Rediscovering the Buddha The Legends and Their Interpretations
Author: Penner, Hans H,
Abstract: The Buddhacentric view of Buddhism continues to shorten the legends of the Buddha into brief outlines. This paradox is based on the mistaken quest for the historical Buddha and the view of myth as irrational or symbolic. This book corrects both mistakes. Part I provides texts from the Buddhist scriptures that demonstrate the mythical/cosmological framework of the legends of the Buddha, that geography is cosmography. Part I presents evidence beginning with the infinity of the Buddhist cosmos, the length of an eon, the origin of humans, episodes concerning Buddhas previous lives, including Vessantara, his birth in our epoch, the birth of his son Rahula, life in the wilderness, enlightenment, performance of miracles, the threat of being murdered, the battles with his cousin, his backaches, conferences with the gods, dinner with a courtesan, the tensions with is family, an upsetting dinner with a blacksmith and much more, ending with his final last days and royal funeral. Part II defines religion, myth, and ritual, and provides a full critique of the quest for the historical Buddha. The book asks: what conclusion can be drawn from this? Mythical texts cannot be translated into historical documents. Part II interprets the legends from within the constraints of the cosmological framework and as episodic rites of passage. The Buddha is also restored as the Buddhist Universal Monarchs twin. Their lives are constrained by the same cosmological framework and the liminal stage of their rite of passage is asceticism. The final chapter redefines Buddhism as an oppositional relation between householder and renouncer, Buddha and Universal Monarch, mediated by the gift, which produces good merit.