In countries where Theravāda Buddhism is practiced by the majority of people, such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, it is customary for Buddhists to hold elaborate festivals, especially during the fair weather season, paying homage to the 29 Buddhas described in the Buddhavamsa. The Buddhavamsa is a text which describes the life of Gautama Buddha and the 27 Buddhas who preceded him. The Buddhavamsa is part of the Khuddaka Nikāya, which in turn is part of the Sutta Piṭaka. The Sutta Piṭaka is one of three main sections of the Pāli Canon of Theravāda Buddhism.
The first three of these Buddhas—Taṇhaṅkara, Medhaṅkara, and Saraṇaṅkara—lived before the time of Dīpankara Buddha. The fourth Buddha, Dīpankara, is especially important, as he was the Buddha who gave niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood) to the Brahmin youth who would in the distant future become the bodhisattva Gautama Buddha. After Dīpankara, 25 more noble people (ariya-puggala) would attain enlightenment before Gautama, the historical Buddha.
Many Buddhists also pay homage to the future (and 29th) Buddha, Maitreya. According to Buddhist scripture, Maitreya will be a successor of Gautama who will appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure Dharma. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects (Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana), and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an event that will take place when the Dharma will have been forgotten on Jambudvipa (the terrestrial realm, where ordinary human beings live).
In the earliest strata of Pali Buddhist texts, especially in the first four Nikayas, only the following seven Buddhas, The Seven Buddhas of Antiquity (Saptatathāgata), are explicitly mentioned and named:
One sutta called Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta from an early Buddhist text called the Digha Nikaya also mentions that following the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, a Buddha named Maitreya is predicted to arise in the world.
However, according to a text in the Theravada Buddhist tradition from a later strata (between 1st and 2nd century BCE) called the Buddhavamsa, twenty-one more Buddhas were added to the list of seven names in the early texts. Other later Buddhist texts hold that each kalpa has 1,000, and Metteya to be the fifth and future Buddha of the bhadrakalpa. The previous kalpa was the vyuhakalpa (Glorious aeon), and the present kalpa is called the bhadrakalpa (Auspicious aeon). Just as the Theravada tradition adds the names of 21 Buddhas to this initial list of seven Buddhas, Mahayana Buddhism adds even more names of Buddhas, sometimes claiming that there has been, is, and/or will be infinite number of Buddhas.
According to the Theravada tradition, the seven Buddhas named in the early Buddhist texts are said to be of the following number in the specified kalpa, bridging the vyuhakalpa and the bhadrakalpa:
The Koṇāgamana Buddha, second Buddha of the bhadrakalpa, is mentioned in a 3rd-century BCE inscription by Ashoka at Nigali Sagar, in today's Nepal. There is an Ashoka pillar at the site today. Ashoka's inscription in the Brahmi script is on the fragment of the pillar still partly buried in the ground. The inscription made when Emperor Asoka at Nigali Sagar in 249 BCE records his visit, the enlargement of a stupa dedicated to the Kanakamuni Buddha, and the erection of a pillar:
"Devanam piyena piyadasin lajina- chodasavasa bhisitena Budhasa Konakamanasa thube-dutyam vadhite Visativa sabhisitena –cha atana-agacha-mahiyite silathabe-cha usa papite"
“His Majesty King Priyadarsin in the 14th year of his reign enlarged for the second time the stupa of the Buddha Kanakamuni and in the 20th year of his reign, having come in person, paid reverence and set up a stone pillar”.
The historical Buddha, Gautama, also called Sakyamuni ("Sage of the Shakyas), is mentioned epigraphically on the Pillar of Ashoka at Rummindei (Lumbini in modern Nepal). The Brahmi script inscription on the pillar gives evidence that Ashoka, emperor of the Maurya Empire, visited the place in 3rd-century BCE and identified it as the birth-place of the Buddha.[note 1]
When King Devandmpriya Priyadarsin had been anointed twenty years, he came himself and worshipped (this spot) because the Buddha Shakyamuni was born here. (He) both caused to be made a stone bearing a horse (?) and caused a stone pillar to be set up, (in order to show) that the Blessed One was born here. (He) made the village of Lummini free of taxes, and paying (only) an eighth share (of the produce).
|Pāli name||Sanskrit name||Caste||Birthplace||Parents||Bodhirukka (tree of enlightenment)||Incarnation of Gautama|
|1||Taṇhaṅkara||Tṛṣṇaṃkara||Kshatriya||Popphavadi||King Sunandha, and Queen Sunandhaa||Rukkaththana|
|2||Medhaṅkara||Medhaṃkara||Yaghara||Sudheva, and Yasodhara||Kaela|
|3||Saraṇaṅkara||Śaraṇaṃkara||Vipula||Sumangala, and Yasawathi||Pulila|
|4||Dīpaṃkara||Dīpaṃkara||Brahmin||Rammawatinagara||Sudheva, and Sumedhaya||Pipphala||Sumedha (also Sumati or Megha Mānava, a rich Brahman)|
|5||Koṇḍañña||Kauṇḍinya||Kshatriya||Rammawatinagara||Sunanda, and Sujata||Salakalyana||Vijitawi (a Chakravarti in Chandawatinagara of Majjhimadesa)|
|6||Maṅgala||Maṃgala||Brahmin||Uttaranagara (Majhimmadesa)||Uttara, and Uttara||a naga||Suruchi (in Siribrahmano)|
|7||Sumana||Sumanas||Kshatriya||Mekhalanagara||Sudassana and Sirima||a naga||King Atulo, a Naga|
|8||Revata||Raivata||Brahmin||Sudhannawatinagara||Vipala and Vipula||a naga||A Veda-versed Brahman|
|9||Sobhita||Śobhita||Kshatriya||Sudhammanagara||Sudhammanagara (father) and Sudhammanagara (mother)||a naga||Sujata, a Brahman (in Rammavati)|
|10||Anomadassi||Anavamadarśin||Brahmin||Chandawatinagara||Yasava and Yasodara||ajjuna||A Yaksha king|
|11||Paduma||Padma||Kshatriya||Champayanagara||Asama, and Asama||salala||A lion|
|12||Nārada||Nārada||Dhammawatinagara||King Sudheva and Anopama||sonaka||a tapaso in Himalayas|
|13||Padumuttara||Padmottara||Kshatriya||Hansawatinagara||Anurula, and Sujata||salala||Jatilo an ascetic|
|14||Sumedha||Sumedha||Kshatriya||Sudasananagara||Sumedha (father), and Sumedha (mother)||nipa||Native of Uttaro|
|15||Sujāta||Sujāta||Sumangalanagara||Uggata, and Pabbavati||welu||a chakravarti|
|16||Piyadassi||Priyadarśin||Sudannanagara||Sudata, and Subaddha||kakudha||Kassapa, a Brahmin (at Siriwattanagara)|
|17||Atthadassi||Arthadarśin||Kshatriya||Sonanagara||Sagara and Sudassana||champa||Susino, a Brahman|
|18||Dhammadassī||Dharmadarśin||Kshatriya||Surananagara||Suranamaha, and Sunanada||bimbajala||Indra, the leader of the gods (devas)|
|19||Siddhattha||Siddhārtha||Vibharanagara||Udeni, and Suphasa||kanihani||Mangal, a Brahman|
|20||Tissa||Tiṣya||Khemanagara||Janasando, and Paduma||assana||King Sujata of Yasawatinagara|
|21||Phussa||Puṣya||Kshatriya||Kāśi||Jayasena, and Siremaya||amalaka||Vijitavi|
|22||Vipassī||Vipaśyin||Kshatriya||Bandhuvatinagara||Vipassi (father), and Vipassi (mother)||pāṭalī (Stereospermum chelonoides)||King Atula|
|23||Sikhī||Śikhin||Kshatriya||Arunavattinagara||Arunavatti, and Paphavatti||puṇḍarīka (Mangifera indica)||Arindamo (at Paribhuttanagara)|
|24||Vessabhū||Viśvabhū||Kshatriya||Anupamanagara||Suppalittha, and Yashavati||sāla (Shorea robusta)||Sadassana (in Sarabhavatinagara)|
|25||Kakusandha||Krakucchanda||Brahmin||Khemavatinagara||Aggidatta the purohita Brahman of King Khema, and Visakha||sirīsa (Albizia lebbeck)||King Khema|
|26||Koṇāgamana||Kanakamuni||Brahmin||Sobhavatinagara||Yaññadatta the Brahman, and Uttara||udumbara (Ficus racemosa)||King Pabbata of a mountainous area in Mithila|
|27||Kassapa||Kāśyapa||Brahmin||Baranasinagara||Brahmadatta a Brahman, and Dhanavati||nigrodha (Ficus benghalensis)||Jotipala (at Vappulla)|
|28||Gotama (current)||Gautama (current)||Kshatriya||Lumbini||King Suddhodana, and Māyā||assattha (Ficus religiosa)||Gautama, the Buddha|
|29||Metteyya||Maitreya||Brahmin||Ketumatī||Subrahma and Brahmavati||nāga (Mesua ferrea)|
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