What is relevant today in the life of Buddha who died more than 2,500 years ago? We would be able to judge this for ourselves. But the opportunity to know about him, so that we can make that judgment, has to be offered. That is why this book, which puts together Buddha's own words about his life.
Dr. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, formerly Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, now teaches history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. "There is a need for such a book in India where Buddha a sacred memory -overlaid with legends. While traveling in China and Japan I perceived a similar need in these countries where Buddhism has left a more permanent cultural imprint. What is more, a fast-changing world bring about changes in our ideas about the past and what it means
.unlike books by and for specialists, this book speak to the young people, such as my own daughter," says the author. Written for the young, it may be of interest to readers of any age.
To begin with, one may ask a question. What is relevant today in the life of Buddha who died more than 2,500 years ago? It is likely that Buddha himself would have said that each of us should judge for ourselves the answer to that question. The opportunity to know about him, so as to make that judgement, has to be offered. It has to be offered particularly to the young. That is why this book.
This is not a book about Buddhism. It is about Buddha. To the extent his life was his message the book touches upon his teachings as well. The main aim has been to take a look at Buddha in the light of what he said about himself. People like to think of Buddha in certain ways. How much of that is true to facts? It is the business of the historians to tell us what we find in the past and how it matches with what people think had happened. In the last few decades historians have changed many of our ideas about Buddha and his times. There has taken place another kind of change as well. A fast-changing world brings about changes in our ideas about the past and what it means. Thus new meanings may take the place of old ones. What Buddha said and did may appear to us, specially to the young, in a new light.
There are many stories and legends about Buddha which have not been retold here. These stories were accepted as true ones by those who were devoted to Buddha. Now, there is a kind of truth that you find in a poem, and there is another kind of truth which you expect to find in documents, newspapers, accounts from witnesses, and so forth. The truth of the first kind is often at the core of some of the beautiful stories and legends. But it is difficult to find out which of them are true in the same way as an authentic document tells us things which happened at a known time and were recorded by known witnesses. Since in this book we shall try to rely upon what Buddha himself said, many of these legends do not find a place in this book.
Why have we chosen to rely mainly on Buddha’s own sayings, excluding many other possible sources of information? We shall try to get the story of Buddha as far as possible in his own words, because of a simple reason. What he said was treasured, remembered, repeated by disciples, and later written down also. It is true that these were written down many, many years later and that, as time passed legends and stories were added on. But it is very probable that an effort was made to preserve accurately the words of Buddha, as they were remembered by his listeners, out of reverence for the Master. For this reason we depend on what Buddha himself said about his own life.
In order to put across his message to the people, Buddha used the language of the common people in north-eastern India in his times, the language called Magadhi and later Pali. The Buddhist texts were also written later in that language. We shall use the earliest of these texts for they are more likely be closer to the original form known in Buddha’s times. These Pali texts are available in English translation. These translations have been used here and those who develop an interest may go further into the texts mentioned at the end of this book. Unfortunately, many of the English translations are in a rather stilted language, perhaps because translators wanted to give it a scriptural flavour. But there is no reason why Buddha should be made to speak in the style of the English Bible of King James' period. Today there is even less reason, since that version has been now modernised in recent editions. The same simplification is needed for Buddha’s sayings in translations.
In this book the names of people and places are given both in Sanskrit, the language of the learned in those days in many parts of India, and in Pali (the Pali version within brackets). The names are spelt here the way these are commonly spelt in India, without the special symbols which experts use to show how names should be pronounced. Those interested in pronunciation may look up the page on it at the end of the book. Likewise, the books from which the sayings of Buddha have been taken are listed at the end of this book.
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