Wasn't Gautama Buddha Nepalese Indian

Free thinkers

(Buddha statue in Phuket | Photo by Charlie Rutz | License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

This contribution, as well as Karma, Rebirth & Nirvana in (early) Buddhism and unchangeable ego = mere illusion ?, is based on my book publication “Is an immutable self just mere illusion?” (Diplomica Verlag, ISBN: 978-3-8366- 9079-9). The focus of the following discussion is the historical person who is supposed to be behind the Buddha. Do these even exist? And if so, does what has been handed down from it actually correspond to the facts? What sources is our knowledge of Buddha and his teachings based on?

The problem of the transmission of Buddhist teaching

Since the Buddha himself did not leave anything in writing and what he taught was not written down by anyone during his lifetime, a certain problem arises with regard to tradition. Only after his death did several Buddhist councils take on the task of drawing up a Buddhist canon from what was passed on from generation to generation about the teachings of the Buddha through memorization, repetition and recitation. Because at that time it was not customary in India to write down religious texts. Rather, they were passed on in the oral form just described. This fact is a real problem, especially for historians.

So came the important Buddhologist Edward Conze (1904–1979) who attempted to divide Buddhism into several historical periods (1st period = 500 - 0 BC; 2nd period = 0 - 500 AD). ; 3rd period = 500 - 1000 AD; 4th period = 1000 AD - today), to the conclusion that the "lack of clear facts [...] for the first period [is] particularly significant. One date - and only one - is really certain, and that is the reign of Emperor Asoka (274–236 BC), whose protection transformed Buddhism from a small ascetic sect into an all-Indian religion. ”[1] What we know today about early Buddhism is based primarily on the canon of texts written by the first three Buddhist councils in Pali. According to research, the first council met “shortly after the death of Buddha […] in Rajagaha, the second supposedly one hundred, but probably a few years later in Vesali, the third in 252 BC. In Pataliputta (Patna). "[2]

The third Buddhist council that took place during the reign and at the instigation of Emperor Ashoka “revised the Theravada texts over a period of nine months [...] and supplemented the two old collections of Vinaya and Suttapitaka with a scholastic work (das Kathavatthu), in which 218 erroneous views (including only three philosophical) are refuted. In the course of the next two centuries the number of scholastic books continued to grow until the Abhidhammapitaka was finally created. "[3] These three Buddhist compendia [4] (Vinayapitaka, Suttapitaka, Abhidhammapitaka), each as a" basket "[5] (= pitaka), form the Pali canon. By sending Buddhist missionaries to other countries, such as B. Egypt and Syria, Emperor Ashoka wanted to spread Buddha's teachings beyond India's borders, but for the time being this was only to be crowned with lasting success in Ceylon (today: Sri Lanka). According to Buddhist research, the Theravadic canon final edited by the Third Council was orally preserved in “the monasteries of the island” until it was (according to Dv 20, 20 f.) In the 1st century BC. At the behest of King Vattagamani Abhaya in the Pali language.

This canon is the only one that has been fully preserved; we only have fragments, if anything at all, of other canons. The comparison of Pali texts with such fragments has shown that the factual deviations do not concern any central teachings and that Pali-Vinaya and Suttapitaka contain genuine sayings of the Buddha. ”[6] Not insignificant differences of opinion in the interpretation of the Buddha's teaching have already led to Times of holding the second council for the first split within the Buddhist monastic community (Sanskrit: Samgha; Pali: Sangha). There was a separation of the Mahasanghika school, to which the later Mahayana Buddhism historically goes back, from the traditionalists (Theravada = teaching of the elders).

The differences culminated in the fact that the philosophical systematizations introduced at the third council in the form of the Abhidhammapitaka, i.e. the 3rd basket, were subsequently not adopted by some of the early schools and later by the Mahayana (= "large vehicle") have been replaced by their own works or treatises written in Sanskrit, which differ not insignificantly from the Pali version. All of this laid the foundation for the two main directions [7] of Buddhism: Theravada (= Pali canon) and Mahayana (= Sanskrit canon). [8] The editing of the Pali canon should finally find a conclusion around the 4th to 5th centuries AD, "at a time when the separation and differentiation of the individual schools is already well advanced." [9] But that means also that the collection of the Buddha's discourses in the Pali canon “have been handed down in the teaching context of the Theravada tradition” [10], which is why “corresponding additions and changes must be accepted by that school” [11].

Problem with the interpretation and rendering of Buddhist texts

The correct interpretation and rendering of Buddhist texts in European languages ​​is also a problem in the development of the person and teachings of Buddha: Because “even the style transports evaluations and judgments that can be far from the original material, there are also fundamental differences between the languages ​​of the sources and the western translations. ”[12] Associated with this, there is the risk that the philosophical examination of a non-European or another cultural area is characterized by an overly dominant Eurocentric or western view and way of thinking . is able to lead unilateral conclusions. In addition, the philosopher Franz Wimmer noted that in “professional-philosophical discussions it is usually tacitly denied” whether “the history of non-European philosophy is to be regarded as something worth knowing or something worth considering […], and this denial is not only associated with it, but through it justifies ignorance. "[13]

Although the concept of philosophy, which matured in ancient Greece, is rooted in the Western tradition and shaped by it, as well as by some representatives of Western philosophy (e.g. for ideological reasons) as delimited from other cultural areas, superior to them or at least as something special compared to them This does not mean that other cultural areas do not also have methods of gaining knowledge that can, however, be carried out in other ways. On the other hand, the occidental origin of the concept of philosophy does not have to be an obstacle per se to adequately grasp and understand non-European phenomena, at least if the claim is made that “the quality and suitability of a contribution [decide], but not the origin of the one who made it Argues. If one excludes Chinese, Indian or African answers to the question about people, about knowledge or about the meaning of existence from consideration because their authors are not in the succession of Western thought and use other media and methods of mediation, is a Philosophizing is not problem-oriented. It is not really about the concern and clarification of questions, if the preservation of the familiar background takes priority over hearing other solutions. ”[14] This also includes the insight not to be under any illusions about those in another culture and Always correctly interpret knowledge gained from another language.

The historical person of the Buddha

In Buddhism research, the age that the historical Buddha [15] reached is relatively undisputed: he is said to have been 80 years old. On the other hand, there is great disagreement about the historical classification of his lifetime. Traditional dating, based on two chronologies of ancient scriptures, puts his date of birth at 623 BC. BC or 566 BC BC, while the classical dating from (western) research is 563 or 560 BC. However, all of these calculations are not sufficiently secured by the available sources. And even today's research is unable to make a definitive statement about the date of birth and death of the historical Buddha. [16] There is only general agreement on the assumption that the Buddha's lifetime has been set too early so far and that he only started around the 5th century BC. Around the world saw the light of day. A currently dominant dating suggestion in recent (western) research for the Buddha's lifetime is 450 BC. BC to 370 BC Little is known about his childhood and youth, but all the more about his later years - but caution is advised here too.

After all, Buddha is already hyped up as a superman in the early writings and a legend is spun around his person: “It is not difficult to uncover the historical core of such stories from the legends, but caution is required. Some legends are imagery of inner experiences and illustrate Gotama's spiritual development. They are subjectively true, but not historically. ”[17] And for Buddhists - regardless of which school or school they belong to - the question of the historical Buddha is usually less important. What the Buddha supposedly taught is always of central importance. Nevertheless, the path of life of the historical Buddha, who is said to have been called Siddhartha Gautama (= Sanskrit language) or Siddhattha Gotama (= Pali language), which translates as “he has reached his goal”, plays a particularly important role Exemplary illustration of the practical way to achieve “awakening”, “redemption” or “enlightenment” plays a not insignificant role. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini as the son of Shuddhodana, the king of Kapilavastu (= Sanskrit; Pali: Kapilavatthu / located in today's Terai in Nepal), who probably belonged to the Kshatriya caste.

Growing up with the privileges accorded to a prince at that time and in the princely atmosphere of the warrior nobility, he was trained early on in military skills such as archery, wrestling, riding and handling elephants. After all, one of the most important tasks of the warrior nobility was to take up arms when necessary. At the age of 16 he is said to have married his cousin Yasodhara, who gave birth to their son Rahula. After spending many years at the royal court, one day he realized the futility of his previous existence. According to legend, he is said to have "seen an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a monk on four trips and thus realized that one can only achieve salvation as an unrelated ascetic." In any case, the fact is that at the age of twenty-nine he left family and friends, house and hometown to devote himself to a religious search. ”[18] From then on, Siddhartha led the life of a begging or wandering ascetic. He migrated “barefoot to the southeast to join the religious freedom movement that had started a few decades earlier and had swelled enormously. For long enough the Ganges land had been favored by the Brahmins in spiritual matters. "[19]

After Siddhartha had joined the so-called Samana movement [20], according to tradition, he first became a student of the teacher Alara Kalama. Although he soon succeeded in familiarizing himself with his teachings. But since this did not bring him the enlightenment he had hoped for, he turned away from Alara disappointed and turned to the Upanishad teacher Uddaka Ramaputta, who “learned the then still young knowledge of the indestructible soul bound by the Karman to rebirth (atman). ”[21] But even his teaching was not able to fulfill Siddhartha, who was looking for enlightenment, so that he finally decided to go his own way to find enlightenment. He is said to have practiced all conceivable methods of asceticism for several years in order to achieve his goal: From breathing exercises to extreme fasting that almost starved him, he tried a lot. During this time, some like-minded people joined him, who admired his devoted and persistent ascetic behavior. But even this self-mortification did not satisfy him and he exposed it as a fanaticism that brought him no closer to the desired enlightenment. Only the following memory of his youth brought him on the right path:

“I remember how I sat in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree while my father, the Sakya, was doing the field work, and how I, separating myself from lust, separating myself from all impure beings, into those connected with reflection and consideration Born in isolation, filled with satisfaction and joy, I entered and remained immersed in it. "[22]

This event marks the beginning of his intensive meditation practice, which enabled him to free his mind from desires and emotions and to calm it down so much that he could concentrate on the essentials. And so "[Siddhartha] remembered his past forms of existence, saw through the law of rebirth as a result of deeds (kamma) and realized: These are the influences (asavathat cause rebirth and suffering), this is their origin, this is their abolition, this is the path to their abolition. Sitting under a [Bodhi] tree at today's Bodh Gaya, he realized: “[23]

“Who myself, you monks, was subject to birth, I recognized the misery inherent in the law of birth, and looking for the highest profit and well-being free from birth, the nirvana, I attained the highest free-born profit and well-being , the nirvana. Who I myself was subject to aging ... Who I myself was subject to sickness ... Who I myself was subject to death ... Who I myself was subject to pain ... Who myself was subject to depravity, I recognized the misery, which was subject to the law of depravity inherent […] And knowledge dawned on me and sight dawned on me: inalienable redemption of the spirit is mine; this is the last birth; there is no longer rebirth. "[24]

The central element and means that Siddhartha led to enlightenment and thus also to his future name "Buddha" was the implementation of a special form of meditation that he developed from the practice of yoga. It was the prerequisite for him to gain a deep insight into the nature of existence. Because only meditation provided him with the greatest possible elimination of external and internal influences that can distract and disturb the mind, and thus sinking into a special state of consciousness. With the clarity of thought that he had now gained, he was able to find enlightenment, presumably at the age of 35.

This event, which had a decisive influence on his life, was significant from an intellectual as well as psychological point of view: “Intellectually, it was a direct view of the cycle of growth and decay, [...] an aha! shot together. Psychologically, it was a happy experience of liberation. The certainty that he had recognized the cause of suffering and thus destroyed it turned the seeker into a guide, […] a mature, self-contained personality. ”[25] Equipped with this armor, Buddha met his fellow men from now on and left one behind lasting impression on many of them. He didn't care which social class they belonged to. Whether kings or beggars - the "enlightened" cultivated an impartial approach to anyone interested.

So for the next 45 years he spoke and taught in front of a wide variety of audiences. An ever-growing Buddhist community arose around him, made up of all walks of life. He criticized the Hindu caste system, at the head of which the Brahmins (= members of the priestly caste, which is considered the highest caste in the Hindu system), because the caste to which a person was assigned based on his social status had nothing above his own Value.An important reason for the rising popularity of the Buddha's doctrine of salvation (Sanskrit: Dharma; Pali: Dhamma) in large parts of the population was - in addition to his charismatic personality and his friendly and respectful treatment of fellow human beings - the fact that the goal of salvation is not one was reserved for a select group of people or monks, but was also open to the layman and "that the master allowed his monks to present the teaching in the local colloquial language." [26] As the cornerstone or core of this teaching of Buddha, practically of all schools is accepted, the "Four Noble Truths" (Sanskrit: catvari aryasatyani; Pali: cattari ariyasaccan) are valid, which he is said to have proclaimed immediately after his enlightenment in the Ishipathana gazelle grove in Sarnath near Benares and with which he set the wheel of teaching in motion. The "Four Noble Truths" answer the following fundamental questions:

  1. What is suffering?
  2. What is the origin of suffering?
  3. What is the cessation of suffering?
  4. What is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering?

Entering nirvana (Sanskrit: nirvaṇa) or nibbana (Pali: nibbana), i.e. leaving samsara, the cycle of suffering or rebirth, is the main goal of the Buddha's teaching. For him, the main causes of suffering lay in man's misconception of something unchangeable Self or. I as well as an attachment to this and an associated greed and ignorance (= ignorance of the Four noble truths) explains what one must free oneself from if one wants to escape the cycle of death and birth, i.e. rebirth, and thus achieve redemption. As part of the Four noble truths the basics of Buddhist ethics can also be found. There, in particular, the sacred eight-part path (right faith, right decision, right word, right deed, right life, right striving, right remembrance, right immersion), which is part of the fourth noble truth, plays a central role. The “five silas”, which encourage conscious abstinence from wrong behavior, are among the essential moral rules.

These are analogously as follows:

  1. Do not intentionally kill or injure living beings.
  2. No theft.
  3. No sexual debauchery.
  4. No lies, slander, harsh or useless speech.
  5. No clouding of consciousness from intoxicating substances.

Buddha's entire teaching is pervaded by the pursuit of the middle way. This means that he clearly rejected extreme views and practices: He saw both worldly debauchery and strict asceticism as useless and unworthy. Self-thinking, which is geared towards concrete human action, also played an important role. Because in the sense of early Buddhist teachings, people are encouraged to recognize themselves and the world around them through their own self-thinking and to act on the basis of the insights gained, instead of following certain values, norms of action or authorities uncritically and unquestioningly.

Buddha expressed this well in a speech to the Kalam people:

“Go, Kalamer, not according to hearsay, not according to tradition, not according to daily opinions, not according to the authority of holy scriptures, not according to mere reasoning and logical conclusions, not according to invented theories and preferred opinions, not according to the impression of personal preferences, not according to the Authority of a master! But if you, Kalamer, recognize for yourself: 'These things are unwholesome, are reprehensible, are rebuked by those who understand, and, if carried out / 165 / and undertaken, they lead to disaster and suffering,' then oh Kalamer, may you give them up. "[27]

The aforementioned and strongly outlined essential insights Buddha is said to have imparted to his listeners during his 45 years of teaching before he died at the age of 80. Of course, there is no final certainty as to whether the knowledge I have gathered about the historical Buddha corresponds to the facts. In this context, note the above and last quotation from the Buddha's speech to the people of the Kalamans!

Here is the complete list of sources and literature for this post.


[1] Conze, Edward: A Brief History of Buddhism, transl., Ed. and with an afterward verse. by Friedrich Wilhelm, Frankfurt a. M. 2005, p. 18.

[2] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 55.

[3] Ibid. Pp. 57-58.

[4] Note: 1. Vinayapitaka = rules of the order; 2. Suttapitaka = collection of teachings of the Buddha;
3. Abhidhammapitaka = a (scientific) systematization of the Buddha's teachings that does not use a conventional language, as is the case with the other two compendia, but predominantly a philosophical or psychological language.

[5] Note: The term “basket” is used because “the texts that were scratched or written on dried palm leaves were kept in baskets that united the books that belonged together.” (Schumann, Buddhismus - Stifter, Schools and Systems, p 59.)

[6] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 58.

[7] Note: Vajrayana (= diamond vehicle), in which the teachings of Mahayana are combined with Hindu Tantra, is another important main direction of Buddhism.

[8] Note: The term Hinayana ("small vehicle"), the older Buddhism, from whose tradition Theravada Buddhism also arises, should not be ignored. The term originated in Mahayana and denotes all pre-Mahayan schools, which is why it is rejected by them. In Mahayana Buddhism the position is held that the Hinayana contains only a fraction of the teachings and preaching of the Buddha.

[9] Schlieter, Jens: Buddhism for introduction, 2nd edition, Hamburg 2001, p. 26.

[10] Ibid. P. 26.

[11] Ibid. P. 26.

[12] Zotz, Volker: History of Buddhist Philosophy, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1996, p. 21.

[13] Wimmer, Franz: Intercultural Philosophy. History and Theory, Vol. 1, Vienna 1990, p. 19.

[14] Zotz, p. 13.

[15] Note: Translated from Sanskrit, this means “the awakened” or “the enlightened”.

[16] Note: A good overview of the research discussion regarding dating can be found in the publication of "Bechert, Heinz .: The dating of the historical Buddha / Die Datierung des Historische Buddha, Parts 1-3, Göttingen 1991-1997" which arose in connection with four international symposia on Buddhism research that were organized by the Academy of Sciences between 1976 and 1988.

[17] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 14.

[18] Ibid. P. 17.

[19] Ibid. P. 17.

[20] Note: The Samanas are mendicant monks or ascetics in India who have no possessions and live on alms. They are primarily devoted to asceticism and meditation.

[21] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 19.

[22] Oldenberg, Hermann: Speeches of the Buddha - doctrine, verses, stories, with an introductory ed. by Heinz Bechert, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, p. 73.

[23] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 20.

[24] Oldenberg, p. 81.

[25] Schumann, Buddhism - Donors, Schools and Systems, p. 21.

[26] Ibid. P. 28.

[27] Nyanatiloka (Ed.): Anguttara-Nikaya III, 66, Vol. 1, Freiburg im Breisgau 1984, p. 170.

PhilosophyBuddha, Buddhism, Philosophy, Religion