Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dipankara Buddha

Statue of Dipankara Buddha, 7th century China
(Image: Source unknown)

The 6th day of the first Chinese lunar month is said to be the Birthday of Dipankara Buddha (定光佛聖誕 Dingguang Fo Shengdan). His name Dipankara means Causer of Light and is translated into Chinese as Buddha of Fixed Radiance (走光佛 Dingguang Fo) and Buddha of Burning Light (燃燈佛 Randeng Fo). According to the Buddhist tradition, Dipankara is a trans-historical Buddha. In other words, he lived and achieved enlightenment in a past age that preceded our recorded human history. It is written in a Mahayana Buddhist scripture that at the time of Dipankara Buddha, there was a rich Brahmin by the name of Sumedha who became his follower. He received a prediction from Dipankara that he would achieve enlightenment in a future age and become the Buddha named Shakyamuni (e.g. the historical Buddha of our time).

Sumedha prostrating before Dipankara Buddha
(Image: Wikimedia Commons/Life of the Buddha-Burmese Edition)

The Dipankara Buddha of traditional orthodox Buddhism should not be confused with a popular folk deity venerated by the Hakka communities of southern China called the Ancient Buddha of Fixed Radiance (定光古佛 Dingguang Gufo). This name was an honorific religious title posthumously given to Zheng Ziyan (鄭自嚴), a 10th century Buddhist master renown as a miracle worker who relieved the people from illnesses, dangerous animals, and other perils. He was later deified and venerated as the patron deity of the people who lived in Tingzhou prefecture (no longer extant) of western Fujian province.

Dipankara Buddha should also not be confused with the Burning Lamp Taoist (燃燈道人 Randeng Daoren), a character from the famous Ming dynasty classical novel Investiture of the Gods (封神演義 Fengshen Yanyi).

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

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