New light on Buddha
Reviewed by Harbir K Singh

Gautama Buddha —The Lord of Wisdom
By Rohini Chowdhury. Puffin Books. Rs 150

Gautama Buddha —The Lord of WisdomBuddha has been the most influential man in this world, whose teachings have been followed for almost 1,500 years in India and have also spread to many Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Korea, Japan, China, Thailand and many more. Even though teachings of Buddha are followed by nearly 400 million people but still very little is known about the life of Siddhartha Gautama.

Whatever little is known about him has been gleaned from the Buddhist scriptures and texts. Buddha believed that his teachings are more important than his life, because of this reason not much was known about his life. Even many historians started questioning his existence. But the Buddhist scriptures show that he did exist. Now it is an accepted fact that Buddha was born in 563 BCE and died at the age of 80 in 483 BCE.

In this book, Rohini writes about many controversies written in Pali canon and as told by Buddhist traditions about the life of Buddha, his friends, his preachings, his followers, his renunciation, attainment of nirvana and many more . The story of Siddhattha as told by Buddhist tradition is that he was son of a king, enjoyed the luxuries as a prince. Once he saw an old man, a corpse, a sick man, and a monk. These sights shocked him . He gave up his life of luxury and became a monk.

Pali canon tells a different story. Gautama's father was not a king but a minor vassal of king of Kosala. The story of four sights were of another Buddha called Vipassi, who lived long before Gautama . At that time, Buddha was the title given to the one who attained enlightenment and by his knowledge became superior. According to Buddhists, there have been at least 25 Buddhas and Gautama was the last.

Pali canon does not give a complete account of Gautama. Even his discourses are not organised chronologically nor his early years of life. How many anecedotes of his life are true or made up later by his followers is also not known. In spite of this, Pali canon does contain some reliable information about Gautama. Mention of the Magadha king Bimbasara and his son Ajatashatru is real as they are historical facts.

How Siddhattha got married to Bimba or Bimbasundari , daughter of his maternal uncle Suppabuddha. Even about the Nirvana of Gotama, it is said that he with his cousins Ananda and Anuruddha crossed Bhandagama, Hatthigama, Ambagama villages and reached Pava. Though these places are not identified today. Pali texts tells that Gotama reached Kusinara. He was very ill and in a lot of pain. He laid down under the Sal tree, It was the full moon night of Vaisakha, he attained Nirvana. After three months of his Nirvana, his followers met to preserve and spread his teachings. King Asoka's son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra took his teachings to Sri Lanka and then they spread to various Asian countries In the 19th century, they reached Europe and from there found way to America also.

In the last chapters, Rohini has written in brief the history dates, emerging monarchies, important places and people, and contemporaries of Buddha in India and around the world, Buddha in art in India and other lands and Buddhism today which is the fourth largest religion in world.