Lamp Bearer Buddha

Monday, November 16, 2009
By Joe Hung, The China Post

There are usually three Buddha images in the main hall of a Buddhist temple in Taiwan. They include Sakyamuni or Gautama Siddhartha, Dipankara (Dipamkara in Pali) or Randeng fo (燃燈佛) in Chinese, and Maitreya (彌勒佛). Together they are called the Buddhas of Three Times (三世佛).

The Buddha, who is a historical person and the most recent Buddha), sits in the center. On his right and side is seated Dipankara, the Sanskrit name meaning Lamp Bearer. He is one most popular Buddha of the past. Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, sits on the other side of Gautama Siddhartha.

Theoretically, an enormous number of Buddhas existed before Gautama Siddhartha was born in 483 B.C. They are collectively known as “Thousand Buddhas.,” each responsible for a life cycle. Dipankara is believed to have reached enlightenment eons prior to Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Buddhists believe a succession of Buddhas in the distant past and many more will appear in the future.

The Lamp Bearer Buddha is generally represented in a sitting position, but his depictions as a standing Buddha are also common in China, but not in Taiwan. His right hand forms a protection mudra (abhaya mudra). He may form the mudra with both hands.

Legend has it that there was light all over and around him when he was born. That is why he was named Prince Lamp Bearer at birth and called the Lamp Bearer Buddha after he attained his Buddhahood.

Dipankara the Lamp Bearer had met with Gautama Siddhartha before the latter attained enlightenment. When they met, the boy Gautama offered five blue lotus flowers to the old Buddha, took off his clothes and placed them on the muddy ground. He then asked the Lamp Bearer to treat with his feet on them. They bandied words, of course. The older Buddha asked the Buddha-to-be what he would like to become. “I wish to be a Buddha,” the Sage of the Sakya tribe replied. He went on to say he would like to be enlightened and asked his questioner to tread on his birth, old age and death. Dipankara then predicted Siddhartha would be freed from human existence and become an effective teacher for the sake of the world and the “Lamp of all Beings.” It is said that Gautama Siddhartha received his definite fore-sighting by a Buddha from Dipankara. The episode is found in a Mayana text named the Sangatha Sutra.

The Nepalese began worshipping Dipankara. His followers regard him as a protector of merchants and associated him with alms giving. Worshippers in Taiwan consider him the protector of the sailors, like folk Taoist deity Matsu, or the Goddess of the Seas. His Taiwanese followers like him better because he is believed a reincarnation in Quanzhou in southern Fujian Province (福建省).

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