Book: Many Buddhas, One Buddha
Chapter: 4. Śākyamuni’s Past Lives
Part A of the volume introduces the Avadānaśataka and its themes and concerns, with a particular focus on placing the first four chapters of the text – those translated in Part B of the volume – into the context of developing ideas about the Buddha and buddhahood. After a general introduction to the text, the discussion moves through themes that are core to each of the chapters under discussion: the many buddhas of the past and future who feature in chapters 1 and 2; the past lives of the most recent Buddha, Śākyamuni, which are related in chapters 2 and 4; and the pratyekabuddhas (beings awakened in times of no Buddhism) of chapter 3. The discussion then uses features common to the whole text, including miracles, aspirations and predictions, to mount an argument that the Avadānaśataka treads a fine line between acknowledging the validity of the three paths to awakening (full buddhahood, pratyekabuddhahood and arhatship) while clearly placing full buddhahood at the pinnacle. Furthermore, even within the category of full buddhas, Śākyamuni Buddha takes centre stage as the miracle-working, prediction-making, magical-smiling, utterly awe-inspiring Buddha of our time.