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Religion Library: Buddhism


Written by: Julia Hardy

After about forty-five years as a spiritual teacher, the Buddha died. The cause of his death is not clear, but it was apparently some kind of food poisoning. According to legend, he was aware before he ate it that the food was deadly and he protected others from eating it. His body was cremated, and various relics taken from the remains were distributed. These remains of his physical body were believed to have sacred power. Eventually they were interred in stupas, which became important Buddhist symbols and objects of veneration.

Over the centuries, legends of the Buddha's previous lives emerged and were recorded as the Jataka Tales. It was said that in one life he was a rabbit who came across a hunter lost in the woods and starving. First shaking the fleas from his fur, so as not to sacrifice their lives too, he leapt into the hunter's fire in order to offer himself up as a meal. Another of these tales tells of a lifetime as an elephant that jumped from a cliff to provide food for hundreds of starving men.

Still later, the notion developed that there were many Buddhas in the universe, that Buddhas had been incarnated as humans many times previously, and that more would emerge in the future. It was predicted that Maitreya, the next Buddha to come, would appear sometime in the distant future.

Study Questions:
1.     Why did Siddhartha Gautama become an ascetic?
2.     What was significant about Siddhartha's birth?
3.     Why was the Buddha's body distributed upon his death?
4.     Should the Buddha be considered a supernatural being? Why or why not?