What World Religions Teach

By E. G. Parrinder | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
THE BUDDHA AND SUFFERING

Gautama the Buddha was one of the world's greatest religious teachers, and is often called 'the greatest son of India.' There is little serious doubt that he was a historical person, though there are no early records of his time and masses of legend grew up around him later. A popular collection of Birth-stories (Jataka tales) gives 547 legends of the previous births of the Buddha as bird, animal, and man. Then legendary fives tell of his miraculous birth, his adoration by the gods, and the prodigies performed by the new-born infant. However, a way can be cleared through this legend to the real person beneath and a fair outline established of his life and teachings.

The dates generally accepted for Gaumtama by Western scholars are 563-483 B.C.; this is arrived at by calculating back from the known dates of Alexander the Great, who came to India later. Southern Buddhists reckon on dating some sixty years earlier, and Chinese Buddhists put it back to about 1000 B.C. He was born in the clan of the Shakyas, and so is sometimes called Shakya-muni, the Shakya-sage, especially in China. The Shakyas lived near the frontier of Nepal, in the lower foothills of the Himalayas. Their capital was Kapilavastu, and here there is an ancient inscription which still bears the writing, "The Blessed One was born here."

The boy's personal name was Siddhartha, but this is rarely used, and he is known generally by the family name of Gautama (Gotama for Southern Buddhists). His father was a raja or king, and his mother was a queen about whom legends are told foretelling the boy's birth. It is said that a sage had told the king that his son would become an ascetic or a universal monarch. To

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