Boudhanath (Boudnath) To Buddhadasa (Buddhism)

Boudhanath (Boudnath)

The Great Stupa (in Tibetan, Jarung Kashor) at Boudhanath is the largest stupa in Nepal and the greatest center of Tibetan worship outside Tibet. Located five kilometers from Katmandu, the stupa is noteworthy because of its square base. It is 36 meters high and the base measures 100 meters on each side. It is a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. In addition it continues to be a popular site of worship. Thousands of people can be seen circumambulating (walking around) the stupa all day.

A treasure text concerning the Great Stupa and the Tibetan sage Padmasambhava was found and rediscovered in the 16th century. The connection between Padmasambhava and the stupa is strong. He prophesied the stupa would deteriorate as a result of the laxity of moral practice and would require a devout hero to rebuild it.

The stupa was built in the fifth century c.e. in the reign of Manadeva. Since the 19th century the stupa has been managed jointly by Bazra (Vajra) and Chini (Chinese) lamas. This arrangement probably reflects competition for power between Tibetan monks and local landowners. When Tibetan refugees flooded into Nepal after the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1959, many settled in the vicinity of Boudhanath. And since the discovery of Nepal as a travel destination on the "hippie trail" of the 1960s, the area has also become a vibrant center for travelers.

Bu Dai

(c. 906 c.e.) monk whose laughing image became associated with the Buddha Maitreya Bu Dai was a historical figure, a monk from eastern China during the Liao dynasty (907-1125 c.e.). During his lifetime he was known as a wondering monk who appeared to do nothing. He is typically depicted as a fat, laughing monk carrying a simple cloth sack; the words bu dai (fabric bag) are often written on the bag. He represents the spirit of Chan (Zen) paradox. Many stories surrounded this figure, and they continued to evolve after his death. His image as Maitreya, the laughing Buddha, is widespread throughout China today and is found in many homes. Indeed the laughing Buddha is probably the single most common form in Buddhist iconography.

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama)

(563-483 b.c.e.) the historical Buddha

The Buddha was born Siddhartha to a royal family in a tiny kingdom of the Sakyas in what is now northern India, at the base of the Himalayas. In this period there were a multitude of tiny states competing for resources, including population. Trade flourished, and religious practices and doctrines vied for attention.

Even this basic account of the Sakya state is controversial. We know of the Sakyas only through Buddhist sources, and much elaboration has been added over time, including accounts of the descent of the Sakya kings. Sakya princes were exiled from a previous state—in one account identified as the Kingdom of Ayodhya—by an angry king and proceeded to found the state of Sakya. Despite the official account, it is possible the leader of this Sakya state was little more than a regional lord, the head of a tribe.

The Sakya state was centered at the city of Kapilavastu. Various ruins along the Nepal-Indian border have been found but none positively identified as Kapilavastu. In addition, Kapilavastu was not mentioned as a great city, even in the Buddhist canon. As among many similar groups in this period of Indian history the land of the Sakyas was most likely absorbed by the powerful empire of the Magadhas, which flourished during and after the Buddha’s period.


The rulers of the Sakya state were from the ksatriya (warrior) class of the Gotama clan. The original ancestor was a rishi (seer) named Gotama, a member of the brahman (priestly) class. (There is no adequate explanation as to why descendents of a brahman class would claim the status of ksatriya, a lower class. It may indicate that the Vedic system of strict membership in classes was not fully operational in the region of the Sakya tribe.)

Scholars have debated his actual birth dates, with some saying 566, others 563, and some 623. Some Theravadin traditions date him 100 years earlier, and some recent work has put his dates at 484-404 b.c.e. Throughout the 20th century most scholars used the 566-486 dating. This question of his dating is complicated because all records were oral, and legendary material was affixed to narratives about his life from an early period. Regardless of his actual birth date, all traditions agree that Siddhartha Gautama lived for 80 years and that such an individual did actually exist and taught in India.

His father was Suddhodana, king of the Sakyas, and his mother was Maya. She bore him in the forest at Lumbini but died in childbirth. Siddhartha was raised by her sister, Mahaprajapati, whom his father had married. He had no siblings we know of, but he had many cousins, including Ananda, a major disciple, and Devadatta, who betrayed him.

Siddhartha also married, a beautiful woman named Yasodara. She bore him a son, but he interpreted the emotions engendered by the arrival of a son as a further impediment to his ability to practice spiritual discipline, and he left his family when he was 29.


over the centuries a large body of legendary narrative has accrued around the topic of the Buddha’s early years and his career as a teacher. Nearly all of what we know is found in the Pali canon,in such texts as the Mahaparinibbana-sutta and the Jataka Tales. Asvaghosa’s Buddhacarita (Acts of the Buddha), composed in the second century C.E., is an important early biography. As with all legends, there is most likely a core of historical truth around which later generations attached other details and embellishments.

Stone frieze showing the Buddha's mother, Maya, giving birth to the baby Prince Siddhartha, who emerges from her right side; scene taken from the life of the Buddha, second to third century c.e.; originally from Gandhara, Central Asia, now in the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

Stone frieze showing the Buddha’s mother, Maya, giving birth to the baby Prince Siddhartha, who emerges from her right side; scene taken from the life of the Buddha, second to third century c.e.; originally from Gandhara, Central Asia, now in the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

His father, King Suddhodana, took pains to spare his only son from contact with the unpleasant details of life. He was motivated also by the prophecy given by a wandering ascetic, who foretold that the young Siddhartha would become either a great king or a great spiritual leader. His father wanted him to rule as his successor. So while the young prince was given a high-quality education, with tutors for language and martial arts, he was not allowed to leave the royal compound. And his father decreed that all the prince’s desires were to be met. He lived a life of refinement and luxury.

Yet Siddhartha yearned to know about the world outside the walls. He finally succeeded in persuading his charioteer, Channa, to take him for trips through the streets. Here he was shocked to see misery and pain. In particular he saw feeble old people, sick people, and some who had died. These images did not match the narrow picture of the world he had constructed through his education. They troubled him so much that he resolved to leave home and seek truth by himself.


On the very night of his son’s birth Prince Sid-dhartha rose and silently bade farewell to his wife, Yasodara, and baby son, Rahula. He then rode with his horse and charioteer a distance, ordered them to return, and began wondering by himself.


He soon met five wandering ascetics. Such ascetics were typically people who gave up all attachments, physical and social, and in this way attempted to gain spiritual insights and wisdom. The ascetic impulse was a widespread tradition in the Indian subcontinent, as it was throughout the ancient world. Siddhartha decided to join the five ascetics on their quest for spiritual understanding.

During this time Siddhartha underwent ascetic practices such as fasting, extreme physical deprivation in order to overcome the influence of the physical body. But Siddhartha finally concluded this form of practice was simply another extreme that would not lead to true wisdom. He then chose to leave his small group and ponder the way of achieving truth by himself.

Siddhartha settled in a forest grove and began to meditate on his life experiences. After 40 days he achieved what is invariably described as enlightenment, a complete and pervasive shift in understanding of the nature of reality. Siddhartha, the former prince and wondering ascetic, had become the Buddha, the enlightened one.


The Buddha’s subsequent story involved his 45-year career as a teacher. He collected a band of followers who traveled together with him throughout northern Indian regions. The Buddha saw himself as a teacher, not as the founder of a religious organization or a deity. He stressed each person’s obligation to use reason and judgment when evaluating life choices.

The Buddha preaching his first sermon to the five wandering ascetics, a common theme reproduced in Theravada temples and folklore; from Mt. Popa, central Myanmar (Burma)

The Buddha preaching his first sermon to the five wandering ascetics, a common theme reproduced in Theravada temples and folklore; from Mt. Popa, central Myanmar (Burma)

After 45 years he sensed his health was deteriorating. Later generations of followers state that he simply passed into nirvana, or the state of nonattachment, which knows no time or change. Being enlightened, the Buddha was no longer subject to the cycle of recurring births and death.

The figure of the Buddha is today an object of veneration for most Buddhists. And despite his clear teachings to the contrary, the Buddha has become a deity. Beyond this, however, the Buddha’s life itself stands as a powerful model of the correct path. This individual avoided the extremes of careless hedonism and cruel asceticism to find a balanced view of the world and his place in it. He concluded that humans must develop wisdom and compassion in equal measure. And he taught others the results of his quest.

Image of Gautama Buddha, from a temple near Kunming, southwestern China (Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California)

Image of Gautama Buddha, from a temple near Kunming, southwestern China (Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California)

Banarsidass, 1984); Trevor Ling, The Buddha (Harmond-sworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1973); H. Saddhatissa, The Life of the Buddha (London: Unwin, 1976);  J. Thomas, The Life of Buddha as Legend and History (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1992).


(359-429) translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese

Born in Kapilavastu, northern India, Buddhabhadra traveled to China in 408 c.e. Settling at Chang’an, the capital city, he assisted Kumarajiva (c. 400) in translating scriptures but was later rejected by Kumarajiva’s other disciples and left. Heading south—in some versions with 40 followers—he thereafter settled for a while at Mount Lu, where he worked with Hui Yuan (334-416) and taught meditation, and then at Nanjing, where he resumed his translation work. He translated 13 works, including the Dharmatara-dhyana-sutra (Yogacharabhumi-sutra), the Avatamsaka (Flower Garden) Sutra, and, with Fa Xian, the Vinaya and the Mahapa-rinirvirna Sutra.


(1906-1993) Thai reformer monk

Buddhadasa, who led a reformist movement opposing the corruption of mainstream Buddhist practice in Thailand, was born in Pum Riang, Chaiya District, Thailand, and as a young man became a bhiksu. He settled in Bangkok to study. However, he found life in the city corrupting. In 1932 he moved to southern Thailand and founded Suan Mokkhabalarama (Grove of the Power of Liberation) near his hometown.

Suan Mokkhabalarama was one of the few places in all of southern Thailand to offer intensive instruction in and practice of vipassana meditation. Buddhadasa began to attract likeminded Thai monks and, after World War II, many Westerners. His center became a fortress defending traditional Thai Buddhist practice from the "modernization" trends so evident among urban Buddhists. He championed what he termed "pristine Buddhism," which he saw as the original truth discovered by Buddha before the development of commentaries, rituals, clerical structures, and all of the paraphernalia that constitutes modern Buddhism. His view was developed out of his own study of the Pali canon.

He had received little formal education; the success of Buddhadasa’s self-education was evident in the respect later shown to him in his mature years. He authored a number of books and is credited as a major force in the 20th-century revival of Buddhism in Thailand. He is seen as a link between traditionalism and modern engaged Buddhism with its emphasis on Buddhist outreach into a spectrum of social concerns from environ-mentalism to politics. He called upon religious people to unite against the creeping inroads of materialism.

Toward the end of his life he founded the International Dhamma Hermitage, which gave focus to his work with Western disciples and inter-Buddhist and interfaith work.

Buddhadasa died of a stroke in 1993.

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