In Buddhism, Buddha (; Pali, Sanskrit: 𑀩𑀼𑀤𑁆𑀥, बुद्ध), "awakened one", is a title for those who are spiritually awake or enlightened, and have thus attained the supreme religious goal of Buddhism, variously described as nirvana, awakening (bodhi) and liberation (vimutti). A Buddha is also someone who has fully understood the Dharma (Sanskrit 𑀥𑀭𑁆𑀫; Pali dhamma), the true nature of things or the universal law. Buddhahood (Sanskrit: 𑀩𑀼𑀤𑁆𑀥𑀢𑁆𑀯, buddhatva; Pali: buddhatta or buddhabhāva; Chinese: 成佛) is the condition and state of a buddha. This highest spiritual state of being is also termed sammā-sambodhi (skt. samyaksaṃbodhi 'full complete awakening'). This state is interpreted in many different ways in the various schools of Buddhism.
The title of "Buddha" is most commonly used for Gautama Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, who is often simply known as "the Buddha". The title is also used for other beings who have achieved awakening and vimoksha (liberation), such as the other human Buddhas who achieved enlightenment before Gautama, the five celestial Buddhas worshiped primarily in Mahayana (such as Amitabha), and the bodhisattva Maitreya (known as the Buddha of the future), who will attain awakening at a future time, and succeed Gautama Buddha as the supreme Buddha of the world.
The goal of Mahayana's bodhisattva path is complete Buddhahood, so that one may benefit all sentient beings by teaching them the path of cessation of dukkha. Mahayana theory contrasts this with the goal of the Theravada path, where the most common goal is individual arhatship, by following dharma; the teachings of the supreme Buddha.
Buddhahood is the state of an awakened being, who, having found the path of cessation of dukkha ("suffering", as created by attachment to desires and distorted perception and thinking) is in the state of "no-more-Learning".
There is a broad spectrum of opinion on the nature of Buddhahood, its universality, and the method of attaining Buddhahood among the various schools of Buddhism. The level to which this manifestation requires ascetic practices varies from none at all to an absolute requirement, dependent on doctrine. While most schools accept the bodhisattva ideal, in which it takes aeons to reach Buddhahood, not all agree that everyone can become a Buddha, or that it must take aeons.
In Theravada Buddhism, Buddha refers to one who has reached awakening (bodhi) through their own efforts and insight, without a teacher to point out the dharma. A samyaksambuddha re-discovers the truths and the path to awakening on their own, and then teaches these to others after his awakening. A pratyekabuddha also reaches nirvana through his own efforts, but is unable or unwilling to teach the dharma to others. An arhat needs to follow the teaching of a Buddha to attain Nirvana, and may also preach the dharma after attaining nirvana. In one instance the term buddha is also used in Theravada to refer to all who attain Nirvana, using the term sāvakabuddha to designate an arhat, someone who depends on the teachings of a Buddha to attain Nirvana. In this broader sense it is equivalent to the arhat.
In Mahāyāna Buddhism meanwhile, a Buddha is seen as a transcendent being who has extensive powers, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and whose awakened wisdom (buddha-jñana) is all pervasive. This view can be found in numerous Mahāyāna sources, like the Avatamsaka sutra.
Mahāyāna buddhology mainly understands the Buddha through the "three bodies" (trikaya) framework. In this framework, the historical Buddha or other Buddhas who appear human are understood docetically as magical "transformation bodies" (nirmanakaya). Meanwhile, the real or ultimate Buddha is the Dharmakaya, the body of ultimate reality. Thus, the Ratnagotravibhāga (Analysis of the Jeweled Lineage), a key Mahāyāna treatise, defines the Buddha as "the uncompounded (asamskrta), and spontaneous (anabhoga) Dharmakaya" and as "self-enlightened and self-arisen wisdom (jñana), compassion and power for the benefit of others." This ultimate awakened reality is understood and interpreted in numerous different ways by the different Mahayana schools.
The Buddha-nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism also consider Buddhahood to be a universal and innate property which is immanent in all beings.
Most Buddhists do not consider Gautama Buddha to have been the only Buddha. The Pāli Canon refers to many previous ones (see list of the named Buddhas), while the Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas of celestial origin (see Amitābha or Vairocana as examples. For lists of many thousands of Buddha names see Taishō Tripiṭaka numbers 439–448).
The various Buddhist schools hold some varying interpretations on the nature of Buddha. All Buddhist traditions hold that a Buddha is fully awakened and has completely purified his mind of the three poisons of craving, aversion and ignorance. A Buddha is no longer bound by saṃsāra, and has ended the suffering which unawakened people experience in life.
Most schools of Buddhism have also held that the Buddha was omniscient. However, the early texts contain explicit repudiations of making this claim of the Buddha.
Mahāyāna buddhology expands the powers of a Buddha exponentially, seeing them as having unlimited lifespan and all-pervasive omniscient wisdom, as omnipotent, and as able to produce an infinite number of magical manifestations (nirmanakayas) as well as being able to produce pure lands (heaven-like realms for bodhisattvas).
The Early Buddhist texts (and other later sources as well) contain a classic list of "supernormal knowledges" (Skt. abhijñā, Pali: abhiññā) that a Buddha has attained through spiritual practice.
There is an ancient list of "six classes of superknowledge" (Pali: chalabhiññā, Skt. ṣaḍabhijña) that Buddhas have which are found in various Buddhist sources. These are:
Buddhist texts include numerous stories of the Buddha's miracles, which include displays of the abhiññās, healings, elemental magic (such as manipulating fire and water), and various other supernatural phenomena, traveling to higher realms of Buddhist cosmology, and others.
One of the most famous of these miracles was the Twin Miracle at Sāvatthī, in which the Buddha emitted fire from the top of his body and water from his lower body simultaneously, before alternating them and then expanding them to illuminate the cosmos.
Mahayana sutras contain even more extensive miracles. In the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Buddha display the true pure nature of his "buddha field" to everyone on earth, who suddenly beholds the world as a perfect world filled with jewels and other majestic features. Likewise, in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha shakes the earth and shines a beam of light which illuminates thousands of "buddha-fields".
Some Buddhists meditate on (or contemplate) the Buddha as having ten characteristics (Ch./Jp. 十號). These characteristics are frequently mentioned in the Pāli Canon as well as in other early Buddhist sources as well as in Mahayana texts, and are chanted daily in many Buddhist monasteries. The ten epithets are:
The tenth epithet is sometimes listed as "The World Honored Enlightened One" (Skt. Buddha-Lokanatha) or "The Blessed Enlightened One" (Skt. Buddha-Bhagavan).
According to various Buddhist texts, upon reaching Buddhahood each Buddha performs various acts (buddhacarita) during his life to complete his duty as a Buddha.
The Mahayana tradition generally follows the list of "Twelve Great Buddha Acts" (Skt. dvadaśabuddhakārya). These are:
The Pali suttas do not have such a list, but the Theravada commentarial tradition lists 30 obligatory acts of a Buddha.
The Theravada Buddhist tradition generally sees the Buddha as a supreme person which is not a theistic God nor is a regular human. Thus, the Buddha is seen as a very special and unique class of persons called a "great person" (mahāpurisa).
Andrew Skilton writes that the Buddha was never historically regarded by Buddhist traditions as being merely human. Instead, he is seen as having many supranormal powers (siddhi), such as the superknowledges (abhijna), a very long lifespan, as well as the thirty two marks of a great man.
In the Pāli Canon, the Buddha is depicted as someone between a human and a divine being. He has a human body which decays and dies, and he was born from human parents (though some sources depict this as a miraculous birth). The most important element of a Buddha is that they have attained the supreme spiritual goal, nirvana. This is what makes him supreme and what grants him special powers.
In Pāli Canon, the Buddha is asked whether he was a deva or a human, he replies that he had eliminated the deep-rooted unconscious traits that would make him either one, and should instead be called a Buddha; one who had grown up in the world but had now gone beyond it, as a lotus grows from the water but blossoms above it, unsoiled.
The Pāli Canon also states that Gautama Buddha is known as being a "teacher of the gods and humans", superior to both the gods (devas) and humans since he has attain the highest liberation, whereas the gods are still subject to anger, fear and sorrow. In the Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18), Buddha is described in powerful terms as the Lord of the Dhamma and the bestower of immortality.
Similarly, in the Anuradha Sutta (SN 44.2), Gautama Buddha is described as the "supreme man" and the "attainer of the superlative attainment". Because he has attained the highest spiritual knowledge, the Buddha is also identified with the Dhamma (the most fundamental reality) In the Vakkali Sutta (SN 22.87).
In the early Buddhist schools, the Mahāsāṃghika branch regarded the buddhas as being characterized primarily by their supramundane (lokottara) nature. The Mahāsāṃghikas advocated the transcendental and supramundane nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the fallibility of arhats. Of the 48 special theses attributed by the Samayabhedoparacanacakra to the Mahāsāṃghika Ekavyāvahārika, Lokottaravāda, and the Kukkuṭika, 20 points concern the supramundane nature of buddhas and bodhisattvas. According to the Samayabhedoparacanacakra, these four groups held that the Buddha is able to know all dharmas in a single moment of the mind. Yao Zhihua writes:
In their view, the Buddha is equipped with the following supernatural qualities: transcendence (lokottara), lack of defilements, all of his utterances preaching his teaching, expounding all his teachings in a single utterance, all of his sayings being true, his physical body being limitless, his power (prabhāva) being limitless, the length of his life being limitless, never tiring of enlightening sentient beings and awakening pure faith in them, having no sleep or dreams, no pause in answering a question, and always in meditation (samādhi).
A doctrine ascribed to the Mahāsāṃghikas is, "The power of the tathāgatas is unlimited, and the life of the buddhas is unlimited." According to Guang Xing, two main aspects of the Buddha can be seen in Mahāsāṃghika teachings: the true Buddha who is omniscient and omnipotent, and the manifested forms through which he liberates sentient beings through skillful means. For the Mahāsaṃghikas, the historical Gautama Buddha was one of these transformation bodies (Skt. nirmāṇakāya), while the essential real Buddha is equated with the Dharmakāya.
As in Mahāyāna traditions, the Mahāsāṃghikas held the doctrine of the existence of many contemporaneous buddhas throughout the ten directions. In the Mahāsāṃghika Lokānuvartana Sūtra, it is stated, "The Buddha knows all the dharmas of the countless buddhas of the ten directions." It is also stated, "All buddhas have one body, the body of the Dharma." The concept of many bodhisattvas simultaneously working toward buddhahood is also found among the Mahāsāṃghika tradition, and further evidence of this is given in the Samayabhedoparacanacakra, which describes the doctrines of the Mahāsāṃghikas.
Guang Xing writes that the Acchariyābbhūtasutta of the Majjhimanikāya along with its Chinese Madhyamāgama parallel is the most ancient source for the Mahāsāṃghika view. The sutra mentions various miracles performed by the Buddha before his birth and after. The Chinese version even calls him Bhagavan, which suggests the idea that the Buddha was already awakened before descending down to earth to be born.
Similarly, the idea that the lifespan of a Buddha is limitless is also based on ancient ideas, such as the Mahāparinirvānasūtra's statement that the Buddha's lifespan is as long as an eon (kalpa) but that he voluntarily allowed his life to end. Another early source for the Mahāsāṃghika view that a Buddha was a transcendent being is the idea of the thirty-two major marks of a Buddha's body. Furthermore, the Simpsapa sutta states that the Buddha had way more knowledge than what he taught to his disciples. The Mahāsāṃghikas took this further and argued that the Buddha knew the dharmas of innumerable other Buddhas of the ten directions.
Mahāyāna Buddhism generally follows the Mahāsāṃghika ideal of the Buddha being a transcendent and omniscient being with unlimited spiritual powers. Guang Xing describes the Buddha in Mahāyāna as an omnipotent and almighty divinity "endowed with numerous supernatural attributes and qualities". Mahāyāna cosmology also includes innumerable Buddhas who reside in innumerable buddha-fields (buddha kshetra). The Mahāyāna Lotus Sutra for example, says the lifespan of the Buddha as immeasurable. It also says that the Buddha actually achieved Buddhahood countless of eons (kalpas) ago and has already been teaching the Dharma through his numerous manifestations (nirmana) for eons.
In spite of this transcendent nature however, Mahāyāna also affirms the immanent nature of Buddhahood in all beings (through the doctrine of Buddha nature, which is seen as something that all beings have). This view of an immanent Buddha essence in all normal human beings is common throughout East Asian Buddhism.
The myriad Buddhas are also seen as active in the world, guiding all sentient beings to Buddhahood. Paul Williams writes that the Buddha in Mahāyāna is "a spiritual king, relating to and caring for the world". This view entails a kind of docetism regarding the "historical" Buddha, Shakyamuni. His life and death was a "mere appearance", like a magic show, in reality, the Buddha still exists and is constantly helping living beings.
Because of this transcendental view, Mahāyāna Buddhologies have sometimes been compared to various types of theism (including pantheism) by different scholars, though there is disagreement among scholars regarding this issue as well on the general relationship between Buddhism and Theism.
Since Buddhas remain accessible, a Mahāyānist can direct prayers to them, as well as experience visions and revelations from them. This has been very influential in the history of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Furthermore, a Mahāyāna devotee can also aspire to be reborn in a Buddha's pure land or buddha field (buddhakṣetra), where they can strive towards Buddhahood in the best possible conditions. This practice is the central element of East Asian Pure Land Buddhism.
Some modern Buddhists have argued that the Buddha was just a human being, albeit a very wise one. This is a common view in Buddhist modernism, which sought to teach a form of Buddhism that was modern, rational and scientific. One figure who sees Buddha as mainly human is Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk in the Zen tradition, who states that "Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do."
In a similar fashion, Jack Maguire, a Western monk of the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York, writes that Buddha is inspirational based on his humanness:
A fundamental part of Buddhism's appeal to billions of people over the past two and a half millennia is the fact that the central figure, commonly referred to by the title "Buddha", was not a god, or a special kind of spiritual being, or even a prophet or an emissary of one. On the contrary, he was a human being like the rest of us who quite simply woke up to full aliveness.
In the earliest strata of Pali Buddhist texts, especially in the first four Nikayas, only the following seven Buddhas, The Seven Buddhas of Antiquity (Saptatathāgata), are explicitly mentioned and named (see for example SN 12.4 to SN 12.10). Four of these are from the current kalpa (Pali: kappa, meaning eon or "age") called the good eon (bhaddakappa) and three are from past eons.
One sutta called Chakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta from an early Buddhist text called the Digha Nikaya also mentions that following the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, a Buddha named Maitreya is predicted to arise in the world.
However, according to a text in the Theravada Buddhist tradition from a later strata (between 1st and 2nd century BCE) called the Buddhavamsa, twenty-one more Buddhas were added to the list of seven names in the early texts. Theravada tradition maintains that there can be up to five Buddhas in a kalpa or world age and that the current kalpa has had four Buddhas, with the current Buddha, Gotama, being the fourth and the future Buddha Metteyya being the fifth and final Buddha of the kalpa. This would make the current aeon a bhadrakalpa (fortunate aeon). In some Sanskrit and northern Buddhist traditions however, a bhadrakalpa has up to 1,000 Buddhas, with the Buddhas Gotama and Metteyya also being the fourth and fifth Buddhas of the kalpa respectively.
The Koṇāgamana Buddha, is mentioned in a 3rd-century BCE inscription by Ashoka at Nigali Sagar, in today's Nepal. There is an Ashoka pillar at the site today. Ashoka's inscription in the Brahmi script is on the fragment of the pillar still partly buried in the ground. The inscription made when Emperor Asoka at Nigali Sagar in 249 BCE records his visit, the enlargement of a stupa dedicated to the Kanakamuni Buddha, and the erection of a pillar.
According to Xuanzang, Koṇāgamana's relics were held in a stupa in Nigali Sagar, in what is now Kapilvastu District in southern Nepal.
The historical Buddha, Gautama, also called Sakyamuni ("Sage of the Shakyas), is mentioned epigraphically on the Pillar of Ashoka at Rummindei (Lumbini in modern Nepal). The Brahmi script inscription on the pillar gives evidence that Ashoka, emperor of the Maurya Empire, visited the place in 3rd-century BCE and identified it as the birth-place of the Buddha.
When King Devānāmpriya Priyadasin had been anointed twenty years, he came himself and worshipped (this spot) because the Buddha Shakyamuni was born here. (He) both caused to be made a stone bearing a horse (?) and caused a stone pillar to be set up, (in order to show) that the Blessed One was born here. (He) made the village of Lummini free of taxes, and paying (only) an eighth share (of the produce).
The Pali literature of the Theravāda tradition includes tales of 28 previous Buddhas. In countries where Theravāda Buddhism is practiced by the majority of people, such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, it is customary for Buddhists to hold elaborate festivals, especially during the fair weather season, paying homage to the last 28 Buddhas described in the Buddhavamsa. The Buddhavamsa is a text which describes the life of Gautama Buddha and the 27 Buddhas who preceded him, along with the future Metteyya Buddha. The Buddhavamsa is part of the Khuddaka Nikāya, which in turn is part of the Sutta Piṭaka. The Sutta Piṭaka is one of three main sections of the Pāli Canon.
The first three of these Buddhas—Taṇhaṅkara, Medhaṅkara, and Saraṇaṅkara—lived before the time of Dīpankara Buddha. The fourth Buddha, Dīpankara, is especially important, as he was the Buddha who gave niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood) to the Brahmin youth who would in the distant future become the bodhisattva Gautama Buddha. After Dīpankara, 25 more noble people (ariya-puggala) would attain enlightenment before Gautama, the historical Buddha.
Many Buddhists also pay homage to the future Buddha, Metteyya. According to Buddhist scripture, Metteya will be a successor of Gautama who will appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure Dharma. The prophecy of the arrival of Metteyya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects (Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana), and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an event that will take place when the Dharma will have been forgotten on Jambudvipa (the terrestrial realm, where ordinary human beings live).
Mahāyāna Buddhists venerate numerous Buddhas that are not found in early Buddhism or in Theravada Buddhism. They are generally seen as living in other realms, known as buddha-fields (Sanskrit: buddhakṣetra) or pure lands (Ch: 淨土; p: Jìngtǔ) in East Asian Buddhism. They are sometimes called "celestial Buddhas", since they are not from this earth.
Some of the key Mahāyāna Buddhas are:
Some Mahāyāna sutras also contain long lists of Buddhas which are used in different ways. One popular list of Buddhas is the Thirty-Five Confession Buddhas which is found in the Sutra of the Three Heaps (Sanskrit: Triskandhadharmasutra). This sutra is popular in Tibetan Buddhist rites of confession.
The Bhadrakalpikasūtra contains a list of one thousand and four Buddhas and discusses their deeds. Most of these are Buddhas of the future.
In Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana, Esoteric Buddhism), one finds some of the same Mahayana Buddhas along with other Buddha figures which are unique to Vajrayana. There are five primary Buddhas known as the "Five Tathagathas": Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitābha, and Amoghasiddhi. Each is associated with a different consort, direction, aggregate (or, aspect of the personality), emotion, element, color, symbol, and mount.
The Five Tathagatas and some of their associated elements are:
Buddhist Tantra also includes several female Buddhas, such as Tara, the most popular female Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism, who comes in many forms and colors.
In the Buddhist tantras, there are various fierce deities which are tantric forms of the Buddhas. These may be fierce (Tibetan: trowo, Sanskrit: krodha) Buddha forms or semi-fierce, and may appear in sexual union with a female Buddha or as a "solitary hero". The Herukas (Tb. khrag 'thung, lit. "blood drinker") are enlightened masculine beings who adopt fierce forms to help beings. They include Yamantaka, Cakrasamvara, Hevajra, Mahākāla, and Vajrakilaya. Dakinis (Tb. khandroma, "sky-goer") are their feminine counterparts, sometimes depicted with a heruka and sometimes as independent deities. The most prevalent wrathful dakinis are Vajrayogini, Vajravārāhī, Nairatmya, and Kurukullā.
Buddhist mythology overlapped with Hindu mythology. Akshobhya, for example, acquires a fierce Tantric form that is reminiscent of the fierce form of the Hindu god Shiva; in this form he became known by the Buddhist names Heruka, Hevajra, or Samvara. He is known in Japan in this guise as Fudō ("Imperturbable"). The Indian god Bhairava, a fierce bull-headed divinity, was adopted by Tantric Buddhists as Vajrabhairava. Also called Yamantaka ("Slayer of Death") and identified as the fierce expression of the gentle Manjushri, he was accorded quasi-buddha rank.
There is also the idea of the Adi-Buddha, the "first Buddha" to attain Buddhahood. Variously named as Vajradhara, Samantabhadra and Vairocana, the first Buddha is also associated with the concept of Dharmakaya. Some historical figures are also seen as Buddhas, such as the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, Tibetan historical figures like Padmasambhava, and Tsongkhapa.
Buddhas are frequently represented in the form of statues and paintings. Commonly seen postures include:
In Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha is always depicted as a monastic shown with hair and he is always shown wearing the simple monk's robe (called a kāṣāya). In Mahayana Buddhism, a Buddha is often also depicted with monastic robes, however some Buddhas are also depicted with different forms of clothing, such as princely or kingly attire, which can include crowns and jewels.
It is common to depict the Buddha accompanied by other figures. In Theravada, it is common to have him flanked by his two main disciples, Moggallana and Sariputta. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is more common to have him surrounded by bodhisattvas, like Manjushri, Samantabhadra and Avalokiteshvara.
The Buddha may also be depicted with various accessories, such as a victory banner (dhvaja), a lotus seat, and a begging bowl.
Most depictions of a Buddha contain a certain number of "marks" (lakṣaṇa), which are considered the signs of his nobility and his enlightenment. The exactly design and style of these features vary regionally but most often they are elements of list of thirty-two physical characteristics of the Buddha called "the signs of a great man" (Skt. mahāpuruṣa lakṣaṇa).
Some of the most obvious features which can be found in many buddha statues include:
The poses and hand-gestures of these statues, known respectively as asanas and mudras, are significant to their overall meaning. The popularity of any particular mudra or asana tends to be region-specific, such as the Vajra (or Chi Ken-in) mudra, which is popular in Japan and Korea but rarely seen in India. Others are more common; for example, the Varada (Wish Granting) mudra is common among standing statues of the Buddha, particularly when coupled with the Abhaya (Fearlessness and Protection) mudra.
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