When Did The Buddha Live? (The Controversy on The Dating of The Historical Buddha)

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Item Code: IHL078
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Author: Heinz Bechert
Edition: 1995
ISBN: 8170304695
Pages: 387
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 Inch X 8.7 Inch
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From the Jacket

From the beginning of modern Indological research the dates of the Buddha have been recognized as having crucial importance for early Indian history. A symposium on the dare of the historical Buddha and the importance of its determination for historiography and world history was convened under the auspices of the academy of science in Gottingen Germany.

The present volume represents an updated survey of the state of research in this field which is based largely on the results achieved at this symposium and incorporates some more recent investigations. The present volume concentrates mainly on those aspects which are directly relevant for the reconstruction of the early history for the reconstruction of the early history of Buddhist chronology as well as for the understanding of related developments in India in Sri Lanka and in the countries of Southeast Asian Theravada tradition. The volume contains papers by Heinz Bechert Siglinde Dietz, Jens-Uwe Hartmannm Gustav Roth, Heinz Braun Hajime Nakamura, Herbert Hartel Herman Kulke, george von simsonm Adelheid Mette, Oskar von hinuber Wilhelm Halbfass Andre Bareau Mallebrein Petra Kieffer Pulz. Gunter Gronbold Claus Vogel Herbert Franke and Klaus Rohrborn. The volume contains an exhaustive bibliography.


From the Beginning of modern indological research the dares of the Buddha have been recognized as having crucial importance for early Indian history. After the second half of the 19th century it was widely supposed that the date of the Buddha’s Parinirvana has been definitely established by the calculation of the so-called corrected long chronology i.e. ca 480 B.C. However leading Japanese scholars proposed rather different calculations viz 400 B.C. 386 B.C. or 368 B.C. for this date when the present editor was confronted with the divergent theories of scholars he felt challenged to test the reliability of the various chronological calculations. For this purpose a symposium on the date of the historical Buddha and the importance of its determination fro historiography and world history was convinced under the auspices of the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Gottingen and supported by a grant from the stiftung Volkswagenwerk. It was held in Hedemunden on April 11-18, 1988. The Proceedings of this Symposium have been published in two volumes under the title the dating of the historical Buddha/ Die Datierung des historischen Buddha (Symposien Zur Buddhismusforschung IV, 1-2) in the series Abhandlungen der akademie der wissenschaften in Gottigen Philologisch historicsche Klasse Dritte Folge No 189 and 194 in 1991 and 1992 in addition to the contributions presented by the participants of this symposium additional papers by Prof. Dr. Richard Gombich (Oxford) by Prof. Dr. A.K. Narain (banaras Hindu University and Department of history University of Wisconsin Madison) by Priv Doz Dr. Klaus T, Schmidt ( Saarbrucken) and by Dr. Ruth Walldfe (Uppsala) have been published in the second volume of this publication it will be supplemented in due course by a third part with indexes bibliography etc.

The present volume represents an updated survey of the state of research in this field which is based largely on the results achieved at this symposium and incorporates some more recent investigations. While the symposium publication comprises all aspects of the history of Buddhist chronology and related issues as well as relevant comparative studies the present volume concentrates mainly on those aspects which are directly relevant for the reconstruction of the early history of Buddhist chronology as well as for the understanding of related developments in India in Sri Lanka and in the countries of Southest Asian Theravada tradition. For this purpose 21 papers have been selected from the 54 contributions published in the two volumes of the symposium publication whereby the two papers written by Prof. Dr Wilhelm Halbfass as well as the two papers written by the editor respectively have been joined into one unfortunately some important and relevant papers could not be included because of the strict limitations of space in the present volume. However all the contributors found in the symposium publication are listed in the bibliography of relevant literature which has been added in the present volume.

The papers read at the conference and published in the two above mentioned volumes were composed in one of four languages Viz English German, French or Tibetan for the present volume all contributions have either been written in or translated into English. We would like to thank Mr. Philip Pierce, M.A. ) Nepal Research Centre Kathmandu) for translating the contributions written in German by Dr. Siglinde Dietz, Dr. Gunter Gronbold, Dr. Petra Kieffer Pulz and Prof. dr. Klaus Rohrborn as well as Mr. Glenn Wallis (Dept. of Sanskrit and Indian Bareay from the original French text and that by Cornelia Mallebrien M.A From its original German Version. Prof. Dr. Georg Von simson and Prof. Dr. Heinrich con Stietencron have kindly provided English translations of their contributions which were originally published in German Mr. Richards Wilson kindly read through the English text of my and Dr. Heinz Braun’s contributions and Mr Jin-Il Chung Supported the evaluation of Japanese material my thanks are also due to Mrs. Suzanne Bareau for kindly giving permission to include the paper of her late husband in the present volume.

The publication of the present volume would not have been possible without the support granted by the Academy of sciences in Gottingen within the framework of its program of Buddhist studies. Finally the editor wishes to thank Dr. Petra Kieffer Pulz who was responsible for the redactional work her work was assisted by other co workers of the academy of sciences and the institute for Indian and Buddhist studies at eh university of Gottingen Particularly by Oliver Freberger and Andrea Gross M.A.


There is no information on the dates of the historical Buddha the founder of the Buddhist religion which has been unanimously handed down by all major Buddhist traditions and universally accepted by scholars nor have scholars been in a position to arrive at a general agreement concerning this question. While most Buddhist sources and scholars agree that the Buddha passed away at the age of eighty years traditional dates of the Parinirvana i.e. the decease of the Buddha range from 2420 B.C. to 290 B.C if converted into the Christian era. This situation has not only created considerable confusion for scholars but was felt as a stumbling block by modern Buddhists when they launched drives toward ecumenical cooperation. Therefore the issue of chronology has been widely discussed in the circles of the international Buddhist movement and as we shall see below attempts have been made to rich a general agreement concerning the Buddhist Era though with limited success so far.

The question of the dates of the Buddha and his contemporaries is no less important for historians. It remains a matter of crucial importance for Indian and indeed world historiography. Therefore various attempts have been made to reach a workable consensus but the majority of South Asian and Western as well as by a considerable number of South Asian scholars supposes that Buddha died within a few years of 480 B.C. to quote from the Cambridge history of India this calculation served as a cornerstone of early Indian history. Thus in the chronology of India by D. Mabel Duff (1899), 557 B.C. Siddhartha afterwards Gautama the Buddha born at Kapilavastu is listed as the first historical date immediately after 3102 B.C. the initial year of the Kaliyuga Era and 3076 B.C. that of the Laukika era. The birth date of the Buddha was reckoned back from 477 B.C. the year proposed as the date of the Buddha’s Parinirvana by Max Muller.

In the first period of European research into Buddhism in the early 19th century scholars tended to follow this uncorrected southern Buddhist or Theravada chronology. It was the latest of the then known traditional dates of the Buddha and thus it seemed the most probable view. However already in the introduction to his epoch making edition and translation of the great Chronicle of Ceylon or the Mahavamsa which was published in 1837 George Turnour noticed a discrepancy of about 60 years between the dates of Maurya King Candragupta as provided by this tradition and the date which had been established by the identification of Candragupta with Sandrakottos of the Greek writers the synchronism discovered by Sir William Jones in 1793 Turnour concluded that the dates of the kings Candragupta and Asoka were calculated too early in the chronicle but he accepted the information of the Mahavamsa that 168 years has elapsed between the death of the Buddha and the accession of Candragupta to the throne and 218 years between the same was later on termed the corrected ling chronology it was further confirmed by the decipherment of the Asokan Inscriptions and the identification of contemporary Greek rulers mentions on them.

As I have mentioned before this corrected long chronology which was proposed with variations ranging from 486 B.C. to 477 B.C as the given for the demise of the Buddha has served as something of a bedrock for Indian chronology and most of the approximately dates which were assigned to early Indian literary works depend on this very date which was widely believed to represent the first historical date in Indian history. Thus dates assigned to the Brahman literature ca 1000B.C. the earlier Upanishads and Sutras ca 800-500 B.C etc, which have been repeated over and over again since the time if Max Muller were based on this chronological information.

Notwithstanding a very small number of exceptions we meet with this corrected long chronology in practically all the modern handbooks of Indian history world history, history of religion etc. published in western countries or in south Asia during the last hundred years. It is generally presented as an established this hypothesis Wilhelm Geiger’s introduction of his translation of the Mahavamasa (1912) has been one of the most influential.

An excellent survey of all arguments put forward in favor of the corrected long chronology was published in 1953 by Andre Bareau in the Journal Asiatique by then the dare of ca. 480 B.C as the date of the Buddha’s Nirvana was believed to have been established as practically certain as formulated by A.K. Warder in 1970 so that it could safely be adopted as a basis of all early Indian chronology. The arguments proposed by the advocates of the long chronology have continued to be considered as convincing in recent scholarly writing on the subject e.g. in H.W. Schumann’s biography of the Buddha which appeared in 1982.

There were however some modern scholars who argued in favor of the uncorrected long chronology i.e. the Theravada dare of 544 B.C. for the Nirvana the most notable of them was Vincent A. smith who wrote the oxford history of India and the early history of India.


IIntroductory Essay
Introductory Essay the Dates of the historical Buddha a controversial Issue by Heinz Bechert (1). The Dates of the Buddha an open Question 11 (2). Reviewing the history Research 21 (3). Evidence Derived from the context of Indian cultural history 22 (4). Different evolutions of the Evidence 25 (5). The Origin and Spread of the various traditional Buddha Chronologies 29 (6) Chiliasm in Buddhist traditions 32 (7). The Dates of the Buddha in historical speculation 33 (8). Concluding Remarks 34 11
IIHistory of Research
The dating of the historical Buddha in the history of western scholarship up t 1980 by Siglinde Dietz
1. The early period 39 (2) The Middle Period 54 (3) More recent studies on the dares of the Buddha 93
Research on the date of the Buddha South Asian Studies Published in Western Languages by Jens Uwe Hartmann 107
Notes about the Dates the Gautama Buddha’s Parinirvana in Hindi Writings by Gustav Roth 125
The Buddhist Era in the Malalankaravatthu by Heinz Braun 131
Japanese research on the date of the Buddha by Hajime Nakamura 135
IIICultural Setting
Archeological research on ancient Buddhist sites by Herbert hartel Kusinagara 143 Bodh Gaya 144 Rajagrha 145 Sarnath 145 Kausambi 146 Sravasti 147 vaisati 148 Lumbini 149 Kapilvastu 150 (1). Tilaurakot 151 (2) Piprahwa ganwaria 154141
Some considerations on the significance of Buddha’s date for the history of north India by Hermann Kulke161
The Historical Background of the rise of Buddhism and the problem of dating by Georg Von simson 169
The Synchronism of the Buddha and the Jina Mahavira and the problem, of chronology in early Jainism by Adelheid Mette 179
Linguistic considerations on the date of the Buddha by Oskar von Hinumber 185
Early Indian references to the Greeks and the first encounters between Buddhism and the west by Wilhelm Halbfass The Buddha and Epicurus 205195
Some considerations concerning the problem posed by the date of the Buddha’s Parinirvana by Andre Bareau 211
The Puranic Genealogies and the date of the Buddha by Heinrich von Srietencron
Introductory summary 221 (I) The Text 222 (II) Structure Purpose and Origin of the Text 224 (III) The date of the Buddha 235 (IV) Buddha’s contemporaries 239 (1) Pradyota 239 (2) Prasenajit 242 (3) Udayana 242 (V) The Reconstruction by R. Morton Smith 244 (1) Magadha 244 (2) Kosala 245 (3) Vatsa 245 (4) Avanti 246 (VI) Possible answers to the Remaining Problems 246
IV Evaluation of the Indian and Theravada traditions
The dates of the Buddha and the origin and spread of the Theravada Chronology by Heinz Bechert
(1)The long and the short Chronology 253 (2) An examination of the corrected long chronology 254 (3) The Chronology of the dotted record 260 (4) The Chronology Miscalculation in the Sri Lankan Sources 261 (5) Traces of the short chronology in the Dipravamsa 265 (6) The origin of the long Chronology 272 (7) Etienne Lamotte and the date of the Parinirvana 276 (8) Ryusho Daffina on the dates of the Buddha 278 (10) Inscriptional evidence for the real dates of the Buddha 280 (11) Puranic sources 282 (12) Conclusions 284
Inscriptional sources for the dating of the historical Buddha in India The Bodh gaya inscription dated 1813 A.N. By corenelia Mallebrein 287
The Dating of the historical Buddha in the Buddhist Revival Movement by Petra Kieffer Pulz 297
VCentral and east Asian Traditions 297
The date of the Buddha according to Tantric Texts by Gunter Gron bold
(1) Manjusrimulakalpa 311 (2) Kalacakratantra 315 The names of the Kings 318 the dates of the kings 319 The date of the Revelation of the Mulatantra 322 (3) Dattings of the Tantric Masters 325 bibliography 326
Bu ston on the date of the Buddha’s Nirvana translated From his history of the doctrine by Claus vogel
Appendix on turning Tibetan chronological date into Christian Years 338 Trends in the Tibetan chronology of Buddhism according to by Ston 340 Bibliography of Tibetan works used 341
On Chinese traditions concerning the dates of the Buddha by Herbert Franke 343
The Birth and Death Years of the Buddha in the central Asia Tradition by Klaus Rohrborn 351
Bibliography by Heinz Bechert 353
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