Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stages of Development of the Buddha Concept in the Pāli Canon

Introduction




Buddha concept has been developing for a long period of time in every Buddhist tradition especially in Theravada and Mahayana. Therefore, mostly the concept of the Buddha becomes different from tradition to tradition and sometimes the concept of the Buddha has been developed in different forms from time to time. Hence, the Buddha concept is a subject which developed in several forms. Taking into account the various stages the development of the Buddha concept, that clearly represented in the Buddhist literature several stages of Buddha concept. New interpretations, relative to the role and nature of Buddha, his powers seem to have developed over time.

The Buddha concept is depicted in some parts of the early literature as a human being who became convinced that he was fully awakened to certain truths about life and set out as a self-confident teacher who was willing to share his own experience of awakening with other intelligent beings that were ready to listen to him.

In general, Theravada continued to follow the ancient, transform into the status of modern human deity, or God; or Buddha named to human being, subject to limitations, mainly, physical limitations, whiles, we find different approaches in other Buddhist traditions. In this respect, one of the deviations of the concept of Buddha as human seems to last about hundred years after Buddha passing away in a tradition, Buddha became Lord Buddha, which means transcending the human world, super mundane concept. This has come to be the first group that grew away from the early Buddhist community.

Some traditions introduced different ideas which maintain that the Buddha was kind of spiritual existence in this world. He never lived in this world as human being. It was only his appearance, his created body, in order to guide human on this path. He never suffered disease, although he appeared ate, bathed, he never had to eat, bathe. That’s the kind of image of Buddha some schools presented.

In this essay, I hope to provide facts of development of Buddha concept by having these two as the major titles.

 


The term “Bodhisatta”




The term “Bodhisatta” gives the sense of Aspirant Buddha who fills perfections with an intension to become a Buddha. Theravada tradition mentions 10 perfections while Mahayana tradition mentions 6 perfections. As Mahayana tradition describes, all have to determine to become a Bodhisatta in order to be a Buddha, and according to their viewpoint one can fully liberate only by becoming a Buddha. The first four collections of the Theravada Pali cannon is using the term Bodhisattva only to refer to the life of Ghotama in his life since his birth till he became enlightened. That is the sense of the term of Bodhisattva in Theravada tradition. In Ariyapariyesena Sutta (MN, The Noble Search). Bodhisattva is referred to Gotama before his enlightenment, practice austerities. When he was experimenting various ways of gaining higher knowledge. There is the defined as Bodhisattva.

After Buddha’s enlightenment, he referred to his previous life engaging in search for enlightenment as Bodhisattva.


“Ahampi sūdaŋ bhikkhave pubbeva sambodhā anabhisambuddho bodhisattova samāno…” (MN Ariyapariyesana sutta)


Mahayana tradition deals with the concept of Bodhicitta. Which refers to how someone in his mind develop this idea of becoming the Buddha, the awakened one. That itself was developed. Specially later in Mahayana thought.


Pāramitā and Buddha kalpa (Buddhavansa)



In the first four collections of the sutta pitaka, there is no instance in which the term 

Pārami or Pāramatā (perfections) is used in that sense. It occurs later in the 5th collection in the context of Buddhavansa, and Chariyāpitaka.

Buddha kalpa attribute emerged in Buddhavansa not in the first four collections.

Buddhavansa gives the notion of Buddha Kalpa, which was absent in the first 4 collections. And Kalpa now are separated into different of Buddha Kalpas. After Dibankara came Gontanna, who was the only Buddha in that Kalpa. Between these two Kalpas, there are intermediate kalpas that was incalculable that did not have any Buddha. This Empty Kalpa concept is also new appearance in Buddhavasam.

Different Buddha kalpas are mentioned. Every Buddha that is mentioned in this list of 28 Buddhas belong to a particular kalpa. The understanding in Theravada tradition is that the Gotama Buddha Kalpa is not completed yet, the one to come is the Maitreya, and this kalpa is called the Good Kalpa.


Previous Buddhas


In the first four collections, 6 previous Buddha’s have been recognized such as Vipassi, Sikhi, Vessabhu, kakusanda, Konagama, Kassapa

Then when we come to Buddhavamsa, the number increased to 24, the 25th is the Gothama Buddha. First in the line of 24 was Dipankara Buddha, under whose presence, the Gothama made the first resolution to become a future Buddha, after many eons of samsara existence. This is established in Theravada tradition. There are parallels in other Buddhist tradition, mentions that at that time, the Gothama Buddha was an ascetic by the name of Sumedha. He developed many psychic powers through cultivation of methods of concentration. it is understood that even before Buddha, contemplative methods were established. That time was pushed back Sumedha.

First in the line of 24 was Dipankara Buddha, under whose presence, the Gothama made the first resolution to become a future Buddha.

Abhinihāra (8 qualifications to make the first resolution) has been given as another concept related to Bodhisattvas to make their first resolution to determine to be a Buddha in a future birth. These are 8 types of qualifications of a being which make fortune to determine to be a Buddha.


Divine attributes applied to the Buddha character


What we observe in general is that in the period of the four nikayas, the superhuman element is minimum. There is greater emphasis on the Buddha’s spiritual achievement, his humanness, moral character

The later development of Buddha concept, incorporated God concept, and describe Buddha as omnipotent and omniscient.

The Buddha concept right from the beginning has been associated with various super human aspects. Super human qualities have been attributed to the Buddha from the very beginning. What we find in the Theravada sutta pitaka is the mixture of the Buddha presented as a human being, who was subject to all the physical processes that any ordinary human being has to go through, like sickness, hunger, thirst, pains in the body, all these he has to undergo and there are many occasions instances where Buddha has to suffer physical diseases. And last days of the Buddha clearly demonstrated that he had suffered what ordinary human being has to suffer from. At the same time, found in canonical sources, where supernatural elements are incorporated. We cannot definitely determine whether these elements were there from the beginning, the life time of the Buddha, or they are introduced later, as the apotheosis aspects (divine attributes) started to develop at later time.

What we observe in general is that in the period of the four nikayas, the superhuman element is minimum. There is greater emphasis on the Buddha’s spiritual achievement, his humanness, moral character. But the same time, we have to recognize the fact that even in these four collections, there are some suttas which bring him the supernatural status. And some of the development that we see in later Theravada and Mahayana sources, found their original seeds even in the early literature, the seeds of such development giving much larger and detailed Buddha biography, in the Jataka etc. you found the seeds of supernatural elements even in the canonical collections.

The Pali canon itself contains what could be early and late, not all the suttas or sections included in the Pali canon may belong to the earliest period, and some could be late. We have to determine where the sutta like Achariya-Abuttadhamma, which relates to the Buddha’s supernatural elements. One has to ask was this early texts, or later development. It is not a common feature of the first four Nikayas, the bulk of the first four Nikayas depict a different picture of the Buddha. It’s quite possible that this sutta fits better with later development.

The sabbaññu attribute is reserved for Buddha only, not Arhant. It came to be associated with Buddha later in Buddhist tradition, not mentioned in the first 4 collections of the canon.

The notion omniscient knowledge (sabbannu) is an attribute that came to be ascribed to the Buddha at later time. During early time, this term was claimed by other teachers, so Buddha said don’t call me omniscient. Only in KN, the fifth section, Buddha in various occasion is ascribed as Sabbannu. (nnu=knower, Sabba=everything). Buddha can retreat past lives, Buddha can recall his memory, it doesn’t come instantaneously. He has to direct his mind to get that knowledge. About the present, he claim clairvoyance vision and hearing. About the future, In Pasadika Sutta, DN, the Buddha is mentioning some criticism against him. Buddha claims unrestricted memories of the past, but does not claim unrestricted knowledge about the future.

It is stated in the early canon that Buddha recollects his past about the previous Buddhas through, instead of direct seeing.

In Anamatagga sutta,
this samsaric cycle is without a known beginning. The Buddhist idea is that even the Buddha with his capacity to remember the past life, could not discover an original beginning. Buddha does not commit himself to there is or not a beginning.

Devāthi Deva (the God of God),
in later canonical texts belonging to the 5th nikāya, like Buddhavansa, and Apadhana.



The development of the Buddha concept


The Buddha knowledge has been developing for a period of time. Perhaps, the reason for this development could be the influence of other Budhist traditions and other religions, because the way of giving interpretation for the teacher has taken a deving nature in other traditions. To respond to these traditions, Theravada tradition also refomed the Buddha’s characteristics. First four collections;
  
Tevijja, 10 powers, founder of the knowledge, Four Types of Confidence (catu vesārajja). But in fifth collection and in commenteries there are a lot of supernatural attributes that are applied to the Buddha’s character.

The notion omniscient knowledge (sabbannu) is an attribute that came to be ascribed to the Buddha at later time. During early time, this term was claimed by other teachers, so Buddha said don’t call me omniscient. Only in KN, the fifth section, Buddha in various occasion is ascribed as Sabbannu. (nnu=knower, Sabba=everything). Buddha can retreat past lives, Buddha can recall his memory, it doesn’t come instantaneously. He has to direct his mind to get that knowledge. About the present, he claim clairvoyance vision and hearing. About the future, In Pasadika Sutta, DN, the Buddha is mentioning some criticism against him. Buddha claims unrestricted memories of the past, but does not claim unrestricted knowledge about the future.

It is stated in the early canon that Buddha recollects his past about the previous Buddhas through, instead of direct seeing.

In Anamatagga sutta, this samsaric cycle is without a known beginning. The Buddhist idea is that even the Buddha with his capacity to remember the past life, could not discover an original beginning. Buddha does not commit himself to there is or not a beginning.
Aganna, the knowledge about the beginning. Buddha criticizes certain view regarding the beginning, that some people attribute the beginning to Issara (Issarakuttam) or Brahma (Brahmakuttam). There is no absolutely beginning. There is no possibility of knowing. People with speculative view try to point to the beginning. There is no basis for that.
From the early Buddhist point of view, Buddha claimed the possibility of gaining inferential knowledge about the past, present and future. The direct knowledge is confined to direct sense knowledge, maybe some specially cultivated through meditative culture, so the memory can be recollected trough these experiences.

Dhamme Nanna – knowing of the regularity, nature’s law. For instance, craving produces suffering. Craving is always followed by suffering.

Naye Nanna – after observing the Dhamma, then you apply the general law about the past and future, that’s Naye Nanna.

The later development of Buddha concept, incorporated God concept, and describe Buddha as omnipotent and omniscient.



In later development, physical attributes, special qualities are described to the Buddha



In MN, Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta. Pukkusati had a conversation with the Buddha, without recognizing him being a Buddha. This raises the question whether the physical attributes of Buddha was developed at early time or later stage.

In Lakkhana Sutta, DN, where the 32 bodily marks are illustrated. Brahmayu sutta, kutadanta, and sonadanda suttas mention about the Buddha,s 32 physical attributes.

In Gopakamoggallana Sutta, MN, the difference between the Buddha and his disciples is one who discovers the path, and one who follows the path and attain the same status.

With development of Buddha concept, more and more supernatural elements are added. One of Buddha’s original teaching is the Middle-Way. Another one is rejection of notion of immortal Self, which is also connected with Middle Way.

Supernatural elements are attributed to the Buddha in the Angulimala Sutta. There are sources that Buddha taming Demons in Suttanipata (very early suttas), Alavaka Sutta and Hemavata Sutta refer to encountering of Buddha with powerful demons.

 “Buddho So Bhagava Bodhaya Dhammam Deseti”

The awakened on teaches the Dhamma for the purpose the awakening.

According to this definition, all Arhants are technically the Buddha.


Humanness and Buddhahood


DN, Lakana Sutta talks about the 32 marks of the Buddha. But there is in MN, a sutta talks about Buddha is not recognized by one of his disciples.

DN, Sangiti Sutta mentions Buddha dwelling in city of Malla in Pawa. Buddha wanted Sariputta to teach because he was suffering a back pain, so he wanted to rest.

These instances highlights Buddha’s human characters in Pali Canon. In the Mahasihanada Sutta, MN, where supernatural characteristics are included along side with humanness.
Be always mindful is the characteristics of spiritually developed person.

In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, it is mentioned that Buddha suffers from various physical disease, and fierce pain.

In pali cannon, mythical event is rare, but can be found. There are six occurrences as recorded in Pali Canon that the early shook witnessing Buddha’s event.

When the Buddha is conceived into his Mother’s womb, when the Buddha took birth, attained the enlightenment, first turned the dhamma-wheel, and entered Parinibbana.


Historical Buddha vs Transcendental Buddha



This concept of historical Buddha is found mainly in Pali canon. The bulk of the materials of the four collections goes back very early period. Transcendental Buddha is rarely found in canonic tradition. Most of Mahayana texts represent Buddha as transcendental.
One rare instance among the four collections of sutta pitaka. Achariyaabhutta Sutta (marvelous quality of Buddha). These are qualities characteristic of any Buddha. Buddha is not a kind of status in cosmic existence. Whenever Buddha appears in the world, these marvelous qualities can be witnessed.

In this sutta, there is reference of Buddha’s ability to remember the past beyond current life, including past Buddhas.

Although the transcendental aspect is lined aside with historical Buddha in Theravada tradition. Theravada tradition maintains the human aspect of the Buddha. This difference is clearly noticeable when comparing iteration of Theravada or Mahayana concerning Buddha concept.


Development of Buddha concept in the 5th collection of Sttanta pitaka (Khuddaka nikaya – minor collection)


There is a clear shift of emphasis. In the 5th collection of Sutta pitaka, it presents a mixed collection from chronological point of view. New terms, new ways of describing situations developed in text that represent late Buddhist ideas.

Buddhavansa provides developed ideas of the Buddha concept. The purpose of Buddhavasam is to reveal the truth of Buddha nature before various classes of divine beings of the cosmos. The first reference comes the first sermon of the Buddha. All Gods appreciated this information passed from one heaven to the other. All these Gods are rejoicing.

Buddhavansa was composted at least 100-200 years after Buddha’s passing away. In the early literature, the miraculous deeds were performed in scarce manner, here and there, but did not dominate the scene. Starting Buddhavansa, the literal decorations, wonders seem much important, becoming a priority in this kind of literature.

Ascetic Sumedha who was serving a living Buddha Dipankara. The appearance of the past Buddha Dipankara was first mentioned here. The concept of paramitha entered the Theravada tradition only in the 5th collection, particularly in the Buddhavansa.

Having described the Buddha’s vow in his previous birth as Sumedha to become a fully enlightened one.

The 3rd chapter of Buddhavansa is titled the Buddhavansa of Dipankara Buddha. The intention there is to show that the Dibankara Buddha also went through a similar process of fulfilling paramitas, for attaining Buddhahood, and descriptions of general events of every Buddha. Dibankara Buddha also turned the first wheel of dharma of the Four Noble Truths.

A similar biography is given of all other Buddhas that come after the Dipankara until the time Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment. 24 previous Buddhas before Shakyamuni Buddha.

The first four collections used archaic language that could be related to Indian language system at that time. One of the 15 books of the 5th collection is Patisamohidamagga (the path of discrimination). It’s about the later scholastic development pertaining to the kind of knowledge that is admitted in the Buddhist system of thoughts, especially the Theravada concept of nature of knowledge. Knowledge of different level of human understanding.

It has character that can be described as Arbhidamma character. This text is not attributed to Buddha himself. But it is a systemization of Buddha’s teaching by scholastic monks. This book begins with illustration of 73 kinds of human knowledge. Among them, some represent knowledge of ordinary, and some are knowledge of spiritually alleviated beings. It is said out of the 73, six kinds of knowledge are exceptional to a fully enlightened Buddha. This is an important distinction that began to appear in later systemization of Buddhist thoughts, and can be identified as initial step of further development of later Buddha concept.


Special abilities assigned to Buddha only (in patisambhida)



Patisambhidhamagga the text of a Khuddakanikaya provides facts related to the Buddha’s knowledge specially, four patisambhidhs and 73 knowledge of the Buddha. It mentions 6 of them are exceptional only to the Buddha.

1  Indiyaparopariyatte nanam - no other disciples could share this unique capacity to liberate beings from suffering by penetrating faculty of understanding and suiting his  eaching to match that understanding.
2
      attanam asayanusaya nanam – Buddha has the ability to recognize the special inclination  (latent tendency) of other person’s mind.
 Not only the intellectual capacity of other people, but emotional nature of the person is  able the Buddha to penetrate

Yamakapatiire nanam – the knowledge to perform miraculous deeds, to emit at the same  time water and fire from different parts of the body.

  Mahakarunasamapattiya nanam – getting absorbed into the experience of great compassion. Ability to recognize the timing when in need by others.

     Sabhannutha nanam – omniscient knowledge

    Anavarana nanam – unconcealed knowledge of all existence

Here, the ability of omniscience began to be associated with the Buddha. In the first 4 collections, Buddha rejected the idea and anyone can instantly know everything. Buddha maintained that any knowledge, even himself, must be gained on causal ground. This is how the concept of knowledge is seen in the first 4 collections of Pali canon.


Buddha’s physical attributes


In MN, Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta. Pukkusati had a conversation with the Buddha, without recognizing him being a Buddha. This raises the question whether the physical attributes of Buddha was developed at early time or later stage.

In Lakkhana Sutta, DN, where the 32 bodily marks are illustrated. Brahmayu sutta, kutadanta, and sonadanda suttas mention about the Buddha,s 32 physical attributes.

In Gopakamoggallana Sutta, MN, the difference between the Buddha and his disciples is one who discovers the path, and one who follows the path and attain the same status.
With development of Buddha concept, more and more supernatural elements are added. One of Buddha’s original teaching is the Middle-Way. Another one is rejection of notion of immortal Self, which is also connected with Middle Way.

Supernatural elements are attributed to the Buddha in the Angulimala Sutta. There are sources that Buddha taming Demons in Suttanipata (very early suttas), Alavaka Sutta and Hemavata Sutta refer to encountering of Buddha with powerful demons.

It is very likely that the Buddhavasam represents the period of development in the Buddhist tradition where new materials came to be associated with the Budhda’s life. Those development are reflected in Mahavastu. There are common materials found in Buddhavasam, Jataka Nidana, Mahavastu and Lalitavistara. It may indicate that they below to the same period of development. Some of them may have fallen outside the Theravada sources.

Along with this development, we found new terms used to refer to the Buddha: Devathi Deva (the God of God), far superior to any divine being. Again, in later canonical texts belonging to the 5th nikaya, like Buddhavansa, and Apadhana, there is mention of further enumeration of bodily marks of the Buddha. So the expansion of the Buddha concept is witnessed in dual directions: intellectual and physical. In addition to the 32 major characteristics, 80 minor ones are designated to the Buddha differentiating Buddha even from Cakkavati – Universe Monarch (with 32 marks). Buddha is superior to all.
The Buddhavansa mentions minor bodily marks, but has yet enumerated the details, and does not mention the number of such marks. Gradually, the number of marks becomes specifically stated, 80 minor marks.

There is clearly a shift at this stage appeared in Buddhavansa and Apadhana. Buddhavamsa presents a controversial work. Theravada tradition debated if it should be included in the pali canon. Lot of Buddha legend comes from the Buddhavamsa.

32 major characteristics

80 minor marks

18 unique qualities (āvenika dhamma)

Buddhavansa another new concept: 100 Signs of Merits (satapuññalakkhana) possessed by the Buddha. This is a concept not found in the first 4 Nikayas.

6 colors of rays

This development of the Buddha’s physical attributes can be seen in 5th collection as well as commentaries.


Conclusion


The Buddha is a great person who developed his knowledge to the highest estate and he himself introduced as a human being who lives in this society without any attachment. Later he has been defined by later followers with divine and supernatural attributes in order to respond to other traditional influences.
Now we see subsequent development of Buddhist schools and system of thoughts, within which the concept of Buddha itself became a concept around which intense philosophical, doctrinal, and metaphysical development. The concept of Buddha itself the center of development in later school of thoughts. And it was around that concept, there was very intense doctrinal, philosophical and metaphysical development.
However, according to the Theravada canon there are two stages of development of the Buddha concept.

Development of Buddha concept in first four collection.
Development of Buddha concept in fifth collection and commentaries.

There is no doubt that the concept of Buddha has been developed in later Buddhist literature with supernatural attributes.  


Bibliography

Majjimanikaya i, Ariyapariyesana sutta, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Dīgha nikāya.vol. iii. Lakkhana sutta, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Dīgha nikāya.vol. ii. Mahaparinibbana sutta, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Majjihma nikāya.vol. i. Mahasihanada, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Khuddaka nikāya. Buddhavansa, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Khuddaka nikāya. Cariyapitaka, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.
Khuddaka nikāya. Patisambhidhamagga, Buddha jayanthi, 2500. Dehivala Sri Lanka.


By
Ven. Sumiththa T.
Sri Lankan Buddhist Cultural Centre - Hong Kong 
3F, 27 Sheung Heung Road, To Kwa Wan, 
Kowloon, Hong Kong

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