Nina Van Gorkom has technical problems using this forum and asked me to send this:
Dear Robert, would you post this for me? ———-
you were wondering what evidence scholars have for the existence of an historical buddha.
If you visit Lumbini you will see a pillar erected by King Asoka, with the inscription: here Sakyamuni was born. He erected pillars at all the different places to commemorate the important events of the Buddha’s life. The Survey of Archeology in India takes great care of all these monuments and they excavate always more remnants of very ancient buildings.
In Lumbini we saw the pillar King Asoka had erected 249 B.C. when he
payed hommage at the place where the Buddha was born. An inscription on
the pillar says that King Asoka, after having been anointed for twenty years,
came himself and worshipped this spot, because the Buddha Sakyamuni was
born here. The inscription also says that King Asoka made the village of
Lumbini free of taxes and that it had to pay only an eighth share of the
produce. There is also a temple in honour of Queen Måya erected on an older
structure and now they discovered more old remnants.
Bodhgaya is the place of his enlightenment and this full of old monuments.
In Sarnath one can see the great Stupa, the place of the first sermon, and
excavations of old structures which were once the monks’ dwellings. The
Chinese pilgrims Fa Hian (beginning fifth century) and Hiuen Tsang (640)
who gave accounts of their pilgrimages to the holy places, also described
Sarnath and the monuments they saw there. One can still see a remnant of a
stone pillar erected by King Asoka.
Near Kusinåra a stupa commemorates the place of the Buddha’s cremation.
By historical research one does not come to know who the Buddha was.
What is the meaning of the word Buddha”? The Illustrator of Ultimate Meaning (the Paramatthajotikå”, a commentary to the Minor Readings”, Khuddaka Nikåya) explains, in the commentary to the Three Refuges”, the meaning of the word Buddha”:
<... and this is said, Buddha”: in what sense buddha? He is the discoverer (bujjhitå) of the Truths, thus he is enlightened (buddha). He is the enlightener (bodhetå) of the generation, thus he is enlightened. He is enlightened by omniscience, enlightened by seeing all, enlightened without being led by others… he is quite without defilement, thus he is enlightened; he has travelled by the Path that goes in only one way, thus he is enlightened; he alone discovered the peerless complete enlightenment, thus he is enlightened; … Buddha: this is not a name made by a mother, made by a father… this (name) Buddha”, which signifies final liberation, is a realistic description of Enlightened Ones, Blessed Ones, together with their obtainment of omniscient knowledge at the root of an enlightenment (tree).>
The Buddha is the discoverer of the truth. What is the truth the Buddha discovered all by himself? He is enlightened by omniscience, enlightened by seeing all…” the commentary to the Paramatthajotikå states. He had developed the wisdom to see and to experience the truth of all realities. Only if we develop understanding of all realities in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we shall come to know who the Buddha was.
This means that we can begin to investigate the realities of our daily life, such as visible object, seeing, sound, hearing, attachment, anger, genrosity. We shall learn that these are conditioned dhammas that are not created by a self; they are dhammas which are anattaa.
The Buddha taught the Path leading to enlightenment, also to us, ordinary people. If we develop this Path we shall see the phenomena of our life as they truly are, but this is a very gradual process. Actually, it is understanding that develops because of its proper condiitons, it is not ‘us’ who develop understanding. As understanding develops stage by stage until enlightenment is attained, we shall come to know who the Buddha was. This is more comvincing than any historical evidence about his person.