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Bridging Worlds: Buddhist Words and Works

Buddha Biographies

There are countless tellings of the Buddha’s life story, from ancient modern, from academic to pop. Western versions tend to focus on the life of the historical Buddha (ca. 5th century B.C.), but other traditions take more expansive views. The Jatakas, or birth stories, of the Theravadins promote the notion of karma with up to 550 previous births of the Buddha. The hallmark of the Mahayana school is an emphasis on Bodhisattvas, beings who have achieved Enlightenment, but choose not to pass into nirvana. Rather, they stay in the world to help all sentient beings achieve Enlightenment themselves. In the Vajrayana, there is a proliferation of Buddhas whose existence is less a matter of story or narrative than of cosmic potentialities within each of us.