The Myth of Siddharta

As we saw earlier, the Uncertainty Principle of History is that it is impossible to interpret and verify at the same time. If we are able to verify the facts, we can not interpret them, and if we can interpret them because enough time has passed, we can no longer verify the facts.

What arrives to the first western scholars at the end of the 19th century is a set of myths and legends loaded with so much magic that it made them absolutely incredible. That is why they rejected, in general, outright the existence of the Buddha. It was not until the emergence of Rhys Davids that they began to value the possibility of existence based on separating the myth from reality, considering that reality was not a myth and did not even need it.

The way we have today to prove convincingly the historical existence of the Buddha is to replicate his experience that is gathered in the Nikayas. The principle is simple: if we get the text of an experiment with its result, and we successfully replicate it, the experiment is true and, in addition, it is also true that there was someone who did it in the past; It is obvious.

To know if a text is true, it is tested. And interestingly, a majority of the suttas included in the Nikaya collections (Digha, Majjhima, Saṁyutta and Anguttara) contain original experiences and visions applicable in practice. This check is two-way, we can check our practice and vice versa, we can prove your practice.

It goes without saying that those who never walked do not have the ability to make checks and can only move by faith. For the faith the lies do not differ from the truths, like the colors for a blind man.

The history of Buddhism in India runs parallel to the construction of myth.Starting from the Parinibbana of the Buddha, the experience ends and religion begins. Three months later he was summoned by King Ajātasattu, enemy to the death of the Buddha, the first council and put at the head of a resentful Kassapa not being named successor of the Buddha at the head of the Sangha, who calls Ananda and Upāli, to recite what they knew. You were two ordinary people, that is, they were not noble, but nevertheless very popular. This First Council caused the schism of the other half of the Sangha, headed by Purana, who did not want to participate and, moreover, did not admit its conclusions because it did not conform to the teachings of the Buddha.

From there, without a living Buddha who acts as a teacher, without illumination within reach, with nothing to practice, Buddhism will gradually become a religion.

The myth in Buddhism is used at various intellectual levels to give a symbolic expression to religious teachings. Accepted on its own terms, Buddhism is a supernatural religion in the sense that, without a Buddha who reveals and teaches them, truths remain unknown. Without the revelation of a Buddha the rest of the humans can not reach enlightenment.

The compilers of Buddha’s story were not writing a history book or a newspaper report. Your target audience, the ancient Indians, were not really interested in a historical vision of the Buddha, nor were they aware of the notion we have today.But even today, in the best of cases, we can only believe the books and the information to which we are exposed. We really do not have any way of authenticating the history books or newspaper articles that we read, unless we have been there or it is especially about us.

Vendors of myths, moving images whose goal is to present people to a more evolved, more special person who, as you can not meet in person, create fiction with all kinds of attributes to make it attractive. His person, purity and wisdom, his full awakening, will illuminate the heart and change the lives of people. In this way, they, the sellers of myths, make people believe they are in the presence of the Buddha.

This effect «of the Saint» happens even today when there are Buddhists who take refuge in the Buddha; not in a historical character they never knew, but in a personal Buddha, a Buddha made of myths designed to lull the ego of the devotee.

Stories are symbols to attract and keep a frivolous audience before a serious, pure and formal myth. Therefore, the narrators painted it in a narrative canvas in a totally free style and in the purest colors. Thus they make the Buddha accessible to the general public. When our attention is directed to such a being, it is more likely that we can try to imitate him, be wise and compassionate like him and, above all, free ourselves from suffering like him. It is the social function of the saints, the exemplary.

The miraculous language is that of the masses: the ancient sculptors will present the Buddha in the most beautiful way with which they are familiar, and they would enlist, in addition to the local deities and demons, even the Greek gods and heroes (as is evident in the Buddhist sculptures of Gandhara), adding even Hellenistic elements such as the aura of the saints.

As we saw in the previous chapter, there was a scene in the Vinaya that supposedly referred to a son of the Buddha called Rahula. From this figure will be taken hand of other real characters that appear in the suttas to which they are endowed with new roles within this new family of the Buddha. For example, the best disciple of the Buddha, Mahapajapati becomes her aunt and adoptive mother. The mother, who must be dead so that Mahapajapati is her guardian, is designed like a queen who is succeeded by all kinds of miracles called Maya Devi. The mother of the child Rahula is made the legitimate wife of Gotama and is named as Yasodhara and Suddhodana, the owner of the house where Rahula ran, he becomes his father and fabulous king of a kingdom in Nepal.

The need to give coherence to the absurd causes an even greater absurdity, when we discover that Rahula is not the Buddha’s son.

Sources of Buddha’s biography

The earliest sources of Buddha’s life are found in the first Four Nikayas of the Canon. Around these first stories, they grew a mythical drama of cosmic proportions. The five successive stages in the development of the Buddha legend were:

  1. Biographical fragments incorporated in the Sutras: Ariya, Pariyesana Sutta (MN 26), Dvedhavitakka Sutta (MN 19), Bodhirajakumara Sutta (MN 85), Bhayabherava Sutta (MN 4) and Maha Saccaka Sutta (MN 36).
    The Mahaparinibbana Sutta (DN 16) is entirely dedicated to the last days of the Buddha.
  1. Biographical fragments incorporated in the Khandhaka of the Theravada Vinaya.
  1. Autonomous but incomplete biographies. Towards the beginning of the Common Era, Buddha’s life became more prominent than doctrine and discipline. Two works in Sanskrit have survived: the Mahāvastu and the Lalitavistara.
  1. It was not until the second century BCE that the first complete biographies of the Buddha were written. At this time, two works entitled Buddhacarita, which means the life of the Buddha, were composed by monks poets in the court of the great Buddhist emperor Kaniska. The first of these was written by Sangharaksa and was a combination of verse and prose, and although the original Sanskrit has been lost, there is still a Chinese translation. The second of these works was written by the famous poet Aśvaghosa. In 28 chapters, Aśvaghosa uses surprising images and a polished language to tell the life of the Buddha from his birth to the events immediately after his death. Based closely on the biographical information in the Pali Buddhaita of Tipitaka Aśvaghosa, it is remarkably free from the mythological accents surrounding the Buddha at that time and is widely considered a masterpiece of Sanskrit literature.
  2. Sinhalese compilations. The Sinhalese preserved the ancient Pali commentaries on the Pali canon (5th century). Of these, Nidana de Buddhaghosa, the introduction to the Jataka Commentary, which gives an account of the Buddha from his birth as Sumedha to the donation of Jetavana to the Sangha. The contemporary of Buddhaghosa, Buddhadatta (South India), in his Commentary on the Buddhavamsa , lists 30 important episodes that comprise the life of the Buddha and also compiles the accounts of the first 20 years of the Buddha’s ministry. Buddhaghosa also gives a list of the main events of the first 20 years; especially where Buddha passes his rainy retreat.
  1. The Siamese Buddhist tradition produced at least two classics in the Buddha’s biography. Buddha’s life is treated in its entirety (up to the times of Lanna’s Kingdom in northern Thailand) a sixteenth-century Siamese work by Ratanapanna in Chiengmai, Thailand. The second Siamese biography of Buddha is Pathamasambodhi


The Buddhavamsa, also called «Chronicle of the Buddhas» is a Buddhist hagiographic text that describes the life of Buddha Gotama and the twenty-four Buddhas who preceded him and prophesied his attainment of Buddhahood. It is the fourteenth book of the Khuddaka Nikāya, which in turn is the fifth and last division of the Sutta Piṭaka.

There is again pointing out that except for some loose chapters of the Nipata Sutta, the rest of this Nikaya are irrelevant late free elaborations. It is thought that the Buddhavamsa was written during the 1st and 2nd centuries BC, and therefore it is a rather late addition to the Canon Pāli.

The first chapter explains how Gotama Buddha, to demonstrate his supernormal knowledge, creates a bejeweled catwalk in the sky. Upon seeing this screen, Sāriputta asks the Buddha:

«What kind, great hero, supreme among men, was your determination? At what time, wise, was the supreme Awakening that you aspired to? … Of what type, wise, leader of the world, were your ten perfections «How were the superior perfections fulfilled, how are the final perfections?»

In response, the Buddha transmits the rest of the Buddhavamsa.

In the second chapter, Gautama tells how in an old past life when he was a Sumedha, he received a prediction from the then Buddha Dīpamkara that «in the next age you will become a Buddha named Śākyamuni», and he thought of the ten perfections that he would need to practice.

Chapters 3 through 26 are accounts of the twenty-four historical Buddhas that achieved Buddhahood between Dīpamkara and Gotama, and the acts of merit that Gotama performed towards them in their previous lives.

Chapter 27 is an account of the life of Gautama Buddha.

Chapter 28 mentions three Buddhas that preceded Dīpamkara, as well as the future Buddha, Metteyya.

Chapter 29 talks about the distribution of Gotama relics after his death.


The myth in its Baroque form starts from the heresy of the Lokottaravādin. The school of the Lokottaravādin, which is a sect of the Hīnayāna branch, refuses to see an ordinary man in the Buddha. Because the Buddha is a superhuman being (lokottara) that descends for a limited period of time for the relief of all mankind.

«Nothing in the perfectly Awakened is comparable to anything in the world, but everything related to the great Ṛṣis is exalted above the world.» They wash their feet, although dust does not adhere to them, they sit in the shade, although the heat of the sun does not oppress them, they nourish themselves, although they never worry about hunger, they use medicine, even though they do not have diseases «

The Lokottaravādin belong to the Madhyadeśa or the 16 countries that extend between the Himalayas and the Vindhya mountains.

According to this doctrine, the biography of the Buddha is related as an «Avadāna» or a miraculous story. It is evident that they disagree with the texts of the Pāli canon that are dedicated to the life of the Buddha. So here we will hear miracles that accompanied the conception, birth, enlightenment and the first conversions made by the Blessed One.

As part of the ancient school of Hīnayāna, we have, first of all, to mention the Mahāvastu, the «Book of Great Events».

The book really is titled: «The Vinaya Pitaka according to the text of the Lokottaravādin belonging to the Mahāsāṃghikas». The name is due to the fact that it includes imaginary stories about the first conversions of the Buddha and not about talking about monastic rules. The Mahāsāṃghikas, or the supporters of the Mahāsaṃgha or the Great Order, are considered the oldest Buddhists.

The nature of the Mahāvastu composition entails the difficulty that the period in which it was composed is very difficult to determine. Many circumstances point to a great antiquity, for example, the fact that it belongs to the Lokottaravāda school and also to its language. The fact that the work is written entirely in «mixed Sanskrit», while in the texts of Mahāyāna this dialect alternates with Sanskrit, is a mark of its greatest antiquity. Because Sanskrit in Buddhist texts is only an intruder.

The mahāyānistas traits place us in the first century CE, as well as some passages that seem to have been influenced by the sculptors of the Greek art of Gandhāra.When, for example, in the scene of the miracle of the flower, the circle-shaped lotus flowers fall around the halo of the Buddha, it can be seen that the halo was introduced for the first time in India by Greek artists. many Buddhas under the umbrellas remind us of sculpted monuments). The reference in the Mahāvastu to the Yogācāras takes us to the 4th century CE and so do the allusions to the Huns and the most interesting to the Chinese language and script and the characterization of the astrologers as «Horāpāṭhaka».

In spite of this, the core of Mahāvastu is ancient and probably was composed already two centuries before the Common Era, although it expanded in the fourth century of our Era and perhaps even in a later period. Because it is only the ornament that has been taken from Mahāyāna, while, on the other hand, it is simply a weak mixture of the Mahāyāna doctrine proper and not of the Mahāyāna mythology that we find in the Mahāvastu.

That is to say, Mahāvastu is an accumulation of legendary elements that span no less than 500 years.

The Mahāvastu deals with the life of the Buddha in three sections, of which the first begins with the life of the Bodhisattva in the time of Buddha Dīpaṅkara and describes his life. in the time of other and earlier Buddhas. The second section takes us to the sky of the gods Tusita, where the Bodhisattva who is born there is determined to look for another birth in the womb of Queen Māyā and relates the miracle of the prince’s conception and birth, his departure from home, his conflict with Māra and the enlightenment he manages to acquire under the Bodhi tree. The third section finally tells, in harmony with the main characteristics of the Mahāvagga of the Vinayapiṭaka, the history of the first conversions and the emergence of the monastic order.

The Mahāvastu does not contain the technical expressions pāli, Dūrenidāna, Avidūrenidāna and Santikenidāna, which are found in the late Jātakas of the Khuddaka Nikaya.

However, when we say that the Mahāvastu recounts the main outline of the life of the Buddha for the Lokottaravādin, that does not in any way imply that this depletes the contents of the work; nor gives an adequate idea of ​​its composition.Far from being a work of literary art, the Mahāvastu is rather a labyrinth in which we can only, with an effort, discover the thread of a coherent account of the life of the Buddha. This account is constantly interrupted by other material, especially by the many Jātakas and Avadānas and also by the dogmatic Sutras.

We do not find order. Sometimes you try to unite the different parts of the work in a loose way. In addition, the same story is repeated frequently, be it an episode in the life of the Buddha or a Jātaka, which are related twice one after the other. First in prose and then in verse, although in a more or less divergent version. But in several passages, the same episodes repeat themselves with an insignificant difference.

For example, the legend of the Buddha’s birth is told four times in different languages. Without a doubt, all the work, both prose and verse, is written in what we call «mixed Sanskrit», but this dialect makes a variable approach to Sanskrit. The more different it is from Sanskrit, the older it seems.

In spite of this and despite the circumstance that from this book we hardly learn anything new about the life of the Buddha or the Lokottaravādin, its importance is that it preserves many traditions and ancient versions of texts. that also appear in the Pāli canon.

However, the Mahāvastu, like a mine of Jātakas (stories) and other stories, has a special value. A good half of the book consists of Jātakas that are partly related to prose. with inserted verses, or first in prose and then again in verse. Furthermore, we see the Bodhisattva now as a universal sovereign, now as the son of a merchant, then as a Brahman, again as a prince Nāga, as a lion, as an elephant, etc. Many of the Jātakas are versions of the same story that we find in the Jātakas Pali book, harmonizing word for word with the Pāḷi and often show some divergence.

However, there are many Jātakas and Avadānas in the Mahāvastu who have nothing that corresponds to them in Pāḷi. In these the extraordinary propensity to sacrifice and generosity on the part of the Bodhisattva is glorified again and again.

Many of the narratives bear the impression of a Brahmanic or purāṇic character.Such is, for example, the story of Brahmadatta, who has no children and is born three birds that speak with a human voice and emit many intelligent sayings. This story reminds us of the beginning of Mārkaṇḍeya Purāna. And, by the way, it can be seen that the representation of hell at the beginning of the Mahāvastu has points of contact with the Purāna himself. However, it is in the Pāḷi tradition that we find the foundations of the visit of Maudgalyayāna to the eighth Inferno, as well as his stay in the world of the beasts and the world of Petas, the Asuras and various types of deities.

The spirit of the Puranas is very similar to that of Mahāyāna and many of the stories in the Mahāvastu reveal the same partiality of the amazing phantasmagorical sorcerers to perform the miracles of the saints, so peculiar in the Mahāyāna texts.

And although the Mahāvastu belongs to the Hīnayāna and has contacts with many things that can occur or actually occur in the texts of the Pāḷi theravadin, he embodies a good number of concepts and ideas that are very close to the Mahāyāna.

Thus, for example, we find in the first volume a large section on the ten Bhūmis or places through which a Bodhisattva must pass and the description of the virtues that he must possess in each of the ten stages. In this section an hymn to the Buddha has been interpolated, which is in no way different from Vishnu or Shiva here. He also agrees with the idea of ​​Mahāyāna when it is said that the power of the Buddha is so great that the worship of the Blessed One is sufficient for the attainment of Nibbana. And that one gains to himself infinite merit when one only circumambulates a stupa and offers adoration with flowers, etc. That from the smile of the Buddha come rays that illuminate the entire field of the Buddha (Buddhakṣetra) occur countless times in the Mahāyāna texts. It is also a mahāyāna conception when a great number of Buddhas are mentioned and when it is stated that the Bodhisattva is not generated by the father and the mother, but it is derived directly from their own properties.


The Mahāvastu describes himself as a work belonging to Hīnayāna, although he has assimilated some of the characteristics of Mahāyāna. On the contrary, the Lalitavistara is considered as one of the most sacred texts of Mahāyāna, like a Vaipulya Sutra. It is a voluminous textbook and gives the usual designation of a Mahāyāna Sutra, and yet the work originally included a descriptive life of the Buddha for the Sārvāstivādin school attached to the Hīnayāna.

The Chinese tradition regarding Lalitavistara makes it a life of the Buddha who represents the Sārvāstivādin school. However, the idea of ​​Mahāyāna already corresponds to the same title of Lalitavistara which means the «exhaustive narrative of the Buddha’s Mutation». Thus, the work of the Buddha’s life on earth is characterized as the deviation (lalita) of a supernatural being.

But while in the Pāḷi texts, the Master is introduced with phrases such as «This I have heard» or similar stereotyped initial phrases and is surrounded by a few disciples or, at most, his set of «500 monks», and immediately begins the Sutta proper, in the Lalitavistara, as in All the Vaipulya Sutras of the Mahāyāna, the image that is described of the Buddha, is grandiose surrounded by the divine radiance. It is surrounded by twelve thousand monks and no less than thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas, «all still in the path of a single rebirth, all born with the perfections of a Bodhisattva, all enjoying the knowledge of a Bodhisattva, all in the possession of a vision of magical charms «and so on.

During the night vigil, the Buddha feels sunk in meditation, from his head emanates a current of light that penetrates the heavens and puts all the gods in commotion. The latter sing at once a hymn of praise to the exalted Buddha and shortly after Iśvara and the other deities appear before the Master, who throw themselves at his feet and implore him to reveal the excellent Vaipulya Sutra called Lalitavistara for salvation and blessing. of the world. While panegyrics in extravagant terms the excellences of the text revealed by this and even before the Buddhas, the Buddha expresses his assent through silence. Only after these circumstantial introductions, which fill a great chapter, begins the Buddha’s own biography, which forms the content of the work.

The Bodhisattva resides in the heaven of the Gratified gods (Tusita) in a glorious celestial palace. The Bodhisattva has received more than a hundred honorary epithets and the celestial palace in which more than a dozen reside. Under the sound of eighty-four thousand drums, he is called to descend to Earth to begin his work of salvation. After long consultations in which the excellences and deficiencies of a great number of princely families are weighed, the Bodhisattva finally decides to be reborn in the house of King Suddhodana in the belly of Queen Māyā.

She alone possesses all the qualities of the mother of a Buddha. Perfect as its beauty, which is described with the smallest detail, is its virtue and chastity. In addition, of all the women of India, she is the only one who is able to support the future Buddha, since in her the strength of ten thousand elephants is united. The conception proceeds with the help of the gods after the Bodhisattva was determined to enter the womb of his mother in the form of an elephant.

The gods build a palace of jewels in the belly of Queen Māyā so that the Bodhisattva does not remain dirty there for ten months. In this palace of jewelry sits in its wonderful tenderness. But his body shines with a glorious glow and a light expands miles from his mother’s womb. The sick come to Māyā Devī and cure of their diseases as soon as the latter put their hand on their head. And every time he looks to his right, he sees the Bodhisattva in his belly «just as a man contemplates his own face in a clear mirror». The Bodhisattva not yet born in the womb of his mother delights the celestials with pious sermons and the god Brahmā obeys all suggestions. But his body shines with a glorious glow and a light expands miles from his mother’s womb. The sick come to Māyā Devī and cure of their diseases as soon as the latter put their hand on their head.

And every time he looks to his right, he sees the Bodhisattva in his belly «just as a man contemplates his own face in a clear mirror». The Bodhisattva not yet born in the womb of his mother delights the celestials with pious sermons and the god Brahmā obeys all suggestions. But his body shines with a glorious glow and a light expands miles from his mother’s womb. The sick come to Māyā Devī and cure of their diseases as soon as the latter put their hand on their head. And every time he looks to his right, he sees the Bodhisattva in his belly «just as a man contemplates his own face in a clear mirror». The Bodhisattva not yet born in the womb of his mother delights the celestials with pious sermons and the god Brahmā obeys all suggestions. This part is included in chapters 2 to 6.

As the conception so also the birth of the Bodhisattva. It is accompanied by miracles and portents. In the Lumbini Park it is born in the way we know through many sculptures, although not as an ordinary human being, but as an omniscient Exalted Being, like a Mahāpuruṣa, «The Great Spirit». The lotus flowers are scattered under each step. Of his son and the newborn who announces his greatness, he takes seven steps towards each of the six cardinal points.

The creator Prajāpati is characterized as Puruṣa and Mahāpuruṣa in the Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads and, later, also Brahmā and Viṣhṇu. The seven steps of the newborn Buddha are also explained from the myth of the march of Viṣhṇu.

Here the narrative is interrupted by a dialogue between Ānanda and the Buddha in which vehemence is shown towards every unbeliever who does not credit the miraculous birth of the Buddha. Faith in the Buddha is taught as an essential component of religion. The Buddha says:

«I do good to all who believe in me. As friends, it is for me that they take refuge in me. And many friends the Tathāgata has. And to those friends, the Tathāgata only speaks the truth, not the falsehood … Believing that Ānanda must be your effort. I recommend this to you. «

The reason why this dialogue should appear here is not due to an accident, but is based on the fact that, in relation to the legends related to the conception and birth of the Buddha, the Lalitavistara is distinguished from other Buddhist schools in his extravagance as to the miraculous. This is no longer the case in the future course of the narrative. In fact, here there is often an extraordinary harmony with the oldest Pāḷi account, for example, that of the Mahāvagga of the Vinaya Piṭaka, although it can be observed, by the way, that the Gāthās of the Lalitavistara seem older than those of the corresponding texts Pāḷi

The two texts in such cases do not depend on each other, but both return to a common older tradition. But even here the Lalitavistara has much of what is lacking in the oldest accounts. Two episodes in particular are worth mentioning.One of these stories, in chapter 8, shows how the Bodhisattva as a child is taken by his adoptive mother to the temple and how all the images of the gods rise on their pedestals to prostrate themselves at his feet. The other episode, chapter 10, relates the first experience of the Bodhisattva in school.

With a group of ten thousand boys with an immense pomp in which the gods participate, eight thousand celestial maidens, for example, scattering flowers before him, the little Bodhisattva celebrates his admission into the writing school.The poor schoolmaster can not stand the glory of the divine incarnation and falls to the ground. A god lifts him up and reassures him with the explanation that Bodhisattvas are omniscient and do not need learning, but come to school following the course of the world. Then, the Bodhisattva astonishes the teacher of the school with the question of which of the 64 scripts he was going to teach him.And it lists the sixty-four in which are included the Chinese symbols and the script of the Huns, alphabets of whom The master did not even know the names. Finally, with the ten thousand children he begins his study of the alphabet. With each letter of the alphabet, the Bodhisattva pronounces a wise maxim.

As we already know, in the time of the Buddha there was no writing or alphabet in India. But as this much later story is allowed to introduce a school, a script and an alphabet.

On the other hand, in its later course, the narrative of Lalitavistara (chapters 14-26) deviates only a little from the legend we know from other sources; the main events in the life of the Buddha are the four meetings of which the Bodhisattva learns about old age, sickness, death and renunciation; the escape from the palace; the encounter with King Bimbisāra; The years of instruction of Gautama and his useless ascetic practices; the struggle with Māra; the final illumination and the enunciation of the doctrine to the world in general at the request of the god Brahmā. But even here the Lalitavistara is notable for its exaggerations. While Gotama, for example, spends the four weeks after its illumination, in our oldest story, in meditation under several trees (Mahavagga 1, 1-4), in the Lalitavistara, in the second week, it goes out for a long walk through thousands of worlds and in the fourth week he makes a small walk, which extends only from the east to the west of the ocean. The last chapter, the 27th, however, is once again in the style of the Mahāyāna sutras, a glorification of the book of Lalitavistara, and is dedicated to the enumeration of the virtues and advantages that man acquires by its propagation and reverence.

From all this, it is very probable that our Lalitavistara is a redaction of an older Hīnayāna text expanded and embellished in the sense of Mahāyāna, a biography of the Buddha that represents the Sarvāstivāda school. This assumption also explains the nature of the text, which in no way is the work of a single author, but it is an anonymous compilation in which very old and very young fragments are in juxtaposition. In addition, the book consists, according to its form, of unequal sections, a continuous narrative in Sanskrit prose and numerous metric pieces, often extensive, in the » mixed Sanskrit «. Only rarely do these verses constitute a part of the narrative. As a general rule, these are recapitulations of prose narration in an abbreviated and simpler form and, sometimes, also more or less divergent.Many of these metric pieces are beautiful old ballads that go back to the same ancient sources as the poems of the Pāḷi Suttanipāta mentioned above. Examples are the legend of the birth and episode of Asita in chapter VII, the story of Bimbisāra in chapter XVI and the dialogue with Māra in chapter XVIII. They belong to the old religious ballad poetry of the first centuries after the Buddha. But several passages in prose too, such as the sermon in Benares in chapter XXVI, are assignable to the older stratum of the Buddhist tradition. On the other hand, the younger components are found not only in prose but also in prose, many of which are composed in highly artistic meters. Such are Vasantatilaka and Śārdūlavikrīḍita that are tolerably.

We do not know when the final redaction of the Lalitavistara took place. Previously it was erroneously stated that the work had already been translated into Chinese in the first century of the Common Era. In fact, we do not know at all if the Chinese biography of the Buddha called Phuyau-king , which was published around 300 CE, the supposed «second translation of the Lalitavistara», is really a translation of this text.

An accurate representation of the Sanskrit text is in Tibetan, which was produced in the fifth century. It can be taken with certainty that the artists knew a slightly different version of our Lalitavistara, which around 850-900 decorated with images the famous temple of Borobudur in Java. Because these magnificent scriptures represent scenes in the legend of the Buddha in a way as if the artists were working with the Lalitavistara text in their hands.

But the artists who embellished the Greco-Buddhist monuments of northern India with scenes from the life of the Buddha are also familiar with the legend of the Buddha as recounted in the Lalitavistara. They worked without doubt not after the text, but in accordance with the living oral tradition. However, the harmony between the sculptures and the Sanskrit text is not usually of such character that we must assume that the literary tradition was sometimes influenced by the artist.On art and literature there was a mutual influence.

While the ancient Buddhist art in the time of Aśoka, in the reliefs of Bharhut, Sanchi, etc., knows no image of the Buddha but only a symbol (for example, the wheel) for the person of the founder, the representation of the Buddha it is the main object of Gandhāra’s art. In the middle centuries, the Buddha became an object of worship of the devotees. The Buddha was pushed towards the central point of this new «religion». The art era of Gandhāra, which flourished in the second century CE, was also the period of the Mahāyāna texts dealing with the legend of Buddha.

It is, therefore, but natural that we should have preserved in the Lalitavistara both the very old tradition, as the youngest accounts for centuries, of the legend of the Buddha. An important source of ancient Buddhism is only there, where it coincides with the pāli texts and other Sanskrit texts such as Mahāvastu. But it is wrong to consider Lalitavistara in its entirety as an ancient and reliable source for our knowledge of Buddhism.

The Lalitavistara also does not give us a clue «to popular Buddhism» from earlier times, it is rather a key to the development of the Buddha’s legend in its earliest beginnings, in which only the main events of the life of the great founder of the religion has been adorned with miracles, until the final apotheosis of the Master in which from beginning to finish his career is more like that of a god, especially the other gods. But from the point of view of literary history, the Lalitavistara is one of the most important works of Buddhist literature. In fact, it is not an epic of Buddha proper, but embodies all the germs of one.

It was from the ballads and episodes that have been preserved in the oldest elements of the Lalitavistara, although probably not from the same Lalitavistara, Buddhacarita or Buddha’s Life.


Collection of Various Discourses 
27. History of Gotama Buddha

After making great efforts, we have achieved the supreme omniscience of becoming the omnipotent Gotama in the present time and the glory of the Sākya family (Sakyamuni).

Our city is Kapilavatthu, the father is the Suddhodana king, the born mother is called «Queen Māyā». I have lived a family life for twenty-nine years. There are three wonderful castles, Ramma, Suramma, Subhaka. There are forty thousand women with makeup. The woman (wife) called Bhaddakaccānā. Son called Rāhula.


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