If war wins, climate action loses – The Island
By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
Not how many Buddhas, but some authorities have even questioned in the past whether the Buddha was a real person. Of course, there is more than enough archaeological evidence to prove that he indeed was. Born Prince Sakhya and named Siddhartha, with the surname Gautama, the year of his birth has long been a bone of contention, variously cited as 563 BCE or 480 BCE. The work of British archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University finally established the correct era. After a three-year excavation at the Maya Devi temple site in Lumbini, Nepal, Coningham and his team of 40 archaeologists have uncovered a tree-lined shrine that predates all known Buddhist sites by at least three centuries. The wooden structure revealed by archaeologists has been radiocarbon dated to the 6th century BCE. Lumbini, which was hidden under the jungle until it was excavated in 1896, has been identified as the birthplace of the Buddha due to a sandstone pillar that bore an inscription documenting Emperor Ashoka’s visit . Although the UNESCO website indicates that the Buddha was born in Lumbini, in 623 BCE, the year of birth is more likely to be 563 BCE, in the sixth century BCE, as the indicates radiocarbon dating.
Prince Siddhartha renounced worldly life at the age of 29, attained Buddhahood after an arduous six-year search, and walked across a vast region of India for 45 years, spreading the truths he has discoveries. He is known as Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni or simply as the Buddha. My conception of the Buddha is that He is the only Buddha, an ordinary human being with extraordinary intellect who discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. However, most mainstream Buddhists may disagree with me as they believe in many past and future-born Buddhas. Interestingly, they say all these Buddhas preach the same thing! This, to me, is an act of devaluing the Buddha’s great achievements.
Perhaps, I look at this with my scientific background telling me that there is no possibility that there was more than one Buddha during the time that humans inhabited this earth. Nevertheless, many Buddhists believe that Gautama Buddha was the fourth Buddha of this aeon, with Kakusandha, Konagamana and Kashyapa being the predecessors along with the fifth Buddha, Maitreya, to be born in this extended aeon. According to Theravada tradition, there were 27 Buddhas before Gautama Buddha and they were named as follows: Taṇhaṅkara Buddha, Medhaṅkara Buddha, Saraṇkara Buddha, Dīpankara Buddha, Koṇdañña Buddha, Maṅgala Buddha, Sumana Buddha, Revata Buddha, Sobhita Buddha, Anomadassi Buddha, Paduma Buddha, Nārada Buddha, Padumuttara Buddha, Sumedha Buddha, Sujāta Buddha, Piyadassi Buddha, Atthadassi Buddha, Dhammadassī Buddha, Siddhattha Buddha, Tissa Buddha, Phussa Buddha, Vipassī Buddha, Sikhī Buddha, Vessabhū Buddha, Kakusandha Buddha, Koṇāgamana Buddha , Buddha Kassapa . Not only are they named, but their birth castes, parents’ names, places of birth and under which Bodhirukkha they attained enlightenment are listed. Interestingly, they were all born in India and wonder if they all received the same treatment as Gautama Buddha: forgotten in the land of birth! Either way, there is no scientific basis for these assumptions.
Interestingly, Mahayana has a different approach. Mahayana Buddhists revere many Buddhas, not found in Early Buddhism or Theravada Buddhism. They are generally considered to live in other realms, known as Buddhafields or Pure Lands. They are sometimes called “Heavenly Buddhas” because they are not of this earth. Some of the major Mahayana Buddhas are: Akshobhya, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, Bahisajyaguru, Ratnasambhava, Vairochana, Prabhutaratna, Samantabhadra and Lokeshwararaja. Perhaps this concept is more plausible since they are supposed to exist in other planes, beyond our perception.
What can we say about other Buddhas, if there are any, when we can only imagine what Gautama Buddha looked like, because no one left a detailed description of what the Buddha looked like? The Buddha was first represented by signs, despite the construction of Stupas, and the first Buddha statues were not carved until about four centuries after Parinibbana. Therefore, it is very likely that they will have imaginary features, and in fact most of the earliest surviving statues show Greek influence. Among the earliest surviving statues are:
The Standing Buddha Statue, an outstanding example of Greco-Buddhist statuary that was built in Gandhara, resides in the Tokyo National Museum and is dated to the 1st or 2nd century CE. He is considered “the most beautiful and probably the oldest of the Buddhas”.
The Gandhara Seated Buddha, one of the earliest Buddha statues built in the second or third century, which was discovered at the site of Jamal Garhi in ancient Gandhara, shows the Buddha in the Dharmachakra Mudra. This resides in the British Museum.
It was reported in 2017 that a centuries-old “Sleeping Buddha” statue had been unearthed during excavations near Bhamala Stupa in Haripur district of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region. This 48-foot-long statue built in the 3rd century is believed to be the oldest statue in a sleeping position.
Collecting the scant data available from various sources, Bhante Dhammika from Australia has described some characteristics of the Buddha, in his very interesting article “What Did the Buddha Look Like” (Sunday Island, March 6). A prolific writer, Mr. GAD Sirimal objected to this title saying, “This title should have read ‘What was Gautama Buddha like?’, as the word ‘Buddha’ is a similar title in some respects to Doctor, Professor , etc. One should remember that there were 23 enlightened ones called Buddha.The IslandMarch 10)
He seems convinced that there were previous Buddhas but seems to have got the number wrong; it is 28 as I said earlier with the names, not 23. Moreover, it seems to suggest a new style of reference to the Buddha; Gautama Buddha while the Buddha is usually referred to as Gautama Buddha. In any case, when we refer to the Buddha, it is Gautama Buddha. Anyway, for me there is only one Buddha!
Perhaps the most important thing is not to count how many Buddhas may have been there or what Gautama Buddha was like but to follow the path that our Buddha has discovered, not to wait for a future Maitreya Buddha ! After all, when asked who should be the successor, the Buddha replied that it would be the Dhamma.