from ThruthBeKnown Website
According to tradition, the founder of Buddhism was a Hindu named Siddhattha, son of the rajah of the Sakyan clan which dwelt in the foothills of the Himalayas.
He is sometimes referred to as a Sakyamuni (muni meaning Sage), sometimes as Tathagata (literally "One who has come, or gone, This Far"), more usually as Gotama Buddha. The term Buddha is a title, not a personal name. Gotama is referred to as the Buddha after his Enlightenment, which is reputed to have occurred in 528 B.C. in Bihar.
Thereafter he abandoned family life and
promulgated his doctrine of deliverance from suffering and attainment of
ultimate peace, Nirvana.
What is quite certain is that the underlying
philosophy had a great deal in common with ideas prevalent at the time. It
bears some resemblance to the contemporary
They made modifications, of course, and one feature was the rejection of the severe austerities which were practiced by some of the sects.
The names of twenty-four of such Buddhas who appeared before Gotama have been recorded. The number and names may well be late inventions, but there can be no question about the belief in their existence. It was held that after the death of each Buddha, his religion flourishes for a time and then decays.
After it is forgotten, a new Buddha emerges and
preaches the lost Dhamma, or Truth. In the fourth century A.D., a sect of
Buddhists rejected Gotama and venerated instead the three previous
Buddhas. They especially reverenced one of them,
Kasyapa, and were actually joined in by the
orthodox in worship as his tomb.
So what proof is there that the sayings and
doings of different Gotamas may not have been ascribed to one person?...
The Documentary Evidence
What doctrines, it must now be asked, were special to Buddhism? Not Karma, that was common property which Buddhism shared.
Not in asserting that a right mind was superior to sacrifice, that was a primary doctrine of the Jains, and pre-Buddhistic, both within and without the pale of Brahmanism. Not in seeking a way to salvation independently of the Vedas, that had been done by many teachers in various sects. Not in the doctrine that defilement comes not from unclean meats but from evil deeds and words and thoughts; Buddhist writers themselves say that is derived from previous Buddhas.
Not in the search for peace through self-control and renunciation; that was the quest of a myriad recluses and all previous Buddhas. Not in the view that there is a higher wisdom than that attained by austerities; that, too, is pre-Buddhistic. Not in the doctrine that non-Brahmans could join an Order and attain religious blessedness; other orders were open to men of low social status and even to slaves.
Indeed, the rigid separation of caste was not
yet established in the early days of Buddhism. Brahmin claims were
exorbitantly high, but many Brahmins waived them and they did not apply to
ascetics. Early Buddhists, like the early Christians, did not admit
runaway slaves to the Order.
There seems, in short, to be nothing on the face
of the doctrine to account for the expansion of the Buddhist movement....
Buddha as a Secondary God
The suspicion that Sakyamuni is an unreal being is finally justified.
The Order probably originated among ascetic Brahmins who may have been led to rationalism as a result of renouncing the Vedas....
They usually justify their attitude by the
argument that every sect must have had a founder. This assumption can be
allowed if it is merely taken to mean that someone must have begun the
formation of any given group. It is clearly not true in the sense that every
sect originates in the new teaching of a remarkable personage.
The mythopoeic process satisfied the craving for
a Teacher-god who should originate religious and moral ideas as the earlier
gods had been held to originate agriculture, art, medicine, law and
In the case of Burma it admittedly did more to
mold the life of the whole people towards its highest ethic than
Christianity ever did; but in India, where it arose, it collapsed utterly.
It was overthrown by Brahmanism which set up in its place a revived
One reason why the original teachings fail is that men persisted in crediting purely human aspiration to supernatural beings. Men who are taught to bow ethically to a divine Teacher are not taught ethically to think. Any aspiration so evoked is factitious, verbal, emotional, not reached by authentic thought and experience.
When the wisdom or unwisdom of the nameless
thinkers in all ages is recognized for what it is - as human and not divine
- the nations may become capable of working out for themselves better
gospels than the best of those which turned to naught in their hands while
they held them as revelations from the skies.