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The evolution of the concept of the Buddha within the Pāli Canon and commentaries

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Thero, Makola Mangala




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Shākya, Miroj
Long, Darui
Kumara, Rājita P.


This dissertation focuses on examining the concept of Buddha within the Pāli canon and commentaries in Sri Lankan Theravāda Buddhist literature. It is very significant as it depicts the Gautama Buddha as a superhuman being who possessed incomparable extraordinary human qualities. The information found in the early Buddhist literature, such as the Pāli canon and the commentaries, provide ample examples about the great superhuman qualities of the Gautama Buddha. The historicity of the Prince Siddhārtha, such as his birth, marriage, great renunciation, and the strenuous effort made to attain self-enlightenment, is well depicted in the Pāli canon. After the enlightenment, he was popularly known as the Sammā Sambuddha or Bhagavā. The important incidents, such as his first discourse to five ascetics, the conversion of various ascetics, individuals and followers of various rights and rituals as well as the meeting of various contemporaneous kings in this time, his rainy season, daily routine, instances of sicknesses and finding the medical advice, vicissitudes of life faced by him, old age, and final demise etc., are well depicted in the Pāli Canon. Throughout the Pāli Canon, one can observe the nature of his teaching that was basically founded on the Three Characteristics, which is a significant doctrine different from all the contemporary traditional teachings. His meetings with the people of all walks of life in his time, the support given to him by them, and the instructions given to them by him on many social, economic, political, and family issues etc. also can be examined in the Pāli Canon. The type of moral language used by him, his pleasant nature and the admiration and venerations received by him are also other significant aspects of his life described in the Pāli Canon. As he reached the highest spiritual attainment, he was able to perceive any problem i.e., mundane, religious, or spiritual, with wisdom, loving-kindness, great compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. As a result of his incomparable spiritual attainments, he has been venerated by the addition of many epithets that glorify his spiritual attainments and personality. Nonetheless, there isn’t any trace in the Sri Lankan Pāli Canon, where he was regarded as an almighty god, Supernatural Being or any microcosmic or macrocosmic Universal Power or someone who taught such doctrine.

The Buddhavaṁsa, Cariyāpitaka, Jātakapāli and Jātakatthakathā are also very important with respect to studying the Sri Lankan Theravāda concept of the Buddha and Bodhisattva. Although they are regarded as the Theravāda texts of later development, the information found in those texts clearly signify the historicity of the Gautama Buddha from many perspectives. Although there is a trend in those texts about the development of much adoration of the Gautama Buddha, yet he still remains a superhuman being who possesses great spiritual qualities. Hence, our conclusion is that the Gautama Buddha is found in the early Theravāda canonical literature as a person of great wisdom and great compassion with less adoration of his extensive and colorful physical description. It is his great wisdom (mahāpaññā) and great compassion (mahākarunā) that made him a superhuman being in early Sri Lankan Theravāda canonical literature.


Degree Granter

University of the West



Library Holding

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