Who Was Buddha?

(The image above is Keanu Reeves as the Buddha in Little Buddha, a movie that actually does a pretty good job of retelling the Buddha’s story, and also feature a weird Chris Isaak performance)

Yesterday was Vesak, a Buddhist holiday that, with extreme efficiency, celebrates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment AND death all at once. It’s highly unlikely that all of those events took place on the same day, and as Buddhism is one of those ancient religions that is less interested in facts than modern religions are, nobody really got upset about it.

Vesak seems like a good opportunity to talk really briefly about just who the Buddha was, because it’s clear to me most people don’t know. I certainly didn’t know until a couple of years ago, and I had taken comparative religion courses and had a lifelong interest in religious mythology. I always thought Buddha was the fat guy whose statue you see in Chinese restaurants, but it turns out that ain’t him. In fact those fat Buddha statues couldn’t be farther from the real thing.

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