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Is there any historical third-party evidence that the Gautama Buddha actually existed?

Is there historical third-party evidence that Prince Siddhartha or the Gautama Buddha existed outside of the writings of Buddhism?

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Interesting answers, but he existed. period. –  ABcDexter Jul 7 '14 at 5:11
Mu. Does it matter? –  RubberDuck Jul 7 '14 at 15:41

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

To answer your very simple question very simply: there is no contemporary evidence for the Buddha, or for Jesus, or Muhammad, or Moses, or Zoroaster. This does not mean that these people did not exist, it just means that there is no confirmation of their existence in contemporary sources.

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Mohammed is in grave at Madina. –  taher Jul 3 '14 at 8:54
And there is a lot of non christian evidence that Jesus existed (largly Jewish and Roman records). Whether he was the son of god is somewhat more contested –  Richard Tingle Jul 3 '14 at 9:52
Yes, but none of it is contemporary (i.e. before the second half of the 1st century). –  fdb Jul 3 '14 at 10:02
@fdb Why is that defined as the cut-off for "contemporary" evidence? Also, could you give an example of contemporary evidence from that time that would have supported the existence of such a person? –  NewWorld Jul 3 '14 at 11:55
"Contemporary" means from the lifetime of the person concerned. We have lots of sources from the first half of the first century in Greek, Latin, Aramaic: inscriptions, literary texts, papyri. None of them mention Jesus or Christians. –  fdb Jul 3 '14 at 12:03

There are lot of archaeological evidence align with Buddha's life story. I think those can be considered as the most trusted third party evidence. Here I am listing some of the web search findings.

Archaeologists working in Nepal have uncovered evidence of a structure at the birthplace of the Buddha dating to the sixth century B.C. This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha — and thus the first flowering of Buddhism — to a specific century.

You could find the full story from here and here

Apart from that, king Ashoka built Pillars at Buddhist monasteries, many important sites from the life of the Buddha and places of pilgrimage. This was done around 200 -300 years after the Buddha parinirvana. During that time those important sites and monasteries should have left some sort of evidence to support Buddhas existence that convince King to build the pillers. So it also can be considered as good indication.


The records which we can find in the Buddhist countries where people received Buddhism a few hundred years after the Buddha's passing away such as Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Tibet, Nepal, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos show unbroken historical, cultural, religious, literary and traditional evidence that there was religious Teacher in India known as Gautama the Buddha. Ref: here

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There are churches all over the world but no historical evidence that Jesus existed. The more time between an historical figure and the first evidence of that figure's existence the less credible that evidence is. –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 20:36
That the shrine is Buddhist has been debunked. tricycle.com/blog/… –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 20:46

I guess for something that happened such a long time ago you would struggle to prove it categorically. However I read that a shrine was uncovered at Lumbini (one of the candidates for the Buddha's birthplace) which dates to around the Buddha's time. This is taken to provide some kind of corroboration to the Buddha's life story.

Also the early texts do reference people who have been confirmed independently as existing such as King Bimbisara. This again is taken as lending weight to the events described in the texts.

Also some people would take the oral tradition and subsequent Pali Canon as historical evidence in it's own right of the existence of Buddha the man.

But to answer you question directly I'm not aware of any direct writings on the Buddha by (relatively - in the light of OP's comments) independent observers (as Josephus did for Jesus). Interested to see if anyone can come up with something.

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That the shrine is Buddhist has been debunked. tricycle.com/blog/… Regarding the authenticity of Josephus, Wikipedia says: "Modern scholarship has largely acknowledged the authenticity of the reference...to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James ...However, critics point out that Josephus wrote about a number of people who went by the name Jesus, Yeshua or Joshua,[20] and also speculate that Josephus may have considered James a fraternal brother rather than a sibling." –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 20:42

There's emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE), who after a war in which a lot of people were slaughtered, decided to endorse Buddhism, having realized that what he did was wrong. He erected a bunch of columns (The Pillars of Ashoka) on which several inscriptions (The Edicts of Ashoka) are to be found with his view on Buddhism. These were erected after about one century after the Buddha's death, not that much time. The monks of the sangha would be the "second generation", some maybe even the very first generation who were taught by the Buddha directly (although I don't know that for sure, obviously). My answer was partly inspired by a thread on Reddit I remembered seeing. (Thread link)

I want to stress that I am by no means an expert on this field, but I can see that this is fairly well documented, and that the wikipedia page contains proper references.

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100 years is 5 generations. That's a lot of time. Buddha's father was a king. Wouldn't his first son's birth be documented? –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 19:51
I kind of meant generations of monks, but perhaps it wasn't quite the correct word to use. (The thread I linked used the same word, so I just went with it) About your last question, I'm afraid I don't know enough about that. –  Skip Jul 2 '14 at 19:53
The sacred Tooth relic of the Buddha

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Hindus consider the Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu. Mahawamsa the great Chronicle of Sri Lanka gives an account of the Buddha's 3 visits to Sri Lanka. Apart from those, we have the sacred Tooth relic of the Buddha in Kandy. We also have the sacred footprint of the Buddha at the top of mount Siripada. Also, lord Buddha's relics are placed inside many Stupas around the country. Ruwanwelisaya is the main stupa among them. We also have the Jaya Sri Mahabodhi at Anuradhapura. It is the southern branch of the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

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From Wikipedia: " The historical accuracy of the Mahavamsa, given the time when it was written, is considered to be astonishing,[12] although the material prior to the death of Asoka is not considered to be trustworthy and is mostly legend. " –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 18:11
An anonymous wit of the Middle Ages once said something along the lines of "If you collected all the pieces of the True Cross, you would have enough wood to build Noah's Ark." –  user50 Jul 2 '14 at 20:44
"material prior to the death of Asoka is not considered to be trustworthy" - This is because materialistic critiques reject anything supernatural on general principle. Because the Buddha came to Sri Lanka using his magical powers. You can doubt about the authenticity of the sacred relics all you want. But it'll only be your loss! :) I'd trust the Mahawamsa any day as opposed to going by the words of an anonymous guy. –  Sankha Kulathantille Jul 2 '14 at 21:25

protected by Hrafn Jul 7 '14 at 14:31

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