Dates for the Buddha

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Many different dates have been given for the Buddha. They are commonly expressed in terms of the date of his death; he is supposed to have lived 80 years.

In 1988 the University of Göttingen hosted a specialist scholarly conference devoted to this question. It published the proceedings of the conference in three volumes, including papers in English, French, German and Tibetan. Later, a selection, either written in or translated into English, was published, edited by Professor Heinz Bechert, who wrote an introductory summary, which covered the papers not included in the selection as well. A review article by L. S. Cousins gives a briefer summary of the first two volumes. Statements below are from these sources unless otherwise cited.

Participants in the conference gave the following dates (all dates are BC; not all contributors made such definite statements, some contributing in other ways):[1]

  • 486: Gen'ichi Yamazaki
  • 483: A. K. Narain
  • 411-398, probably 404: Professor Richard Gombrich
  • 410-390: K. R. Norman (President of the Pali Text Society)
  • 400-350: Bechert
  • 383: Professor Hajime Nakamura
  • 368: Professor Akira Hirakawa
  • 261: P. H. L. Eggermont (not a misprint for 361)

Bechert goes on to list dates given by non-participants:

  • 2066: D. R. Manked
  • 1807: V. G. Ramachandran
  • 1168: K. D. Sethna
  • 544: Kailash Chandra Varma
  • 487 April 11: Sonam Marup
  • 420-380: Barua
  • c. 400: R. Hikata
  • 397: Mazutani Sarao

There is now a more or less established, [2] though not final,[3] consensus among specialist historians that the Buddha died some time around 400 BC.

According to Bechert, dates found within the Buddhist tradition itself range from 2420 to 290.[4]; however, according to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism,[5] the Kālacakratantra gives a date of 121 AD. The commonest, according to Cousins,[6] are as follows:

  • 949: East Asian tradition
  • 881: Tibetan tradition
  • 543: Theravada tradition

There seems to be some confusion about the last of these dates, however. Norman[7] and Nakamura[8] give 544 as the traditional date, while Clark[9] says 545; both Nakamura and Clark say (as do a number of other scholars) that the 2500th anniversary was celebrated in 1956; Clark's position seems to be more consistent, as there is no year 0 between 1 BC and 1 AD; Kitsudo[10] says a controversy developed in Ceylon in the early 20th century over the exact year; according to Petra Kieffer-Pülz ([1]), Burma and Ceylon start the year 1 from the Buddha's death, while Thailand starts year 0 then; this implies 544 as the correct date; the common date 543 might be due to Westerners' ignorance of their own calendar.

If the last speculation is correct, maybe 949 and 881 should be 950 and 882. Professor Lancaster, on the other hand, says the dominant date in the Chinese tradition is 948 ([2], pages 453f).

References

  1. Bechert, pages 26ff
  2. Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford World Classics, 2008, page xv
  3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page 107
  4. page 1
  5. page 434
  6. introduction
  7. Collected Papers IV, Pali Text Society, page 113
  8. in Morgan, the Path of the Buddha, Ronald Press, New York, 1956, page 365
  9. Journal of Burma Studies, volume 19, number 1, June 2015, page 82 and note 9
  10. Pali Texts Printed in Sri Lanka in Sinhalese characters, Pali Text Society, 2015, page 25
  • When Did the Buddha Die?, ed Heinz Bechert, Sri Satguru, Delhi, 1995
  • L. S. Cousins, "The dating of the historical Buddha: a review article", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 6.1, pages 57–63 (1996)/[3]/Williams, Buddhism, Routledge, 2005, volume I; NB in the online transcript a little text has been accidentally omitted: in section 4, between "... none of the other contributions in this section envisage a date before 420 B.C." and "to 350 B.C." insert "Akira Hirakawa defends the short chronology and Heinz Bechert himself sets a range from 400 B.C."Template:2014Template:2012 made