Was Gautama really a prince?

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Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Feb 13, 2010 2:09 pm

I'm reading John Keay's history of India and he mentions briefly that the clan of the Shakyas was a republican ganas-sangha with many rajas who elected their chief through vote. He then suggests that the "Prince" story of the Buddha is a later fabrication.

Basically, since there was no hereditary succession of leadership, there would not have been princes.

I'm unfortunately somewhat ignorant of Indian history (that's why I'm reading up on it :reading: ), so maybe we could discuss this further here.

Now, supposing it is a later fabrication, does it have any effect on Buddhist models of practise and enlightenment? What comes to mind are the theories that say future and past Buddhas all follow the same life pattern as Gautama purportedly did -- being born as royalty, leaving the palace, becoming enlightened, etc... I imagine that isn't essential as far as the soteriological goals of Buddhology go.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Virgo » Sat Feb 13, 2010 4:32 pm

Hi Huseng :)

As far as I know, all SamyaksamBuddhas are princes that renounce royal life. The Buddha was also a trained warrior of the warrior class. That is why he had a heart like a lion, and not a sheep, like most of the other people around him.

I wish I had some more reading material about this so that I could learn more. I will be interested to see what else is posted in this thread by others as well, Huseng.

I don't have much evidence to support the claim I made above about all Samyaksambuddhas being royalty, but I believe it is stated in scripture, although I am not sure where. I do wish to share this one article, which may be slightly different from what you are looking for because it deals mostly with the state of the Sramanas at the time of the Buddha, and with how the Buddha was a Sramana, but it does touch briefly on his princely role and on the differing ruling classes and their situations at the time in India.

Enjoy,

kevin

http://www.knowbuddhism.info/2009/01/historical-and-philosophical-background.html
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Feb 13, 2010 10:41 pm

Let's just say for a moment that John Keay is correct and that the Shakya clan was republican and thus had no hereditary system of political power, and that the tale of Buddha being a prince was a fabrication in later decades (or possibly centuries?).

I wonder what the basis is for stating that all Buddhas are born princes and then renounce the royal life? If what Keay says is correct then it is likely that Gautama, while not a prince, might have been at least a son of a raja (of which there were many in the Shakya clan apparently).
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:16 pm

As regards that, you may want to read the Lalitavistara Sutra (widely translated as The Voice of the Buddha: the Beauty of Compassion) . And a hundred, no a thousand other sutras documenting the young life of the young prince.
I'd suggest John Keay is not really a Buddhist and he is rather an historical revisionist, debunker, devil's advocate, and so forth; and his findings don't really have much to do with the 2,500 year history of Buddhism; certainy, his research has no impact on the doctrinal teachings or truth of Buddhism; for a non-Buddhist historian, you might wish to study John Keay; for a Buddhist, you're far better to study Buddhism.
With respect to this claim, I suggest reading the Lalitavistara Sutra first of all.
If you still want to read a history of India, I recommend Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:41 pm

Regardless if John Keay is a Buddhist or not, we Buddhists might still have to account for historical discrepancies between our story and what Indologist historians have to say about the reality of the Shakya clan.

Unfortunately hagiographies -- no matter the religion -- have a tendency of becoming a mix of historical records, myths and hearsay.

I'm not saying I personally think that Gautama was not a prince. However, if historians can put forth a solid case that the Shakya clan in the time of the Buddha was actually a republican gana-sangha with no royalty, then we're obligated to examine such an argument.

As time goes on these sorts of questions will arise more and more. There is a lot of work being done in Buddhist Studies, particularly in dating sutras and tracing their development over the centuries. As one example the Avatamsaka-sutra is said to have been assembled from numerous smaller sutras over the centuries rather than appearing as just one single text. That doesn't negate the value of the text nor its religious significance, but in such cases we need to recognize historical truth in the face of untenable legend.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:46 pm

Huseng wrote:Regardless if John Keay is a Buddhist or not, we Buddhists might still have to account for historical discrepancies ...


Well, you might have to do that....
Others though, might be more naturally disposed to seek enlightenment for the sake of all beings!
If you think studying John Keay is the path towards enlightenment, I must say that I don't really think so; you would be better to forget about John Keay, and study Buddhism instead!

However, if enlightenment is not your goal, but rather historical scholarship, then you probably prefer to read John Keay.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:59 pm

With respect, I don't think that is a healthy attitude to take towards Buddhist practise and academic study of history and religion.

Seeking accurate knowledge and insight, as well as rectifying errors and making the picture clearer, is an aspect of the six paramita of wisdom.

I can also assure you many modern day Buddhists including many bhiksu and bhikusuni can strive for enlightenment and at the same time critically analyse and examine their own religion.

The question of whether or not Gautama was a prince or not is probably not ultimately all that important when it comes down to cutting away the causes of samsara, but it is still an important question that Buddhists should be able to answer if we're going to be able to thrive and meet the demands of the modern world.

In other words, we have to answer a lot of tough questions if we're going to remain a relevant and plausible institution in the coming centuries. I think a lot of Buddhist masters of our present day realize this and they're actively encouraging critical scholarship. Dharma Drum Mountain 法鼓山, FGS 佛光山, various Tibetan organizations as well as the Buddhist universities in Japan are all fostering academic scholarship of Buddhism.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sun Feb 14, 2010 12:13 am

Huseng wrote:With respect, I don't think that is a healthy attitude to take towards Buddhist practise and academic study of history and religion.


If studying Buddhism at the expense of reading John Keay, with firm faith and belief that enlightnment will result, for the sake of the liberation of humanity, is an unhealthy attitude, then this is most unfortunate.
As for the academic study of history and religion, that is what it is; but it's not the way to enlightenment; that's the unique office of Buddhism!
No-one ever attained nirvana by reading John Keay; however, the Lalitavistara Sutra and Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India are splendid places to begin the journey!

In other words, we have to answer a lot of tough questions if we're going to remain a relevant and plausible institution in the coming centuries


Well you may have to do so; meanwhile, others are attaining enlightenment for the sake of sentiet beings, by studying and practising Buddhism!
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Feb 14, 2010 12:33 am

If studying Buddhism at the expense of reading John Keay, with firm faith and belief that enlightnment will result, for the sake of the liberation of humanity, is an unhealthy attitude, then this is most unfortunate.


I never said that reading John Keay would result in enlightenment.

However, fishing out truth and rectifying erroneous records of the past is potentially useful in understanding the development of Buddha's message over time. That is prajna.

Well you may have to do so; meanwhile, others are attaining enlightenment for the sake of sentiet beings, by studying and practising Buddhism!



Wouldn't you say providing others with a clear and accurate picture of the development of Buddhism is compassionate and that such compassion cultivates the mind that seeks the way?
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Huifeng » Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:29 am

My own understanding is something like this:

First, the topic is rather murky, most of the materials are dated rather late.
Second, there is the issue of whether or not we should even be using a Vedic / Manusmrti caste system to discuss the social norms of the Sakyas. (See Bronkhorst, "Greater Magadha", for some insightful povs on this.)
Third, the Sakyas, like the Koliyas, Vrjjis and other non-Vedic "eastern" groups, were probably neither strict monarchies nor strict republics.
Four, probably each was governed by a group of elders of a particularly clan. We can call these Ksatriyas. Many, but not all, had family allegiances to other groups. So, some elders would have been more influential than others.
Five, one could probably say that Gautama was the son of one the the most important elders, if not the most important elder himself, of the Sakya clan.
Six, whether or not one wishes to call that a "prince" - with all the European connotations such a word in English implies, is then up to you.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:50 am

Venerable Huifeng

Thank you for your reply.

Off the top of your head, do you know from what Pali or Sanskrit lexical item one derives the English rendering "prince" from?

I'd try to go look for it myself, but I'll ask you first.

Would maybe looking up the dictionary translations for "prince" across the Sanskrit canon work? Hm. But then my Sanskrit ability isn't up to snuff to make much sense out of raw Sanskrit without annotation.

Five, one could probably say that Gautama was the son of one the the most important elders, if not the most important elder himself, of the Sakya clan.


However, as the story goes wasn't Gautama set to inherit the throne from his father?

If in fact there was hereditary succession, then there isn't a problem with the traditional account of Buddha's life.

If the clan elected their leaders by vote, then there is a problem.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Feb 14, 2010 2:01 am

Incidentally, just looking at the Chinese.

《長阿含經》卷1:「太子初生。父王槃頭召集相師及諸道術。令
觀太子。知其吉凶。時。諸相師受命而觀。即
前披衣。見有具相。占曰。有此相者。當趣
二處。必然無疑。若在家者。當為轉輪聖王。
王四天下。四兵具足。以正法治。無有偏枉。
恩及天下。七寶自至。千子勇健。能伏外敵。
兵[16]杖不用。天下太平。若出家學道。當成正
覺。十號具足。 時。諸相師即白王言。王所生
子。有三十二相。當趣二處。必然無疑。在家
當為轉輪聖王。若[17]其出家。當成正覺。十號
具足。」(CBETA, T01, no. 1, p. 4, c20-p. 5, a1)
[16]杖=仗【宋】【元】【明】。[17]其出家當=出家必【宋】【元】【明】。

They use the word taizi 太子 to describe Gautama at birth. In Chinese at least that implies hereditary succession.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 14, 2010 7:49 am

Buddhanataka wrote:you would be better to forget about John Keay, and study Buddhism instead!


Buddhanataka wrote:
Huseng wrote:In other words, we have to answer a lot of tough questions if we're going to remain a relevant and plausible institution in the coming centuries


Well you may have to do so; meanwhile, others are attaining enlightenment for the sake of sentiet beings, by studying and practising Buddhism!


Buddhanataka,

Subhuti, what is called "the Religion given by Buddha" is not, in fact Buddha-Religion.
- Diamond Sutra, chapter 8

In other words, so-called "enlightenment" is not dependent upon Buddhism. The Buddha's real teaching is not to be found in scripture.

Furthermore, "for the sake of all sentient beings" is basically what Huseng is getting at... people like to ask questions before diving in deeper. If we can't answer basic questions people are not so likely to find much worth in spending more time with it.

The Buddha taught false "Buddhism" based on our delusion, so as to loosen our grip and prepare us for the true Buddha-teaching which is not to be found in doctrine, in words.

As the modern world becomes more critical we must be prepared. Otherwise they may not enter. Sometimes you have to feed them what they want, in order to give them a real taste of Dharma.

:namaste:
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby eijo » Sun Feb 14, 2010 2:24 pm

I can't answer all your questions, but one commonly sees rājakumāra and variations in Pali and Sanskrit texts.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sun Feb 14, 2010 9:54 pm

Dexing wrote: "enlightenment" is not dependent upon Buddhism


That's not my understanding of Dharma; as a matter of fact if you look at all the enlightened ones, apart from the Buddha who discovered the way for himself, they have attained enlightenment through hearing the Dharma.

To state that enlightenment (bodhi) and Buddhism (bauddha) are two different fish is to open a big, big, big old can of worms. As a matter of fact it's a mostly extraordinary thing to say!
Or to put it another way: Now I've REALLY heard it all!
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:28 pm

Buddhanataka wrote:
Dexing wrote: "enlightenment" is not dependent upon Buddhism


That's not my understanding of Dharma; as a matter of fact if you look at all the enlightened ones, apart from the Buddha who discovered the way for himself, they have attained enlightenment through hearing the Dharma.


So your own logic disagrees with you. If the Buddha discovered the way for himself, his enlightenment must be false, since enlightenment is dependent upon Buddhism.

Basically, since all beings share the same nature regardless of being Buddhist, or even being human for that matter, waking up to that certainly is not dependent upon Buddhism.

However, what does the Heart Sutra say about "all the enlightened ones";

"All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi through reliance on Prajna Paramita"

Prajnaparamita is the wisdom of emptiness, not of Buddhist scripture.

The only thing that keeps people from realization is the heaviness of their karma, not whether or not they have studied Buddhism.

But at least if you are so attached to Buddhism, it is perhaps the best thing to be attached to.

:namaste:
nopalabhyate...
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:55 pm

Dexing wrote:So your own logic disagrees with you. If the Buddha discovered the way for himself, his enlightenment must be false, since enlightenment is dependent upon Buddhism.


In that case, a chicken must be false, since it depends on an egg, yet the egg itself is already by the same logic established as nonexisent due to its dependence upon the chicken; so the recourse to such logic is perfectly useless in such cases.
Yes the Buddha discovered the way by himself; but it is clearly apparent that others have attained enlightenment by hearing the Dharma; so it is well known that enlightenment (bodhi), the Buddha, and Buddhism (bauddha) are mutually connected, not mutually exclusive.
Last edited by Buddhanataka on Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:07 pm

Buddhanataka wrote:In that case, a chicken must be false, since it depends on an egg, yet the egg itself is already by the same logic established as nonexisent due to its dependence upon the chicken; so the recourse to such logic is useless in this case.


You are saying Buddhism is the mother of all Buddhas, but even Buddhism says Prajnaparamita is the mother of all Buddhas. :thumbsup:

The wisdom of emptiness is not Buddhism, and doesn't depend on Buddhism either.

YES the Buddha discovered the way by himself; but it is clearly apparent that others have attained enlightenment by hearing the Dharma; so it is well known that enlightenment and Buddhism are mutually connected, not mutually exclusive.


I wouldn't suggest that Buddhist teachings won't lead to enlightenment. Just that since all share the same nature, realization can come at any time and in any place, regardless of whether or not someone studies Buddhism.

If you study Buddhism, you'll find that Buddhism actually says the same thing. Maybe that's just Mahayana teaching.

Perhaps you would feel more at home on dhammawheel.com then?

:namaste:
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Buddhanataka » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:11 pm

Dexing wrote:The wisdom of emptiness is not Buddhism, and doesn't depend on Buddhism either.


It is well known and documented that all the enlightened ones, save for the exceptions such as Shakyamuni Buddha and Garab Dorje, have awakened to enlightenment after hearing the Dharma, whether from a book or from a guru, so you would be exceptionally hard pressed to profit from that statement.
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Re: Was Gautama really a prince?

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:44 pm

Buddhanataka wrote:
Dexing wrote:The wisdom of emptiness is not Buddhism, and doesn't depend on Buddhism either.


It is well known and documented that all the enlightened ones, save for the exceptions such as Shakyamuni Buddha and Garab Dorje, have awakened to enlightenment after hearing the Dharma, whether from a book or from a guru, so you would be exceptionally hard pressed to profit from that statement.


So what does this mean? The rule only applies to... most?

That means it's not a solid rule at all. Besides, in regards to the individual experience of "all the enlightened ones", you would be hard-pressed to prove your point.

But Buddhism can still make a sweeping statement about "all the enlightened ones" nonetheless, in saying they attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi through reliance on Prajna Paramita.

There is only one way.

That is- through the wisdom of emptiness, not the teachings on the wisdom of emptiness. ;)

Being of the same nature, waking up to that can come at any time and place. What trips that experience is not always the same.

Okay Buddhanataka,
Cheers,

:namaste:
nopalabhyate...
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