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Interpreting the Historical Buddha a. Dates There is no complete agreement among scholars and Buddhist traditions regarding the dates of the historical Buddha. From the middle of the 19th century until the late 20th century, Western scholars had believed the dates of the Buddha to be ca.
Gombrichbetween B. Saraobetween ca. BechertB. NakamuraB. Hirakawabetween B. Sources The historical Buddha did not write down any of his teachings, they were passed down orally from generation to generation for at least three centuries.
Unfortunately, the contradictory conclusions have led most scholars to be skeptical about the possibility of knowing what the Buddha really taught. This however, does not mean that all Buddhist texts that attribute teachings to the Buddha are equally valuable to reconstruct his thought.
Whether these sources are faithful to the actual thought and teachings of the historical Buddha is an unanswerable question; I can only say that to my knowledge there are not better sources to reconstruct the philosophy of the Buddha. From a scholarly perspective, the former account is questionable.
It might be the case that a large collection of Buddhist texts was written down for the first time in Sri Lanka during the first century B.
Second, it has been preserved in a Middle Indo-Aryan language closely related to various Prakrit dialects spoken in North of India during the third century B. Third, it expresses a fairly consistent set of doctrines and practices.
Like all past Buddhas, the conception and birth of Gautama Buddha are considered miraculous events. Buddha babies are born clean, though they are ritually bathed with two streams of water that fall from the sky; they all take seven steps toward the north and solemnly announce that this is their last rebirth.
Like former Buddhas, prince Siddhartha enjoyed all types of luxuries and sensual pleasures during his youth. Unsatisfied with this type of life, he had a crisis when he realized that everything was ephemeral and that his existence was subject to old age, sickness, and death.
After experiencing the states of concentration called base of nothingness and base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he realized that these lofty states did not lead to nirvana. Then the Buddha began to practice breathing exercises and fasting. The deterioration of his health led the Buddha to conclude that extreme asceticism was equally ineffective in attaining nirvana.
He thus resumed eating solid food; after recovering his health, he began to practice a more moderate spiritual path, the middle path, which avoids the extremes of sensual self-indulgence and self-mortification. Soon after, the Buddha experienced enlightenment, or awakening, under a bodhi-tree.
First he was inclined to inaction rather than to teaching what he had discovered.
Out of compassion for all living beings, he decided to start a successful teaching career that lasted forty-five years. Today it is seen as problematic because it imposes modern western ideals of rationality onto non-western texts. Here I set aside the question of historical truth and speak exclusively of significance.
The significance of all the biographies of Buddha does not lie in their historical accuracy, but rather in their effectiveness to convey basic Buddhist ideas and values throughout history. Even today, narratives about the many deeds of Buddha are successfully used to introduce Buddhists of all latitudes into the main values and teachings of Buddhism.
Like followers of other religious leaders, Buddhist scribes tended to glorify the sanctity of their foundational figure with extraordinary events and spectacular accomplishments.
In this sense, the narratives of the Buddha are perhaps better understood as hagiographies rather than as biographies. The historical truth behind hagiographies is impossible to determine:TED Talk Subtitles and Transcript: Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves.
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