‘Dipamkara’ is Sanskrit for ‘kindler of lights’ and is most commonly spelled ‘Dipankara’ in Pali.
A wandering prophet and buddha, Dipankara holds first place in the lineage of twenty-four buddhas to precede the historical Gautama or Sakyamuni Buddha’s arrival. Buddha Dipankara is often referred to in legend as the ‘First Enlightened Teacher of Gods and Man’ and he is credited with having set the wheel of dharma in motion. Most importantly, through ‘The Vow of Sumeda’, Buddha Dipankara’s teaching karma is directly responsible for the future birth of the historical Gautama Buddha.
It is Dipankara who witnessed the solemn bodhisattva vow of his student, an ascetic named Sumedha – born into wealth in the city of Amaravati – who gave away his wealth becoming a renunciant ascetic and swore that he would become a buddha. Knowing that Sumeda was the future Gautama Buddha, Dipankara venerated him with flowers.
In a mystical version of ‘The Vow of Sumedha‘, it is told that Sumedha, already one of the exceptional powers, was in flight through the clouds above the city of Amaravati when he noticed a great commotion below. He appeared in the city to question the crowds and was told of the coming of Buddha Dipankara. Sumeda prostrated himself across the mud road leading into the city so that Dipankara and his following could walk over him. Upon seeing Dipankara, Sumeda knew that he wanted to become a buddha and that listening to the teachings of Buddha Dipankara would assure him of such an incarnation. In this context, it is Dipankara’s karmic importance that his teachings would assure the world of the future birth of the historic Gautama Buddha.
Buddha of the Three Times
In China, Buddha Dipankara, known far and wide for his prophetic abilities, was called Buddha of the Three Times – past, present, and future; it is Buddha Dipankara’s revelation to his vast following of over four hundred thousand arhats that the ascetic, Sumedha, would be incarnated after many ages into a future life as the historical Gautama Buddha.
Numerous legends have grown around the life and travels of Buddha Dipankara who symbolizes all of the past buddhas and is said to have lived 100,000 years. His life is partitioned into conception, birth, enlightenment, and his first teaching of the dharma. At each of Buddha Dipankara’s life events, the universe shook. Today, Buddha Dipankara is venerated as a great teacher and prophet who played his karmic role in, and foretold the coming of Gautama Buddha.