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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
34 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 5 PeTer harvey is professor emeritus of Buddhist studies at the university of sunderland in england and a teacher with samatha Trust. he is the author of An Introduction to Buddhist Studies and An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. other early textual collections, such as the Chinese Agamas, the suttas of the Pali Nikayas begin, “Thus have I heard, at one time the Blessed One was stay- ing at... and...,” which purport to be the words of Ananda, the Buddha’s faithful attendant for many years, and spoken at the council of five hundred enlightened monks (arahants) convened after the death of the Buddha to collect his teachings. The story of the historical Buddha is told in vari- ous stages across diverse sources. In the suttas and Vinaya, for example, there is scattered material on certain periods in his life, notably his conception and birth (Acchariyaabbhuta Sutta, MN.123); a few aspects of his pre-renunciation life (e.g. Sukhumala Sutta, at AN.I.145); his renunciation (Ariyapariye sana Sutta, MN.26); his spiritual quest, in which he was taught two “formless” mystical states (MN.26 and Mahasaccaka Sutta, MN.36) and then prac- ticed harsh asceticism (MN.36); temptation by Mara (Padhana Sutta of the Suttanipata, verses 425–49); his using the four jhanas as a basis for remember- ing many past lives, seeing how beings are reborn according to their karma, and attaining enlighten- ment (MN.36); considering whether to teach and then teaching (MN.26; Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta, SN.V.420–25; Vin. I.4–12); and gaining his first disciples and sending them out to spread the Dhamma (Vin. I.12–21). events in his forty-five years of teachings are hard to sequence, but the last three months of his life are dealt with in the Maha parinibbana Sutta (DN.16, at DN. II.72–168). The Jataka stories, their verses recorded in the Pali canon, were fleshed out in later commentaries. They include many tales of inspiring people, gods, (LeFT)anneharvey,(oPPosITe)©lucatettoni/bridGemanimaGes and animals depicted as past rebirths of the Bud- dha prior to his enlightenment. Some of the stories originate in non-Buddhist collections but were later “Buddhicized.” All of them came to be seen as illus- trating how, as a bodhisattva, the future Buddha developed various perfections. The Buddhavamsa of the Pali canon describes the Buddhas of past ages and aeons whom he met and was inspired by. Centuries after the Buddha’s death, a more devo- tional interest in his life developed. Several biogra- phies/hagiographies were written that drew on the scattered accounts in the existing sutta and Vinaya collections and on floating oral traditions. These include the Mahavastu (“Great Story,” a text from the Lokottaravada school of early Buddhism), the Lalitavistara Sutra (“The Play in Full,” a Mahayana sutra), the Buddhacarita (“Acts of the Buddha,” an epic poem by Ashvaghosha), and the Nidanakatha (the introduction to the Theravada Jataka com- mentary). These, with certain variations, give us the story of the Buddha as we have it now—material from the earlier texts linked into an ongoing nar- rative, with many embellishing features added in glorification of the Buddha. Later texts talk of the Buddha born as a prince, the son of a king. In fact, he lived and taught in a society in which small-scale tribal republics were giving way to larger kingdoms. He was born in the small republic of the Sakka (Skt., Shakya) people, in which rule was probably by a council of household heads, perhaps qualified by age or social standing. As he later wandered in the developing kingdoms, taught some of their kings, and talked of himself as coming from the warrior-ruler class, it became natu- ral for later texts to refer to him as coming from a royal background. Later biographies describe the Buddha’s renun- ciation as being prompted by seeing, for the first time, an old person, a sick person, and a corpse, Meditating Buddha Davaravati Period Wat Phra Mahathat, Chaiya, Thailand