Rediscovering the Buddha: Legends of the Buddha and Their Interpretation

By Hans H. Penner | Go to book overview

PART I

According to the Buddhist scriptures, after the Buddha’s funeral the monks gathered together and selected a few of the very best experts among them to repeat what the Buddha had said during their lifetime together. Each of the chosen monks began by stating where the discourse had occurred. When you open one of the volumes of the English translation of the canonical scripture of Theravada Buddhism, you find something like the following introduction to each section or chapter: “Thus I have heard. Once the Buddha was staying at Savatthi, in Anathapindika’s park at the Jeta Grove. The monks had gathered together after their alms-round and a serious discussion arose about former lives. The Buddha, having powers surpassing those of human beings, heard what they were saying. Getting up from his seat, he went to them, sat down on the prepared seat, and said, ‘Monks, what conversation did I interrupt?’ ” The monks then repeat what they had been discussing, and the remainder of the chapter is the Buddha’s response.

The main source for these dialogues and part I of this book is the canon of Theravada Buddhism, the Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia. Called the Tipitaka (The Three Baskets), it is written in Pali, a language related to Sanskrit, and is divided into three large sections. It does not contain a complete biography of the Buddha. This omission is not due to the fact that the monks were not interested in his life. On the contrary, the Three Baskets contains vivid descriptions of his many lives in past aeons and also his life in the

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