The Life of the Buddha (According to the Ancient texts and Monuments of India)

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Item Code: IDE011
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Author: A. Foucher, Trans. By. Simone Brangier Boas
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788121510691
Pages: 288 (B & W Illus: 24)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 600 gm
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Book Description

Translator’s Note

With The advice of scholars in the field, the decision was taken to shorten or to omit certain passages of the French edition that seemed cumbersome in English or of no immediate interest to the general reader. In other respects the translator has been faithful to the original text and has made every effort to preserve the quality of Monsieur Foucher’s style and to allow his humanistic turn of mind to come through the translation.

When standard English versions of the original Sanskrit and Pali works cited by Monsieur Foucher were available, they have been used instead of retranslations of the French translations made by the author. In such instances their spelling has been preserved even when it differs from that adopted throughout the book. The sources of these passages are given in the Notes. Some quotations in the original text have no references, consequently they have none in the translation. Volume II of the Lalitavistara was not available in English; hence Monsieur Foucher’s translation was put into English and used in the text. Most of the illustrations are of monuments cited by the author, but they do not appear in the French edition.

The translator wishes to express her sincere gratitude to Messrs. A. B. Griswold of the Breezewood Foundation and John Spellman, formerly of Wesleyan University, for their help and encouragement. Mr. Spellman read the entire manuscript and made valuable suggestions, but he is not, of course, responsible for any errors that may remain in it. Dr. James W. Poultney, Professor of Classics, Johns Hopkins University, has most generously supervised the Sanskrit transliterations and spelling. Professor Benjamin Rowland, of the Fogg Museum, kindly allowed the translator to go through the files of slides, negatives, and photographs in the museum’s Oriental Library. Several of the illustrations are a result of this generous privilege. Particular thanks are due Mr. John Rosenfield, Research Fellow at the Fogg Museum, for his kindness and for the use of his own photographs. Professor William Weedon, Wesleyan University, made available his Oriental library which was most helpful. Thanks are also due Mrs. Tania Senff and Mrs. Mildred Howard for their secretarial assistance, and to the staff of the Olin Library at Wesleyan University for their untiring cooperation in helping to secure the necessary books.


It is said that when the Buddha reached perfect Enlightenment he hesitated a long time before preaching his doctrine, fearing that it would be a waste of time and energy. But he observed that, as there are three kinds of flowers in a pond of lotus, so in the world there are three kinds of souls. Some are too deeply sunk in the original mud to come up to the daylight, either in a season or in a lifetime; some are already near the light and have only a last effort to make; and some, rising above the level of the waters or of mankind—have come into blossom. Out of love for those in the second category he consented to preach the Doctrine.

In my humble sphere—a professor is not a prophet—I hesitated a long time before publishing this book, in view of the demands of three kinds of readers. First there is the general public, willing to be informed but unwilling to be stopped at each line by footnotes or to be burdened by technical terms and foreign words. Then there are the specialists (genus irritabile), who are only satisfied by an abundant apparatus criticus. Finally between these two extremes there are those who, desirous to know more about Buddhism, need to be both encouraged and guided into further research by a book that is easy to read. It is for these readers that I have written this book.

The most ancient Buddhist texts have naturally been my principal source of information and as such have forced me to repeat things often said. But they have not been my only source. No religion can express itself and be understood through its literature alone. A critique of a religion, such as Buddhism, in the abstract, can in no way give a full understanding of it to those who have not known it from childhood. To interpret it requires some knowledge of the milieu in which it developed and of the phenomena that grew out of it. These include social patterns, public and private ritual, missionary activities, architectural forms and their purpose, iconography, the sites and aims of pilgrimages, and so forth. In this study I have taken full advantage of the work of scholars who preceded me and of the progress they have made as a result of archaeological findings in India. They have presented known events in a new light, organizing them in a more vital and rational fashion around the remains of newly; discovered religious centers. The localization of eight sacred places, today well established as the sites of the principal episodes in the life of the Buddha, not only clarifies the distorted accounts we have of these, events, but also often reveals the cause of distortion. Thus the true facts, underlying the legends emerge in sharp relief.

My task has been to sketch as close a likeness of the Buddha as possible, but I have been careful not to neglect reflections from the doctrine that have the face of its founder. This bit of novelty is excuse for placing. This book among, those- that have been and still will be written on same subject.


THE BUDDHA SAKYAMUNI, "The Sage of the Sakyas," without doubt belongs to that extremely small human elite which rises above the general mass of humanity as a lighthouse which throws its beams over the surrounding darkness. Travelers to the Orient can bear witness to this fact. But this man who wrote nothing has had ascribed to him great tomes that are said to be his own words and that are constantly learned by heart, recited, incised in stone, and printed in ten living Ian— guages—Singhalese, Burmese, Siamese, Manchu, Japanese, and so on —to say nothing of European translations. This man who never reigned continues as head of a spiritual kingdom of millions of souls. This man who was seen daily begging in the Indian market places is now represented in golden images on the altars of pagodas throughout the Far East. There he sits enveloped in clouds of incense amid a buzz of prayers. All this in spite of his having forbidden it before his death. His disciples, believing him to have supernatural intelligence and moral power, have turned him into a god. Even those who are not Buddhists admit that this great figure is the one most human and most worthy of universal admiration ever produced by India. These are signs by which the world recognizes its saviors. It knows them and sees them, but when called upon to explain how a child born of woman can create so profound an impression on his own generation that, far from fading out with time, it is on the contrary amplified, human understanding is dazed. Believers hail such an event as a miracle, while the hypercritical prefer to doubt the actual existence of such a supernatural being. Those of us who treat the subject from a purely historical point of view, without preconceived intent, remain overwhelmed.

However far the search for truth has gone, there has always remained a mysterious deposit left at the bottom of the crucible that no test has identified nor word of criticism has defined. That is the secret of these exceptional beings, and as this has been felt rather than perceived by their contemporaries, it becomes at once shrouded in mythical accretions, which by now make it almost impossible for us ever to recapture certain of their features.

The historical fact that no critic can ignore is that half of Asia, the mother of our religions, has elevated the Buddha to the rank of a god. This determines what our method will have to be as we study him. Not only are we confronted with an extraordinary personality, but indeed with one that has two faces, depending on whether we look at the man of daily life or at the figure that has grown within the imagination of the faithful. No part of the Buddha’s life is so simple that the question of biographical truth versus legendary fiction does not arise. Because of his apotheosis, it could hardly have been otherwise. As he became divine, all his acts were transposed once and for all into the realm of supernatural miracles and myths. Our method of study may afford a Westerner, free from religious scruples and hereditary veneration, a unique opportunity to witness the mechanism of this inevitable transposition.

We can state briefly the facts at hand. At a time which practically corresponded to that of Zoroaster and Confucius, one hundred years before the time of Socrates and five hundred before the birth of Christ, a son was born in the family of a feudal lord in a far corner of the Nepalese Terai. From then on we have his biographical data: the death of his mother, his education, his marriage, and the birth of his son. At this time a revulsion against the world came over him and at twenty-nine he left everything—-home, riches, family, and so on-to become a begging monk. From then on his quest was the solution to the problem of human destiny. Six years later, after his painful search, as he was sitting under a tree, he felt the truth come to him at sunrise and then he discovered the cure for the world’s sufferings. After preaching the new doctrine to five companions, he found that the number of his disciples quickly multiplied, and his word spread. Forty-five years of teaching and traveling throughout the Ganges Valley as a mendicant brought the Master to his death in a small, obscure town in the same general region as that of his birth. This happened in 543 B.C. according to the Singhalese tradition; about 477 according to European calculations.

This is all that we know, or think we know, about the one who had become the Buddha, the “Awakened," or, as the term is usually translated, the “Enlightened One." Nothing can be more historical, in the usual sense, but also nothing can be less sensational. Yet hardly two centuries had gone by before the reputation of the Prophet and his doctrine had swept across the whole of India. For myriads of disciples and believers he had become the Predestined One, the Blessed One, the teacher of men and gods. With more or less clarity and fidelity, his thinking lived on in their consciousness, but his image became less and less clearly seen as it was highlighted by too many refracted rays. His very existence became a tissue of miracles; nothing remained accidental UF natural. Thus, popular imagination took over the biography of the man and, by virtue of its magic, transformed it into the legend of a god.

Two main approaches to the study of the life of the Buddha are found. First there is the work of Hermann Oldenberg, Buddha, sein Leben, seine Lehre, seine Gemeinde, a splendid book that has been translated into French and English, a book that is the champion of the historiographers. The second is Emile Senart’s Essai sur la Légende du Bouddha, which treats the subject as a mass of mythical tales. Although Senart later recognized that he had gone too far in his system of interpretation, still he had launched one mode of approach. We should like to venture the statement that both Oldenberg and Senart are right and also wrong, right in what they admit and wrong in what they omit. In Senart’s image of the Buddha it is the man that is missing; in Oldenberg’s it is the god.

Thus, however great is our admiration for the erudition and the intellectual power behind these two European theories concerning the Buddha, we must admit that neither satisfies us completely. Therefore, we have no choice but to pursue our own path, set between the lofty heights of comparative mythology and the pedestrian way of factual history. For this we humbly cite a precedent. It is said that after Sakya-muni’s death his great disciples felt the need to settle definitely the one legacy left them by the Master-namely, his doctrine. Consequently, they met in Rajagrha and, drawing upon their memories, recited together the text ne varietur of the Good Law. They had barely finished when another monk arrived. It was Purana (“the Ancient"), who had not been reached in time. He was told, "The Law has been well recited by the Elders: accept the Law as recited.” to this he answered, “There is no doubt that the Law has been well recited by the Elders; but what I have myself heard from the Buddha’s lips, what I have directly received from his mouth, that I shall abide by.”

In turn, let us say with due respect, “Truly, the life of the Buddha has been well studied by our predecessors and our masters; however, since they have taught us the rigorous methods of critical thought and constant: reliance on the texts, their spirits will not blame us for going back to the sources. The rereading of the Scriptures, which hold all we can learn and know of Sakyamuni and his life, is our only recourse. The European scholars have spoken well, but let us above all return to the Indian tradition.”

Whatever your choice of authority is to be, you are told, you will of necessity fall into the ways already established. It is well known by all Indologists that Oldenberg founded his theory upon the writings in Pali, while Senart used the Sanskrit and Prakrit documents. The latter adhered to what is called Buddhism of the North, the former to Buddhism of the South; for there is not one great Buddhist tradition, but two. You must make a choice: either you adopt the orthodox version, based on the Singhalese canon, that was made popular in Germany by Oldenberg and for a time in England by Rhys Davids, or you remain loyal to the texts from Nepal, which, along with the French School, are somewhat suspect of heresy.

This argument might have seemed unanswerable in the past but it no longer is just as Christianity has both a Greek and a Roman Church, East Asia recognizes a Northern and a Southern Buddhism. As a matter of fact, there is a greater difference between a Chinese or a Tibetan lama on the one hand, and a Singhalese or a Cambodian priest on the other, in the domain of rites as well as of doctrine, than is found between a Greek pope and a Roman Catholic priest.

For one who deliberately remains within the frontiers of India proper, the antiquated classification of “Southern” and “Northern” texts must once and for all be abandoned, although the terms are sometimes convenient for reference. When Eugene Burnouf was the direct recipient of newly discovered manuscripts from opposite ends of the peninsula—some from Ceylon, others from Nepal—the two designations seemed logical. But with the advances made in the research he so brilliantly started, and also because of possible comparisons between original Indian Scriptures and Chinese or Tibetan translations of canons of various Buddhist sects, it has become steadily more apparent that, no matter where the most ancient texts were found, they and Buddhism itself originated in the Ganges Basin. Only those writings on palm leaves and beech bark which in the course of their wanderings and vicissitudes had found a safe haven either in the Nepalese mountains or the Singhalese libraries have come down to us.

The fact remains that we have three series of documents in Indian languages about the legendary life of the Buddha Sakyamuni. These documents originated in three of the four broad sects into which Buddhism broke up early. Some are written in Pali, such as the Mahavagga (the “Great Section” of the treatise on discipline) or the Mahaparinib-nina Sutta. They are part of the canonical writings of the Sthaviravadins or Theras (Elders), the sect that has kept its identity in Ceylon, whence it has spread into Indochina. Others are found in Sanskrit, such as the Lalitavistara (“The Pleasurable Biography") and the Divyava-dana (“The Divine Adventure"), which comes from the canon of the Sarvastivadin, “those who profess realism." The third group, written in an irregular Prakrit, a kind of macaronic Sanskrit represented by the Mahavastu, “The Great Subject," also constitutes a fragment rescued from the lost canon of the Mahasamghikas, the “Great Community."

These, then, are our primary sources, and a priori we have no right to adopt one to the exclusion of the others. The fact that we are faced with several different versions of the same incidents can only favor research. What finally transpires is that the differences we find among the various accounts are not as fundamental as the partisans of Singhalese orthodoxy would have us believe for the sake of polemical expediency. That all their sources were the same is revealed by the numerous identical expressions and similar parallel passages. Our task consists, if our method is to be reasonable, of extracting the greatest degree of historical verisimilitude from a point-by-point comparison of the multiple traditional offshoots. In so doing we shall contribute, within the limits of our fragmentary sources, to the establishment of the Buddhist “Synoptic Gospels." At the same time we may be contributing to the understanding of the formation of a legend which remains the ultimate aim of scholarly critical research. As archaeologists should not stop their search before reaching virgin soil, so philologists should burrow through the wordy accumulations until they have come, if possible, to historical data.

Our study has been greatly helped by Indian an archaeology, the constant progress of which has not only revealed the sites of the eight holy cities of ancient Buddhism but identified much sculpture unearthed around the old sanctuaries. These monuments are as authentic as the written texts. In a sense they offer surer testimony, for even when they, too, have suffered from mutilations, they at least have not been altered in later times and amplified for propagandist purposes. Their immediate effect is to bring back to earth a legend which tends only too easily to lose itself in mythical clouds. This is the important role of the scenes represented in the bas-reliefs—practically the only remaining vestiges of the art of representation of which painting would have been the most beautiful example. When chronologically arranged, they give us a kind of figured version that parallels the written version of the Buddha’s life. Sculptors are necessarily more restrained in their interpretations than writers or even painters. It is characteristic of their craft to create gods in the image of man and to keep miracles within the stone.

Buddhist art began in the third century B.C. with Emperor Asoka and was destroyed, in India, only by the Moslem invasion. It still survives in Tibet and the Far East. The two oldest schools happen to be of primary interest to us. The older one flourished in Central India from the second century B.C. under the dynasty of the Sungas, which left us part of the sculptures which decorated the walls of the old sanctuaries of Bharhut, Bodh Gaya, and Sanchi. Its most characteristic trait is the retention of the principle of representing episodes of the Buddha’s last existence without ever showing him other than as a symbol. The Gandhara school, which became active in the first century A.D, several decades after the last Indo—Greek dynast had been supplanted by other invaders, on the contrary represented the Buddha in the form of a semi-Hellenic, semi-Hindu figure. This caused a complete revolution in Buddhist iconography, and the success of this new method was immediately made secure with its adoption by the school of Mathura, in Hindustan and the Deccan, and its final adoption by all Buddhist Asia.

These later imitations have nothing to teach us. Nor should we retain here those representations that assume a strictly conscious biographical character, such as the long series on the temple at Pagan in Burma and on the stupa at Borobodur in Java, for their nature is purely that of book illustrations. The only useful evidence for our purposes is the ancient and original sculpture of artists from either Northern or Central India who were still working according to specifications given them orally by donors and not from written descriptions. Thus these sculptures alone are able at times to give us an unknown form of the popular tradition; and they become an excellent counterweight to the flighty texts.

That is not the only purpose they serve. A careful study of the bas-reliefs carved on the lintels and the doorjambs of Sanchi’s gates, since they are the only completed works extant, reveals the few exact facts about Sakyamuni that we have. The reason for their survival is probably that some of the scenes represented took place at that very spot, and, as is known, the Indians have a strong feeling about establishing and preserving what might be called the topography of their legends. Every Buddhist writer felt that he had to locate the site of the episode or the sermon that he was relating. A multitude of guides for pilgrimages, still in use, are imbued with that same spirit. The considerable role that the Eight Pilgrimages have played in preserving the legend is revealed to us in accounts written by the pilgrims themselves. By great good luck, for which Indologists are unfailingly grateful, the diaries and reports of several Chinese travelers who were attracted into India by their Buddhist faith have been preserved. These date from the fifth to the eighth centuries A.D. Particularly valuable are the reports of Hsuan Tsang, who repeated verbatim the lessons recited to him before the "sacred remains" concerning the miraculous manifestations of the "Honored One of the World."

A final word seems necessary. We shall on occasion compare Christian and Buddhist traditions. This can only increase the clarity of our study. Buddhism and Christianity have much in common, especially in their moral teachings. These two historical phenomena not only belong to the same planet but originated on the same continent at approximately the same period. In addition, they both show the same yearning for peace on earth promised to men of good will. We shall, however, reject all vain polemics, pro and con, as to which influenced which.

First of all, we must give up the idea that because of Buddhism’s earlier date any analogy between the two doctrines means that the Christian borrowed from the Buddhist. Not only must we keep in mind the fundamental identity of the human spirit, but we must also deal with chronology. Chronology reveals that Buddhist remained obscurely in Central India for many years; for various historical reasons, it was only at the end of the first century A.D. or the beginning of the second that it began to make some claim to universality. Then, for propagandist purposes, the first “lives” of the Master were written. Furthermore, the supposed analogy fades as we continue our reading, and what at first sight seemed similar ends by disappearing. After several such repeated experiences, we are forced to conclude that the two traditions are absolutely independent of each other. Finally, it is a fact that neither of these religions has had any marked effect on the other. Their being too far apart in dogma and too close in ethics eliminates any possibility of confusion and any reason for dispute

From the Jacket:

Like many other great religions of the world, Buddhism arose from the teachings of one man: in this case, Prince Siddhartha of Kapilavastu, later called Sakyamuni or Gautama. This book, turning to Buddhist scriptures and artistic monuments for its sources, presents the story of his life, so nearly as the facts can be determined, in a judicious, straightforward narrative designed for Western readers. While it does not accept the pious myths and supernatural events as necessarily true, and does not accept to explain the nuances of Buddhist doctrine, it pays adequate attention to their place in the Master's career. The result is a volume of great interest to all concerned with the development and influence of Eastern thought and culture.

Here are the details of Siddhartha's life: his birth in the sixth century B.C. and his upbringing in luxury; his religious conversion; his seven years of wandering and seeking before he found Enlightenment; his subsequent career as teacher of many disciples and as founder of the Buddhist Order. Here are the miracles and the preachments, sympathetically presented against a panoramic background of Indian life and thought in that far-off time. Here too are the basic tenets of Buddhism, neither attacked nor defended but set forth with clarity, fairness, and proportion. Here, in short, is an excellent introduction to the Buddhist world.

In preparing this American edition, on the advice of scholars and with the consent of the French publisher, the translator has shortened or omitted a few passages that seemed cumbersome in English or of no immediate interest to the general reader - excisions amounting to perhaps a dozen pages altogether. But she has made every effort to be faithful to the original in other respects, and particularly to preserve the quality of Foucher's style and the humanistic turn of his mind.

Most of the thirty-one illustrations depict monuments cited by Foucher, some of them so ancient as to be virtually contemporary with Gautama himself.

About the Author:

Alfred Foucher, 1865-1952, was professor at the University of Paris, director of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, and member of the Institute de France. He was known everywhere for his archaeological-cultural researches in Afghanistan and India, and especially for his profound understanding of Indian art and iconography.




Translator's Note xi
Preface xiii
Introduction 3

Part One. The Kapilavastu Cycle


Chapter I. The Natitvity (I)
    Before Birth
    Transmigration and Works
    Previous Births
    Sojourn in the Tusitas Heaven
    The Four Investigations (Mahavilokitani)


Chapter II. The Nativity (II) 31
    After Birth
    Buddhist Legends and Christian Tradition
    The Reception of the Infant Buddha
    The Bath
    The Seven Steps
    The Simultaneous Births
    The Presentation at the Temple
    The Horoscope
    Asita's Prediction
    Maya's Death


Chapter III. Childhood and Youth (I) 50
    Social Life
    The Coefficient of Reduction
    Scholarly Manifestation
    Physical Training
    The Engagement
    The Athletic Competition


Chapter IV. Childhood and Youth (II) 67
    Religious Vocation
    The First Meditation
    The Four Signs
    The Instigation
    The Women's Sleep
    The Great Departure
    Chandaka's Return


Part Two. The Maghada and Benares Cycles: The Second and Third Great Pilgrimages


Chapter V. The Search for Enlightenment 83
    Transformation from Layman to Monk
    The Dismissal of the Gods
    Orientation of the Buddha and Buddhism
    King Bimbisara's Visit
    Period of Study
    The Practice of Mortification (Dushkara Carya)
    The Last Meal Before Bodhi


Chapter VI. Enlightenment 105
    Two Aspects of Abhisambodhana
    Towards Enlightenment
    Mara Papian
    The Conflict between Mara and the Bodhisattva
    Attainment of Enlightenment
    The First Watch
    The Second Watch
    The Third Watch
    Parenthesis on the Unknowable (Avidya)
    The Third Watch (Continued and Ended)


Chapter VII. The First Sermon 127
    The Days Following Enlightenment
    The First Meal After Sambodhi
    The Request
    The Choice of an Audience
    On the Road to Benares
    The Place and the Prologue of the First Sermon
    The First Sermon: Setting the Wheel in Motion
    The Other Sides of the Doctrine
    The Symbolism of the Wheel


Chapter VIII. The First Conversions 153
    The Benares Conversions
    The Urubilva Conversions
    The Rajagrha Conversions
    King Bimbisara
    Two Great Disciples
    From the Mahavagga
    From the Mahavastu (As Translated by Foucher)
    Popular Reactions
    The Conversions in Kapilavastu
    Rahula and Nanda
    The Sakyas
    The Gift of Jetavana Park


Part Three. Minor Cycles


Chapter IX. Duties of a Buddha 183
    Daily Life
    The Quest for Food
    Adherence and Conversion
    The Buddha and Caste
    Relations Between the Buddha and His Monks
    The Buddha and the Nuns
    The Personality of the Buddha


Chapter X. The Four Secondary Pilgrimages 201
    The Holy Sites
    The Miracle of Sankasya
    The Sravasti Cycle
    THe Great Magical Feat
    The Second Cycle of Rajagrha
    Subjugatting the Mad Elephant
    The Vaisali Cycle


Chapter XI. The Fourth Great Pilgrimages 219
    Ajatasatru's Visit
    From Rajagrha to Vaisali
    The Rejection of Life at Vaisali
    The Last Meal, in Pava
    The Last Stage of the Journey
    Arrival in Kusinagara
    Ananda's Role
    Final Decease
    The Funeral
    The Division of Relics


Chapter XII. Conclusions 243
    The Religious
    The Thinker
    The Moralist
    The Gentleman


Notes 257
Bibliography 269

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