Friday, October 21, 2005

27. Historical Buddha

The Historical Buddha by H.W. Schumann was very interesting to me. The historical buddha is important to me, in that it highlights, what the spiritual and metaphorical Buddha means to me. I am not afraid of being disillusioned about the real buddha. I was. He was a sexist, classist, prejudiced imperfect human being. But he achieved a transcendent state, and as they say, "sundered the bonds that caused him suffering." Thus he is a spiritual hero of mine. Tradition holds that he was the first to enlightenment. That is my goal.

It's quite amazing what we know about this fellow who lived 2,500 years ago. Dates are interesting. BC and AD are Christian concoctions. To secularize it, people write B.C.E. and A.D.E., but it is still in reference to Christ. I saw the Jewish faith just recently celebrated the year 5766. I think if you begin time from the time of the Buddha's enlightenment, then the year is 2533. Of if we base it when the Buddha was born, the year is 2568.

Henceforth, I see it as the year 2533. I will conform to the usual date for work, banking and other transactions, but I see it as the year 2533.

The Buddha was sexist from my world view, my time, my country of origin, my intellectual heritage and experiences. I believe women are equal. The Buddha essentially said so when he said women could become arhants, but not enlightened.

The buddhist was classist in that he humiliated the uneducated lower caste order members when the made theoretical dharma mistakes.

He was prejudiced in that he didn't allow people with leprosy, boils, eszema, tuberculosis or epilepsy join the order. In his defense, some people tried to join the order because of free medical services provided by some supporters. He was also ageist, he was reluctant to ordain older members.

He left his son, when he was born. The writer suggests possibly that as a condition of leaving and leading the homeless life of a samana, he got permission by producing a heir. Plus he was not enlightened yet. Anyway, which is better to be enlightened or a good father. In his circumstances, that was his choice. My hope is that that is not my choice.

But these things place him in his time, human foibles. He is human, not omniscient. He rose above his time in an important way that is unimaginable now with our distractions, materialism and worldly ambition.

I learned the first ones to hear the Buddha teach the dharma, were merchants, who were wandering by when he came out of his meditations. There was geography, social context, competing teachers and personalities. I found this book very interesting, and I quite enjoyed it.

It gave a historical narrative, until the history goes weak, and then Schumann shifts to the dharma, and other general considerations of the time. I wasn't so interested in the dharma part, as history. I liked his examination of the rules, the sangha, looking at the Buddha psychologically.

It's hard to report on all the book gave, it gave a lot. I've always wanted to learn more about the context in which the Buddha came up with his ideas. To see what is cultural, and what is really dharma. I'm exhausted and overwhelmed, so I'll end. Read the book.

1 comment:

Jayarava said...

Hi Stephen,

Just found your blog and added it to my list of FWBO bloggers on I think you might be interested in the Aryapariyesana Sutta which has an alternative biography of the Buddha - probably much earlier. In this version he is not married, does not have a son, and does not leave in the middle of the night etc etc.

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