February 22, 2014


Nowadays in the mass media and social networks, one often hears statements (ascribed to the Buddha) such as “Der Weg ist der das Ziel.” As a student of Buddhist Studies and philology, one would often wonder: Where should the Buddha (if at all) made such a statement? Sometimes a statement can be so popular that we would not think that we would need a source. But sometimes we would realize that we have no khungs (“source”) and lung (“scriptural/tractatic authority”) for a certain idea or a statement at all. The expression khungs lung med pa in Tibetan would mean something like “nonsensical,” “gibberish,” and “unreliable.” Sometimes one gets an impression that the more obvious the ideas the scantier are their sources. Written (relatively fixed) sources seem to be preferable to oral (fluid) sources. The older the sources the more interesting do they appear to a historian (assuming one can determine at least a relative, if not a definitive, chronology of these sources). 

The laity can be pardoned if it does not know the pertinent sources but an academic dealing with the field is expected to know them. Many a time, however, someone would ask for a source and a scholar would realize that he or she is clueless. Of course one’s familiarity depends on one’s research area and research interest. I recall someone asking me about number of buddhas of the fortunate aeon. Is it 1,000, 1,002, or, 1,004? Perhaps Dharmakīrti or Einstein would have said such details are not worthing keeping in our mind. One could in a minute grab a reference work and find it out. But we do not seem to have such ready and reliable reference works, do we? And a list is always problematic. Even if a source states explicitly that there are 1,002 buddhas, we may realize often that the number if either higher or lesser, and never exactly 1,002. See for example, Friedrich Weller, Tausend Buddhanamen des Bhadrakalpa nach einer fünfsprachigen Polyglotte. Leipzig: Verlag der Asia Major, 1928. Note that this is a study of the polyglot list of names of 1,000 Buddhas composed by lCang-skya Rol-pa’i-rdo-rje (1717–1786). According Dhīḥ 25, the number is 1004 or 1005. The so-called Klong chen chos ’byung (pp. 65–66) states that according to the sNying rje padma dkar po’i mdo, 2005 buddhas would appear in the fortunate aeon whereas according to the gSang ba bsam gyis mi khyab pa’i mdo only 1,002 buddhas would appear. Out of 1,002 (pp. 70–71), 1,000 are buddhas; and two bodhisattvas, namely, Vajrapāṇi who will be the “codifier” (sdud pa po) of the teachings of all 1,000 buddhas, and Tshangs-pa gTsug-phud-can, so to speak, the “requester.” But one could expect discrepancies in the above mentioned sūtras as well. 


  1. D, there's a fairly good discussion in Bu-ston's history also. I should look up the ref. but I really have to go. There is a bit of sectarianism in the argument, if I remember right, with some insisting on the round number and then some troublesome people from the old school insisting there are a few more. I know I tried to make a note on this overwhelmingly significant problem, although I hear you thinking, what's a few more or less after all? Well, it's Buddha's we're talking about! PS: I think you typed some numbers in the two thousands when you meant numbers in the one thousands (should fix that to avoid still more interesting arguments about the numbers).
    Yours, D.

  2. The Lde'u history definitely accepts 1,002, and I believe the roots for its idea may be in the Mani Kambum, or perhaps further back in some canonical sutra, I don't know. Bu-ston in his history (Obermiller's translation, vol. 1, p. 97) rejected the idea that the number of these Buddhas is 1,002 (he says that they are "fools that deserve no belief" so I suppose he might have even meant Lde'u?), and himself accepted the perfectly round number of one thousand. I understand that sometimes Chinese Buddhist traditions speak of 1,004.
    I see you still have the numbers 2005 and 2002 when you meant to type 1,005 and 1,002. (I was brainwashed from childhood to always put that comma unless it's a year date, so I have no choice but to follow my conditioning.)