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Buddha in the Puranas

 

The purANas seem to have mixed references to Buddha. vAyu purANa sings the glory of the very Bodhi tree under which Buddha is claimed to have attained enlightenment:

namaste.ashvattharUpAya brahmaviShNushivAtmane |
bodhidrumAya kartR^INAM pitR^INAM tAraNAya cha |
mahAbodhitaruM natvA dharmavAn svargalokabhAk || etc.

padma purANa states:

tasmAdimau viShNumaheshvarAvubhau |
babhUvaturbodhivaTau munIShvarAH || etc.

However, it is the bauddhas that several purANas talk about, when they refer to 'pAShaNDins'. This term is used not simply for those who do not follow shiShTAchAra but specially for those who adhere to vows that transgress the shruti and smrti:

vedavidviShaH shrutismR^itibAhyavratadhAriNaH ||

Even though some purANas express utmost disapproval of the pAShaNDins or bauddhas, there is still an attempt to view Buddha in a favorable light. Several Kavachas call upon Buddha (here considered an aspect of nArAyaNa) to protect oneself from the pAShaNDins!

buddhaH pAShaNDasaMghAtAt [garuDa purANa]

buddhastu pAShaNDa gaNapramAdAt [viShNu bhAgavata purANa]

Agni purANa makes an attempt to associate Buddha - the tathAgata with Buddha - a supposed incarnation of nArAyaNa, still holding him in a favorable light but at the same time rejecting his teachings. According to this purANa, mahAviShNu incarnated as mAyAmoha, the son of King shuddhodana and deluded the reborn daityas who, under his influence, deserted vaidika dharma and adopted Buddhism. The same nArAyaNa is also considered to have assumed the form of arhata, misleading the remaining asuras into Arhata dharma. Both these dharmas are included in the list of pAShaNDa shAstras enumerated in the kUrma purANa: kApAla, vAma, bauddha, Arhata, kApila, pAncharAtra, DAmara, nAkula, pAshupata, soma, lA~Ngala and sAtvata.

Vrddha hArIta, in his dharma shAstra, treats a Buddhist monastery, a shaivite shrine and crematorium equally and prescribes a prAyashchitta if one enters any of them:

bauddha-shaiva-pishAchAnAmAlayaM yo.anugacChati |
sachailamavagAhyApaH sAvitrIM trishataM japet ||

A similar sentiment is expressed by several other smrtis when referring to vrAtyas, shramaNas etc.

bauddhAn pAshupatAn jainAn lokAyatika-kApilAn |
vikarmasthAn dvijAn spR^iShTvA savAsA jalamAvishet ||

However, the crystallization of this anti-Buddhist sentiment occurs in the nArada purANa:

bauddhAlayaM vishedyastu mahApadyapi vai dvijaH |
na tasya niShkR^itirdR^iShTA prAyashchittashatairapi ||
bauddhAH pAShaNDinaH proktA yato vedavinindakAH |
tasmAd dvijastAnnekSheta yato dharmabahiShkR^itAH ||
j~nAnato.aj~nAnato vApi dvijo bauddhAlayaM vishet |
j~nAtvA chenniShkR^itirnAsti shAstrANAmiti nishchayaH ||