Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism, pp. 7-27 1998, Oxford University Press.
The historical Buddha
The facts of the historical Buddha are reconstructed through findings form archeological sites, like the one that an Englishman, W.C. Peppe, in January 1898, unearthed, in the form on an urn bearing the inscription in the Brahmi script claiming that it was a “receptacle of relics of the Blessed Buddha of the Sakyas”. The historical Buddha seems to be a man “who lived and died in Northern India several centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, and who belonged to the people known as the Sakyas” (p 8). He is referred to as “the sage of the Sakya”, “the buddho bhagava – the Blessed Buddha, the Lord Buddha”. The word Buddha itself is not a name, but a title, “one who has woken up”. He is an arhat, one who is perfectly and completely awakened, “perfect in his understanding and conduct, happy, one who understands the world, an unsurpassed trainer of unruly men, the teacher of both gods and men, the blessed buddha” (p 9). Despite all this little is actually known of the historical figure of the Buddha The quest for reliable sources is difficult.
In the sramana tradition, the tradition of the sanyasin, the renouncer, describing the work of the early ascetics in India. Their practices involved (1) austerities, or tapas, (2) meditative, contemplative techniques, dhjana or jhana, and concentrations, or Samadhi, and (3) a set of philosophical views. The Jain tradition is what remains to this day of this movement.
Antoher source of the historical evidence of the Buddha can be found in the Brahmin tradition, that also survives to this day. In their view the world is comprised of two traditions, the aryas, and the non-aryas, and their teachings are comprised of the Vedas, an oral tradition. The aryas consist of 3 hereditary classes (varna), the brahmanas, the ksatryias, and the dvija. The non-aryas make up the fourth class of the suddras, or servants.
In the middle of this understanding was born the historical figure of a man, named SIDDHARTA GAUTAMA, the son of a local chieftain, a rajan, in Kapilavastu, in what is now the Indian-Nepalese border. He was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed a privileged upbringing. At one point he became desilusioned by this life, disturbed by the suffering and he left to become a wandering ascetic, a sramana. Finally he had an experience that convinced him that he had come at the end of his quest, while seated under an asvattha tree, at the banks of the Nairanjana, in what is now the north Indian state of Binar; although the nature of this experience cannot historically be determined. Then this man, the Buddha, devoted the rest of his life to the teachings of the end of suffering. The teachings of the Buddhist tradition are based on the experiences of a charismatic individual and his subsequent experiences, some 2,500 years ago.
The legend of the Buddha
The legend of the Buddha is the story of the Buddha’s life from his birth to the events of his awakening as recorded in the early Buddhist texts. Parts of it are understood to be allegorical in nature.
It starts in the premise of the cycle of birth, death, rebirth that is understood to be a life amongst many others that offers the possibility of liberation from the wheel of karma. A long time ago lived an ascetic named Sumedha, who encountered a former Buddha, he Buddha Dipamkara. He then set out to cultivate the 10 perfectionist categories: Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself; Sīla pāramī : virtue, morality, proper conduct; Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation; Paññā pāramī : transcendental wisdom, insight; Viriya (also spelled vīriya) pāramī : energy, diligence, vigour, effort; Khanti pāramī : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance; Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty; Adhiṭṭhāna (adhitthana) pāramī : determination, resolution; Mettā pāramī : loving-kindness; Upekkhā (also spelled upekhā) pāramī : equanimity, serenity. In cultivating those Sumedha became a bodisatva, destined to become a Buddha. The life where he was born Siddhartha Gautama was the culmination of these efforts. The appearance of such a being in the world is not unique, albeit it is rare.
The legend of the Buddha describes the circumstances of his birth, of his choice in birthplace and of mother, of his conception, of his upbringing. It then goes into his life growing up, his marriage, his son. Then he renounced all this to become an ascetic and dissolve sufferings. He had many years of trying and was even tempted by the Mara. Yet at the end the Earth became his witness and he succeeded in becoming enlightened. He spend the next 45 odd years until his death at age 80 teaching the path to the end of suffering.
Compare the Historical Buddha with the legend of the BuddhaThe two accounts preset parallels in the timing of events. What the legend of the Buddha offers in addition to the historical facts is an explanation rich of what happens in the past that is not known and in the future that is yet to come. The legend of the Buddha is a more colorful account certainly yet it also explains the importance that the life and charismatic personality of this one man 2,500 years ago took for the development of the world as we now know it. The historical account only relies on the facts and archeological evidence, although to be certain these finds can be retraced using the legendary account of the Buddha mostly. And the legendary account of the Buddha although based on the historical life of a man named Siddhartha Gautama who lived 2,500 years ago gives a beautiful allegorical account of the unfolding of events. In this example history and legend seem to be very much interconnected, the historical account observing the facts based on current findings, and the legendary account gives an account of the path to liberation through the