United Kingdom

as the West discovered the Buddha

Buddhism is the third largest (և fastest growing) religion in Australia. half a million followers!.

The celebration of the Buddha’s birth here (May 15 or so) has become a major cultural event, and the Buddhist teaching of “thinking” is now part of it. main culture. But how did the West discover the Buddha?

The facts about the life of the Buddha are opaque, but we can assume that he was born in BC. Not earlier than 500 և died in BC No later than 400. He was said The son of an Indian king, from a scene of so much suffering that he spent years searching for the answer, finally reaching enlightenment, sitting under a bodhi (sacred fig tree).

The Buddha’s last name was Gotama Pali language) or Gautama (Sanskrit). Or it does not appear in the earliest traditions, his personal name was later said to be Siddhartha, which means “he who has achieved his goal.” (This name was later adapted by believers).

According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha taught the path to enlightenment for 45 years, gathering followers and creating a Buddhist monastic community. According to legend, after his death at the age of 80, he entered Nirvana.

In India in BC In the 3rd century, Emperor Ashoka first preached Buddhism. From then on, it spread to the south, flourishing in Sri Lanka, in Southeast Asia, and then moving to Central Asia, including Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. It is ironic that the appeal of Buddhism in India declined in the following centuries. It almost disappeared there in the 13th century.

In the same century, the Venetian merchant Marco Polo told the West the first story of the Buddha’s life. From 1292 to 1295, Marco Polo, returning home from China, arrived in Sri Lanka. There he heard the life story of Sergamon Burkan, now known as the Buddha.

In his book, Marco wrote about Sergamon Burkan, the name he had heard at the court of Kublai Khan. Description of the world:. This was the Mongolian name of the Buddha. To Sergamon Shakyamon – the sage of the Shaky clan, և Borkan Buddain – “divine”. (He was also known as Bhagavan, the Blessed or Lord).

According to Marco, Borgon of Sergamon was the son of a great king who wanted to give up the world. The king took Sergamoni to the palace, tempting him with the sensual pleasures of 30,000 girls.

But Sergamon was adamant in his determination. When his father first allowed him to leave the palace, he met a dead man, a weak old man. He returned to the palace scared և astonished“, Telling himself that he will not stay in this bad world, but will go in search of the one who created it և did not die.

Then Sergamon left the palace forever and lived a monotonous life of solitude. “Of course.” Marco announced“If he were a Christian, he would be a great saint with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Read more: How the Buddha became a Christian saint

Jesuits և authors:

Little was known about the Buddha in the West for the next 300 years. However, since the mid-16th century, information has accumulated mainly as a result of Jesuit missions to Japan and China.

Until 1700, acquaintances with Jesuit missions increasingly assumed that the Buddha was the common denominator among the religious figures they met.

For example, Louis le Conte (1655-1728), writing his memories of his travels Through China, on a mission inspired by King Louis XIV, he declared: “All of India has been poisoned by its harmful doctrine. The people of Siam call them Talapoins, the Tatars call them Lama or Lama Sam, the Japanese Bonzes the Chinese Hokham. »:

Writings by an English author Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731) shows what an educated English reader could know about the Buddha in the early 18th century.

His: Dictionary of all religions (1704), Defoe tells us about the idol of Fei (Buddha) on an island near the Red Sea, which represents an atheist philosopher who lived 500 years before Confucius, that is, in BC. about 1000 years.

This idol was taken to China


In the late 1700s, the British had to meet a completely different Buddha when they gained economic, military and political supremacy in India. At first, the British trusted their Hindu informants. They told them that the Buddha was the incarnation of their god Vishnu, who had come to deceive people with false teachings.

There was more confusion. It was often argued in the West that there were two Buddhas. one that the Hindus thought was the ninth incarnation of Vishnu (appeared around 1000 BC), the other (Gautama) appeared about 1000 years later.

And even more confusion. Since the middle of the 17th century, there has been a tradition in the West that the Buddha came from Africa.

In the 19th century, it was thought that images of the Buddha, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, were depicted with wavy hair and thick “Ethiopian lips” (as in: wrote a writer) testified to his African descent.

Such observers were mistaken for traditional images of the Buddha, whose hair was firmly curled into small cones as a sign of his African descent.

The first use of the term “Buddhism”

The two main turning points eventually cleared up this confusion. The first was the invention of the term “Buddhism”.

Its first use in English was in the 1800 translation of the title work Lectures on history by Count Constantine de Volni. The political scientist de Volni coined the term “Buddhism” to describe the pan-Asian religion, which he said was based on a mythical image called the Buddha.

Only then did Buddhism begin to emerge from a series of “pagan idols” with which it was identified as a religion alongside Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The second turning point was the arrival of Buddhist texts in the West. The decade since 1824 was decisive. For centuries, no original documents of the Buddhist religion were available to European scholars.

But in ten years, four complete Buddhist literatures Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian և Pali were found. Collections from Japan and China would follow.

In the face of Buddhist texts, Western scholars were able to determine that Buddhism was a tradition that originated in India in the 6th century BC. about 400-500 years.

And it was among these texts Lalitavistara (written about the 4th century), which contained a biography of the Buddha. For the first time, people from the West came to read his life story.

Other Lalitavistara biographies depict a very magical, enchanted world: the Buddha’s paradise life before his birth, his elephant fertilization, his mother’s transparent womb, his miraculous powers at birth, his many miracles, the gods, the water’s of spirits.

But the life story of the Buddha we are familiar with remains in these enchanted texts. King of India Shudhdhodana who, fearing that Gautama will renounce the world, protects his son from the scenes of suffering. When Gautama finally leaves the palace, he meets an old man, a sick man, a dead man. Then he decides to look for the answer to his suffering.

The cause of suffering for the Buddha is his attachment to the things of the world. So the way to get rid of it is to reject attachment.

The Buddha’s way of breaking the bond was finally summed up in the Holy Eightfold Path: the right views, the right determination, the right words, the right behavior, the right lifestyle, the right effort, the right attention, the right meditation. The result of this journey was the attainment of Nirvana, when at the moment of death I fled from the resurrection and extinguished it like a candle.

This selfish Buddha, who was said to have died in the groves of trees near the Indian city KusinagaraThe West was soon admired. As Unitary Minister Richard Armstrong said in 1870

History vs. legend

But is the legendary Buddha also the Buddha of history? It is very probable that the tradition we call Buddhism was founded by a sage named Gautama in India around the 5th century BC.

It is very likely that he preached the middle way to freedom through worldly permissiveness, “extreme asceticism.” He is almost certain that he has developed practices of consciousness-meditation that have led to peace and tranquility.

That is to say, the earliest Buddhist traditions showed little interest in the details of the Buddha’s life. After all, what was important was his teachings, Dharma, as the Buddhists call it, rather than his person.

But we can see the growing interest in the life of the Buddha in BC. From the first century to the second or third century of the Common Era, when the Buddha made a transition from within Buddhism from teacher to savior, from human to divine.

AD From the first to the fifth centuries, a number of Buddhist texts were developed, which represent in full: The life of the Buddhafrom his birth (before that) to his renunciation of the world, his enlightenment, his teachings, and finally until his death.

Thus, there is a long period of at least 500-900 years between these Buddha’s deaths and his biographies. Can we rely on this very late life of the Buddha to get accurate information about the events of his life? Probably not.

However, the legend of his life’s teachings still answer the meaning of the human lives of the approximately 500 million followers of the modern world.

Author: Philip K. Almond – Honorary Professor of History of Religious Thought, University of Queensland

as the West discovered the Buddha

Sourceas the West discovered the Buddha

Back to top button