Not just another biography of the Buddha

by Paul Carr, Lanka Daily News, April 5, 2023

Book review: Footprints in the Dust; the Life of the Buddha from the most Ancient Sources

Colombo, Sri Lanka
-- There are literally hundreds of biographies of the Buddha ranging from the Lalitavistara written in the First Century AD to the 1993 film Little Buddha.

Without exception these and the countless others include all the much loved stories about Prince Siddhattha’s confinement in a beautiful palace, his marriage to Yasodhara, saving a swan from his jealous cousin Devadatta, his encounter with an old man, a sick man, a corpse being taken for cremation and a wandering monk, and so on. And show they should, for such stories illustrate in a colourful and ingenious manner some of the central teachings of the Buddha.

But as a new book tells us, most of these stories cannot be found in the Pali Tripitaka, the oldest record we have of the Buddha’s life. A new biography of the Buddha, entitled "Footprints in the Dust; the Life of the Buddha from the most Ancient Sources" reveals to us these and many other little-known facts about the Buddha.

For example, the name Siddhattha is not to be found in the Tripitaka, nor is the name Yasodhara, indeed there is no mention at all about the Buddha’s marriage. We learn that Kapilavastu was not a great city – it hardly qualified to be a large town, a fact confirmed by archaeology. Everyone knows that King Bimbisara was a disciple of the Buddha, but strangely, of the several thousand dialogues of the Buddha in the Tripitaka there is not one between him and Bimbisara.

For me, these and other ‘facts’ were a bit disconcerting. But having read several other books by the author, Venerable Shravasti Dhammika Thera, I had at least some confidence that he knew what he was talking about. One of his earlier books, Nature and the Environment in Early Buddhism, published by Kandy’s prestigious Buddhist Publication Society specializing in works on Theravada Buddhism, is a meticulously referenced account of everything the Tripitaka says about plants, animals and the natural world and is a fascinating read.

Likewise, Ven. Dhammika’s Footprints is carefully researched and fully referenced. If I understand him correctly, Ven. Dhammika thinks that if all the iconic stories about the Buddha are not in the Tripitaka, then either they are legendary and date from centuries after the Buddha, or if true, then the arahats at the First Council did not consider them important enough to include in the Tripitaka. Ven. Dhammika’s approach is to assemble all the information about the Buddha found in the Tripitaka and present it to the reader. And the result is quite startling. It paints a picture of a person who was in some sense quite ordinary. He would wash his own feet before entering a building, he might sneeze while giving a sermon, he would not put so much food in his mouth that his cheeks bulged, he would only sleep for a few hours during the night, etc (all references given).

Personally, I found Chapters 7 and 8 the most illuminating and absorbing. In the first, the author gives a detailed account of what the Buddha might do in any one day – go for pindapata in the morning, do his ablutions, sit in meditation for a while, visit patients in the hospital, give a talk, take an afternoon nap, etc.

Chapter 8 is a detailed account of how the Buddha travelled in his effort to spread his Dhamma as far and as wide as possible. We learn how many yojanas (i.e. kilometres) the Buddha would travel during one of his Dhamma tours, what hardships he had to put up with, how rivers were crossed in a land where bridges were rare, etc.

In Chapters 6 and 9, Ven. Dhammika gives a full account of the Buddha’s personality and the overwhelming impression is of a person deeply concerned with human suffering who is moved by compassion to help them untangle themselves from the problems they cause for themselves and he does this with patience and persuasion, humour and honesty, with sound arguments and memorable similes. So Footprints gives us a portrait of the Buddha quite different from what we have known before; a much more human, approachable and warm; and derived completely from the Tripitaka. Anyone interested in Buddhism will find this book a fascinating read.

Note: "Footprints in the Dust" can be downloaded as a PDF copy. Click here to get your copy.
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: