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I’m trying to find the truth behind religious movements, for so far possible of course. I admit, it’s with a selfish goal, but it’s important for me. I want to find my way in Life and try to understand things about Life. Alas I am a little skeptical about things.

I’m trying to learn as much as possible from the main religions, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam (and of course I try to learn things about the Jewish faith and Hinduism). What they all have in common is the written sources are all written many years after that the “main person” – the Founder – is deceased. The gospels are written many years after the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, the Pali Canon is written about two/three hundred years after Gautama the Buddha, and the Quran more than twenty years after Muhammad the Prophet. All texts seems to be composed by followers who decides which texts to be sacred and which text are had to left outside the canon. And all have in common that believers believe that they contain the thru words of the founder.

After reading the Quran, also a composed book by followers, I decided that this book does not contain the words of a God or whatever Devine being. I contain so much threats to humans that I cannot believe that a divine creature is the source of this text. With the exceptional rude text that when you are a Muslim, and you think about changing to another believe, Allah will torture you forever by burning off your skin, let it grow again, and burn it again, etcetera. Next page there was written Allah is merciful. I cannot think of a better contradiction in one book itself. And there are so much other threads to otherwise-believers that I think this book should be forbidden. There are many rules maybe written down by his followers after his life to maintain the status quo.

Jesus Christ on the other side amazes me with his Message of Love. But what about Paul and Peter, did they really wrote down the words of God? So many rules, rules never spoke out by Jesus. But written down by Paul and Peter.

So I come to the Buddhism. I really understand that it is not a religion in the way of the two here above mentioned. I don’t know much about Buddhism but I think to understand that the concept of a God was not the foremost concern of Gautama the Buddha, since it was not possible to learn about this concept during Human Life. I also understand that he is not THE only Buddha. I think his original message had some complex elements for a layman, but was great with also still a simple one.

I have the impression that after his life his followers made up many rules, rituals, maybe not with the origin of Gautama. Some will say that this is because the Shakyamuni Buddha is not the only Buddha. And he is not the foundation of the Buddhism movement, but it started before him.

So I come to my question, after this long intro: the Buddhavamsa mentions about 29 Buddhas, including Maitreya. Twenty seven before Shakyamuni (Gautama) the Buddha. This raiser a few questions to me. I hope you can answer these as exact as possible.

1- If Gautama is not the first founder of Buddhism why where these Buddhas not worldly known to be in existence before his life? Why took it hundreds of years before they were mentioned in Holy Scripts? Now it seems to me that Buddhism followers made them up to declare and explain rules and things in their canon. Wrote down their names to upgrade the core of their faith.

2- Is the Buddhavamsa the first Holy Scripture where the Buddhas of the Past are all mentioned?

3- Who wrote this scripture?

4- So far as I understand (have read) Gautama mentions only six Buddhas during his life. How can persons than know the names of the other Buddhas after the death of Gautama without making this up? Because there is no record that he did mention them his self?

5- How can we ever know the name of the Buddhas who lived hundreds of thousand years before us? Like Dipankara Buddha and even the ones before?

6- Why did the Buddhas of the past not launch Buddhism as we know it, or their own version of it?

I know I sound skeptical, but that is not the purpose. I try to make up if there is any sense in being a Buddhist. I want to follow only what the Devine Beings want to teach up (for so far they exist) and not to follow rules and stories made up by men. So I hope to learn from your answers.

With kind regards, Johan

  • If you're interested in the "message" or doctrine (e.g. of Jesus and so on) then I'm surprised it's the Buddhavamsa (i.e. names of previous Buddhas) that interests you, rather than e.g. the suttas and/or a biography of the Buddha? – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 2:27
  • Generally the introduction (i.e. the first 6 or 7 paragraphs) seems unrelated to the question (about the Buddhavamsa). The first paragraphs are -- 1) My search for the truth behind several religious movements. 2) Texts were written after the "main person's" death. How did they choose which texts to include in the canon? 3) and 4) The message in the doctrines -- do they make sense, are they contradictory, and was it only the disciples who wrote them? 5) Buddhist doctrine is not about God, is complex and simple. 6) The origins of rules and rituals. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 8:27
  • Anyway you make these statements in paragraphs 1 through 6 but then don't ask anything about them -- I don't understand that -- instead you ask about who wrote the Buddhavamsa. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 8:32
  • Probably the answer you are looking can be found in this question buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/28467/… – user13135 Aug 24 '18 at 18:13
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I try to make up if there is any sense in being a Buddhist. <--- The only sense you will need is the realization of the Four Noble Truths.

The six questions you raised, are no where near most important if one wants to be a practicing Buddhist, or not.

  • Hi Krizalid, first of all thanks for the answer. You are absolutely right, but then again not completely right. You are absolutely right about the Four Noble Truths, that’s what I meant with the simple message of Shakyamuni (Gautama) the Buddha. This, and the Eightfold path, attracts me as a pure message. – Johan Aug 22 '18 at 21:51
  • But you are not completely right, for me as a western thinker, because my six questions are (just few) examples of my questions which are raised in my search for the plain pure teachings of the Buddha. If texts, like about the Buddha’s of the Past, are made up by Monks and Followers who just used it to make their learning more “beefy” it will distract me from the core of Buddhism. For me, maybe because I am still not able to think out off the box, is it important that what I learn is the Truth. If the knowledge of the Buddhas of the past is “a tale” it should be skipped from the scripture. – Johan Aug 22 '18 at 21:52
  • Not a problem we all need to start from somewhere. For you I would recommend you do more reading on different aspects of Buddhism, from both Mahayana to Theravada. You are right that the teachings are based on scriptures written years after, however what you will learn is not just text, but also personal experience and Monks experience upon practicing the teachings. – Krizalid_13190 Aug 23 '18 at 9:26
  • In your journey you will have numerous questions to ask, on the teachings and doctrine. You may find one will contradict another, but that is merely because you/our understanding is not comprehensive enough yet. I know how you feel as I come from a very western background as well as western religions since childhood. – Krizalid_13190 Aug 23 '18 at 9:26
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If Gautama is not the first founder of Buddhism etc.

I don't know who wrote the Buddhavamsa and why.

Perhaps it's not important, and can be ignored? It's hard to find an English-language translation of it -- which implies to me that the many venerable monks, who have kindly translated so many of the other suttas, consider it secondary.

Wikipedia says:

Along with the Apadāna and the Cariyāpiṭaka, the Buddhavamsa is considered by most scholars to have been written during the 1st and 2nd century BCE, and is therefore a late addition to the Pāli Canon.

To answer or reply to the first paragraphs of your question, I think we're meant to understand that:

  • Gautama Buddha discovered Buddhism -- i.e. discovered and taught the Dhamma
  • Previous (pre-historic) Buddhas had done the same, but their teaching had been forgotten -- so Gautama rediscovered it.
  • I think a sasana is the period of time/history during which the teachings of a specific Buddha are remembered ... perhaps 1000s of years. The next Buddha will be needed after all traces of Buddhism associated with this Buddha -- including enlightened states, Buddhist practices, Buddhist texts, and the Buddhist monks and nuns -- have disappeared.

    The Duration of the Sasana of Buddha Gotama says,

    In the Anagatavamsa commentary, the Buddha is said to preface the account of the future Buddha Ariya Metteyya by saying his own dispensation will disappear in five stages: (1) the disappearance of analytical insight (patisambhida), (2) the disappearance of the Paths and Fruition States, (3) the disappearance of the practice (patipatti), (4) the disappearance of the texts (pariyatti), and (5) the disappearance of the Sangha.

  • The Buddhavamsa ... is the fourteenth book of the Khuddaka Nikāya, which in turn is the fifth and last division of the Sutta Piṭaka.[3] The Sutta Piṭaka is one of three pitakas (main sections) which together constitute the Tripiṭaka, or Pāli Canon of Theravāda Buddhism.

    The first four divisions of the Sutta Piṭaka (unlike the Khuddaka Nikāya) contain suttas which were (allegedly) spoken by the Buddha and/or by various named disciples during his life. Monks met immediately after his death to decide to what to remember as doctrine -- for details see Buddhist councils.

  • The rules and rituals, of monastic life, were likewise defined during the Buddha's life. The Buddha gave them permission to change less-important rules, but I think they decided they couldn't be sure which rules were less important and so preserved them all.

  • Other rites and rituals were developed over time -- anything to do with Buddhist art, for example -- sometimes influenced by later teachers and contemporary beliefs.

I don't know why there's any Buddhist doctrine about cosmology -- that the universe is cyclic, that there were previous Buddhas:

  • Perhaps (I imagine) it's to emphasise that people don't escape samsara by simply dying (i.e. they need to practice).
  • Perhaps it's something to do with a proof of legitimacy (i.e. this Buddha's being endorsed or confirmed by previous Buddhas)

Anyway I think that (by definition) little is known about previous Buddhas and their doctrine. The only datum I'm aware is from the Dhammapada:

Verse 183: Not to do evil, to cultivate merit, to purify one's mind - this is the Teaching of [[all]] the Buddhas.

Verse 184: The best moral practice is patience and forbearance; "Nibbana is Supreme", said the Buddhas. A bhikkhu does not harm others; one who harms others is not a bhikkhu.

Verse 185: Not to revile, not to do any harm, to practise restraint according to the Fundamental Instructions for the bhikkhus, to be moderate in taking food, to dwell in a secluded place, to devote oneself to higher concentration - this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.

Why did the Buddhas of the past not launch Buddhism as we know it, or their own version of it?

As I said above -- according to the doctrine, which says there were previous Buddhas, they would have done so ("launch Buddhism") but it was forgotten in time. I think that Buddhism defines "a Buddha" as someone who is not only enlightened, but someone who became enlightened after discovering Buddhism for themselves, at a time when the previous Buddha's doctrine had been forgotten. So there's only one Buddha in any given age or sasana.

I think his original message had some complex elements for a layman, but was great with also still a simple one.

I think that is the important bit, the Buddha's doctrine or Dhamma:

  • Maybe that starts with the doctrine of the "four noble truths"
  • Or maybe it starts with doctrine about morality.

According to the Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65) people shouldn't base their beliefs on canonical authority, lineage, who the teacher is -- and instead they should believe a doctrine when "you know for yourself" that the doctrine is beneficial, blameless, praised by the wise.

  • Hi Chris, thanks for your extensive answer. There are a lot of points in it, in which I “can find myself”. It has broaden my insight. I now know that I have to think in cycles. In each cycle the “world decays from insight to superficiality”. After the end of the period a Buddha appears to enlighten the world with fresh insights, so to say. In that way it is easy to understand that we don’t know much about “Buddhism” before the start of a new period, since everything of the Holy Learning is forgotten at the end a period. And that there where indeed Buddha’s before the Present One. – Johan Aug 23 '18 at 1:14
  • But then again, for me as a layman – who want to learn about Buddhism - it is strange that there are monks (or who-ever) who can past the borders of these periods and write down the names etc. of the Buddha’s of the Past. Maybe just to strengthen the canonical authority of their believe, or be more important their self or for whatever reason. For people with a stupid skeptical mind as I it broadens the gap instead of closing the gap to acceptance. – Johan Aug 23 '18 at 1:14
  • But I agree with you (and Krizalid) that the (answers to) the written texts in the Buddhavamsa are of secondary importance. So you are right when you say “people shouldn't base their beliefs on canonical authority, lineage, who the teacher is -- and instead they should believe a doctrine when "you know for yourself" that the doctrine is beneficial, blameless, praised by the wise.”. Still I want to learn as much as possible by reading text that come as close as possible from the Buddha himself. Which scriptures can you recommitment me as “most close to the words of Guatama? – Johan Aug 23 '18 at 1:15
  • @Johan Some people (maybe "orthodox Buddhists") profess a belief in the whole canon (and perhaps believe a text because it was accepted as "canonical"). My opinion is that the original "words of the Buddha" were added to, later on, over the centuries; of which some additions may be worthwhile, and some others are less so. For example, the reference I studied in this answer persuaded me that someone had (later) added a line to one of the suttas -- for whatever reasons of their own. – ChrisW Aug 23 '18 at 12:27
  • And speaking of "skepticism" there are also some "supernatural" elements in Buddhist stories: which some Westerners find it difficut to accept literally, for example including: heavens and hells; cosmology; the Buddha's talking with Gods sometimes and vice versa; maybe the doctrine of "rebirth", too. Various people take these in different way: accept them literally, somehow; or interpret them as metaphors; disbelieve; be agnostic ("I don't know"). IMO I don't want to ignore the whole doctrine merely because someone added something to it later, nor even because I don't understand it all. – ChrisW Aug 23 '18 at 12:27
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11. Those who mistake the unessential to be essential and the essential to be unessential, dwelling in wrong thoughts, never arrive at the essential.

12. Those who know the essential to be essential and the unessential to be unessential, dwelling in right thoughts, do arrive at the essential.

Dhammmapada


the Buddhavamsa mentions about 29 Buddhas, including Maitreya. Twenty seven before Shakyamuni (Gautama) the Buddha.

I have practised then studied Buddhism near 30 years but never read the Buddhavamsa. The Buddhavamsa is a later text not attributed to the Buddha. Along with the Apadāna and the Cariyāpiṭaka, the Buddhavamsa is considered by most scholars to have been written during the 1st and 2nd century BCE, and is therefore a late addition to the Pāli Canon.

This raiser a few questions to me. I hope you can answer these as exact as possible.

In Buddhism, only verifiable truth can be exact.

1- If Gautama is not the first founder of Buddhism why where these Buddhas not worldly known to be in existence before his life? Why took it hundreds of years before they were mentioned in Holy Scripts? Now it seems to me that Buddhism followers made them up to declare and explain rules and things in their canon. Wrote down their names to upgrade the core of their faith.

Gautama is the only known founder of Buddhism. There are previous Buddha's also mention in some Pali suttas attributed to the Buddha but because these suttas are so few it is unlikely they were actually spoken by the Buddha. The fact that all of these past Buddha's are said to have lived in India shows these stories are unlikely to be true. Past Buddha's are particularly mentioned in the Digha Nikaya; which is regarded by most scholars as a set of suttas compiled for propagation to and conversion of Brahmans. Therefore, many of the mythical Digha Nikaya suttas should be treated with skepticism.

2- Is the Buddhavamsa the first Holy Scripture where the Buddhas of the Past are all mentioned?

The question cannot be answered. Since there are certain but extremely few suttas attributed to the Buddha that share the language & ideas of the Buddhavamsa and Apadāna; it is most likely those extremely few suttas are later composition added to the suttas and falsely attributed to the Buddha. Given these questionable suttas contradict the core suttas; they are probably false suttas.

3- Who wrote this scripture?

I don't know. Maybe an influential cleric under the orders of King Ashoka to create Buddhist propaganda to convert Brahmans (Hindus) to Buddhism.

4- So far as I understand (have read) Gautama mentions only six Buddhas during his life. How can persons than know the names of the other Buddhas after the death of Gautama without making this up? Because there is no record that he did mention them his self?

The above cannot be verified as true. It is most likely made up. It is unimportant. It is unrelated to the essence & fundamentals of Buddhism. The fact there are stories of certain disciples who studied under the past Buddhas contradicts the doctrine of not-self (anatta) and particularly contradicts the meaning of "past abodes" (wrongly translated as "past lives") found in SN 22.79. Any ideas about literal "past lives" is contrary to SN 22.79 and contrary to the True Dhamma.

5- How can we ever know the name of the Buddhas who lived hundreds of thousand years before us? Like Dipankara Buddha and even the ones before?

We can't.

6- Why did the Buddhas of the past not launch Buddhism as we know it, or their own version of it?

Because people lived in caves & grunted like animals.

I know I sound skeptical, but that is not the purpose.

It is important to be skeptical about these unimportant matters.

I try to make up if there is any sense in being a Buddhist.

These things are unrelated to being a Buddhist. They are not the fundamentals of the Holy Life. The Buddha often scolded people for such obsessions.

I want to follow only what the Divine Beings want to teach up (for so far they exist) and not to follow rules and stories made up by men. So I hope to learn from your answers.

If you want to learn about Buddhism, start with the 1st three sermons of the Buddha.

  • "Because people lived in caves & grunted like animals." - haha, nice answer ;) – Johan Sep 3 '18 at 22:11
  • Dhammadhatu, I thank you for your honest answers. I like and appreciate that. That’s what I miss in many “true” believers, for example especially in Islam where the totally deny that written texts in a holy book can be altered by people, many times with a purpose. A thought that can lead to severe punishment. I also thank you for your links, especially the last URL. – Johan Sep 3 '18 at 22:21
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In Christianity and Judaism, it's perhaps important to trace the personal history and genealogy of Jesus and Moses all the way back to Adam. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, did not perform miracles and did not die on the cross, there would be no Christianity, regardless of what Jesus taught. If Moses did not encounter God as the burning bush and did not perform miracles, there would be no Judaism, regardless of what Moses taught.

But in Buddhism, tracing the history of the Buddhas or even the personal history of Gautama Buddha is not important compared to the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The miracles or powers attributed to Gautama Buddha is also not important compared to his teachings. In fact, even if Gautama Buddha never existed historically, the teachings attributed to him would still be relevant and useful in the path to the end of suffering.

I'm sure there are parts of the Pali Canon (also known as Tripitaka or Tipitaka) which are more important and more credible than other parts. This applies to scriptures of other religions too. For e.g. the Synoptic Gospels of the Bible are more important than Song of Songs.

For the core teachings of the Buddha, I would suggest to focus on the Sutta Pitaka. The Sutta Pitaka is composed of the Digha Nikaya (DN), Majjhima Nikaya (MN), Samyutta Nikaya (SN), Anguttara Nikaya (AN) and Khuddaka Nikaya (KN).

The Khuddaka Nikaya is the minor collection which is composed of 15 to 18 books, of which the most important are the Sutta Nipata, Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Theragatha and Therigatha. You can safely omit the rest of the books in KN including Buddhavamsa.

If you want to narrow down further, I would suggest reading the question "Chronological or other sequence for beginners", particularly this answer.

Also, Bhikkhu Bodhi's book "In the Buddha's Words", mentioned in this answer would also be an excellent choice of a thematically and systematically arranged anthology that selects the most important suttas for inclusion in a 512-page book, out of the entire Pali Canon which is of the size of a large library bookshelf. PDF version here.

  • I thank you for your answer. I contains much useful information and links. I only disagree with the first paragraph. Because even if Jesus did not made many wonders on earth I would have been a Christian. Because of his message of Love. He is a symbol of compassion, I don’t care if he made wine out of water, etc. His message is wise and inspiring. That’s what I also see in the Buddha. – Johan Sep 4 '18 at 16:57
  • That’s what I also see in the Buddha. His message is also wise and inspiring. But he approached life differently. His teaching contains much reality, where suffering – which indeed is a part of life – is indeed something that should be broken. Of course there are many difference, but also some similarities. Something in me says I have to find a place in me for both teachings. Being a Buddhist-Christian or something ;) I must be crazy, I know  – Johan Sep 4 '18 at 16:57
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I’m a practicing Buddhist and do not have all the answers but I believe what you are trying to do is to pick out the most “truthful/logical” religion and some of the questions you ask are to provide you with proof as to which religion to ultimately accept.

In regards to some of your questions, remember it’s historical literature passed down through the generations; his-story. So along the way, things were definitely added. But if I can entertain your question about how many Buddhas, Buddhism teaches that rebirth is endless and based on the size of the universe, Buddhas came and went throughout; so it’s probably not just here on earth. In historical context, during the time of the Gautama Buddha, earth’s developed human civilization was fairly young. (when we went from hunters and gathers to being agrarians)

But knowing what is actually accurate or exaggerated isn’t really the point, the Buddha’s fundamental teachings were to escape suffering. The only proof you need is that there is suffering and that you should look towards to ending it.

  • Hi, thanks for your reaction. "proof as to which religion to ultimately accept." - proof is a harsh word. Since in religion proof is always subjective. I know what you mean, but perhaps it's better to say "a convincing teaching". “the Buddha’s fundamental teachings were to escape suffering. The only proof you need is that there is suffering and that you should look towards to ending it.” Yes, I agree with you that this is the core of the original teachings of the Buddha. That’s why I try for myself to separate the wheat from the chaff. – Johan Sep 3 '18 at 22:05
  • Best of luck on your journey. – NuWin Sep 5 '18 at 16:24

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