I believe this is a serious over-simplification of the Mahayana, which is highly diverse and subject to philosophical interpretation.


Looking further down the page, OMG the section on the Buddha’s original teaching, it’s just so bad.


https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315859350_Date_of_the_Buddha
http://indology.info/papers/cousins/

(supplying these links, not endorsing them!)


On a side note, the simple English Wikipedia is if possible even worse.

The Buddha was a prince named “Siddhartha Gautama”. He was born in Nepal and was the person who created the religion of Buddhism. He lived from about 563 BC to about 483 BC.[1]

Almost every phrase is either wrong or dubious. He wasn’t a prince; his name is debatable; Nepal didn’t exist; whether he created a religion is debatable; and the dates, well you know.


#10

Thanks, I will work on this!

Which one exactly? Can you go through what you see as the biggest issues?

[Edit] If you’re referring to " Scholarly Perspectives on the Earliest Buddhism", then yeah, I have not even touched that part, its pretty messy.


#11

Exactly, yes that’s it. I mean, I recognize something of what they’re saying as related in some way to what the Buddha taught, but it’s like, well, this.


#12

Lmao.

I have not touched that part yet because…i don’t even know where to start. Before I started editing this page, this was basically all that was there under “teachings”. That’s what really led me to go…wtf? I need to do something. So then I went and added all of the " Teachings preserved in the Early Buddhist Texts" section. I didn’t delete the previous stuff because…well…you can’t just delete sourced material like that, its going to get challenged and reverted by other editors and create an edit war.


#13

Right, start gradually, focus on unproblematic readability and expression. In terms of readership, expect 100X or 1000X as many people will read the first paragraph as will read the discussion of scholarly views.


#14

So, funny story, so I thought I would share.

I’ve made significant changes to this page since posting this thread, the page is nowhere near perfect but I like to think I made a difference.

Anyways, today I’m going for a walk during my lunch hour and I’m listening to a talk by Sujato where he mentions how there are editors on Wikipedia obsessed with changing all the Pali names to Devanagari.

So I get back to my computer, log on, and check the Wiki page on the Buddha today and what do I see? Devanagari added back to the introduction! :rofl::rofl::rofl:

Just shows how anarchistic wikipedia can be sometimes (even though its not intended to be an anarchist project).

Oh well, let the edit war begin.