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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Coleen, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Coleen, FBA Team
... suppose this can in a way ... use that ...
by itself, and ... perhaps not being such good conditions but working ...
S: Yes. There does seem to be some such correspondence.
Ratnaprabha: Can I just adjust your microphone ... ? (Makes adjustment.) Sorry about that.
Uttara: This isn't exactly a question that has come out of the book, it is just a question that
sort of occurred to me, but it is relevant, I think. In the Basic Puja, there is the verse: The
Buddha was a man. Sometimes we use it as: The Buddha was born, as we are born, when
there are women around, not to offend them, but usually it's The Buddha was a man as we are
men. What I derive from that statement I think this is what it's getting at is that the Buddha
was, I don't know whether just a man, but the Buddha was man, he was born a man; there
wasn't anything special, right? But the impression one gets from the Scriptures from, say, his
previous lives and various things is it says that the Buddha in his previous lives was a
Bodhisattva or he descended from whatever realm, so when he was born he made so many
steps and then pronounced that he was going to attain Enlightenment. To me, that doesn't
sound just like your average man in the street, in a way.
S: So far as we know!
Uttara: So is it worth looking at the Buddha I think you once said Christians sometimes say:
'Oh well, the Buddha was a good man but Jesus Christ was of divine origin' or something; but
I think what I am trying to get at is that the Buddha, too, OK, maybe in one of his previous
lives started off as just a man, but I think through his lives you see that he was, it seems as
though he was a Bodhisattva, which seems different from just being a man? Do you see what
I'm getting at?
S: Well, there is the point this is the main point, I think that in the Buddhist Scriptures there
seem to be different strata, some older than others; and in what appear to be the oldest strata
the Buddha is referred to simply as a human being, without all the legends, as one might call
them, which seem to have developed later on. For instance, you mention the Buddha having
been a Bodhisattva; well, in what seem to be the earlier parts of the Pali Scriptures, the term
Bodhisattva is used only for the Buddha before he gained Enlightenment in this life; and we
are not really told anything about even his early life in this birth, apart from that incident
under the jambu tree. There certainly seems, in the earliest parts of the Pali Canon, to be no
reference to his having descended from the Tusita devaloka or anything like that. So we are at
liberty to regard those as later, as it were, more devotional developments. If we don't do that
and, of course, many Buddhists don't if we accept those later accounts of the prior
Bodhisattva career, so that we regard the Buddha as having been born in this life literally on
the threshold of Enlightenment, i.e. having to take only just the last few steps, then obviously
there can be no comparison with ourselves; because we, as far as we know, aren't in that
position. But, from a purely practical point of view, it does seem to offer us more
encouragement if we think that the Buddha started off more or less from scratch in this life.
None the less, that doesn't resolve the question quite so easily, because one certainly does find
that people, say even those coming into contact with the FWBO, in some cases respond in a
very decisive manner, as though a seed had already been sown, whereas others hardly respond
at all, or respond very little indeed. So sometimes one can't help thinking, well, some people
have a whole lot of good karma behind them, so that when they come into contact with the
Dharma they can recognize  it and appreciate and feel drawn towards it at once; whereas it
leaves others cold. So it might even be possible to take a sort of middle path and say, well, the
Buddha, yes, in a sense, was an ordinary man, but perhaps he was one of those people with
some sort of special genius for the spiritual life, whether on account of previous karma or not
it is very difficult for us to say, just from our own knowledge, as it were; we can only really
speculate. But it doesn't seem, if one sifts the material in a critical way, it doesn't seem that
the Buddha made for himself the sort of claims that were afterwards attributed to him.
Uttara: So the Jatakas and all that have just been attached on to it?
S: Well, that's not quite so straightforward. You will have to read The Eternal Legacy. There
are Jatakas and Jatakas. There are what we call canonical Jatakas and non-canonical Jatakas.
The non-canonical Jatakas are in the majority; there are more than 500 of them, and these are
clearly Indian folk tales that have been adapted. And what about the canonical Jatakas? Well,
in these those which occur in other parts of the Canon mostly, and could possibly have been
told by the Buddha himself simply represent the Buddha as having been, in his previous lives,
either a righteous king or a sort of hermit, a wise man; which seems quite credible that
someone with that sort of karma could be born with a special aptitude for the spiritual life.
There is not really any great mention of aeons and aeons of effort as a Bodhisattva in the way
that the Mahayana, say, later on believed. But it does raise all sorts of questions as to how one
regards the Buddha; because if one does regard the Buddha as a sort of semi-divine figure
from the beginning, it might be very inspiring but the Buddha as such can hardly be a model
for us, at least not in the short term.
Uttara: You do get people talking about goals [.. . ] that Stream Entry seems more accessible
from where people are now, whereas Enlightenment seems sometimes quite far off; so
S: Well, with Stream Entry as it were, you are safe because you can't fall below a certain
point ever. So even if you do rest on your oars a bit, you can't be swept away. Not that it's a
good thing just to rest on your oars, anyway.
Sumana: Do you know the origin of the teaching of the 32 marks of the great man? It seems
to be in Hinduism as well, ...
S: No, it's a very strange thing. It is one of the mysteries, in a way, of Buddhism. Because in
the Pali scriptures, the wise brahmins are frequently credited with the knowledge of these
signs. But Hindu Sanskrit literature contains no reference to them. Vedic literature seems to
contain no reference to them. So scholars are a bit puzzled as to where they came from.
Maybe we have lost some of the Vedic literature, or maybe there is some other explanation.
So that is why it is very difficult to ascertain exactly what some of them mean, because there
is no other contemporary literature or tradition that we can refer to. We only find these lists in
Buddhist literature, even though they are credited to the brahmins of the Buddha's day. It is all
Sumana: It is odd in the extract that the brahmin, when he confirms that the Buddha has these
marks, acclaims him as a Buddha and not as a Hindu deity or a reincarnation or something of
S: Yes, this is as yet an unsolved mystery.
: I was wondering, Bhante, about the thousand-spoked wheel, as opposed to the eight-spoked
Dharmacakra wheel that we are more familiar with. Is this a bit like the four arms of
Avalokitesvara and the thousand arms, sort of thing, or ?
S: It is generally considered to be a solar symbol; it's the sun and its thousand rays, as it were.
It does seem that quite a bit of solar myth and symbol gathered around the figure of the
Buddha. He is in any case a dicchabandhu(?), isn't he, according to the Pali texts? a kinsman
of the sun. Or adityabandhu(?), in Sanskrit. One early scholar tried to explain the Buddha as
being entirely a solar myth, but no one follows that line of thought now. But no doubt a lot of
solar symbolism did gather around the figure of the Buddha.
Uttara: I think this ties in with what we were just talking about. I remember a few years ago,
when I came to see you, I mentioned I had been reading something about Hercules.
S: That's right, yes.
Uttara: And you mentioned that you had been thinking about the relationship between the
Buddha and Hercules. I think you said that maybe one day you would like to think more about
that and maybe write something on it. Have you done any more?
S: No, I haven't, I'm afraid. There were two things I had in mind. One was that, in the case of
Hercules, you've got the Twelve Labours of Hercules, and in Buddhist tradition a slightly
later tradition you've got the Twelve Great Acts of the Buddha. And what else was there?
Yes: you know there were the sort of Indo-Greek kingdoms in Afghanistan, that sort of area,
which were Buddhist for a while, and their kings issued coins; and sometimes on those coins
there are figures of Hercules, who seems to be identified with Krishna that is the usual
explanation, anyway. It does seem that there was an attempt to identify Greek gods with
corresponding Indian figures. So I couldn't help wondering whether there was a connection
between the Twelve Labours of Hercules and the Twelve Great Acts of the Buddha. Usually
it is said that Hercules corresponds to Krishna; but that is a bit speculative. I couldn't help
wondering whether the Greeks in their way regarded Hercules as the equivalent of the
Buddha, because Hercules is represented, in Greek mythology, as a sort of saviour figure