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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    Mu. Does it matter? – RubberDuck Jul 7 '14 at 15:41
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    @RubberDuck Doesn't the truth matter? – Lowbrow Oct 29 '15 at 17:18
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    10-4 @RubberDuck What truths are we talking about? – Lowbrow Oct 29 '15 at 23:09
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    @RubberDuck Yes, I agree that it doesn't really matter but I was thinking that it might, in a subtle way, effect one's meditation. – Lowbrow Oct 30 '15 at 17:38
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    Fair point @Uilium. Fair point. – RubberDuck Oct 30 '15 at 20:08

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. – TaherT Jul 3 '14 at 8:54
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    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
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    "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
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    @fdb: A "Christian" in the first half of the first century would have been considered a Hebrew. – GreenMatt Jun 15 '15 at 13:53

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
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    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
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    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
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    "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
  • I'd trust my own (god-given?) sense of reason and my own assessment of any evidence instead of the words of an anonymous guy (yourself)! Please no offense. – David Rivers Jun 1 '16 at 19:16

Here is a quote from the book What Buddhist Believe by Ven. K. Sri. Dhammanda. The quote is from the chapter: "Historical Evidences of the Buddha", p. 38-41:

GAUTAMA the Buddha is not a mythical figure but an actual, historical personality who introduced the religion known today as Buddhism. Evidences to prove the existence of this great religious Teacher are to be found in the following facts:

  1. The testimonies of those who knew Him personally. These testimonies are recorded in the rock-inscriptions, pillars and pagodas made in His honour. These testimonies and monuments to His memory were created by kings and others who were near enough to His time to be able to verify the story of His life.

  2. The discovery of places and the remains of buildings that were mentioned in the narratives of His time.

  3. The Sangha, the holy order which He founded, has had an unbroken existence to the present day. The Sangha possessed the facts of His life and Teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation in various parts of the world.

  4. The fact that in the very year of His death, and at various times subsequently, conventions and councils of the Sanghawere held for the verification of the actual Teachings of the Founder. These verified Teachings have been passed on from teacher to pupil from His time to the present day.

  5. After His passing away, His body was cremated and the bodily relics were divided among eight kingdoms in India. Each king built a pagoda to contain his portion of the relics. The portion given to King Ajatasatthu was enshrined by him in a pagoda at Rajagriha. Less than two centuries later, Emperor Asoka took the relics and distributed them throughout his empire. The inscriptions enshrined in this and other pagodas confirm that those were the relics of Gautama the Buddha. Some of these relics which were not touched by Emperor Asoka were discovered only as recently as one hundred years ago, with inscriptions to prove their authenticity.

  6. ‘The Mahavamsa’, the best and authentic ancient history known to us gives detailed particulars of life as well as details of the life of Emperor Asoka and all other sovereigns related to Buddhist history. Indian history has also given a prominent place to the Buddha’s life, activities, Buddhist traditions and customs.

  7. 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, Myammar, China, Tibet, Nepal, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos show unbroken historical, cultural, religious, literary and traditional evidence that there was a religious teacher in India known as Gautama theBuddha. Many of these records are widely separated in time and space and yet they say exactly the same things about the Buddha—this proves that they could not have invented these stories independently.

  8. The Tripitaka, an unbroken record of His 45 years of Teaching is more than sufficient to prove that the Buddha really lived in this world because no other religious leader has ever said anything like what the Buddha has taught.

  9. The accuracy and authenticity of the Buddhist texts is supported by the fact that they provide information for historians to write Indian history during the 5th and 6th century B.C. The texts, which represent the earliest reliable written records in India, provide a profound insight into the socio-economic, cultural and political environment and conditions during the Buddha’s lifetime as well as into the lives of His contemporaries, such as King Bimbisara. The names of the places where important events occurred during the Buddha’s time and which are recorded in the scriptures still exist today with slight modification in spelling and pronunciation. Examples of these are Buddha Gaya—Bodhagaya, Baranasi—Benares, Kusinara—Kusinagara, Rajagaha—Rajgiri, Lumbini—Rummini, Savatthi—Sahetmahet, Vihara—Bihar, and so on.

  • That is one beautiful house (or at least facade) you've constructed with all those cards you've stacked! You might consider some citations as a foundation though! – David Rivers Jul 30 '16 at 20:34
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    @DavidRivers The quoted book doesn't have citations/footnotes/references. The Author's Note says that the book is meant to "introduce the original teaching clearly", and that it is not meant to be one of the "books by learned scholars who present the teachings in a highly academic and abstruse manner". – ChrisW Jul 30 '16 at 21:42
  • @ChrisW So then why is this book being referenced here? – David Rivers Jul 30 '16 at 21:48
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    @DavidRivers Well, the moderation on this (beta) site is relatively permissive -- see e.g. Moderation policies for Questions. The policy for Answers is that they are more-or-less OK if they are more-or-less on-topic, and won't be moderated unless they're downvoted. This answer was upvoted, so I suppose some people found it useful (and/or popular). It's true there have been users who hoped this site might be for expert-level or precise Q+A (e.g. among scholars) and been disappointed sometimes, but maybe you can't please everyone all the time. – ChrisW Jul 30 '16 at 22:10
  • @DavidRivers There are (other) topics on this site with (relatively) expert answers; do you have questions or answers of your own, to ask? Is this the only topic you're interested in? Do you want to discuss something (about the site or this question or this answer) as a topic on Meta? – ChrisW Jul 30 '16 at 22:11