Siddhartha Gautama

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Siddhartha Gautama as Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama (in Sanskrit Siddhārtha Gautama (सिद्धार्थ गौतम) or in Pali Siddhattha Gotama ; according to the (controversial) corrected long chronology, born 563 BC in Lumbini ; died 483 BC in Kushinagar ) taught as Buddha (literally the Awakened ; see Bodhi ) the Dharma (literally the teaching ) and as such became the founder of Buddhism . He is commonly referred to as "the historical Buddha".


Siddhartha's death used to be a chronological landmark for Indian history. It played an important role as the beginning of the Buddhist calendar . The oldest known calculations were made in Sri Lanka . They relate to information provided there, from the 4th to the early 6th century BC. Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa dating from the 3rd century BC . This resulted in a year of death which, according to the western calendar, was 544 or 543 BC. Corresponds to. The starting point for the calculation was the tradition, according to which there were 168 years between the death of the Buddha and the accession of King Chandragupta Maurya and 218 years between the death of the Buddha and the reign of King Ashoka . This approach is known in research as "uncorrected long chronology" or "southern Buddhist chronology". It is traditionally widespread among the Theravada Buddhists of Southeast Asia. There were also dates to much earlier periods.

North India around 600 BC Chr.
Magadha and other Mahajanapadas in the early post-Vedic period , around 500 BC. Chr.

In the early 19th century, European research adopted the "uncorrected long chronology" approach, as it was the latest in the sources and therefore the most credible. As early as 1837, however, George Turnour, the editor of the Mahavamsa , doubted the "uncorrected long chronology". He accepted the traditional information about the time intervals between the death of Buddha and the advent of the two kings, but set them about sixty years later. This resulted in a new chronology, which is referred to in research as the "corrected long chronology". According to her, the Buddha's death falls between 486 and 477 BC. This approach remained prevalent in Europe until the second half of the 20th century. In Asia, the vast majority of Buddhists stuck to the traditional "uncorrected" dating of the year of death to 544/543 BC. Chr. Solid; therefore, the 2500th anniversary of the alleged death was celebrated in 1956.

On the basis of the "corrected long chronology", the year of death was 483 BC. Established as the year of birth 563 BC. This dating found favor with educated Buddhists, but could not prevail against the traditional "uncorrected" one.

The more recent research has given up the "corrected long chronology" in principle; it is only represented occasionally. Different dates are currently being discussed, all decades later than the time frame of the "corrected long chronology".

Often the Buddha's lifetime according to this “short chronology” is set around a century later than according to the “corrected long chronology”. The currently predominant dating approaches for death vary between approx. 420 and approx. 368 BC. Chr.

On the other hand, excavation results in Lumbini that have recently become known but have not yet been scientifically published suggest a renewed rethinking. The remains of buildings presumably built for the purpose of worshiping the Buddha in this place were dated to the sixth century BC. This interpretation has so far been classified as a scientific hypothesis.


Siddhartha Gautama is the Sanskrit form of the name. In Pali it is Siddhattha Gotama . Siddhartha , the original name he received from his parents, means "who has achieved his / her goal" or "the wish fulfilled". Gautama or Gotama means "leader of the herd" or "largest bull". However, the name was also comparable with western family names - it indicated belonging to the Gautama clan (Sanskrit: Gautama gotra , Pali: Gotama gotta ; see Gotra ), whose members could all be addressed in this way.

In addition to the designation as Buddha - the "awakened" - Siddhartha Gautama was also given other honorable names, including Tathagata (Sanskrit तथागत tathāgata "the So-Dahingangte") and Shakyamuni (Sanskrit शाक्यमुनि śākyamuni "the wise [from the people] of the Shakya") .

Traditional life story

Reports about the life of Siddhartha Gautama were only collected after his death by the members of the Sangha , the community of Dharma practitioners, and for a long time passed on exclusively orally. That is why legend and truth cannot always be clearly separated from one another.

The traditional representation of the life of the Buddha can be summarized as follows.

Origin and childhood

The birth of Siddhartha Gautama (2nd - 3rd centuries, Gandhara )

Siddhartha came from an old north Indian noble family. His father Shuddhodana was descended from the Shakya tribe in the principality of the same name and was probably not king but ruling prince of the old state of Kapilavastu on the border between today's India and Nepal. His parents reigned in the capital Kapilavastu and belonged to a Kshatriya - caste to.

His mother, Shuddhodana's wife, was called Maya and is also called Mahamaya ("great Maya"). Before his birth, Siddhartha's soul is said to have appeared to his mother in a vision in the form of a white elephant . He was born nine months later, also on a full moon night in Lumbini . On this day, the Vesakh festival is still celebrated in many Buddhist countries , the highest Buddhist holiday, on which his birth, his awakening and his entrance into the Parinirvana are commemorated.

After his birth, the prophet Asita is said to have prophesied for him. With this he takes on the role that Jesus intended for Simeon and Hanna . During his birth, according to legend, the seers Asita announced that this child would one day become a great king or, when he realized the suffering of the world, a great holy man. Thereupon, it is said, Shuddhodana did not have his son, whom he wanted to make a king, religiously instruct, nor did he allow Siddhartha to see human suffering.

His mother died seven days after his birth, and his father then married her sister Pajapati, also called Mahapajapati Gotami , who became a foster mother to the half- orphan Siddhartha .


Buddha statue from Gandhara, 1st century

At the age of 16 he was married to Princess Yasodhara . They lived in a palace where everything that was part of a good life was available to them and he hardly left. Still, it was dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

The exits

At the age of 29, soon after the birth of his only son Rahula , whose name is translated as fetter, Siddhartha left the supposedly carefree life that he had led in the palace up to then and went hiking through the surrounding area. For the first time he was faced with the reality of life and the suffering of humanity. Legend has it that he drove out four times, each time in a different direction. In three of them he got to know the darker side of life: encounters with a crippled old man, with a febrile patient and with a decaying corpse. In the fourth, he finally met an ascetic ("four signs"): After he had realized that these realities - aging, illness, death and pain - are inseparable from life, and that prosperity and wealth do not endure either, he decided to look for a way out of the general suffering. He realized that suffering is not caused by blows of fate or social injustice. Rather, the real causes of suffering are one's own thought and behavior patterns . Gautama realized that there was a way to get out of this vicious circle. If we take an experience, be it pleasant or uncomfortable, simply for what it is, then it does not cause suffering. He instructed his followers not to kill, not to steal, and to avoid sexual debauchery, as the actions fuel desire (for power, wealth, and lust). When the fire of desire is extinguished, it is replaced by a state of utter calm and serenity known as nirvana . Those who reach nirvana leave all suffering behind and recognize reality with the utmost clarity, without any wishful thinking. He still has unpleasant experiences, but these no longer cause suffering . A person who desires nothing cannot suffer.

Life as an ascetic

Siddhartha left his wife Yasodhara, the palace and the kingdom of his parents at the age of 29 and began to lead the life of an ascetic and to seek redemption. He learned yogic practice and meditation as a student of two respected Brahmin hermits, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta . First he turned to the pain asceticism that was widespread in India at the time. He spent six years like this in the valley of the Ganges , but he found neither peace nor the longed-for answers. On the verge of starvation, he realized that this could not be the way to liberation. Since all traditional religions and their methods did not bring him closer to his goals, he gave them up and devoted himself to the search for his own way. From this point on he led the life of a hiker without possessions and practiced meditation, but no longer in strict asceticism. He called this the "Middle Way" because he eschewed the extremes of other religious teachings.


Sitting in meditation posture, Siddhartha Gautama touches the earth with her right hand in order to call upon it as a witness for his past achievements and to underline his right to attain the highest goal, Bodhi ( Bhumisparsa Mudra )

At the age of 35, on a night of a full moon, he was deeply absorbed under a poplar fig when he "woke up". This tree is therefore also known today as the tree of wisdom or, more appropriately, the Bodhi tree , from Bodhi "awakening" (often imprecisely translated as "enlightenment"). Hatred, lust and ignorance fell away from him. He became the "Buddha", the awakened.
This happened on the bank of the Neranjara River near Bodhgaya (near Gaya in today's Bihar). According to legend, an offshoot of that fig tree was planted on Ceylon while the Indian tree withered. From there, another offshoot was later taken and planted in the original location in India (near the temple district of Sarnath, which was excavated in 1931). Buddhist monasteries often have an offshoot of the tree in their possession.

Siddhartha as a teacher

Stupa in Sarnath at the point where Siddhartha Gautama gave his first discourse

After his awakening, Gautama gave his first discourse (Sanskrit: Dharmacakrapravatanasūtra; Pāḷi: Dhammacakkappavattanasutta) in front of a group of five ascetics, his former companions, in the wildlife park near Isipatana (today's Sarnath ) near Benares and proclaimed the four truths of the [spiritual] noble . The five companions thus became the first members of the Buddhist (monk) community ( Saṅgha ).

From that day on, he taught this “middle path” between luxury and asceticism , the eightfold path of virtue, meditation and wisdom, which leads to awakening in northeast India for 45 years . He spoke to people of all walks of life, to kings and peasants, brahmins and outcasts, moneylenders and beggars, saints and robbers. Although he accepted the distinctions between the caste systems and the differences in social groupings as they exist in India to this day, he did not recognize them and emphasized their immateriality for following the path he taught. His path was open to all men and women who were ready to understand and walk. His former wife Yasodhara also entered the Buddha's order as a nun , together with her mother-in-law Pajapati , Siddhartha's foster mother, and eventually became an arhat .

It is believed that the Siddhartha Gautama taught in the Ardhamagadhi language.

To die

Gautama died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar (in what is now the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh ) after allegedly eating a rotten mushroom soup. According to those present, his last words were: “Well then, you monks, let me tell you: every appearance must disappear, you may fight tirelessly.” Appearances are also given in other translations as “compound things”. Shortly before, the Buddha is said to have said to his cousin and personal assistant Ananda :

“Didn't I, Anando, announce beforehand that everything that is dear to you and pleasant will be different, will end up, must be different? How could this, Anando, be obtained, what was born, become, put together, is subject to decay, since it should not decay: it does not exist. "

The Mahāparinibbāna Sutta , (DN 16), the "Great Sutra of Pari-Nirvana " reports on his death : At the age of 80, the Buddha set out on his last journey. He is accompanied by followers who listen to his lectures.

A story tells how, shortly before his death on Vulture Mountain, he silently turned a lotus flower in his hand in front of the assembled monks . All monks are at a loss, except for Mahakashyapa , who smiles about it and thus expresses the quality of his inner vision of being. Thereupon the Buddha declares that all his wisdom and mind have now passed to Mahakashyapa. This sets the wheel ( Dharma ) of Buddha teaching in motion and Mahakashyapa is the first of a series of Buddhist patriarchs . This story is the founding myth of Zen Buddhism.

Hagiographic sources

What is known about the life of Buddha Shakyamuni arises from the hagiographic traditions. The authors of early Shakyamuni vites were not interested in merely passing on historical facts about Shakyamuni's life. Rather, it was about the representation of a religious ideal. Strictly speaking, one should speak of the Buddha hagiography rather than the Buddha biography. In the following, the essential sources on the life of Shakyamuni are briefly presented.


The Mahavastu ( Eng .: Great Incident ; the full title is Mahavastu-Avadana ), which originated in the Mahasanghika school of the Hinayana tradition, tells the path of Shakyamuni through his earlier existences up to the beginning of his teaching activity following the Bodhi experience his birth as Gautama Siddhartha. The part of Shakyamuni's life as a teacher is probably not dealt with here because it can be inferred from the sutras. The main narrative begins at the time of the Buddha Dipankara and tells how Shakyamuni vows to him that he would later attain Buddhahood himself. The story then jumps into the recent past and tells of Shakyamuni's rebirth in Tushita heaven, where all future Buddhas are preparing for their Buddhahood. Shakyamuni is next shown how Shakyamuni chose to enter the womb of Mahamaya to be born in human form. This main narrative is interrupted in many places by allegorical subsidiary narratives, doctrinal discussions, etc.


The Buddhacarita is an epic written in Sanskrit by Ashvaghosa (2nd century AD), a Brahmin converted to Buddhism and one of the most important art poets of ancient India. The life of Buddha is depicted using all ornaments (Skr .: alamkara ) of Indian art poetry from birth to Parinirvana. The obligatory portrayal of battle for an art epic is offered in the 13th song with Shakyamuni's fight against the tempter Mara and his host. Close literary relationships connect the epic with the Ramayana , the Indian "original art poem " that Ashvaghosa must have known. The Sanskrit original of the Buddhacarita is only partially preserved. The content of the work, however, is fully apparent from the Tibetan and Chinese translations.


The Lalitavistara is a Buddha biography of Mahayana Buddhism , which originated in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. The Lalitavistara is not the uniform work of an author, but the result of centuries of editorial activity. Young games stand next to old ones, which may approach the time of the Buddha.

The Lalitavistara is made up of episodes that have been handed down in Pali and Sanskrit. The Indologist Moritz Winternitz (1863-1937) explained this by the fact that the Lalitavistara originally goes back to a text of the Hinayan Sarvastivada school and was later revised by a Mahayan author and redesigned in the spirit of Mahayana. Shakyamuni is not represented here as an ordinary person, as in the Hinayan tradition. Rather, it is emphasized that he was endowed with perfect knowledge from the start and only apparently went through the path to knowledge again to show people the way. According to this view, the vows he made as Sumegha before Buddha Dipankara and his preparation for Buddhahood in Tushita heaven are part of the demonstration through which he shows all beings the way to Buddhahood. This docetistic position of Mahayana Buddhism was mainly strengthened by the Lotus Sutra . Due to the reshaping of the material in the sense of Mahayana, the work achieved great popularity in northern India, the area where this tradition originated. The Lalitavistara also became very popular outside of India. The text has been translated into Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian several times.

Jataka stories

In the Pali Canon there is a work with the title Jataka . This is a collection of 547 stories that tell from the earlier life of Buddha Shakyamuni. The term Jataka has its etymological root in jati (Sanskrit), which means something like birth, and can therefore be translated as "prenatal history".

In terms of their formal structure, all the stories in this collection consist of five different text parts:

  1. the "present-day story", which tells of the occasion on which Shakyamuni shared the story from the past
  2. the "history of the past", ie the story from Shakyamuni's earlier existence
  3. the "Gathas", d. H. Stanzas that are mostly embedded in the past story, less often in the present story
  4. a grammatical and lexicographical commentary on the gathas and
  5. the "identification narrative " (Skr .: samodhana ), in which the persons of the past history are identified with those of the present history.

Of this complete work, only the Gathas are canonical. The remaining parts are regarded as commentaries and are entitled Jatakatthakatha (German: Explain the meaning of the Jataka) or Jatakavannana (German: Explanations of the Jataka). While the Gathas are traditionally regarded as a Buddha word, the great commentator Buddhaghosa ( 5th century AD) is considered to be the author of the remaining parts of the complete work. This assignment has been questioned in modern research. However, it is certain that the work received its present form between the 5th and 7th centuries. In some places it becomes clear that the author of the so-called commentary did not correctly understand the Gathas, which are often linguistically difficult.

The didactic intention of the Jataka narratives is to dress the admonition to observe the ten Parami or six Paramitas in paradigms from the Buddha's earlier life. The popularity of the Jataka stories, of which the Chinese pilgrim Yì Jìng also reports, can be recognized by the fact that they were not only written down, but also depicted in relief on the important stupas of India and Southeast Asia.

At the beginning of the Jataka book is the Nidanakatha designed as an introduction . It is the oldest detailed and coherent Shakyamuni biography in the Pali language and has remained one of the main sources of the traditional Buddhist biography of the Theravada school to this day.

Furthermore, Jataka is also the name of a literary genre. Jataka stories can be found not only in the Pali canon, but also in Buddhist Sanskrit literature. The most famous of the Jataka collections written in Sanskrit is the Jatakamala by the poet Aryashura ( 4th century AD). Various other Jataka stories have been written in Southeast Asia since the introduction of Buddhism. The Pannasajataka ( Eng .: Fifty Jatakas) collection is particularly famous . In addition, numerous other Jatakas are passed down as individual texts in Thailand , Laos and Cambodia .


In Wat Phradhatu Sri Chom Tong Voravihara ( Thailand ) a relic is venerated, which is said to be a bone part of the skull of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.

When Siddhartha Gautama was dying, he told the monks that the burial of his body should be left to the Upāsaka (lay people). So the monks dispersed immediately after they passed away. However, it was initially a problem to get enough wood to cremate the corpse, as there were too few lay supporters in the area. After a short time, various delegations who had heard of Siddhartha Gautama's death arrived. The dispute over the rightful possession of the ashes and bones then flared up among them. An agreement was reached by dividing ashes and bones. According to legend, the ashes were finally buried under eight mounds of earth (stupa).

Under the rule of the Maurya King Ashoka , who lived from about 268 BC. BC to 232 BC Ruled, seven of these burial mounds were reopened and the relics were distributed in 84,000 stupas - hill-shaped symbolic structures made of clay or stone - throughout the empire of Ashoka. To accomplish this, parts were likely added to the remains. In addition, the numbers 8 and 84,000, which have symbolic meaning in Buddhism, indicate that this information is not to be understood literally. Only a few of the stupas from this early period remain today. These include those in Piprahwa (near Lumbini, Gautama's birthplace) and Vaishali (where the 2nd Buddhist Council took place). The best known and most important stupa from the time of King Ashoka is the "Great Stupa" of Sanchi .

Today there are a multitude of Buddhist shrines in South, East and Southeast Asia that claim to be home to the remains (e.g. a tooth or bone) of Buddha Shakyamuni. These include the Golden Rock and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar or the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in Sri Lanka .

See also



  • Oliver Freiberger, Christoph Kleine : Buddhism. Manual and critical introduction. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011. ISBN 978-3-525-50004-0 .
  • Hajime Nakamura: Indian Buddhism: a survey with bibliographical notes. Motilal Banarsidass. 1980, ISBN 978-81-208-0272-8 .
  • Ulrich Schneider: Buddhism. An introduction. 4th edition Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 1997, ISBN 3-89678-501-X .
  • Hans Wolfgang Schumann: The historical Buddha. Life and teaching of Gotama. Hugendubel, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-89631-439-4 .
  • Martin Gimm : The Life of Buddha. A Chinese woodcut fragment. (Insel Bücherei 870), 5th edition, Frankfurt 1995.
  • Michael Carrithers: The Buddha. An introduction. (“The Buddha”) Reclam, Ditzingen 1996, ISBN 3-15-003941-X (with an essay by Günther Debon ).
  • Edward Conze : Buddhism. Essence and development. ("Buddhism. Its essence and development"). 10th ed. Kohlhammer, Berlin et al. 1995, ISBN 3-17-013505-8 (Kohlhammer-Taschenbücher; 5).
  • Volker Zotz : Buddha with self-testimony and image documents (rowohlts monographs; 50477). 6th edition Rowohlt, Reinbek 2001, ISBN 3-499-50477-4 .
  • Thích Nhất Hạnh : How Siddhartha Became Buddha: An Introduction to Buddhism . Kindle Edition. Theseus Verlag 2014

Web links

Commons : Gautama Buddha  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. This information is not without controversy, detailed description u. a. Hans Wolfgang Schumann : Handbook Buddhism. The central lessons: origin and present. Diederichs, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-7205-2153-2 , pp. 146–149, a statement was made, in the sense of a "short chronology" between about 420 BC. BC and 350 BC Chr. As seen by the majority of scientists than the probable.
  2. Schwartzberg, JE (1992), A Historical Atlas of South Asia: University of Oxford Press
  3. Cousins, LS (1996): " The dating of the historical Buddha: a review article ", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series) 6 (1), 57-63
  4. See Heinz Bechert: The Date of the Buddha Reconsidered ( Memento of November 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). Indologica Taurinensia 10, 1982, pp. 29–36 and the like: The lifetime of the Buddha - the oldest fixed date in Indian history? In: News of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen , Philological-Historical Class, year 1986, No. 4; Richard Gombrich: Review by Heinz Bechert: The Lifetime of the Buddha. In: Göttingische learned advertisements 246, 1994, H. 1/2, pp. 86–96; numerous controversial discussions in Heinz Bechert (Ed.): The Dating of the Historical Buddha , 3 volumes, Göttingen 1991–1997.
  5. Buddha a good hundred years older than assumed ,, November 27, 2013
  6. Did Buddha live earlier than expected? , in: Spectrum of Science , No. 2, February 2014, p. 10.
  7. Life of the Buddha (Part One) 3. The Naming Ceremony , description of the naming (English).
  8. Ryutaro Tsuchida: The Genealogy of the Buddha and His Ancestors ; in: The Dating of the Historical Buddha , Part 1, pp. 110-112.
  9. Alexander Wynne: Was the Buddha an awakened prince or a humble itinerant? In: Aeon. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  10. Yuval Noah Harar I (2015). A Brief History of Humanity, pp. 274f.
  11. Harry Falk: Scripture in ancient India: a research report with annotations. Volume 56 by Script Oralia, Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-8233-4271-1 , p. 108
  12. Dīgha Nikāya (DN 16.6.2) Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
  13. Maha-parinibbana Sutta, Translated from the Pali by Sister Vajira & Francis Story : Here compounded and compounded things are important terms.
  14. Dīgha Nikāya (DN 16.3.6) Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
  15. Jones, JJ (trans.) (1949–56): The Mahāvastu (3 vols.) In: Sacred Books of the Buddhists . London: Luzac & Co. vol. 1 , vol. 2 , vol. 3