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Who Was the Buddha? (aeon.co)
236 points by furtively on Dec 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 161 comments

He may not have been a literal historical prince, but to make the distinction may be to miss the point a bit.

For example if you compare the Mesopotamian creation myth, the Enuma Elish to the book of genesis you will find many correspondences at the formal level.

What I mean by that is that the overall structure of the Enuma Elish is preserved in Genesis, but with some changes. In the Mesopotamian myth, there were seven generations of gods, but in Genesis this was transmuted into seven days for one god.

You could say that Genesis is a parody of the Enuma Elish. I don't believe for an instant that the people who wrote genesis believed in the seven days and what was created on each day, it's probably allegorical.

The most important point being made in genesis is to be found not in the sequence of events, but in the differences against the backdrop of the Mesopotamian myth, the main one being that there is only one god.

Likewise, the embellished life story of the Buddha, the bit with the white elephant, and the birth in a palace, and the journey on the cart through the town with the charioteer 'Channa' all borrow elements from well known Indian motifs. The most important parts of the story are probably to be found in the 'diffs' and are not to be taken literally.

They probably weren't even taken literally at the time.

In summary, I think we are reading too much into ancient texts that were probably written in the allegorical mode.

Exactly. And the existence of Buddha himself might well be very allegorical.

The religious events in India at the time of Buddha were much more complex and nuanced than most of those who concentrate on Buddha alone are aware, for example, there was also Charvaka school, apparently even less willing to accept any direct influence of gods on humans:


"Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects ritualism, and supernaturalism."

Also Jainism


even today with "four to five million followers worldwide."


"Mahavira and Gautama Buddha are generally accepted as contemporaries (circa 5th century BCE)."

"Beyond the times of the Mahāvīra and the Buddha, the two ascetic sramana (seeker) religions competed for followers as well as the merchant trade networks that sustained them.[128][414] Their mutual interaction, along with those of Hindu traditions, have been significant."


"Jainism and Buddhism share many features, terminology and ethical principles, but emphasize them differently.[2] Both are śramaṇa ascetic traditions that believe it is possible to attain liberation from the cycle of rebirths and deaths (samsara) through spiritual and ethical disciplines.[3] They differ in some core doctrines such as those on asceticism, Middle Way versus Anekantavada, and self versus no-self (jiva, atta, anatta)."

For a similar demythologising take on the Buddha read 'A Bull of a Man' by John Powers, professor of Asian Studies and Buddhism in Australia.

"The androgynous, asexual Buddha of contemporary popular imagination stands in stark contrast to the muscular, virile, and sensual figure presented in Indian Buddhist texts. In early Buddhist literature and art, the Buddha's perfect physique and sexual prowess are important components of his legend as the world s ultimate man. He is both the scholarly, religiously inclined brahman and the warrior ruler who excels in martial arts, athletic pursuits, and sexual exploits. The Buddha effortlessly performs these dual roles, combining his society's norms for ideal manhood and creating a powerful image taken up by later followers in promoting their tradition in a hotly contested religious marketplace.

In this groundbreaking study of previously unexplored aspects of the early Buddhist tradition, John Powers skillfully adapts methodological approaches from European and North American historiography to the study of early Buddhist literature, art, and iconography, highlighting aspects of the tradition that have been surprisingly invisible in earlier scholarship. The book focuses on the figure of the Buddha and his monastic followers to show how they were constructed as paragons of masculinity, whose powerful bodies and compelling sexuality attracted women, elicited admiration from men, and convinced skeptics of their spiritual attainments."


A side nitpick:

I find it surprising the author mentions "pre-imperial India" to mark the era when Buddha was alive. There is a couple thousand years of rich history between the life of Buddha and "pre-imperial India". I would really like the Western authors to stop using Imperialism as a bookmark, as if India had nothing else significant before.

After reading through all of the comments to this thread, I want to thank everyone for helping me think through the meaning and context.

I realize that "imperial India" conclusively means "British India" to me (and many others since this is undoubtedly the reference online as well). But I agree that "imperial" itself could mean the Mauryan empire or others (the meaning being "of an empire"). I guess my own negativity to the phrase "imperial India" stopped me from seeing this.

But this also makes me think, how words, phrases or history has different interpretations or meanings. It fits in this context because Buddha being mystic or not can also be debated in similar ways. We see what we want to see. The article trying to "un-mystify" Buddha made me biased against the author without me realizing it.

From the context it seems clear that "imperial" refers to the Nanda/Maurya empire - seeing as Kapilavastu and more generally, the Terai are at the periphery of the Gangetic plain. Is it accurate to call Pataliputra based regimes imperial when they ruled over Takshashila? I would think so - what else would you call Ashoka's conquest of Kalinga?

Why are you assuming that they are referring to the British Empire? They could be referring to the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurya_Empire, which covered most of India not long after Buddha is said to have lived.

Oh the Maurya dynasty is exactly one part of the rich history I mentioned, that is non Imperial.

Edit: Imperialism means to extend over "foreign nations". Mauryan empire is not foreign, it is as Indian as it can get.

> Imperialism means to extend over "foreign nations"

The Mauryans built their empire by extending over the politically and linguistically disparate nations comprising South Asia.

The comment you responded to used "imperial", which is the adjective derived from empire.

There's no other adjective for empire, and there's really no reason to assume that use refers to modern meanings of imperialism (which is itself the noun derived from imperial...), meanings which are themselves derived from specific behaviours of recent empires.

Imperialism does but not the adjective 'imperial' which simply implies relation to an empire. Imperial Japan has nothing to do with the British and yet it is 'imperial'.

Yes you are right about the phrase "Imperial Japan" not having any relation to the British. But "Imperial India" does.

Any reader searching this phrase online or looking up any common reference will find the British relation. Unfortunate, but that is how it is. As an Indian, I have always known that. That is why the phrase jumped at me.

Is it too much to expect an author writing such a detailed article from this region to know that?

I understand what you are saying but you've asserted as truth that the author said what you said and in a pretty accusatory tone. If you use 'Imperial India' as standalone phrase it does refer to the British rule because it is the most recent and that's what most assume you mean. But when talking about Buddha it is quite a leap to think the author would use such a pointless timeframe so the context alone is enough.

Even a paragraph later the emperor Asoka is mentioned explicitly

“Imperial” is an adjective referring to empires. You literally just said Mauryan _empire_.

Worth noting that the line between what’s you a what’s foreign is quite often just a line demarcating the edge of the prior empire.

Can you please find a single source that says "Imperial India" means anything but "British rule in India"?

I would be happy if you could. If not you proved my exact point again.

"stop using Imperialism as a bookmark, as if India had nothing else significant before."

This is definitely not a reference to the British Raj, it's a reference to Indian 'Imperial India'.

This reminds of what Gregory Schopen, professor of Buddhist Studies at UCLA and an eminent scholar of early Buddhist history once told me - that the alleged Kapilvastu area during 5th-6th century BC was most possibly a malarial swamp. And it would be hard to imagine it even being a habitable area in the first place.

I'm technically a Buddhist as with 90% of other Japanese people, but don't know anything about Buddhism. ("Technically" means that you're going to have a Buddhist-style burial which requires a registration by a Buddhist temple in Japan.) So let me just share a fun fact: it is widely believed that there are many Buddha relics (bones) that were originally brought from China/India and people built temples that store them, many of which still exist today throughout Japan. Actually, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), one of the most famous tourist sites in Kyoto, was built for that purpose. It is believed that people stored His bone at the basis of every temple, but no one has ever confirmed it. Religion is weird.

Aren't japanese people shintoists rather than buddhists?

Shintoism and Buddhism aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, the two religions are fused in a rather unique way in Japan (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinbutsu-sh%C5%ABg%C5%8D ). Both religions lost its belief system today and there are only a set of practices, so many people do both. In this sense, they aren't really "religions" in the Western sense.

Buddhism was extremely popular and influential in Japan until roughly the time of the Samurai, though many factors are involved with this change. It is interesting that in Buddhist dominated Japan use of cannabis was common, even ubiquitous. This changed completely with the rise of the Samurai, leading to the strongly anti cannabis and alcohol tolerant society in Japan now.

I was under the impression that Japan's anti-cannabis culture came about as a result of American occupation and postwar industrialization (the latter, primarily, to favor synthetic rope and fabric manufacturing over Japan's native hemp industries.)

Internet sources claim >50% shinto and 30+% buddhism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Japan

Japan is more of a syncretic society than any one or another thing. I believe a popular saying over there is something like "Born Shinto, marry Christian, die Buddhist."

I am also technically a Buddhist (in the same sense as yours) and have little idea about what/how it is other than some observed monthly/yearly rituals.

"The death of the Buddha’s mother, Māyā, when giving birth to him serves no purpose as myth, and can therefore be accepted as fact"

The death of a mother in childbirth is an existence fraught with meaning and loss from the start of life for the child. How can this be so summarily dismissed as not contributing to the myth?

I guess it doesn't appear in the usual stories. I was also surprised he got married and had a kid about the time he wandered off to be spiritual, it seems which doesn't often seem to be mentioned.

I heard this story a few weeks ago and it made me realize a thing that I dislike in Zen Buddhism, at least the perception of Zen Buddhism I have. Isn't this way (and surely other ways) of Buddhism not also some "tainted" way of life. For me it looks very Nihilistic. Shouldn't Buddha be a good role-model - so how can he have left wife and kid? In Buddhism or at least Zen Buddhism I believe there is great emphasis on the concept of non-attachment, you should not cling on to things. You must let go of everything to find your Buddha nature. So it makes sense, that Buddha has left his family to sit under the tree. But for me this is such a denial of the human nature and thus it feels unnatural, unwise and just like other religions and sects with their doctrines and dogma. I'm a big "fan" of Robert Sapolsky and his courses of Human Biological Behavioral Evolution. Buddhism, especially Zen, gets often seen as a God-less, very logical, very humanistic religion. But there are elements, like in any cult. Dogma which would lead to the human race going extinct if everybody would follow it. I don't believe in Gods but I must admit but I am rather attracted to the (crazy :-) ) Mythology of Asatru, because it feels much more natural and in symbiosis with the human nature to me.

> So it makes sense, that Buddha has left his family to sit under the tree. But for me this is such a denial of the human nature and thus it feels unnatural, unwise and just like other religions and sects with their doctrines and dogma.

The separation was a during his spiritual search. After he attained what he was looking for he reunited with his son.

Sometimes we have to go away to figure things out. After he reached his goal, the Buddha spent the next fifty years surrounded by people whom he taught and counseled.

Let me flip it for you. What about Alexander the great, or other historical figures? Shouldn't he have stayed home with his family instead of starting a senseless war and then dying in India?

How come this double standard is always trotted out against the Buddha, when all these other conquering, massacring guys get away with it?

Well the Buddha is usually brought up as a nice guy rather than the conquering, massacring type. Hence the different standards.

I thought zen taught that you shouldn't follow the Buddah as if he was a role model, as if he was a religious figure like in other religions.

"Kill the Buddah if you encounter him" might be something to do with it but might be unrelated?

I also remember something about how Buddah can be found in the butchers shop, as if to say "stop looking for him as if he was something outside you, you are doing it wrong." Or about how if you get buddhahood you can be quite comfortable cutting up dead animals (i.e. Buddah is comfortable in nature)

But that might be exactly the problem. This Buddha-Nature, the enlightenment thing, to me honestly is just like the believe in a God in other religions. It is very cult like for me.

I heard there are lot of stories out there of so called Zen Masters who claim to have achieved enlightenment (those according to your example, who can drink alcohol, kill animals for eating them) who get drunk and otherwise act weirdly and it is excused with "well, we cannot understand them, they are enlightened and we not, so we cannot see the wisdom in their actions".

I have not much personal experience with Zen, but heard that this is not so uncommon.

But of course, this doesn't say, that there are personal benefits in meditating, leaving a life without drugs, have a focused mind etc. - but maybe this things are mainly a new, western construct, attached to the base religion of Buddhism.

"leaving without drugs" -> "living..."

> the modern mindfulness movement, inherited from fairly recent Burmese innovations

I had not heard that. I had understood it to have something to do with interest in Zen, which had a revival in the West starting in the mid 1900's. But I admit I don't really know anything about it. Does someone have a reference?

Zen and Vipassana are the two major Buddhist practices which had revivals in the 20th century and gained popularity in the west.

Vipassana was originally popularized amongst westerners by S. N. Goenka[1] who was a Hindi expat in Burma, where he learned the practice. Many of his western students went on to be prominent teachers[2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._N._Goenka [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Students_of_S._N._Goe...

> S. N. Goenka[1] who was a Hindi expat in Burma

He was born in Mandalay, Burma and grew up there. I wouldn't call him an Indian expat in Burma, more like Burmese-Indian.

Good point.

It's interesting to me that the thesis of Suzuki's 'No Mind' is that what marks the beginning of Chan as a separate tradition and lineage is a de-emphasis or some might say rejection of meditation. This distinction was certainly lost in the West and mostly lost in translation to Zen in Japan (a cursory glance at Suzuki's books prior to No Mind suggests this was relatively new information to him).

> Hindi expat in Burma

Hindi is a language. I think you meant Hindu.

Thank you.

I don't have the answer to your question, but I don't see the connection between mindfulness and Zen to be as direct as you're suggesting. I've been highly influenced by a lot of the mindfulness writing out there, but Zen actively turned me off for a long time, because it's a lot of "deep" paradoxical puzzle/koan things, anecdotes that make no sense, emphasis on "enlightment" etc. Contrast that with a lot of modern day mindfulness stuff which is highly, highly influenced by Buddhism but basically extracts the most practical stuff, meditation practice, awareness of thoughts/feelings, recognition of egotistical cravings, acceptance of impermanence, etc.

That depends a lot on the Zen school and the texts you were reading. Zen is based on direct experience. That being said, in some schools, such as Renzai, koans are used as a tool. However, most sangas you attend, especially in the west, will focus more on the direct experience of meditation to start, which is more or less the same sort of thing one is taught by most mindfulness / MBSR / MBCT regimens.

Bear in mind that Zen is a form of Buddhism, and as such, has religious and philosophical depth. That being said, as with many such traditions, the point is for a practitioner to directly experience the religious revelations if the practitioner is drawn to the religion. Most sanghas are perfectly happy to teach a secular lay practitioner how to meditate if he/she is open, honest, and respectful regarding intentions. In that case, you won't be given koans (assuming the school of Zen you are visiting uses them) or dharma talks. You'll be taught how to meditate. Just like with mindfulness training, that starts with the counting and experience of the breaths.

Mindfulness is just a tool to train the mind. What you use that for is up to you.

Zen employs mindfulness as well as other tools for spiritual cultivation.

The fan-down teaching and the idea of insight practice for laity started in XIX century in Burma after British conquest.

First group meditation for laypeople took place in 1911.

So this is fairly new idea.

[] https://tricycle.org/magazine/meditation-en-masse/

I wonder if he would have scorned all this idolatry and worship. I think he would have.

I think he would have seen much contemporary Buddhist observance as entirely disconnected from his teachings. That doesn't necessarily mean he would have scorned it. There is one sutta in which a follower of a rival teacher was convinced by his teachings and wanted to follow him, and the Buddha advised him to continue respecting his former master. There are also important suttas in which he stressed that his own teachings are not "true" in an absolute sense, and religious teachings should be valued according to the extent to which they are helpful. I don't know the historical status of those suttas, but historically it doesn't seem common for first-gen carriers of the faith to retroactively exaggerate the uncertainty and doctrinal pragmatism of the founder of their religion. Many modern Buddhist teachers (notably the Dalai Lama) express great respect for the ability of other religions, including Islam and Christianity, to inspire and nurture spiritual progress in their followers. So he might look at modern Buddhists reciting nembutsu or leaving offerings at Buddha statues and say, I can't see any connection between these practices and what I tried to teach, but they seem to be helping people a little bit.

His attitude might also depend on how seriously he took rebirth, which was widely believed in his time and place and takes a central place in some of his teachings. It's a point of great controversy among contemporary Buddhists: was rebirth a part of the teachings because it was coincidentally an accepted view in the time and place where Gautama taught? Is it an inseparable part of Buddhism? Both, neither? Can you reject rebirth and still preserve the essence of Buddhism? If Gautama showed up in the present day and said, "Oh, practically nobody believes in rebirth anymore? No matter, I can teach everything I know to people who don't believe it," that would rock the world of Buddhism. But vice-versa probably wouldn't make much of a difference, and neither is going to happen anyway so we'll have to live with the controversy regardless.

" It's a point of great controversy among contemporary Buddhists:"

among contemporary western Buddhists, maybe, who have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept, (which is understandable, since Christianity - at least the mainstream versions - which was the dominant European religion for centuries has no corresponding concept).

In Buddhism as practised in Asia (Thailand, Burma,Srilanka, India, Nepal, China, Japan etc) it is not controversial at all, and is quite mainstream, with next to no "controversy" around it.

Statues and idols as a form of respect and reminder, no. As a form of seeking good fortune or merit he most definitely disapproved:

"Whereas some religious men, while living of food provided by the faithful make their living by such low arts, such wrong means of livelihood as palmistry, divining by signs, interpreting dreams... bringing good or bad luck... invoking the goodness of luck... picking the lucky site for a building, the monk Gotama refrains from such low arts, such wrong means of livelihood."

D.I, 9-12

If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha.

> Other aspects of the myth must be stripped away. The Buddha’s father Suddhodana was probably not a king. In an early story, the Buddha remembers attaining a meditative state as a child, while sitting under a tree as his father worked nearby. Are we to imagine that the King of the Sakyas had to work his own fields?

Interesting. I grew up in a Theravada Buddhist family in SE Asia. What I read from the texts available to me was that the father of Buddha was at a ceremony that celebrates the start of the season of growing rice, so as a king, he joined in.

This discussion has been going on for thousands of years. Considering the difficulties, and the shortness of life, one has to wonder how many of the discussers actually had the time to find liberation.

> The death of the Buddha’s mother, Māyā, when giving birth to him serves no purpose as myth, and can therefore be accepted as fact

That seems dubious. One potential purpose is convenience--one less person in the picture. Another is a deliberate excise of a female character, reflecting either a fear or simple apathy toward the feminine. The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Christianity is an example of what can happen if you leave the door open for a potentially powerful feminine character.

The Buddha's step-mother actually played a central role in the establishment of Buddhism. She drove the establishment of the order of nuns.

Is it certain that he ever existed? Or is it like Jesus?

If you read the linked article, I think you'll find that the answer that the Buddha would have suggested for your question is silence ;-)

However, I am not well learned in the ways of Buddhism, so I shall attempt to answer your question with words. What do you mean by your question?

Do you mean: Was there a person exactly as these stories describe that did exactly what the stories describe and said exactly what the stories describe? There is no doubt at all to this answer: no, there was not. Despite my lack of education in Buddhism, I feel pretty confident that the subset of Buddhist practitioners who believe in such a thing approaches zero (I'm sure there are some, but not significant). Buddhism is a religion without dogma after all. Why else would a respected scholar on Buddhism write an article pretty much saying that the stories about Buddha are likely to be incorrect in part or in whole?

Or is your question: Was there a person who was the originator of the Buddhist religion? I think it is highly likely that the answer is "yes". I mean, it's possible that there was a group who started the religion, but it seems improbable to me. Look at any modern religion/cult. How many are started by a single person (all of them that I know about) and how many are started by a group of people (I assume that there are some, but I don't know of them)?

Or is your question: Are any of the stories about the person who started the Buddhist religion true? Again, I think this is a pretty easy answer: almost certainly yes. I mean, what the heck are they saying about him? He was born. He struggled until he found enlightenment. Then he started a religion. I mean the religion exists today. That's pretty good evidence that the original leader did some stuff.

Or are you asking: Is it true that the Buddha really was enlightened in the way he claimed? I can answer that one easily too: I don't know. ;-) And the really cool thing that I like about Buddhism is that I don't think it really matters all that much. You can learn about Buddhism, use the bits that are helpful to you and chuck away all the rest. Other Buddhists will pretty much think you are doing a good job -- or at least that's been my experience.

HN posting rules advise me to view your question charitably and to assume good faith. In that spirit, I hope that even if you never intended to ask any of the above questions, you can pick one or more of them and get answers that will help you. If the question was rhetorical and simply meant to belittle others who think differently than you do, then I apologise for wasting your time.

I love your answer, but I am afraid most buddhists believe that there was a historical buddha.

i love this answer. replace buddha with jesus or any other prophet, and it would fit all of them just as well.

Your question presupposes that there is significant doubt about the existence of Jesus. I am fairly confident that the historical person existed. I am also fairly confident that many of the stories about him are invented or at least, greatly exaggerated. The same applies to Buddha; however, a sibling comment answered much better than I.

Given that there are no historical proofs of the existence of Jesus - especially nothing contemporary, it's a legitimate question.

This is just wrong, there are contemporary sources. Here is a short overview:


Recently I read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse quite an interesting book. In the book he tried to convey Knowledge is transferable, wisdom is not. Wisdom can only be gained from experience. The existence of buddha is debateable but literature has some good and relatable lessons we can learn.

This is a hell of a book, I read it last month and found it pretty powerful.

The main message that I got from it was that every road or path that people take in life is valid, everyone is different and have their own preferences and tastes and consecutively, not because you find the other paths "worse" or less worthy than yours it indeed means that they are, neither that those people are inferior to you.

Book should be read by way more people, specially by high arrogant ones who put down on others.

I found the book to have a very Western perspective of things. I am from India and could not relate very well to it considering it has good reviews. The book also has very dark undertones to it. It has this very "Return of the prodigal son" feel to it.

I studied that book for my literature course in high school. That book is a joke. It tried to imitate the story of the buddha but twisted it to fit a western narrative. Author did himself a great disservice writing it. Would have been better off if he tried to just create something original instead.

The article is correct in that Buddha being a prince is a myth. The Pali canon (Tripitaka) does not assert he lived in a palace, depending on the translation used.

It states he was born in bhavana (Sn. 685) which has in the past been translated as palace but it simply means a place. When Buddha talks about his fathers abode he just refers to a house or mansion or family complex, using the word nivasana (A.I 145) which did not refer specifically to a palace or royal residence (vimana or mandira). nivasana was not used to refer to royal palaces until centuries after it was presumably written in the Tripitaka. Buddha also does not refer to his father as a king, but when asked he just said his dad was from Sakya clan (Sn 322,323,324).

Bhavana does mean a palace. Mandira and vimana do not mean palace. Nivasa means residence and does not indicate the nature of residence.

I am appalled by this comment. These Sanskrit / Pali words you quoted, these are not obscure words. Infact they are used today in most of North India.

Your translations and assertions are completely wrong. I would expect a higher level of scholarship before one makes such a matter of fact comment.

Is it not possible for a word to change in meaning over time? For example "mansion" in English means a big and expensive house befitting nobility, but in the original Latin it just means a dwelling.

In modern Indian context, Bhavan still means a palace, e.g. Vidhan Bhavan ⁽¹⁾⁽²⁾

(1): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidhan_Bhavan,_Nagpur (2): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidhan_Bhavan,_Lucknow

The person to whom you replied meant that it now means palace but used to refer to other dwellings.

I am a native Hindi speaker with good background in Sanskirit and yes, Bhavana means huge palace may or may not be a king's palace though.

Anything is possible. Please provide credible sources to prove your assertion of a change of meaning.

Unlike English, the Sanskrit words do not change over time. Because in Sanskrit what you speak is what you write and what you write is what you speak.

That’s nonsense and magical thinking. Sanskrit is a language like any other. Latin meanings haven’t changed for a long time because it’s a dead language but they certainly changed while it was being actively used. Sanskrit is certainly similar.

Having a phonemic orthography does not stop changes in meaning.

As an aside, if the language is living rather than dead a phonemic orthography doesn't prevent change to spelling and pronunciation either, you just get extra alternative spellings and pronunciations, rather than divergent spelling and pronunciation.

Simply not true. Vedic Sanskrit is quite different from classical Sanskrit. If you track the meaning of individual terms across texts from different eras - even famous ones like 'Dharma'- you'll notice that Sanskrit words are polysemic and have changed in meaning.

> what you speak is what you write and what you write is what you speak

I am not a Sanskrit scholar by any means, but IMO, being phonetic is not necessarily the reason for that. It is more so because Sanskrit words are often derived from a small set of root words. In other words, the words are actually descriptions of things using smaller components. In this case, the root is Bha which means "to be" or "to exist", from which there are words derived such as Bhavatu - "so be it", Bhavita - "existed", Bhavana - "place of existence/dwelling".

Not so quick! The thresholds between "hot" and "warm", or between "house" and "palace" are not defined in the grammar.

Unless you can find Sanskrit dictionaries from 2500 years ago giving exact measures of houses and palaces...

> Sanskrit words do not change over time.

That is amazing. I've only used english and a touch of spanish, and those words are so slippery. Even latin has a drift over time. i've poked at Aramaic, but never more than a week or two of half hearted effort.

I'm really interested in Sanskrit now. Perhaps 5 years of concentrated effort to access thousands of years of writing sounds amazing. I have a hard time with Twain, much less Chaucer. English slips so much, so quickly.

I suppose there really aren't puns or double entendres though. I can't imagine how semantics would survive the abuse of irony for thousands of years.

> > Sanskrit words do not change over time.

> That is amazing.

GP is simply incorrect here. Sanskrit dictionaries list multiple meanings per word sometimes with the period during which a meaning was prevalent.

Puns and double entendres are particularly common in classical Sanskrit literature.


Are you sure about this? "Bhavana" most certainly does not mean "a place" in modern parlance (see: "Rashtrapati Bhavan", which is the president's residence), and a lot of the other words have extant meanings in Hindi which differ significantly from what you've said here. Either Hindi has diverged a whole lot from Sanskrit and the meanings have changed (vimana literally means flying vehicle, and I'm pretty sure it's the same in Sanskrit), or you have some dubious sources.

> Either Hindi has diverged a whole lot from Sanskrit and the meaning have changed

Yes it changed significantly. That’s why philology exists. And also why languages with long existence are classified in different strata.

I doubt philology exists specifically because Hindi and Sanskrit diverged. Anyhow, have the meanings of extant words common to both languages significantly diverged? Do you have a source?

He didn't mean that philology exists because of the divergence. He means philology exists to better understand these kind of language differences.

The practice of Buddhism has nothing to do with arguing on the Internet about the exact meanings of words in an ancient language that Gautama Buddha didn't even speak (we are told he spoke Magadhi Prakrit, not Sanskrit).

Look, this is a discussion forum. I was under the impression that we were having a good faith discussion and I'm genuinely curious about my question, whether extant words in Hindi and Sanskrit have significantly diverged in meaning. You can antagonize me if you like, but you can also choose not to participate in this specific thread if you don't have a meaningful contribution.

Hes using the word "place" in the sense Americans use it.

Hindi had a complete overhaul under British rule. Hindi have several dialects and all of them are quite different than Sankirit.

Interesting. Reminds me of a similar example with Jesus, commonly thought to be a carpenter, but who was really a tektōn (At least according to the Gospel of Mark) which could be translated as carpenter or stonemason. Most houses in Israel at the time would appear to have been made of stone, and therefore stonemason seems like it’d be a more appropriate translation.

I've always been confused by the English definition of "carpenter". I always thought it was originally something like "woodworker" or a furniture smith, but it appears that most native speakers understood "carpenter" to mean "house builder". I wonder if at some time the same occupation referred to both or if I simply grew up misinformed?

Carpentry is the construction of things by joining wood pieces together. Woodworker is more general and would include things like finishing, or carving solid objects out of wood, or any kind of wood work really.

Furniture, frames for houses, and so on, are typically considered carpentry. Etymologically it comes from a Latin word meaning a wagon maker.

In contemporary English, at least in North America, it's mostly used to describe those involved in the construction of things like wooden buildings, particularly the structural components like frames and roofs. But it hasn't completely supplanted the broader sense.

There is an interesting cultural dependence here. I live in England and we have very few wooden houses. I have always assumed Jesus's "carpentry" to refer to building furniture. It simply never occurred to me that he might be building houses out of wood.

Carpenter is a tricky term because wood is used in so many ways. This is strictly UK biased:

In building terms we distinguish a first and second fix carpenter. First fix is mostly structural and second fix is the rest. If your hair is wet its probably first fix - roof trusses and the like. Second fix will include things like skirting boards. It's not a hard and fast rule and will probably involve the same people. These trades are known as "chippies" (sing. chippy).

We also have cabinetry (your furniture smith - nice one) and other wood working trades. They are all called carpenters. A chippy is a carpenter and I think this a rare case where the nickname is more common than the real name. Civilians will often call a chippy a "builder". A cabinet maker is never known as a builder or a chippy.

The chippy thing is because a very small piece of wood is a "chip".

I think I know why you are a bit confused about the word carpenter. In the US and elsewhere, houses are mostly wooden. When a house is nearly all wood, then the word carpenter should mean builder. In the UK and elsewhere houses are built of sticks and bricks, mostly bricks.

Americans often get confused when in the UK because "chippy" can mean either a carpenter or the fish and chips shop on the street.

To, not really, help counter that the shop is often called a "fish and chippery"!

Depends where your are, chipper is common to some, others say 'fish shop', some 'chippy'. Other people say they're "getting chips", or "having carry-out" and leave the place to be entirely implicit.

That said, I've never seen it called the "fish and chippery", but it wouldn't surprise me to see that used.

And in some alternate universe, "fish and chips" became "Molly's Lips" in rhyming slang, leading to phrases like "get lunch at the molly".

The word carpenter originally referred to carriages or carts.

They just happened to be made out of wood and the people who made them were apparently willing to apply those skills to more than wagons.

> but it appears that most native speakers understood "carpenter" to mean "house builder".

In Latin-America we use a very similar word: "carpintero" with the same origin. But the houses in the region are commonly made of concrete brick, so we don't associate "carpenter" with "house builder".

Well in French, "charpente" refers to the frame of the house, and the first thing you think about is a wooden frame, though in modern times it could be steel. A stone house wouldn’t really have a "charpente" I guess. And oftentimes "charpente" specifically means the roof structure (which is the only frame left in modern brick or concrete houses).

My brother is a carpenter and works with a lot of Latinos. He also does birdwatching as a hobby. Supposedly carpintero is also what they call woodpeckers.

That's correct. But usually it's called "pajaro carpintero". Woody Woodpecker is called "El pajaro loco" though.

Fascinating! That could explain why he gave Simon the name "Peter" (Stone), and references like "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42, quoting Psalm 118:22.)

@BigOak. I think that Peter was a Rock and not just a stone - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Peter#%22Rock%22_dialogu...

That would explain his catchphrase: Can thou smell that which The Rock do cooketh?

Matthew 21:42 is talking about the Pharisees rejecting Christ.

Simon was Pétros-fied!

But tektōn means non-specically any craftsman or artisan, even a teacher or student.

How are you sure that this particular version of history is correct and the far more popular version (where he is a prince) is wrong?

The article is correct in that Buddha being a prince is a myth.

The use of the word myth in connection with religion always fascinates me. The entire concept of religion generally depends on myths. recursive use of myth in myth.

Generally I have to read these sentences as in my opinion because the 'factual' quality of statements regarding the ur-myths of religion is usually not quantifiable, its all contextually defined by interpretation, semantics, ontology, eschatology, history, culture...

When I say myth, I mean in the sense that it’s not actually supported by the Tripitaka, which is the first complete written account of Buddha’s teachings by a lineage of his original monastic order (mostly confirmed by historical evidence where it exists) to survive as written to the present day, and considered canonical Buddhist teaching.

It is most definitely quantifiable whether something is or is not written in the Tripitaka. That is why it remains important and historically significant.

One also has to bear in mind that the Tripitakha was compiled several centuries after the Buddha is said to have lived and has several divergent versions according to the ideological predilections of its editors. Also Pali was probably not the native language of the Buddha. The vernacular of the area where he lived and taught was call Magadhi. (The Jain Agamas are transmitted in a related language called Ardhamagadhi “half Magadhi”) Pali was prevalent in Avanti in West India (the geographical base of Sthaviravadins) not Magadha. The Sarvastivadins used Sanskrit, and Mahasanghikas used yet another language for their version. All of them claimed to have “The Original Teachings of the Buddha.”

So I think attempts to find “fundamental” Buddhism are ultimately futile.

I believe that some scholars actually believe that Pali is an artificial language, a mixture between different dialects that was intelligible to people from different regions.

There is no question that there are some later additions. There are even some contradictions. But by comparing different passages and comparing with the Chinese Agamas, we can get a pretty good idea of what the Buddha actually thought.

Yes I have read that Pali could have been a trade language.

Interestingly this method of textual comparison has also proven useful in tracing the history of the “Hindu” Samkhya school; one of whose early works, lost in Sanskrit, is preserved in the Chinese (Mahayana) Buddhist canon.

I’m interested in the Sankhyans! Any reference?

Sorry for the late reply but as an introduction I suggest “Encyclopedia of Indian Philosopies Volume IV: Samkhya A Dualistic Tradition in Indian Philosophy” Gerald James Larson & Ramshankar Bhattacharya (editors), Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.

The "divergent versions" you refer to are really not so divergent as to exclude the discovery of a fundamental Buddhism. The Chinese collections and the Theravadin are remarkably similar and this despite being worlds apart in language of composition.

So its not supported by the canonical text makes it mythic. Ok, I get it now. Apocryphal.

Do you think there's a difference between "Ashoka warred with Kalinga" (contemporary and/or near-contemporary evidence survives) and "Ashoka built 84,000 stupas" (for the sake of this discussion, let's assume that there is no historical evidence for this). Because that's the distinction being drawn above.

Your point misses the mark, given the discussion centers on history and not religion per se. The biological human life of Siddartha (not to mention Jesus of Nazareth) is a matter of historical evidence, not faith or religious belief.

It turns out that myths are an incredibly powerful vessel to preserve and transmit information. Especially before we had widespread access to printing presses, books, and libraries

"Sacred text as cultural genome: an inheritance mechanism and method for studying cultural evolution", https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/2153599X.2016.11...:

> Sacred religious texts have the properties required for an inheritance system. They are replicated across generations with high fidelity and are transcribed into action every generation by the invocation and interpretation of selected passages. In this article we borrow concepts and methods from genetics and epigenetics to study the “expressed phenotypes” of six Christian churches that differ along a conservative–progressive axis. Their phenotypic differences, despite drawing upon the same sacred text, can be explained in part by differential expression of the sacred text. Since the invocation and interpretation of sacred texts are often well preserved, our methods allow the expressed phenotypes of religious groups to be studied at any time and place in history.

An article by one of the authors on the paper: https://evolution-institute.org/religious-epigenetics/

This feels pedantic and off-topic. This is clearly just as much a discussion of historical accuracy as it is one of religious accuracy.

Religious documents are just as valuable to historians and archaeologists, etc. as they are to people who practice a religion.

Thing is, it is totally appropriate in historical discussions about existing people, even if they are playing an important role in a religion. That's actually what usually happens when you dissect religions: you spot myths, inaccuracies, later inventions, exaggeration, propaganda, and once all that removed, you are left back with a much more historical account that usually looks nothing like the original religion.

I'm always fascinated by the use of the word religion in connection with Buddhism. I can see why, people are always mislabeling things in a way that makes sense in a quick-and-dirty way that reuses existing models of thought, but they're ultimately a drag on any deeper discussion, and this happened long ago with Buddhism. It's not a religion, it's a framework that other religions have taken on. Hence there are Buddhist religions.

It makes about as much sense to call Buddhism a religion as it is to call Ruby on Rails a website (if we're being precise).

Note: I can see how this could look like a rebuttal but it's not, I'm actually joining in with the discussion, riding along with it, not trying to be an arse. I liked the comment I'm replying to! :)

The teachings of Buddha are a framework that religions have taken on in the same sense that the teachings of Jesus are a framework that religions have taken on.

I would define a framework as set of methods and practices to apply to a specific problem domain, those methods based on principles/conclusions arrived at from observation of that domain.

If the teachings of Jesus are a framework that religions have taken on and not a doctrine, then you should specify:

1. what the problem domain is

2. what the conclusions drawn about that domain are

3. what the principles are and how they are arrived at

4. what the methods are

5. how it can be applied to different religions, or non-religions (for example, what use does prayer to God or eternal damnation have to atheists?)

You should also deal with the problem of a supernatural being that you must believe in and follow (may be covered in (5)). I don't know many frameworks like that.

Just because the teachings of Jesus aren’t presented in the format you prefer doesn’t mean they can’t be.

It’s not hard to do this, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for you.

Who said the framework has to be useful for atheists?

If it's a framework then it will be able to be applied in several contexts. Hence, there are a set of questions that help show it is a framework. It doesn't have to be useful for atheists but it would go a long way to showing it's a framework and not a religion.

I'd be more than happy to go through all of those questions for Buddhism (or Prince2 or Rails or any framework), it would be easy. I can't see how it would be done for Christianity, nor for any formulation of Jesus' teachings, but if you know how, you should!

What are the several contexts in which the framework of Buddhism can be applied?

(I’m not asking you to answer your questions, since they don’t establish this.)

The problem domain is that of happiness/suffering, and how to obtain/lessen it. Anywhere that is a goal it can be applied. It has been applied to each of the Buddhisms (see edit note), which is why they're called Buddhism. You could apply it to a school or business if you wished, or a family, or yourself.

The problem domain for Ruby on Rails is how to build websites. That's why websites built using Rails are referred to as a Rails site.

The problem domain of Prince2 is how to manage a project. It's why projects which apply it are called Prince2 projects, or Prince2 organisations if they apply it more widely.

What's the problem domain for Jesus' teachings? Where has it been applied?

Edit: Because of the misnomer (people calling things Buddhism that aren't) it makes my initial phrasing seem circular. The Buddhisms are each their own religion which then applied Buddhism, which is why they're now know as Buddhism. So, Bon, the Tibetan shamanic religion is now known as Tibetan Buddhism.

The problem domain for Jesus teachings is ethical action and how to encourage it.

It has been applied to each of the forms of Christianity as well as in many secular societies that eschew the religious components.

You could apply it to a school or business if you wished, or a family or yourself.

The various Christianitys just like the Buddhisms incorporate many of the beliefs and customs that existed before Christ and the Buddha’s teachings respectively were incorporated.

Kudos for the effort. Unfortunately, category error is littered throughout.

> The problem domain for Jesus teachings is ethical action and how to encourage it.

If it did have a problem domain it would be how to get into Heaven and not into Hell. Ethical action would be the way in which that is achieved. It does not, however, have a problem domain because without Christianity there is no problem to be solved. It is not a framework and is not expounded as a framework (this is an incredibly important point).

> It has been applied to each of the forms of Christianity

The different forms of Christianity are called sects because they share a doctrine. A doctrine that is supplied as dogma, I might add. Again, an important point.

Christianity has not been "applied" to the various forms of Christianity because they did not exist prior to being applied to. For example, you could not apply Google to Yahoo because Google is not a framework.

> as well as in many secular societies

Secular societies cannot, by definition, implement Christianity.

> You could apply it to a school or business if you wished, or a family or yourself.

You could not apply Weight Watchers to a school or business or a family or individual. You could apply its principles or methods. Weight Watchers is not a framework, neither is Christianity. Weight Watchers could produce a framework for losing weight but that would not make one thing the other, nor in the same category.

> The various Christianitys

Sect is the correct word.

> just like the Buddhisms

An implementation of Buddhism is not a sect. There are sects within religions that have applied Buddhism. Hence, your comparison is yet another category error and false equivalence.

> incorporate many of the beliefs and customs that existed before Christ and the Buddha’s teachings respectively were incorporated.

Rails incorporates many of the beliefs and customs of web developers and frameworks that existed before it was born, as does Twitter. That does not make Rails a company or a website or a micro-blogging service, and neither does it make Twitter a web framework nor a piece of software.

Distinguishing differences like these can be difficult, especially if you're not acquainted with the basic history of Asian religion, like Bon, or the many schools of Indian thought, Daoism etc (the History of Philosophy podcast[1] is an excellent resource for learning about them), or are not familiar with the many frameworks used by programmers and project managers and the like. Hacker News is a great place to get these kind of insights though so you're in the right place.

[1] https://historyofphilosophy.net/

Your answer seems confused as anything. The problem domain is ethical action.

Getting into heaven or hell are why the problem domain is salient, but not the problem domain.

I didn’t say Christianity is applied to previous christianities. I said it was applied to the belief systems that existed before - I.e. the various paganisms.

This is well researched historical fact. You are the one making an error here because you are getting confused about the naming.

I’m not talking about sects. I’m talking about Christianity being applied to the belief systems that existed before in the various places where it spread.

You then go on to simply state that Christianity is not a framework.

Affirming the consequent isn’t an argument. We already know that you think this.

The rest of your statements just rely on made up stuff.

There is no such thing as ‘an implementation of Buddhism’. There is no such concept in comparative studies of religion.

You are just using that terminology to make it sound like it can be compared to the programming concept of a framework.

It’s pretty absurd to suggest Buddhism works like Ruby on Rails. Rails doesn’t incorporate beliefs and customs. Nobody believes in rails.

It’s a completely different class of entity, so at best it is a vague analog.

As such Christianity is just as much a framework as Buddhism is.

I'm kind of working on a fork. Everyone should have their own variant.

> It's not a religion, it's a framework that other religions have taken on.

Same can be said about the Torah, the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad. Each has a plethora of religions built on top of them, that we group into big families (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) despite some members of these families having tried to kill each other for centuries.

I think that what makes Buddhism a bit apart is that it is also a framework several people use to build atheistic, humanist philosophies. It is less common (but used to be two centuries ago) to do the same with Christianity. There are also Jews who reject the belief in God and many religious parts of the Talmud but still follow many tenets of judaism for a variety of philosophical reasons.

Living in Asia, seeing the more cultish aspect traditional Buddhism can have, made it harder for me to see it as a kind of special religion, rather than one that is exotic enough to westerners so that they can transform it into a modern philosophy.

I also live in and have lived around Asia, and I won't deny that there are aspects of the Buddhisms there that are full of the kind of nonsense you can see in any other religion (or pretty much anything humans touch) but that doesn't make any part of Buddhism, i.e. the 4 Noble Truths, a religion or having any of those aspects. It's quite clearly a framework (a set of observations, philsophies and methods applied to a particular domain) that is at once abstract enough to be pluggable yet comes with an initial implementation (thanks, Buddha).

To labour the point I made earlier (somewhat), I can build you a terrible database using 4th normal form, that is called upon by a web framework using any number of patterns like the Active Record or Data Mapper patterns, pushed into an MVC pattern that is full of tacked on bits that make no sense (if you know what you're doing) and spewed out into an utter mess of a web page, but that wouldn't make 4th normal form bad, or MVC etc or the framework encompasing them a bad thing.

Zen Buddhism (Daoism + vestiges of Indian Buddhism) is not Theravada Buddism (Indian Buddhism) is not Tibetan Buddhism (Bon shamanism + Indian Buddhism). It's always spliced into something. Non-Asian Buddhism does the same thing but often bringing in the extraneous parts tacked on.

Where, for example, is there any doctrine in the 4 Noble Truths? Any part that says you need a guru? Any part that says to follow a book or a god (or gods) or the need to chant…? It simply doesn't have any of those things.

Huh, what are the 4 noble truths if not a doctrine that instructs people to go towards the 8 paths?

And if you chose to dismiss the religious and cultish parts, you can also find a lot of value in Jesus teaching about unconditional love and about inner spiritual discipline.

I have no qualms in people using a cleaned up religion as a source for spiritual growth, and will agree that Buddhism has many features that makes it particularly friendly, like its focus on non-violence, but don't be mistaken in what you are doing in the process. It is still a typical religion that has little inherent reason to be more sensible than any other source. All its advices have to stand on their own merit.

> what are the 4 noble truths if not a doctrine that instructs people to go towards the 8 paths?

A doctrine is a belief of set of beliefs, not a set of premises or propositions for investigation nor a set of practices. For example, a hypothesis is not a doctrine, nor is the scientific method. Prince2, PMP, Scrum, Lean, Six Sigma et al are also not doctrines.

The 8-fold path is an alternative breakdown of one of the truths (the last one, presented - as all are - as "truth" because under examination/usage they should be shown to be correct), not separate.

Nowhere within the 4 or the 8 is there any requirement for belief or adherence to any authority in the form of a being or creed.

I think Buddhism is special for atheistic, humanist philosophies in that the foundational writings didn't go on about God. Of course people may have tacked stuff on subsequently.

The Torah, the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on the other hand all recognise Genesis and "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..."

Many Buddhist texts are full of supernatural claims about afterlife, the worlds of demons and devas, about prayers opening the earth to see flowers giving you the text of Buddha, that sort of things.

Thinking Buddhism focuses on the philosophical parts is like cherry-picking Proverbs from the bible.

Buddhism also has its own nonsensical cosmology [1]. We just don't care too much about it in the West.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology

I meant the accounts of what Buddha himself taught seem to steer clear of God. eg in the article:

>when asked abstract metaphysical questions, such as whether the world is eternal, whether the soul is different from the body, or what happens to a liberated person (tathāgata) after death and so on, Gotama stays silent, or points out that he has set these subjects aside

he seems to stick to the observable basics. Though as mentioned, of course people may have tacked stuff on subsequently.

The torah as commonly translated does, but there is an interesting work from a physicist that brings a very atheistic/geometric translation of the torah to light that has been blowing my mind.


Thanks for the oddball YouTube link. Love finding gold with <300 views.

I took the usage of myth here to make a distinction when talking about what we know of the "historical" Buddah but maybe I'm wrong and his contradiction was informed by religious scripture


> In orthodox Buddhism, like that in Sri Lanka, the path to understanding Buddhism is uncontroversial, difficult but uncontroversial.

After reading the memoirs of Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (the author of Mindfulness in Plain English) I get the impression that Sri Lankan Buddhism was degraded into pointless rote learning and empty rituals. When Bhante G. became a monk in 1940's monks didn't even practice meditation.

When religion becomes so ingrained into culture like it has in Asia, it seems that it becomes just empty conservative power structure, not different form Catholic Church in the west.

Sri Lanka and Burma have supremacist monks who advocate hate. Western Buddhists go to Burma and Asia to train with those few meditation teachers who know their stuff and learn from them while most Asians just see Buddhism as cultural tradition.

Sri Lanka, as well as most of SE Asia (but notably unlike the rest of the world), practice Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest and most ritualized form of Buddhism. A really rough analogy in Christianity would be Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

But most Buddhism taught in the West descends from the Mahayana school, which teaches that enlightenment is possible in a single lifetime, and thus has a much heavier focus on individual practice and understanding. Again, as a crude analogy, thinks Protestants and printing the Bible in the vernacular so everybody, not just priests, can understand it.

And particularly popular in the West is the most austere branch of them all, Zen (Chan) Buddhism, which aims to strip away as much frippery as possible; again, roughly analogous to Lutheranism.

The person who wrote this article is a well-established Buddhist scholar who has actually spent years studying in schools, as you say one must, to study the history of Buddhism. Why wouldn't you say they were in a credible position to tell the world what is mythical about Buddhism?

Becoming an orthodox Buddhist even feels like it would be counterproductive if one's purpose is to investigate what is mythical about Buddhism.

In any case, what is being discussed here is the historical person known as the Buddha, not the experience of being raised as an orthodox Buddhist.

The issue I had with the original article is the way it starts by shedding what the author considers as myths.

As I mentioned, to understand Buddha's story, it should be done in the context of the most important teachings of Buddhism which I'm not going to go into here. Its almost like axioms in Mathematics. You don't pick the results you understand, and she'd the axioms that don't make sense to you. You can do it, but you are going to run into contradictions.

Buddhism is highly internally consistent despite the story being so old and informal in the sense of western philosophies. The danger of what she is trying to do here is that after you shed all the "myths", what you are going to end up with is mindful exercises for corporate events.

I still don't understand why one needs to know the teachings of Buddhism to understand the biographical details of Siddhattha Gotama. What sort of contradictions could arise?

The article does not discuss any kind of mindfulness exercises at all, or any other kind of meditation practice.

"In orthodox Buddhism, like that in Sri Lanka, the path to understanding Buddhism is uncontroversial, difficult but uncontroversial."


"First of all drop your arrogance."

Not nice.

"Of course when you attach a loaded word like "myth" to anything that you can't experience from when and where you are now, none of that matters anymore."

It was time to start listening instead of speaking before this paragraph was typed.

I think you've misunderstood the nature of article.

The article is about the historical Buddha i.e. the person whom people believe existed, as a human.

It's not about 'understanding Buddhism'.

There is nothing 'Western' about objective historical investigation, and neither is the term 'myth' highly overloaded; if people believe strongly in a narrative that is not based in reality, we call that 'myth' and it's a fair term.

His name was Gautama Adicca.

You can ask Klaus Kenneth who Buddha was :-)

It doesn't really matters where he came from. We spend too much time thinking about who/where/when instead why/how. Perhaps a flare of royalty adds weight to the narrative.

For the first time in his life he contrived a new perspective on `what is life` on his own & went on his own way. He was stubborn, righteous & what not.

This thread is as irrelevant as my post. Humans always have/will blow things out of proportions when they praise/critic someone they like/dislike.

I’m confused why the article doesn’t consider the initial question of whether the historical Buddha existed at all. Given the amount of ink that has been spilled over the existence or otherwise of the historical Jesus, and the even spottier historical sources about Buddha (we can’t even nail him down to a specific century), isn’t this question worthy of consideration?

I gess because there wouldn't be much of an article at all.

I mean you basically wrote the whole article in your comment above by saying: "whether the historical Buddha existed at all"

I'm betting he probably did exist, because when you take all the personal anecdotes in the scriptures, many of which are mentioned in the article, they make coherent sense as the life story of a single human being.

The little details and the personal quirks all add up.

I'm really far from an expert on this, but I've read quite a lot on the subject and my understanding is that there is considerably more historical evidence for Gautama-the-Buddha being a single real person than for Jesus Christ, that "we can't even nail him down to a specific century" notwithstanding. In the case of Jesus the timing isn't much of a question because of the well-accounted for political events of the time, whereas perhaps India at the time lacked sufficiently standard date-keeping system for us to synchronize the writings now.

But as I understand it the Buddha is mentioned in a lot of completely independent contemporaneous texts whereas Jesus is basically only mentioned only in the Bible. In itself that doesn't prove anything... the Buddha was active as a spiritual leader for many decades, and Jesus only for 3 years, and maybe the wider society around Jesus was just much more interested in political events whereas Indian society as a whole at the time of Buddha was exploring more spiritual and philosophical dimensions. But I've always had the impression that there are proportionally more history scholars who question the existence of Jesus as a single real person than that of the Buddha.

Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that should have been in the article.

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