How Many Buddhas Are There?
Buddhists across Asia are preparing to celebrate the birthday of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as Gautama Buddha and was the founder of Buddhism.
The Buddha is believed to have been born roughly 2,500 years ago in what is today Nepal.
In Asia, where most Buddhists live, different countries celebrate the occasion on different days, including April 8 in Japan, May 12 in South Korea and May 18 in India and Nepal.
The holiday goes by several names, including Buddha Purnima, Vesak, Buddha Jayanti and Ikh Duichen, and is often marked by national holidays, festivals and events at Buddhist temples.
The Origins Of Buddhism
Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), is an important religion in most of the countries of Asia.
Buddhism has assumed many different forms, but in each case there has been an attempt to draw from the life experiences of the Buddha, his teachings, and the spirit or essence of his teachings (called dhamma or dharma) as models for religious life.
However, not until the writing of the Buddha Charita (life of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa in the 1st or 2nd century C.E. Do we have a comprehensive account of his life?
The Buddha was born (ca. 563 B.C.E.) in a place called Lumbini near the Himalayan foothills, and he began teaching around Benares (at Sarnath). His erain general was one of spiritual, intellectual, and social ferment.
This was the age when the Hindu ideal of renunciation of family and social life by holy persons seeking Truth first became widespread, and when the Upanishads were written.
Both can be seen as moves away from the centrality of the Vedic fire sacrifice.
Siddhartha Gautama was the warrior son of a king and queen. According to legend, at his birth a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from the temporal life). To prevent this, his father provided him with many luxuries and pleasures.
But, as a young man, he once went on a series of four chariot rides where he first saw the more severe forms of human suffering: old age, illness, and death (a corpse), as well as an ascetic renouncer.
The contrast between his life and this human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth were in fact transitory, and could only mask human suffering.
Leaving his wife—and new son (Rahula—fetter) he took on several teachers and tried severe renunciation in the forest until the point of near-starvation.
Finally, realizing that this too was only adding more suffering, he ate food and sat down beneath a tree to meditate.
By morning (or some say six months later!) he had attained Nirvana (Enlightenment), which provided both the true answers to the causes of suffering and permanent release from it.
Now the Buddha (the Enlightened or Awakened One) began to teach others these truths out of compassion for their suffering.
The most important doctrines he taught included the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path.
His first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (dukkha).
Life as we normally live it is full of the pleasures and pains of the body and mind; pleasures, he said, do not represent lasting happiness.
They are inevitably tied in with suffering since we suffer from wanting them, wanting them to continue, and wanting pain to go so pleasure can come.
The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving—for sense pleasures and for things to be as they are not. We refuse to accept life as it is.
The third Noble Truth, however, states that suffering has an end, and the fourth offers the means to that end: the Eightfold Path and the Middle Way.
If one follows this combined path he or she will attain Nirvana, an indescribable state of all-knowing lucid awareness in which there is only peace and joy.
The Eightfold Path—often pictorially represented by an eight-spoked wheel (the Wheel of Dhamma) includes: Right Views (the Four Noble Truths), Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood/Occupation, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness (total concentration in activity), and Right Concentration (meditation).
The Eight-Fold Path is pervaded by the principle of the Middle Way, which characterizes the Buddha's life. The Middle Way represents a rejection of all extremes of thought, emotion, action, and lifestyle.
Rather than either severe mortification of the body or a life of indulgence in incense pleasures, the Buddha advocated a moderate or balanced wandering life-style and the cultivation of mental and emotional equanimity through meditation and morality.
After the Buddha's death, his celibate wandering followers gradually settled down into monasteries that were provided by the married laityas merit-producing gifts.
The laity were in turn taught by the monks some of the Buddha's teachings.
They also engaged in such practices as visiting the Buddha's birthplace; and worshipping the tree under which he became enlightened (bodhi tree), Buddha images in temples, and the relics of his body housed in various stupas or funeral mounds.
A famous king, named Ashoka, and his son helped to spread Buddhism throughout South India and into Sri Lanka (Ceylon) (3rd century B.C.E.).
Many monastic schools developed among the Buddha's followers. This is partly because his practical teachings were enigmatic on several points; for instance, he refused to give an unequivocal answer about whether humans have a soul (atta/atman) or not.
Another reason for the development of different schools was that he refused to appoint a successor to follow him as leader of the Sangha (monastic order).
He told the monks to be lamps unto themselves and make the Dhamma their guide.
About the first century C.E. a major split occurred within the Buddhist fold-that between the Mahayana and Hinayana branches.
Of the Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle) branch of schools, only the The ravada school (founded 4th century B.C.E.) remains; it is currently found in Sri Lanka and all Southeast Asian countries.
This school stresses the historical figure of Gautama Buddha, and the centrality of the monk's life-style and practice (meditation).
Theravada monks hold that the Buddha taught a doctrine of anatta (no-soul) when he spoke of the impermanence of the human body/form, perception, sensations/feelings, consciousness, and volition.
They believe, however, that human beings continue to be reformed and reborn, and to collect karma until they reach Nirvana. The ravada school has compiled a sacred canon of early Buddhist teachings and regulations that is called the Tripitaka.
The Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) branch of schools began about the 1st century C.E.; Mahayanists are found today especially in Korea, China, Japan, and Tibet.
The three most prominent schools are Pure Land, Chanor Zen, and Tantra. Mahayana schools in general utilize texts called sutras, stressing that lay people can also be good Buddhists, and that there are other effective paths to Nirvana in addition to meditation—for instance the chanting and good works utilized in Pure Land.
They believe that the Buddha and all human beings have their origin in what is variously called Buddha Nature, Buddha Mind, or Emptiness.
This is not nothing, but is the completely indescribable Source of all Existence; it is at the same time Enlightenment potential.
The form of the historical Buddha was, they say, only one manifestation of Buddha Nature. Mahayana thus speaks of many past and also future Buddhas, some of whom are god-like and preside over Buddha-worlds or heavenly paradises.
Especially important are bodhisattvas—who are persons who have reached the point of Enlightenment, but turn back and take a vow to use their Enlightenment-compassion, -wisdom, and -power to help release others from their suffering.
Mahayana canon says that finally there is no distinction between self and other, nor between samsara (transmigration, rebirth) and Nirvana! Because of this the bodhi is capable of taking on the suffering of others in samsara and of transferring his own merit to them.
Although Buddhism became virtually extinct in India (ca. 12th century C.E.)—perhaps because of the all-embracing nature of Hinduism, Muslim invasions, or too great a stress on the monk's way of life—as a religion it has more than proved its viability and practical spirituality in the countries of Asia to which it has been carried.
The many forms and practices that have been developed within the Buddhist fold have also allowed many different types of people to satisfy their spiritual needs through this great religion.
Buddha Sculpture FAQs
Is There Only One Buddha?
His followers, known as Buddhists, propagated the religion that is known today as Buddhism. ...
Some forms of Buddhism hold that there is only one buddha for each historical age; others hold that all beings will eventually become buddhas because they possess the buddha nature (tathagatagarbha).
Who Is The 1st Buddha?
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism who later became known as “the Buddha,” lived during the 5th century B.C. Gautama was born into a wealthy family as a prince in present-day Nepal. Although he had an easy life, Gautama was moved by suffering in the world.12
Who Is The Female Buddha?
She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. She is known as the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements.
Is There A Buddha Today?
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, is - according to Tibetan Buddhist belief - a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn again to continue his work. He has been based in India since fleeing Tibet after the unsuccessful 1959 uprising.
What Are The 3 Main Beliefs Of Buddhism?
The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and • The Noble Eightfold Path.
The clan name of the historical figure referred to as the Buddha (whose life is known largely through legend) was Gautama (in Sanskrit) or Gotama (in Pali), and his given name was Siddhartha (Sanskrit: he who achieves his aim) or Siddhattha (in Pali). He is frequently called Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakya clan.
In Buddhist texts, he is most commonly addressed as Bhagavat (often translated as Lord), and he refers to himself as the Tathagata, which can mean either one who has thus come or one who has thus gone.
Information about his life derives largely from Buddhist texts, the earliest of which were not committed to writing until shortly before the beginning of the Common Era, several centuries after his death.
The events of his life set forth in these texts cannot be regarded with confidence as historical, although his historical existence is accepted by scholars.
He is said to have lived for 80 years, but there is considerable uncertainty concerning the date of his death. Traditional sources on the date of his death or, in the language of the tradition, passage into nirvana, range from 2420 BCE to 290 BCE.
Scholarship in the 20th century limited this range considerably, with opinion generally divided between those who placed his death about 480 BCE and those who placed it as much as a century later.
The Buddha was born in Lumbini (Rummin-dei), near Kapilavastu (Kapilvastu) on the northern edge of the Ganges River basin, an area on the periphery of the civilization of North India, in what is today southern Nepal.
Scholars speculate that during the late Vedic period the peoples of the region were organized into tribal republics, ruled by a council of elders or an elected leader; the grand palaces described in the traditional accounts of the life of the Buddha are not evident among the archaeological remains.
It is unclear to what extent these groups at the periphery of the social order of the Ganges basin were incorporated into the caste system, but the Buddha’s family is said to have belonged to the warrior (Kshatriya) caste.
The central Ganges basin was organized into some 16 city-states, ruled by kings, often at war with each other.
The rise of these cities of central India, with their courts and their commerce, brought social, political, and economic changes that are often identified as key factors in the rise of Buddhism and other religious movements of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.
Buddhist texts identify a variety of itinerant teachers who attracted groups of disciples.
Some of these taught forms of meditation, Yoga, and asceticism and set forth philosophical views, focusing often on the nature of the person and the question of whether human actions (karma) have future effects.
Although the Buddha would become one of these teachers, Buddhists view him as quite different from the others.
His place within the tradition, therefore, cannot be understood by focusing exclusively on the events of his life and times (even to the extent that they are available).
Instead, he must be viewed within the context of Buddhist theories of time and history.
According to Buddhist doctrine, the universe is the product of karma, the law of the cause and effect of actions, according to which virtuous actions create pleasure in the future and non virtuous actions create pain. The beings of the universe are reborn without beginning in six realms: as gods, demigods, humans, animals, ghosts, and hell beings.
The actions of these beings create not only their individual experiences but the domains in which they dwell.
The cycle of rebirth, called samsara (literally wandering), is regarded as a domain of suffering, and the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice is to escape from that suffering.
The means of escape remains unknown until, over the course of millions of lifetimes, a person perfects himself, ultimately gaining the power to discover the path out of samsara and then compassionately revealing that path to the world.
A person who has set out on the long journey to discover the path to freedom from suffering, and then to teach it to others, is called a bodhisattva.
A person who has discovered that path, followed it to its end, and taught it to the world is called a buddha. Buddhas are not reborn after they die but enter a state beyond suffering called nirvana (literally passing away).
Because buddhas appear so rarely over the course of time and because only they reveal the path to liberation (moksha) from suffering (dukkha), the appearance of a buddha in the world is considered a momentous event in the history of the universe.
The story of a particular buddha begins before his birth and extends beyond his death. It encompasses the millions of lives spent on the bodhisattva path before the achievement of buddhahood and the persistence of the buddha, in the form of both his teachings and his relics, after he has passed into nirvana. The historical Buddha is regarded as neither the first nor the last buddha to appear in the world.
According to some traditions he is the 7th buddha; according to another he is the 25th; according to yet another he is the 4th. The next Buddha, named Maitreya, will appear after Shakyamuni’s teachings and relics have disappeared from the world.
The traditional accounts of the events in the life of the Buddha must be considered from this perspective.
Sources of the life of the Buddha
Accounts of the life of the Buddha appear in many forms. Perhaps the earliest are those found in the collections of sutras (Pali: suttas), discourses traditionally attributed to the Buddha.
In the sutras, the Buddha recounts individual events in his life that occurred from the time that he renounced his life as a prince until he achieved enlightenment six years later.
Several accounts of his enlightenment also appear in the sutras. One Pali text, the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (Discourse on the Final Nirvana), describes the Buddha’s last days, his passage into nirvana, his funeral, and the distribution of his relics.
Biographical accounts in the early sutras provide little detail about the Buddha’s birth and childhood, although some sutras contain a detailed account of the life of a prehistoric buddha, Vipashyin.
Another category of early Buddhist literature, the vinaya (concerned ostensibly with the rules of monastic discipline), contains accounts of numerous incidents from the Buddha’s life but rarely in the form of a continuous narrative; biographical sections that do occur often conclude with the conversion of one of his early disciples, Shariputra.
While the sutras focus on the person of the Buddha (his previous lives, his practice of austerities, his enlightenment, and his passage into nirvana), the vinaya literature tends to emphasize his career as a teacher and the conversion of his early disciples.
The sutras and vinaya texts, thus, reflect concerns with both the Buddha’s life and his teachings, concerns that often are interdependent; early biographical accounts appear in doctrinal discourses, and points of doctrine and places of pilgrimage are legitimated through their connection to the life of the Buddha.
Near the beginning of the Common Era, independent accounts of the life of the Buddha were composed.
They do not recount his life from birth to death, often ending with his triumphant return to his native city of Kapilavastu (Pali: Kapilavasthu), which is said to have taken place either one year or six years after his enlightenment.
The partial biographies add stories that were to become well-known, such as the child prince’s meditation under a rose-apple tree and his four momentous chariot rides outside the city.
These accounts typically make frequent reference to events from the previous lives of the Buddha. Indeed, collections of stories of the Buddha’s past lives, called Jatakas, form one of the early categories of Buddhist literature.
Here, an event reminds the Buddha of an event in a past life. He relates that story in order to illustrate a moral maxim, and, returning to the present, he identifies various members of his audience as the present incarnations of characters in his past-life tale, with himself as the main character.
The Jataka stories (one Pali collection contains 547 of them) have remained among the most popular forms of Buddhist literature.
They are the source of some 32 stone carvings at the 2nd-century BCE stupa at Bharhut in northeastern Madhya Pradesh state; 15 stupa carvings depict the last life of the Buddha. Indeed, stone carvings in India provide an important source for identifying which events in the lives of the Buddha were considered most important by the community.
The Jataka stories are also well-known beyond India; in Southeast Asia, the story of Prince Vessantara (the Buddha’s penultimate reincarnation)—who demonstrates his dedication to the virtue of charity by giving away his sacred elephant, his children, and finally his wife—is as well-known as that of his last lifetime.
Lives of the Buddha that trace events from his birth to his death appeared in the 2nd century CE. One of the most famous is the Sanskrit poem Buddhacharita (Acts of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa.
Texts such as the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (probably dating from the 4th or 5th century CE) attempt to gather the many stories of the Buddha into a single chronological account. The purpose of these biographies in many cases is less to detail the unique deeds of Shakyamuni’s life than to demonstrate the ways in which the events of his life conform to a pattern that all buddhas of the past have followed.
According to some, all past buddhas had left the life of the householder after observing the four sights, all had practiced austerities, all had achieved enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, all had preached in the deer park at Sarnath, and so on.
The life of the Buddha was written and rewritten in India and across the Buddhist world, elements added and subtracted as necessary.
Sites that became important pilgrimage places but that had not been mentioned in previous accounts would be retrospectively sanctified by the addition of a story about the Buddha’s presence there.
Regions that Buddhism entered long after his death—such as Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and Burma (now Myanmar)—added narratives of his magical visitations to accounts of his life.
No single version of the life of the Buddha would be accepted by all Buddhist traditions. For more than a century, scholars have focused on the life of the Buddha, with the earliest investigations attempting to isolate and identify historical elements amid the many legends.
Because of the centuries that had passed between the actual life and the composition of what might be termed a full biography, most scholars abandoned this line of inquiry as unfruitful.
Instead they began to study the processes—social, political, institutional, and doctrinal—responsible for the regional differences among the narratives of the Buddha.
The various uses made of the life of the Buddha are another topic of interest. In short, the efforts of scholars have shifted from an attempt to derive authentic information about the life of the Buddha to an effort to trace stages in and the motivations for the development of his biography.
It is important to reiterate that the motivation to create a single life of the Buddha, beginning with his previous births and ending with his passage into nirvana, occurred rather late in the history of Buddhism.
Instead, the biographical tradition of the Buddha developed through the synthesis of a number of earlier and independent fragments.
And biographies of the Buddha have continued to be composed over the centuries and around the world. During the modern period, for example, biographies have been written that seek to demythologize the Buddha and to emphasize his role in presaging modern ethical systems, social movements, or scientific discoveries.
What follows is an account of the life of the Buddha that is well-known, yet synthetic, bringing together some of the more famous events from various accounts of his life, which often describe and interpret these events differently.
This List Of Buddhas Is Not By Any Means Complete; There Are Many Buddhas, Named And Unnamed, In The Scriptures.
Akshobhya is a transcendent or celestial Buddha revered in Mahayana Buddhism.
He reigns over the Eastern Paradise, Abhirati. Abhirati is a Pure Land or buddha-field--a place of rebirth from which enlightenment is easily realized. The Pure Lands are believed in as past places by some Buddhists, but they may also be known as mental states.
According to tradition, before enlightenment, Akshobhya was a monk who vowed never to feel anger or disgust at another being.
He was immovable in keeping this vow, and after long striving, he became a Buddha.
In iconography, Akshobhya is usually blue or gold, and his hands often are in the earth to witness mudra, with left hand upright in his lap and his right Buddha touching the earth with his fingers.
Amitabha is another transcendent Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism, called the Buddha of Boundless Light. He is an object of veneration in Pure Land Buddhism and can also be found in Vajrayana Buddhism .
Veneration of Amitabha is thought to enable one to enter a buddha-field, or Pure Land, in which enlightenment and Nirvana are accessible to anyone.
According to tradition, many ages ago Amitabha was a great king who renounced his throne and became a monk named Dharmakara.
After his enlightenment, Amitabha came to reign over the Western Paradise, Sukhavati. Sukhavati is believed by some as a literal place, but it can also be understood as a state of mind.
Amitayus is Amitabha in his sambhogakaya form. In Trikaya doctrine of Mahanaya Buddhism, there are three forms a Buddha may take: the dharmakaya body, which is a kind of ethereal, non physical manifestation of a buddha; the nirmanakaya body, which is a literal, flesh and blood human figure that live and dies, such as the historical Siddhartha Gautama; and the Samghogakayha body.
The Sambhogakaya form is a kind of interim manifestation, which is said to have a visual presence but constituted of pure bliss.
Amoghasiddhi Buddha. MarenYumi / Flickr.com, Creative Commons License
The celestial Buddha Amoghasiddhi is called the one who unerringly achieves his goal.
He is one of the five wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Mahayana Buddhism.
He is associated with fearlessness on the spiritual path and the destruction of the poison of envy.
He is usually depicted as green, and his hand gesture is in the mudra of fearlessness--left hand lying in his lap and right hand upright with fingers pointing skyward.
Kakusandha is an ancient Buddha listed in the Pali Tipitika as having lived before the historical Buddha. He also is considered to be the first of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age.
Konagamana is an ancient Buddha thought to be the second universal Buddha of the current kalpa or world age.
Kassapa or Kasyapa was another ancient Buddha, the third of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age. He was followed by Shakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, who is considered the fourth Buddha of the current kalpa.
Siddhartha Gautama is the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism as we know it.
He is also known as Shakyamuni.
In iconography, Gautama Buddha is presented in many ways, as is fitting in his role as patriarch of the Buddhist religion, but most commonly he is a flesh-toned figure gesturing with the mudra of fearlessness--left hand lying open in lap, right hand held upright with fingers pointing skyward.
This historical Buddha we all know at Buddha is believed to be the fourth of five Buddhas that will manifest in the current age.
Maitreya is recognized by both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism as one who will be a Buddha in a future time.
He is thought to be the fifth and last Buddha of the current world age (kalpa).
Maitreya is first mentioned in the Cakkavatti Sutta of the Pali Tipitika (Digha Nikaya 26). The sutta describes a future time in which the dharma is entirely lost, at which time Maitreya will appear to teach it as it had been taught before. Until that time, he will dwell as a bodhisattva in the Deva Realm.
Pu-Tai (Budai) Or Hotei
The familiar laughing Buddha originated in 10th-century Chinese folklore. He is considered an emanation of Maitreya.
Ratnasambhava Buddha. MarenYumi / Flickr.com, Creative Commons License
Ratnasambhava is a transcendent Buddha, called the Jewel-Born One. He is one of the five meditation Buddhas of Vajrayana Buddhism and is the focus of meditations aimed at developing equanimity and equality.
He is also associated with efforts at destroying greed and pride.
Vairocana Buddha is a major iconic figure of Mahayana Buddhism. He is the universal Buddha or primordial, a personification of the dharmakaya and the illumination of wisdom. He is another of the five wisdom Buddhas.
In the Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra, Vairocana is presented as the ground of being itself and the matrix from which all phenomena emerge.
In the Mahavairocana Sutra, Vairocana appears as the universal Buddha from whom all buddhas emanate. He is the source of enlightenment who resides free from causes and conditions.
Buddhism is a religion that has been around for centuries, and there are many Buddhas. In this list of Buddhas we have included just some of the most well-known ones from Buddhist scriptures.
If you’ve ever wondered who these people were or what they did to become one with Buddha, keep reading! There will be no shortage of fascinating information about all things related to Buddhism here on our blog.