Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni, or simply the
Buddha, was a sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. About the
He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in eastern India sometime
between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
The word Buddha means “awakened one” or “the enlightened one”. “Buddha”
is also used as a title for the first awakened being in an era. In most
Buddhist traditions, Siddhartha Gautama is regarded as the Supreme
Buddha (Pali sammāsambuddha, Sanskrit samyaksaṃbuddha) of our age.
Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe
asceticism found in the Sramana (renunciation) movement common in his
region. He later taught throughout regions of eastern India such as
Magadha and Kośala.
Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism and accounts of his life,
discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been
summarized 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.
Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical
facts of the Buddha’s life. Most accept that he lived, taught and
founded a monastic order during the Mahajanapada era in India during the
reign of Bimbisara, the ruler of the Magadha empire, and died during
the early years of the reign of Ajatshatru who was the successor of
Bimbisara, thus making him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain
teacher. Apart from the Vedic Brahmins, the Buddha’s lifetime
coincided with the flourishing of other influential sramana schools of
thoughts like Ājīvika, Cārvāka, Jain, and Ajñana. It was also the age of
influential thinkers like Mahāvīra, Pūraṇa Kassapa , Makkhali Gosāla,
Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana, and Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, whose
viewpoints the Buddha most certainly must have been acquainted with and
influenced by.[note 7] Indeed, Sariputta and Maudgalyāyana, two of
the foremost disciples of the Buddha, were formerly the foremost
disciples of Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, the skeptic. There is also evidence
to suggest that the two masters, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, were
indeed historical figures and they most probably taught Buddha two
different forms of meditative techniques. While the most general outline
of “birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation,
teaching, death” must be true, most scholars do not consistently accept
all of the details contained in traditional biographies.
The times of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain. Most historians in
the early 20th century dated his lifetime as circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE.
More recently his death is dated later, between 411 and 400 BCE, while
at a symposium on this question held in 1988, the majority of those who
presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of
400 BCE for the Buddha’s death. These alternative chronologies, however,
have not yet been accepted by all historians.
The evidence of the early texts suggests that Siddhārtha Gautama was
born into the Shakya clan, a community that was on the periphery, both
geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent
in the 5th century BCE. It was either a small republic, in which case
his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his
father was an oligarch. According to the Buddhist tradition, Gautama was
born in Lumbini, nowadays in modern-day Nepal, and raised in
Kapilavastu (Shakya capital), which may either be in present day
Tilaurakot, Nepal or Piprahwa, India.[note 1] He obtained his
enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, gave his first sermon in Sarnath, and died
No written records about Gautama have been found from his lifetime or
some centuries thereafter. One edict of Emperor Ashoka, who reigned from
circa 269 BCE to 232 BCE, commemorates the Emperor’s pilgrimage to the
Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini. Another one of his edict mentions
several Dhamma texts, establishing the existence of a written Buddhist
tradition at least by the time of the Mauryan era and which may be the
precursors of the Pāli Canon. The oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts
are the Gandhāran Buddhist texts, reported to have been found in or
around Haḍḍa near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and now preserved in
the British Library. They are written in the Kharoṣṭhī script and the
Gāndhārī language on twenty-seven birch bark scrolls, and they date from
the first century BCE to the third century CE.
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1-10 early to recent Chronology of Pali Canon
Thomas William Rhys Davids in his Buddhist India (p. 188) has given a
chronological table of Buddhist literature from the time of the Buddha
to the time of Ashoka which is as follows:
1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found, in identical
words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.
2. Episodes found, in identical words, in two or more of the existing books.
3. The Silas, the Parayana, the Octades, the Patimokkha.
4. The Digha, Majjhima, Anguttara, and Samyutta Nikayas.
5. The Sutta Nipata, the Thera and Theri Gathas, the Udanas, and the Khuddaka Patha.
6. The Sutta Vibhanga, and Khandhkas.
7. The Jatakas and the Dhammapadas.
8. The Niddesa, the Itivuttakas and the Patisambbhida.
9. The Peta and Vimana-Vatthus, the Apadana, the Cariya-Pitaka, and the Buddhavamsa.
10. The Abhidhamma books; the last of which is the Katha-Vatthu, and the earliest probably the Puggala-Pannatti.
Those listed at the top or near the top, such as numbers one to five,
are considered the earliest, oldest texts and the most likely to be
authentic and the exact words of the Buddha. The later texts and the
commentaries and the Visuddhimagga, are held in very high esteem by
Classical Theravada, whereas, the Modern Theravada focuses on the
earliest teachings of the Buddha.
Main article: Modern Theravada
Bhikkhu Bodhi, Dhammavuddho Thera and others have their doubts, as do
modern scholars about the later texts and if they are Buddhavacana
(exact words of Buddha) or not. Modern Theravadins probably hold a
slight variety of opinions but probably take one of the following:
1. The first four Nikayas in their entirety are Buddhavacana, plus the
following books from the Khuddaka Nikaya: Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka,
Sutta Nipata, Theragatha, and Therigatha; and the Patimokkha from the
Vinaya. (That would still make the Buddhavacana portion of the Tipitaka
roughly 30 out of 40 volumes.)
2. All of the above, plus the
other books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, plus the other Vinaya books, plus
the Abhidhamma, but see them as written by later disciples of the
Buddha, who may have been arahants and thus, still worthy to be included
in the Canon, although not likely part of Original Buddhism.
scholar monks Ajahn Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali have written the book The
Authenticity of Early Buddhist Texts and they are in agreement with
number one above, consisting of the first 4 Nikayas and some of the
Khuddaka Nikaya as Buddhavacana.
See also: Original Buddhism
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REFLECTION R556: “The thieves (a parable)” (To download PDF).
[Click here for past Inspirations; Revisioning Buddhism & Index of Reflections]
The Thieves (a parable)
parable reminds us to speak up compassionately and at the right time
when we need to. Furthermore, if we listen carefully to what others have
to say, even in a seemingly harsh or rude way, we often have something
valuable to learn.]
thieves broke into a rich man’s house in the night. They stealthily
moved around the house looking for valuables while the rich man and his
family slept soundly. An old neighbour saw the thieves and shouted
loudly, waking up the rich man and his family.
thieves ran away in time, and were not seen. The rich man, angry at
being woken up in the middle of the night scolded the old man, calling
him senile and rude, to see thieves in such a safe house with high walls
few weeks passed, and then again, the same thieves came into the rich
man’s house. The old neighbour saw the thieves from his house. But
warned against raising any alarm and troubling the rich man, he remained
thieves then stole the rich man’s valuables, including his solid golden
Buddha image that was handed down through generations. When the rich
man and his family woke up the next morning, they discovered their
losses, and could only lament. This time the rich scolded the old
neighbour, blaming him for their losses, because he did not raise the
that the rich man had much more wealth hidden away in his house, and
the neighbour’s silence, the thieves were emboldened. Months later, they
broke into the house again. This time, the rich man was woken by a
noise made by a careless thief.
head thief killed the rich man and tied up the rest of the family and
their guards. This time they took all the riches they could find. They
moved their loot through the front door into their waiting vehicles and
drove off. The old neighbour was silent – he had died, too. And the rich
man’s family, fortunate enough to be spared their lives, had to sell
their house and lived in poverty for a long time to come.
rich man’s foolishness and selfishness cost him his life and troubled
his family. The thieves became wealthy and respectable, since it was
easy to be respectable because of wealth. The wealthy man’s family
became so poor that they had to start from scratch, working very hard.
past foolishness may affect our present life. We can change what is
present before us with only with wisdom and diligence. The right and
good that we do now will help those whom come after us – including
ourselves, because we will return to our unfinished businesses.
this parable, the old neighbour is the Buddha or his disciple – or any
Dharma practitioner. The wealthy man is a Buddhist leader and the family
are his followers – or Buddhists in general. The thieves (cora) are the bad monastics and priests who appear learned, respectable and compassionate, but do not keep to the monastic rules.
On the warnings in the suttas about monastics who are “thieves,” see the Arahatta Susīma Sutta (S 12.70,58-63) SD 16.8. On types of alms-eaters, see also SD 45.18 (22.214.171.124). On monastics who do not keep to the rules, see SD 49.2 (1.1.3).
R556 Inspiration 345
Piya Tan ©2016, 2018
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