No man has had a greater influence on the spiritual development of his people than Siddhartha Gautama. Born in India in the sixth century BC into a nation hungry for spiritual experience, he developed a religious and moral teaching that, to this day, brings comfort and peace to all who practice it.
Having immersed himself in the asceticism and self-deprivation prevalent among religious teachers, he saw that spiritual emancipation could be achieved only through the mind. His eightfold path for right living is a means to liberation from suffering and forms the basis of Buddhist humanism.
This comprehensive biography examines the social, religious and political conditions that gave rise to Buddhism as we now know it. It explores the spiritual traditions from which the Buddha broke away and places his teachings and influence in a throughly researched historical context.
H.W. SCHUMANN studied Indology, comparative religions and social anthropology at Bonn University and earned his Ph.D. degree for a thesis on Buddhist philosophy. He lectured at the Hindu University in Benaras, India, joined the Foreign Services of the Federal Republic of Germany and served in consular and diplomatic capacities at the West German missions in Kolkata, Rangoon, Chicago and Colombo. He was incharge of the India desk at the German Foreign Office and retired as the Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Mumbai.
Dr. Schumann who, during his twenty years in Asia, visited all the places related to the life of the Buddha, lectured on Buddhism at Bonn University. He is the author of nine books on Buddhism which were translated into five languages.
This book is a splendid contribution on the scholarship about Gautama Buddha, using various Buddhist and non-Buddhist sources. The scholarship includes data on the Buddha's era, his relatives, etc.; the local king of his city Kapilavatthu; the Buddha's enlightenment; monuments as in Sarnath; what the city Benares was known for; the conversion of King Bimbisara of Magadha with the capital Rajagaha; and when Sariputta and Moggallana became disciples Then a synopsis of the Buddha's doctrine, his order, also the laity, followed by the psychological aspects of Gautama (or Gotama), then his later years, his last journeys; his Parinibbana; plus a little of the Afterwards, including his relics.
Few personalities in the history of human thought have had such a wide and lasting influence as Siddhattha Gotama, the 'Buddha', and none has left his mark more deeply on Asia. The religion founded by him has not only brought consolation to innumerable people, but has also provided the basis of a lofty humanism and a culture of great sensibility. The first sermon preached by the Buddha at Sarnath near Benares in 528 B c was an event whose beneficent effects continue to this day.
The title The Historical Buddha indicates both the subject of the present work and the limits of its scope. It excludes any treatment of the non-historical Buddhas of the past and the future who are frequently mentioned in Buddhist scriptures; it also excludes all legends which developed around the person of the historical Buddha, except in so far as a historical kernel could be detected in them. The book deals with the demythologized person of the great sage, with the age in which he lived and with the political and social conditions which made his mission possible and permitted its success.
Since there are already a considerable number of biographies of the Buddha, a new biography needs some express justification. This lies in the fact that Ideology as a discipline has in the past two decades finally descended from its ivory tower and has now come round to viewing the great thinkers of India in the context of the events of their time and their surroundings. The age of the Buddha, the sixth to fifth century B c, has been placed in a new light as a result of recent detailed investigations. The Buddha is viewed no longer as a holy man floating in the air, so to speak, but as a worldly-wise organizer who knew how to exploit political situations with tactical skill: as someone, in fact, comparable to the greatest Indian of modern times, Mahatma Gandhi, who was able to fulfill his mission because he was not only a pious Hindu but also a brilliant advocate and a realistic political thinker.
No period of history was really a `good old time', and the age of the Buddha was no exception - as is proved by the great interest shown in new doctrines of emancipation. We would do well to regard it as a period in which people differed from us neither in intelligence nor in moral standards, but only in possessing a different view of the world and less technical command over the forces of nature - as people who were moved by exactly the same desires and hopes as ourselves. Buddhists sometimes maintain that the Buddha as a person is not important, that not the ephemeral events of his lifetime but only his timeless teachings are worthy of our attention. There is something to be said for this view, and in fact we can leave the Buddha out of his system without removing any essential element. On the other hand, every philosophical view is a rationalization of the mentality of the thinker who produced it.
A different person, or the same person in different surroundings, would have developed a different mentality and accordingly would have rationalized somewhat differently: in other words, he would have thought differently. Accordingly, the creator of a system is worthy of interest as a person and in the context of his circumstances, especially for the westerner who thinks in historical terms, and for whom the How of an insight is just as interesting as the What. The philosophical-religious system, aiming at emancipation, which the Buddha preached to his Indian contemporaries in the course of his forty-five years' mission, is here sketched in its earliest known form. Readers who wish to know about the subsequent developments of the Buddhas teaching are referred to my book Buddhism: An Outline of its Teachings and Schools (Rider, London, t 973). Where, in the following account, we are concerned not with philosophical details but with biographical facts or relationships, it is permissible to give the Master's words in abridged form or in a paraphrase.
In this way they possibly come to life better than when presented in the repetitive 'sacred' style which is the product of the revision of the Pali Canon by several monastic councils. This Canon in the Pali language is the most important source for the biographer of the Buddha, and accordingly Buddhist names and terms are given here in their Pali form (e.g. Pali nibbana instead of Sanskrit nirvana). Other names and terms are given in whatever iA the most usual form: Sanskrit, Prakrit or Hindi. It would have been possible to illustrate this book with pictures of Buddha images. I have refrained from doing so, because representations of the Buddha in art in India date only from some four and a half centuries after the death of the Master, not long before the beginning of the Christian era, and represent not the historical Gotama but the already legendary Superman (mahcipurisa) into which he had been turned. Thus the inclusion of illustrations from Buddhist art would have reintroduced the legendary elements which had been filtered out.
The historical Buddha is a Buddha without images. My heartfelt thanks go to all those who have made this book possible, first and foremost to my wife, who for five years had to spend silent evenings, first in Bonn and later in Colombo, and to sacrifice many joint enterprises. My son Harald Kim, too, has made sacrifices: although he was born in India at the full moon of May, on the Buddha's supposed birthday, lie occasionally protested when Pa was more concerned with past times with him. I am also most grateful to the most senior German Theravada monk, the Venerable Nyanaponika Mahathera of the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, for his unstinting help and strenuous efforts on my behalf. Despite his own literary work and the urgent editorial demands of the Buddhist Publication Society, he found the time to read the manuscript with care. His comments have contributed considerably in improving the exactness of several sections.
Last but not least I owe gratitude to Mr M. O'C. Walshe, who translated the book into English. As a former university reader in German, Vice-President of the Buddhist Society in London, translator of the Digha Nikaya and author of several books, no one could be better qualified for the task.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Language & Literature (437)
Sacred Sites (103)
Tantric Buddhism (85)
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