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Jainism in Buddhist Literature
                                                                By Dr. Hiralal Jain

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The Date of Buddha 

The chief landmark of Buddhist chronology is the year and date of the Buddha's parinibbana which is said to lie according to two main traditions, somewhere between 487-477 B. C. and 543-544 B. C.

Charpentier1, Max Muller2, and General A. Cunningham3 asserted 477-478 B. C. as the date of the Buddha's demise. According to them, the year of Chandragupta's accession was 315 B. C. and it is now proved to be an erroneous premise.

Oldenberge4 favours 481 B. C. while V. A. Smith prefers 486 B. C. Smith depends on the so called "Cantonese Dotted Record". It is said that Bhiksu Sanghabhadra sent news of the buddha's parinibbana to china. since then an arrangement of reckoning the Buddha's death by marking a dot each year had been made in Canton, and this dotted record continued upto the year 489 A. D. All the dots were counted in 489 A. D., and their total number reached 975, which suggests 486 B. C. as the year of Buddha's death. It is not easy to recognize the dotted record as being trust worthy unless other strong evidence supports it.

Raychaudhuri5 accepts 486 B. C., while Kern6 places it in 488 B. C. On the other hand, Muni Nugaraj7 mentions 502 B. C. as the year of the Buddha's parinibbana. But all these conceptions do not carry weight as they do not take into account all the evidences.

Another date 483 B. C., which seems more reliable, is supported by several non-traditionalists or reformed traditionalist scholars. Sylvain Levi8 pointed out from the Chinese accounts that 483 B. C. was reckoned as the Buddha's demise up to the 4th century in Ceylon, while E. R. Ayroton9, the late Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon, and Wickrema-singhe10 try to prove the acceptability of this date from the beginning of the 4th century up to the 11th century. Geiger also warmly accepts this view.

John M. Seneviratne established his theory that "The era reckoned from 483 B. C. remained not only up to the 11th century but up to the end of the 15th century, when the new tradition that the Buddha died in 544 B. C.-came in and soon ousted the old, are creating no little confusion, not so much during the transitionary stage as in our own time.11

The scholars, who accept 483 B. C. as the date of the Buddha, urge that 218 years after Buddha's death, Asoka's consecration took place. They quote the Dipavamsa13, and Mahavamsa14 in support of their theory. As regards Asoka's consecration, they say that his predecessors Bindusara and Candragupta ruled for 28 and 24 years, according to the Ceylonese chronology.15 And Asoka was consecrated four years after he had already reigned over the country.16 This means Candragupta would have ascended the throne 162 years (218 - 4=214 - 28+24= 162) after the Buddha's nibbana.

Fortunately they could say with almost certainty that Chandragupta's accession took place in 321 B. C., since Alexander the Great died at Babylon in the same year and this fact has been amply recorded17. From this they conclude that the Buddha's death would have taken place in 483 B. C. (321+162 = 433).

Hoernle, on the otherhand, accepts 482 B. C. as the "Practically certain" date of the Buddha's parinabbana. He supports his view by the evidence that Bimbisara was murdered by his son eight years before the Buddha's nibbana.18 Though there is no great difference between the dates, 483 B. C. appears the more dependable one.

As regards the traditional date of Buddha, it is yet to be asertained, since the tradition itself is not accepted with unanimity. According to the Buddhist Chronicles of Ceylon and Burma, the Nibbana took place in 544-543 B. C., while the Northern Indian traditions place it at a very early date. Cunningham19 refers to some of them. In the time of Hwen Thasang, A. D. 630-645, the Buddhist schools held widely different opinions, varying from 900 and 1000 years up to 1200, 1300 and even 1500 years prior to that date20, which would place the Nibbana of the Buddha either in 250, or 350, or 550, or 650 and 850 B. C. The same extravagant antitquity was also asserted in the time of Fa-Hian, who places the Nibbana during the reign of Ping-Wang, Emperar of China, in B. C. 770-719 21. A similar antiquity was still claimed as late as the Twelth Century A. D., during the reign of Asoka Balla Deva. Two of his inscriptions are dated in the years 51 and 74 of the Laksmana Sena era, or in A. D. 1159 and 1180. A third inscription, which is dated in the year 1813 after the Nibbana of Buddha shows that at that time, Nibbana was believed to have occured between about 656 to 633 B. C.

But all the traditional views, except the traditions of Ceylon and Burma, do not have sufficiently strong evidences in their support. According to the Mahavamsa, Parakramabahu I was corwned when 1696 years had elapsed since the buddha's death, that is, in the year 1697 A. B. The Ceylonese era falls this year 1153 A. D.22 This is supported by an independant source, viz. a South Indian Inscription at the temple of Tiruvalisvara in Arpakkama. According to the Culavamsa, 56.16 foll., the predecessors of Parakramabahu, from Parak rama Pandu onwards, reigned 107 years. Thus the accession of the last-named prince falls at 1590. A. D. Moreover, this date is confirmed by the South Indian Manimangalam inscription, which is dated the same year23. All this shows that for the second half of the twelfth century the existence of the Ceylon era, reckoned from 544; is established with certainty.24

In support of this view, we can now put forward another evidence. An inscription has been recently discovered near Anuradhapura in Ceylon which delineates the various kinds of donations made by king Upatissa 1, the elder brother and predecessor of the king, for the benefit of the Bodi-shrine. S. Paranavitana, on the basis of this earliest inscription so far found in which a date is given in the Buddhist era reckoning from the parinirvana of Buddha along with the regnal year of the king reigning at the time, has been able to say that the Budhist era reckoned from 544 B. C. was prevalent in the reign of king Upatissa 1 (368-410). A. D25.

It is to be noted here that some scholars think of 483 B. C. as the Ceylonese traditional era of the Buddha's Nirvana. M. De. Z. Wickremasinghe, however, tried to establish the view that till the 11th Centuary A. D. the tradition of counting the Buddhist era from 483 B. C. was prevalent both in India as well as in Ceylon. He suggested that the mistake might have occured in regard to the length of reigns assigned to the several kings who preceded the great Vijaya Bahu 1. His reason for suggesting it is that it was a century of foreign domination for about 86 or 96 years, the Cholians over-ran the Island, carrying destruction every-where. If a mistake did really occur in this chronology, it is mot probable that it was due to such difficult circumstances.26

Senaviratne27 too has attempted to prove that the death of Buddha took place in the year 483 B. C., on the strength of the conclusion arrived at by Fleet and accepted by Geiger and Wikramasinghe. He says that the correctness of Fleet's date is beyond question. According to him, the above date continued till the time of Parakramabahu VI when it was corrupted by the addition of 93 years; and a few centuries still later a Buddhist monk at kandy dropped out of this 93, when the era assumed its present date.

But these views are refuted by other eminent scholars. E. Hultzsch28 pointed out that the above view, that of reckoning the era from 483 B. C. is based on an erroneous translation by WIjesinghe of passage in the Culavamsa (Chapter, 53.v. 44), H, W. Codringron29 remarked on the paper of Seneviratne that the Kalyani inscription indicated that the "Sakaraja" era as that used in Burma and dating form A, D. 638, according to a Burmese inscription, is dated saka-raja 657 at Bodhigaya." "This date", he says "however, shows that the Buddhist era, as used in Burma in the fifteenth centuary was 544 B. C". E. M. Abhesinghe,30 on the basis of Jaina literature, criticising the view of Seneviratne, says that "We know that Buddha was countemporaneous with Bimbisara, and if with the Jainas, we identify Swami Gautama or Gautama Indrabhuti with Lord Buddha, the first disciple of the Jaina Tirthankara Mahavira, we can approximately fix, from both these sources, the date of the great demise at 544 B. C."31

In connection with Abhesinghe's conclusion I would like to make a few comments. His suggestion, in support of 544 B. C. being date of the Buddha's demise, that Gautama Indrubhuti and Bautama the Buddha are identical, is incorrect. They were different personalities. One was the Ganadhara or explainer of Mahavira's preachings, while the other was the founder of Buddhism. One died at Gunava in. Rajagraha at the age of ninety two, 12 years after the attainment of salvation by Mahavira, while the other died at Kusinara at the age of eighty and attained nibbana.

In the light of the aforesaid evidences we can now conclude that the most probable date of the birth of Buddha therefore, is 624-623 B. C. We make this deduction as he is supposed to have lived for 80 years, as he himself says in the Mahaparini-bbanasutta of the Dighanikaya before his death that he was of 80 years of age (athititaro me vayo vattati). Thus the date of the Buddha's parinivana may be decided at 544 B. C. (624-623 B. C.-80 = 544-543 B. C.)

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