Dīpankara (Sanskrit and Pali Dīpaṃkara, "Lamp bearer"; Bengali: দীপঙ্কর ; Chinese ( 燃燈佛 pinyin Rándēng Fo); Tibetan མར་མེ་མཛད mar me mdzad; Mongolian Jula-yin Jokiyaγči, Dibangkara, Nepal Bhasa: दिपंखा Dīpankha, Vietnamese Nhiên Đăng Phật) one of the Buddhas of the past, said to have lived on Earth one hundred thousand years.
Theoretically, the number of Buddhas having existed is enormous and they are often collectively known under the name of "Thousand Buddhas". Each was responsible for a Life cycle. According to some Buddhist traditions, Dīpankara (also Dīpamkara) was a Buddha who reached Enlightenment eons prior to Gautama, the historical Buddha.
Generally, Buddhists believe that there has been a succession of many Buddhas in the distant past and that many more will appear in the future; Dīpankara, then, would be one of numerous previous Buddhas, while Gautama was the most recent, and Maitreya will be the next Buddha in the future.
Chinese Buddhism tends to honor Dīpankara as one of many Buddhas of the past. Dīpankara, Gautama (Buddha of the present), and Maitreya (Buddha of the future), collectively Form the Buddhas of Three Times.Iconography
Dīpankara is generally represented as a sitting Buddha, but his depictions as a standing Buddha are common in China, Thailand, and Nepal; with the right hand he generally forms a protection Mudra (Abhaya Mudra), and often he forms it with both hands.
Dīpankara is rarely depicted alone; one of the Buddhas of Bamyan, destroyed by the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, was said to portray Dīpankara. Statues of Dīpankara can also be found in the Longmen and Yungang Grottoes in China.
He is generally depicted with two Bodhisattvas, Manjushri and Vajrapani (common in Java) or Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani (common in Sri Lanka); or with the Buddhas who come after him, Gautama and Maitreya.
One story shown in Buddhist Art Stupas has Gautama Buddha (also known as Shakyamuni) in a former incarnation known as Sumedha, a rich Brahmin turned hermit kneeling and laying his long black Hair on the ground, in an act of piety that the Dīpankara Buddha could cross a puddle of mud without soiling his feet.
This story between Dīpankara Buddha and Shakyamuni, occurred many lifetimes before Shakyamuni's eventual Enlightenment. From this act, Dīpankara told Sumedha "In The Ages of the future you will come to be a Buddha called 'Shakyamuni'", to which Sumedha replied, "I am to become a Buddha, Awakened to Enlightenment; may you tread with your feet on my Hair - on my birth, old age, and Death."
Dīpankara Buddha then said, "Freed from human existence, you will become an effective teacher, for the sake of the World. Born among the Shakyas, as the epitome of the Triple World, the Lamp of all Beings, you will be known as Gautama. You will be the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. Shariputta and Moggallana will be your chief disciples. Your caretaker will name as Ananda."
In the 40-plus years of his Life after Enlightenment, The Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have recounted almost 554 past Life stories, (called Jataka tales) of his prior existences. Gautama Bodhisattva is quoted as saying a person starts the journey to become a Buddha filling 10 Paramita or "perfections". Some sources and scriptures recount that Shakyamuni Buddha was born in the time of Dīpankara Buddha, and was rich and gave away all his Wealth to become a Monk. It is said that Gautama Bodhisattva received his first Niyatha Vivarana, (or definite foresighting by a Buddha) from Dīpankara Buddha. This encounter, among many other predictions of Shakyamuni Buddha's future Enlightenment, can be found in a Mahayana text named the Sangatha Sutra.
By the 17th century, Dīpankara had become a figure of veneration in Nepalese Buddhist communities. These followers consider him a protector of merchants and associate him with alms-giving.
He is also considered the protector of the sailors, and sometimes statues of Dīpankara are found on the coastline to guide and protect the ships in their route.
Folk worshippers in Taiwan also revere Dīpankara
(Buddha of Fixed Light) 14
(T.) mar-me-mdsad (the illuminator or enlightener).
(M.) jula joqiaqci (the maker of light).
(C.) Ting-kuang-fo (Ting Kuang Fo). 15
Mudra: abhaya ('blessing of Fearlessness'), vara (charity).
In one of the innumerable past kalpas there lived a king called Arcishtra in the royal city of Dipavati. During the same kalpa, Dipankara was a Bodhisattva in the Tushita heaven, and, as the time had arrived for him to manifest himself as a Buddha, he descended to earth, finding the king Arcishtra 16 a suitable father, entered into the womb of his virtuous spouse Susila.
The Mahdvastu Avaddna goes on to relate that
'when in the throes of childbirth, she requested the king to send her to a lotus tank. When she arrived at the side of the tank, lo! an island (dvipa) sprang up in the midst of it. The Bodhisattva was born on the island. At the moment of his birth there was a miraculous manifestation of a large number of bright lamps (dipa), hence his name Dipankara.
On the second [Page 12] day of his birth Dipankara commenced his philanthropic tour round the earthy useful to gods and men. . . . Megha offered five lotus-flowers 17 to Dipankara and asked that he might become, in one of his future existences, equal to Dipankara in power and knowledge and in every good quality. His request was granted.
It was foretold on this occasion that Megha would become Buddha Sakya-muni of Kapilavastu.' 18
The above legend has several variations. According to the BodhisattvdvadanaKalpalata, a Brahman, Sumati 19 by name, was present at the sacrifice of the King of Benares. The king's daughter, Sundari, saw the Brahman and became enamoured of him; but when he sternly rejected her suit, she became a Bhikshuni (Buddhist nun). Sumati then had a strange dream and repaired to Dvipavati, where dwelt the Buddha Dvipankara, 20 to ask for its interpretation. Therehe met the Bhikshuni, Sundari, who was carrying seven lotus-flowers of Utpala.
Now, the king had commanded that all the flowers in the surrounding country should be brought to the palace, for the Buddha Dvipankara was to pass through the city and the flowers were to be strewn in his path. Thus had Sumati hunted in vain for flowers to offer before the Buddha, and seeing that Sundari carried seven lotus-flowers, be begged them of her. She willingly gave them to him, at the same time praying that, in their next existence, he might be her husband. Sumati promised that such would be the case, and telling her he would offer two of the flowers in her name, prostrated himself before the Dvipankara Buddha. He then offered the flowers, which, according to some accounts, arose in the air and formed a baldachin over the Buddha's head.
Sumati then unbound his long hair and spread it on the ground before the Dvipankara Buddha, who, treading upon it, exclaimed,
'You shall become a great Buddha, Sakya-muni by name!' 21
This incident, as well as that of the flowers, is a favourite one in Buddhist art.
According to Grunwedel, the Dipankara Buddha is the twenty-fourth teacher of Buddhist law before Sakya-muni, and the last four alone (with Maitreya added to them) belong to the present period. The Southern school accepts the list of twenty-four Tathagata, while the Northern Buddhists reckon the Dipankara Buddha as the fifty-second predecessor of Sakya-muni. Hodgson places him as the first Tathagata of the actual universe, and the ninth predecessor of Gautama Buddha. The most popular system, however, is the list of twenty-four Tathagata, with the Dipankara Buddha as the first and Gautama Buddha added as the twenty-fifth.
The Dipankara Buddha is believed to have lived 100,000 years on earth. According to Beal, he was 3,000 years on earth before finding any one worthy of hearing the divine truth. He then decided to convert the world and caused
'the appearance of a great city to proceed from his lamp and fix itself in space'.
[Page 13] While the people of Jambudvipa (India) were gazing upon this miracle, fierce flames were emitted from the four walls. Fear filled their hearts and they looked for a Buddha to save them. Then Dipankara came forth from the burning city, descended to Jambudvipa, seated himself on the Lion Throne, 22 and began to teach the Law. Legend claims that he remained another kalpa on earth 'turning the Wheel of the Law'.
In the Mahavastu the Tathagata is called 'Dipankara' (from dipa, meaning 'lamp'), 23 while in the BodMsattvavadana-Kdlpalata he is called 'Dvipankara' (from dvipa or island'). Either name applies to him, for he was born on an island and miraculous lamps burned at his birth. One can, therefore, understand his popularity on the islands of Java and Ceylon and at all Buddhist festivals celebrated by illuminations.
According to M. Foucher 24 many of the merchants who carried on commerce with China and the Southern islands were Buddhists. As it was their custom to put their cargo and equipage under the protection of a Buddha, he thinks it not unlikely that the Dipankara Buddha was looked upon as 'Protector of Mariners'. In the Saddharmapundanka 25 there is the description of a Buddha walking on the waves while his disciples remain in the boat, and in the caves of Ajanta there is a fresco depicting this scene. 26
The Dipankara Buddha is represented in Java and Ceylon with the right hand in ahhaya mudra — gesture of protection, called 'blessing of Fearlessness'. He is always standing, with the monastic garment draped over the left shoulder, the folds being held by the left hand either at the shoulder or at his hip. The right shoulder is uncovered, which, according to M. Foucher, indicates an occasion of ceremony. One finds in India the statues of a Buddha much resembling those of the Dipankara Buddha in Ceylon and Java, but the right shoulder is generally covered and the folds of the garment are held below the hip. Like all Buddhas, Dipankara has the short, curly hair, the ushnisha, urna, and long-lobed ears.
In Siam, the Dipankara Buddha has either both hands in ahhaya mudra or the right only, while the left hangs against the folds of the monastic garment. (PI. vi. fig. c.)
The triad in Java is:
Manjusri — Dipankara Buddha — Vajrapani.
Avalokitesvara — Dipankara Buddha — Vaj rapani.
In Nepal and Tibet:
Sakya-muni — Dipankara Buddha — Maitreya, called the 'Three White Buddhas'.
[Page 14] The earliest images of Buddha in Japan resemble the Dipankara Buddha, with the exception that while the right hand is in abhaya 27 mudra, the left is in vara mudra, gesture of charity. The right shoulder is almost invariably covered.
In China, the Dipankara Buddha has always been popular, and is still worshipped there. In the cave temples of Yunkang 28 near Ta-t'ong-fou there are many examples, but only a few standing; the rest are all sitting with legs locked — with both the shoulders covered but with the breast bare, The right hand is in abhaya mudra, while the left generally holds the folds of the monastic garment either at the shoulder or on the left knee. In the Long-men temple caves there are also many examples much resembling those at Yun-kang.