10. Are Buddhists Hindus?
10.1. A polemic and a high-brow debate
Now that Christians have started
talking about “Jesus the Jew”, it is to be expected that Hindus and Buddhists
should explore the notion “Buddha the Hindu”, or at least to highlight the Hindu
foundations on which the Buddha built. It is now fairly widely accepted
that Jesus was a millennarist cult leader inside the Jewish fold who did not
conceive of his own message and mission as a new religion; the question may be
asked whether the Buddha was not likewise an innovator within the Hindu
tradition. But so far, that question has only been raised by the Hindu
Revivalists and a lone Western scholar, certainly not by Buddhists, and to
secularists the question is mere proof of evil Hindu imperialist (“boa
According to BJP
leader and Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Buddha “did not announce any new
religion. He was only restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of
the Indo-Aryan civilisation”.1 Advani
reportedly provoked the dismay of a handful of foreign Buddhist scholars by
saying that the Buddha “derived his teachings from the Bhagwad Gita and was an
avatar of Vishnu”.2 And the dismay
of the polemicizing secularists who reported the event and claimed that
“Buddhism arose as a distinct faith, in revolt against hierarchical Hinduism”
while Advani’s position amounted to “communal poison”.3
Yet, when Hindu Revivalists claim
Buddhism as a continuous evolute of Hinduism, they join an established viewpoint
articulated by Western scholars with no axe to grind. Christian Lindtner
quotes with approval Dharmakirti’s list of four doctrines of contemporaneous
Brahmanism which Buddhism rejected: “The authority of the Veda, the doctrine of
a Creator of the world, the conviction that rituals can cause moral purity, and
the haughtiness based on claims of birth”. Then Lindtner adds:
“Apart from that, ancient Indian Buddhism should be seen as reformed
Brahmanism.”4 He shows that Vedic
“cosmogonic speculations and Vedic exegesis were vital and formative for
Gautama’s way of thinking”, that after the Vedic injunction, he was “concerned
with tad ekam beyond sat and asat”.5 After
presenting many more Vedic concepts adopted by Buddhism, Lindtner summarizes
that “early (canonical) Buddhism to a very considerable extent can and should be
seen as reformed Brahmanism”.6
Though Western scholarship is usually
invoked as the ultimate trump card with which to silence opponents, the
Buddha-separatist authors prefer to ignore or dismiss it in this case.
Thus, Buddhist scholar Davidi. Kalupahana, who rejects the inclusion of
Buddhism in Hinduism, is irritated with Western scholarship: “Hindu scholars
writing on Buddhism made such statements as this: ‘Early Buddhism is not an
absolutely original doctrine. It is no freak in the evolution of Indian
thought.’ But even a more sober scholar from the West felt that ‘Buddhism
started from special Indian beliefs, which it took for granted. The
chief of these were the belief in transmigration and the doctrine of retribution
of action (…) They were already taken for granted as a commonly accepted view of
life by most Indian religions.’”7
Kalupahana calls these
views “unhistorical”, “uncritical” and “superficial”; and by implication, he
calls them “not sober”, and ridicules them for denying that Buddhism was “a
freak in the evolution of Indian thought”.8 This is
but one instance of the humourless reaction of contemporary Buddhists against
the suspicion that Buddhism was not sent down in a flash from heaven, but
developed organically from its Hindu roots.
The first one to hold
these views which irritate certain modern Buddhists may well have been the
Buddha himself, who claimed to teach “the ancient way along which the previous
Buddhas walked”.9 His pride lay
not in being original, but in being a representative of a timeless truth: “The
Buddhas who have been and who shall be, of these am I and what they did, I do.”10
Yet, the undeniable rootedness of the
Buddha’s teachings in vaguely “Hindu” ideas and traditions does not exclude the
possibility that at least on some doctrinal points, Buddhism does constitute a
break-away, a definite rejection of some prevalent views and practices.
Four important points are sure to be mentioned in modern company: Buddhism’s
purported rejection of caste inequality, the value of non-violence, the doctrine
of No Self, and a pessimistic and avowedly escapist view of the world.
They will all be considered in this and the next chapter.
10.2. Buddhism as India’s state religion
The relation between
Hinduism and Buddhism, or between Brahmanism and Shramanism, i.e. the non-Vedic
sects practising world-renunciation (celibate monkhood), has been one of
intellectual controversy since antiquity.11 Today,
Shramanism is represented by the traditions of Jainism and Buddhism, but in the
time of their eponymous founders, Vardhamana Mahavira Jina and Siddhartha
Gautama the Buddha, there were dozens of separate Shramana sects with their
distinctive doctrines and rules. Vedic Hinduism has also incorporated
Shramanism in the form of the Dashanami order of celibate monks founded by
Shankaracharya (ca. 800 AD) and other Sadhu orders founded by a number of Sants.
In the rest of this chapter, we will only consider the attitude of the Hindu
movement vis-ŕ-vis Buddhism.
The Hindu position regarding Buddhism
is also of some practical importance due to the following circumstances.
Firstly, the relations with Buddhist countries are considered to be of great
political importance as a counterweight to the Western, Islamic and Communist
blocs. Secondly, Buddhism has made a remarkable but heavily politicized
come-back in India, first with the conversion of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and
millions of his Scheduled Caste followers (1956), and soon after with the
settlement of a high-profile Tibetan refugee community and a Tibetan
The Hindutva position on Buddhism is
generally not one of hostility, though in the past, Swami Dayananda and Veer
Savarkar did write a few trenchant paragraphs criticizing Buddhism. Today,
the tendency is simply to include Buddhism in Hinduism, with very little effort
to give a scholarly articulation to this claim apart from emphasizing the
Bharatiya origin of Buddhism.
Buddhism was turned
into “India’s undeclared state religion” by Jawaharlal Nehru.12
Thus, he borrowed the Buddhist term Pancha Shila (five moral rules) to describe
the “five principles of peaceful coexistence” laid down in the Sino-Indian
Treaty of 1954 a la the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between Germany
and Bolshevik Russia in 1917. When invoking the national tradition of
religious pluralism, Nehru credited Buddhism: “Even since the distant past, it
has been India’s proud privilege to live in harmony with each other. That
has been the basis of India’s culture. Long ago, the Buddha taught us this
lesson. From the days of Ashoka, 2300 years ago, this aspect of our
thought has been repeatedly declared and practised.”13
The omission of Hindu tradition here is obviously unfair: the Buddha, rather
than bringing religious pluralism, was himself a beneficiary of a
well-established pluralism, which allowed him to preach his doctrine for fifty
years and die in old age of natural causes.
The Lion Pillar of the Maurya emperor
Ashoka was made into India’s official state emblem and is depicted on Indian
currency notes and coins. The 24-spoked Dharma Chakra in
India’s national flag was understood to be a symbol introduced by Ashoka (it
also figures on his pillars, between the two lions), known for his patronage of
Buddhism and claimed to be a convert to Buddhism.14
Nehru, on top of presenting the Chakra as a truly representative and truly
Indian symbol (as would befit the national flag), explicitly associated it with
Ashoka and with the ideology-based policies he stood for:
“That Wheel is a symbol of India’s
culture. It is a symbol of many things that India had stood for through
the ages. (…) we have associated with this flag not only this
emblem, but in a sense, the name of Ashoka, one of the most magnificent names
not only in India’s history, but in the history of the whole world.”15
Unknown to Nehru, the Chakra was a
pre-Ashokan and pre-Buddhist symbol of “uniting the many”, viz. the different
autonomous parts of India under one suzerain or “wheel-turner” (chakravarti;
the term implied in the Buddhist term dharmachakrapravartana, “setting in
motion the wheel of the Dharma”). So, in spite of Nehru, the centre-space
of India’s flag ended up being taken by a truly national rather than a sectarian
symbol. Nehru’s intended imposition of a specific historical model and the
concomitant ideological message on a national symbol does amount, at least in
principle, to the declaration of a state ideology. Like Ashoka, who used
his throne to preach Dharma, Nehru was guilty of “varna-sankara”, here
not in the sense of intermarriage between varnas but in the sense of mixing up
the distinct social functions: as rulers, they had no business setting
themselves up as preachers, since these are distinct roles best exercised by
separate groups of people.
Even in the choice of the official
calendar, Nehru managed to impose his Buddhist leanings. Against the
general preference for the widely-used Vikram Samvat (counting from
Vikramaditya, 57 BC) or the traditional Kali Yuga (counting from Krishna’s
death, 3102 BC), he opted for the Shaka Samvat, supposed to have been instituted
by another Buddhist emperor, Kanishka: “Our modern young
republic has immortalised him by adopting Saka Era which was started by him in
78 AD when he ascended the throne.”16 The exact
basis of this calendar is actually disputed, and in this case Nehru’s concern
was perhaps less pro-Buddhist than simply anti-Hindu. Shaka Samvat was for
him a way to distance himself from the Hindu preference, comparable to his
advocacy of Jana Gana Mana over Vande Mataram as national anthem, of English
over Hindi as the link language, of “Hindustani” (i.e. Urdu) over proper Hindi,
and of Western-Arabic over Sanskritic numerals.
While political speeches and
Government-approved schoolbooks in India are full of criticism of “the evils of
Hindu society”, there is not one which will offer even the faintest criticism of
the Buddha and Buddhism. In orientalist Western and urban Indian circles,
both Hindu and secularist, it is taken for granted that all kinds of things are
wrong with Hinduism, but criticizing Buddhism is just not
done. it is very hard to find a contemporary book on Buddhism which fails to
disparage Hinduism at some point.17
Except in Christian missionary
literature and a single Hindutva pamphlet, any incisive criticism of Buddhism by
contemporary authors is truly hard to find. So, at the level of academic
and public discourse, Hinduism finds itself in an uphill battle for the public’s
favour with Buddhism, unless it incorporates Buddhism.
10.3. Buddhism as an ally against Islam
Before dealing with the Hindu attitude
vis-ŕ-vis Buddhism proper, we should mention a commonality of interest between
Hindus and Buddhists vis-ŕ-vis a third party, viz. Islam. Three
regions are in focus:
1. Bangladesh, where Muslim settlers
backed by the Islamic Government took over the lands of Buddhist and other
non-Muslim tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, effectively expelling the
natives. Some of these fled to India, while others started an armed
resistance movement called Shanti Bahini (“peace squad”), which agreed to
dissolve itself under the terms of a peace treaty concluded with the Bangladesh
Government in 1997.
2. India’s Northeast, where Buddhist
and other non-Muslim tribes are confronted with Muslim illegal immigrants from
Bangladesh; the picture is complicated by resentment among non-Muslim natives
against the Buddhist refugees from Bangladesh, especially in Arunachal Pradesh.
3. Ladakh, where a shrinking Buddhist
majority feels threatened by a growing and assertive Muslim minority, all the
more so because nearby Kargil has witnessed exactly the development which
Ladakhis fear: through demographics and conversions (esp. of
Buddhist brides married into Muslim families); a small immigrant group of
Muslims in the 19th century has by now become the majority, and the Buddhist
character of the region is but a memory.18
All three situations are monitored
regularly (though certainly not closely, merely giving publicity to reports and
resolutions which the affected communities themselves have prepared) by the
Hindutva press. The Buddhist minority in Kargil (in Jammu &
Kashmir) shares the long-standing RSS demand that an anti-conversion law be
enacted. The BJP has succeeded in recruiting a number of Ladakh Buddhists
into its ranks.19 After summing up some
discriminations imposed by the Muslim state and district authorities on the
Buddhists of Kargil, representatives of the Ladakh Buddhist Association
“As if this is not enough, there is a
deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil’s Buddhists to Islam. In
the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were allured
and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues
unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two
decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is
The most challenging face of Buddhism
in India is that of the neo-Buddhist movement initiated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
However, here too the commonality of Hindu and Buddhist interests in facing
Islam is explicit, at least in Dr. Ambedkar’s own writings though less so in
those of his present-day followers. Whatever criticism of Hinduism
Ambedkar may have formulated, his open rejection of both Christianity and Islam
(who assiduously courted him in the hope that he would bring the Scheduled
Castes into their fold) has endeared him to Hindu activists. Ambedkar took
a cool and hard look at Islam as a sworn enemy of Hindu society, even while
being bitterly critical of the latter.
Dr. Ambedkar was particularly outspoken
about the social injustices in Islam, especially in his book Pakistan or the
Partition of India (1940). According to his biographer Dhananjay Keer,
“some penetrating and caustic paragraphs were deleted, it is said, at the
instance of Ambedkar’s close admirers” for the sake of his own
safety; but what remains is still quite radical.21 Dr.
Ambedkar also rejected Islam because it had destroyed Buddhism in India and
other countries. Many present-day Ambedkarites never tire of quoting his
one-liner: “The history of India is nothing but a history of a mortal conflict
between Buddhism and Brahmanism.”22 But
Dr. Ambedkar has also written: “There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism
was due to the invasions of the Muslims.”23
Referring to the Persian word for
“idol”, but, derived from Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar observes: “Thus the
origin of the word indicates that in the Muslim mind idol worship had come to be
identified with the religion of Buddha. To the Muslims they were one and
the same thing. The mission to break idols thus became the
mission to destroy Buddhism. Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India
but wherever it went. Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhara and Chinese
Turkestan (…) in all these countries Islam destroyed Buddhism.”24
Moreover: “The Muslim invaders sacked
the Buddhist universities of Nalanda, Vikramasila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name
only a few. They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the
country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands to
Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. A very large number were killed
outright by the Muslim commanders.”25
It is useful to quote Dr. Ambedkar as
restating these facts, for the secularists work overtime to deny them.
Thus, Marxist history-rewriter Praful Bidwai claims: “Despotic
state power persecuted Buddhists for centuries as brahminical Hinduism held sway
in large parts of India. Buddhism was all but banished from this land and
found refuge in Sri Lanka, Tibet, Myanmar, Thailand and eastwards.”26
In fact, Buddhism went to these lands at a time when it was still flourishing in
India, so that at the time of the Muslim invasions, the surviving monks fled to
those countries because they knew a Buddhist establishment was already in
Today, Dalit leaders
like Bahujan Samaj Party president Kanshi Ram woo the Muslim community.27 Yet,
the pro-Islamic orientation which some of them (most staunchly V.T. Rajshekar in
his fortnightly Dalit Voice) want to give to the Ambedkarite movement, is
not at all in consonance with Dr. Ambedkar’s own view of Islam.28
Many of Dr. Ambedkar’s observations on Islam would now be branded as “Hindu
communalist” by the very people who claim his heritage. in fact, the literature
of the RSS Parivar offers no counterpart to Ambedkar’s strong language about
Islam: he was more openly anti-Islamic than Savarkar, Golwalkar or any Hindutva
stalwart who is regularly accused of being just that. From the Hindu
Revivalist point of view, Ambedkar, in writing his incisive criticism of Islam,
did the homework which the Hindutva ideologues neglected.
10.4. Swami Dayananda on Buddhism
The one Hindu leader who could always
be counted upon to polemicize against rival religions was Arya Samaj founder
Swami Dayananda Saraswati. However, contrary to his refutations of
Christianity and Islam, Dayananda’s critique of Buddhism is limited to certain
highbrow points of philosophy, and avoids attacks on the morality of the founder
or on the humanity of the religion’s historical career. We
forego discussion of the scholastic points on the epistemology and metaphysics
of Buddhism.29 We will consider the argument
against the far more fundamental Buddhist doctrine of Dukkha (suffering).
Against the cardinal principle of
Dukkha, “(all is) suffering”, the first of the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”,
Dayananda asserts: “Had there been nothing in this world but pain and sorrow, no
living soul would have had an inclination for anything in this world; but it is
our daily experience that the souls do desire for the objects of this world,
hence it cannot be true that in the whole universe there is nothing but pain and
sorrow. If the Buddhists really believe in the above doctrine, why do they
attend to the health of their bodies, and for this purpose take food and drink
and follow the laws of health and in case of sickness take medicine etc.? (…) If
they answer that they certainly do these things but at the same time believe
that they lead to misery and pain, it can never be true because the soul takes
to what is conducive to its happiness and shuns what entails misery and
suffering. Practice of virtue, acquisition of knowledge and
wisdom, association with the good and the like undoubtedly are conducive to
man’s happiness. No wise man can ever assert that these result in pain and
experience is indeed that both suffering and happiness exist. While
certain unwise forms of pleasure are pregnant with experiences of pain, it is
rather sweeping to include all occasions of happiness in this category.31
It is by no means certain that happiness is unreal; at most one could say that
all worldly happiness is very unimpressive when compared with the profound
happiness of the yogic state of consciousness.
Moreover, asymmetrical models like the
Buddhist inclusion of happiness in suffering are liable to being inverted, with
the inverted model being just as reasonable: just as all happy moments may be
considered spoiled by the concomitant fear of losing that which makes happy, all
fleeting moments of suffering are redeemed by the ensuing moments of relief
resulting in restored happiness. This way, one could just as well say that
“all is bliss”. But Dayananda upholds the more commonsensical position,
which is that, of course, both happiness and suffering are real.
Though the actual meditation practices
taught by Vedantic and Buddhist yogis are not very different, the intellectual
constructions which the two traditions have built around the yogic experience
are in some ways diametrical opposites. In Vedanta, the basic
vision is positive: the experience of the Self is Reality-Consciousness-Bliss,
it is what we have to get into.32 An afterthought
could be that compared with this yogic bliss, any external form of happiness is
comparatively bleak; but it could also be the realization that the same blissful
Self pervades everything. In Buddhism, the basic vision is negative: life
is suffering brought about by the unquenchable thirst of desire; it is what we
have to get away from. Fortunately, an alternative is found in the
experience of Nirvana, so all is well that ends well; but the negative
starting-point remains the distinctive signature of Buddhist philosophy.
In the Upanishads, the awakening to the
Self is the crown of all possible happy experiences, a happiness worth seeking
for its own sake. To the Vedic seers, the worldly experiences
are a mixed bag of sorrow and happiness, in which capable people can ensure
(through nîti, “policy”, intelligent conduct)33 that
the balance of their lives is on the positive side; but this real measure of
worldly happiness should only spur us onwards to a more perfect happiness of
enstasis (to use Mircea Eliade’s term)34 in the
Self. This experience is desirable not because it is an escape from
worldly suffering, but because it is so terrifically true, a true
perception of one’s true Self.
Swami Dayananda could have made his
critique of Buddhism more attractive if he had elaborated more on what Buddhism
has in common with the positive Vedantic way. What is in common is after
all the most important part, viz. the practice of inner concentration.
suggestion would be that yogic practice was outside Dayananda’s intellectual
focus because he himself didn’t practise much.35
This is in general a real problem: monks whose prestige is derived from the
assumption that they practice yoga, but who don’t really practise. As the
late Agehananda Bharati, the Austrian Indologist and nominally also a Hindu
monk, observed: “Yoga and other esoteric wisdoms are talked about, the monks and
the other gurus of the Hindu Renaissance are listened to and quoted, but their
votaries do not really meditate. They talk about meditation.
This also holds for modern monks whose professed job it is to meditate.” The
same is true in Buddhism, e.g. in Sri Lanka, the practice of meditation fell
into disuse centuries ago, to be replaced by ritualism, scholastic argument and
political intrigue.36 This goes far in explaining
the petty anti-Hindu sectarianism (including successful incitement to the
destruction of Hindu temples) common among the Lankan Buddhist clergy. It
is not the accomplished yogis who indulge in sectarian identity politics.
However, to my
knowledge, and judging from the apparent seriousness with which leading lights
of the present-day Arya Samaj practise yoga, the suggestion would be unfair in
the case of Dayananda.37 The more fitting
explanation would probably remind us first of all that even yogic accomplishment
does not magically create worldly skills such as intellectual knowledge, not
even knowledge pertaining to other spiritual philosophies beside one’s own.
As we shall see, even the Buddha himself can reasonably be suspected of
incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of other (viz Upanishadic) philosophies, a
matter entirely divorced from his undeniable yogic accomplishment.
Dayananda’s objective was at any rate not to give a full account of rival
viewpoints, merely to indicate where they strayed from the Vedic vision as he
10.5. Incorporating the Buddha
In recent decades, the Buddha has been
enshrined as one of the great sages of Hinduism. This is largely due to
the influence of Western tastes, which have promoted the Buddha (supposedly a
rationalist and votary of social justice as against Hindu superstition and caste
oppression) to the status of India’s major claim to fame. This influence
has operated mainly through two entries to Hindu society: a certain governmental
effort springing from Jawaharlal Nehru’s glorification of the Buddha and the
pro-Buddhist Emperor Ashoka, and genuine intellectual developments in non-Arya
Samaj Hindu Revivalism.
Even the Arya Samaj has been touched by
this tendency, and its newer publications have little anti-Buddhist polemic left
in them. Rather, the tendency now is to pick from Buddhism those points
which are seemingly in common with the Arya Samaj’s programme.
For example, in the Chapter “Our saints
and sages” of an Arya Samaj catechism book, the very first sage discussed is the
Buddha. Most of the text simply narrates the well-known episodes of the
29-year-old Siddharta Gautama discovering the phenomenon of suffering and of the
accomplished Buddha dissuading king Bimbisara from conducting a large-scale
sacrifice of animals. In the summary of the Buddha’s five
“most important teachings”, the fourth one is: “All human beings are equal.
There is no high or low caste.”38 Though it is
doubtful that the Buddha cared about social inequality, this anti-caste plank is
now routinely attributed to him, and the Arya Samaj follows suit by adopting it
into its own longstanding campaign for social equality.
An even sharper contrast between
criticism and subsequent glorification of Buddhism is found in the writings of
Veer Savarkar, whom we shall get to know as an unforgiving critic of Buddhism.
In a chapter titled “Reverence to Buddha”, Savarkar tones down his attack: “We
have while writing this section wounded our own feelings. So we hasten to
add that the few harsh words we had to say in explaining the political necessity
that led to the rejection of Buddhism in India should not be understood to mean
that we have not a very high opinion of that Church as a whole! No, no!
I am as humble an admirer and an adorer of that great and holy Sangha, the
holiest the world has ever seen, as any of its initiated worshippers.(…) The
consciousness that the first great and the most successful attempt to wean man
from the brute inherent in him was conceived, launched and carried on from
century to century by a galaxy of great teachers, Arhats and
Bhikkus who were born in India, who were bred in India and who owned India as
the land of their worship, fills us with feelings too deep for words.”39
There is scope for debate about the
Hindu or un-Hindu inspiration in the basic doctrines of Buddhism, partly
equivalent to the doubts about the exact meaning of the term Hindu. The
fact remains that the Hindu Renaissance starting among English-speaking
Hindus in Calcutta resolutely chose to embrace the Buddha and emphasize his
The first reason for including Buddhism
in Hinduism (and it is an observation which in itself cannot honestly be
doubted) is that, after its establishment as a separate sect, Buddhism has
continually moved closer to its Puranic or Tantric surroundings. Tibetan
Buddhism, a fairly late offshoot of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, is very close to
Hinduism in most respects, starting with its elaborate ritualism. But in
Japanese Buddhism too, we find many practices that are not traditionally
Japanese nor Buddhist in the strictest sense, but that have
been carried along by Buddhism as a part of its Hindu heritage, e.g. the fire
ceremony of the Shingon sect which, like the Vedic sacrifice, is called “feeding
Indeed, Mahayana itself marks a major
step back towards Hinduism, not just because of its adoption of externals like
the Sanskrit language and devotional rituals to a legion of divine beings, but
in its basic spirit: it aims beyond the monk’s individual salvation (the
concern of Theravada Buddhism as of Jainism) to universal salvation for all
monks, laymen and other beings, thereby restoring the central Hindu value of
responsibility for the world.41
Sir John Woodroffe, a British apologist
of Hinduism (as in his book Is India Civilized?), observed: “There are
then based on this common foundation three main religions, Brahmanism, Buddhism
and Jainism. Of the second, a great and universal faith, it has been said
that, with each fresh acquirement of knowledge, it seems more difficult to
separate it from the Hinduism out of which it emerged and into which (in
Northern Buddhism) it relapsed. This is of course not to say
that there are no differences between the two, but that they share in certain
general and common principles as their base.”42
Even if Buddhism originally constituted
a break-away from the established religion in some respects, it was inevitable
that it would assimilate much of Hinduism, for the simple reason that it
recruited its monks in a Hindu environment: “From the very beginning the Order
contained Brahmins who might have renounced caste but retained their
intellectual traditions. The current Brahmin ideology (not ritual or
cults) was often taken for granted, just as the Brahmins had given up
beef-eating and accepted non-killing (ahimsâ) as their main philosophy. The
higher philosophies of both Buddhist and Brahmin began to converge in essence.”43
The replacement of Pali with Sanskrit
as the language of Mahayana Buddhism is an excellent illustration of this
tendency. Most Buddhist philosophers (e.g. Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Asanga,
Ashvaghosha) were born Brahmins.
With that, we have only admitted that
Buddhism has been influenced by Hinduism. The fact that Buddhism
moved closer to Hinduism does not prove that Buddhism itself is essentially
Hindu, rather the opposite: if it could move closer, it was because its basic
position was substantially different from Hinduism. If it is
merely a question of influence, then the Buddhists might choose to emphasize the
separate identity of Buddhism by “purifying Buddhism of its Hindu accretions” in
a kind of Buddhist Tabligh campaign.44
This way, a Hindu effort to win
Buddhists over to a recognition of the basic Hindu character of Buddhism would
be hurt rather than helped by highlighting the influence which Hinduism has
exerted on later Buddhism. The intellectually and strategically more
important question is therefore whether there is a fundamental doctrinal kinship
between Hinduism and Buddhism, not one of external influence but one inherent in
the Buddha’s own teachings, so that Buddhism can be described as merely one
branch of Hinduism.
The question is definitely answered in
the affirmative by most anglicized Hindus in the 20th century. Speaking to
a largely Buddhist audience, Mahatma Gandhi declared that “the essential part of
the teachings of Buddha now forms an integral part of Hinduism. (…) It is my
fixed opinion that the teaching of Buddha found its full fruition in India, and
it could not be otherwise, for Gautama was himself a Hindu of Hindus. He
was saturated with the best that was in Hinduism, and he gave life to some of
the teachings that were buried in the Vedas and which were
overgrown with weeds. (…) Buddha never rejected Hinduism, but he broadened its
base. He gave it a new life and a new interpretation.”45
However, the first sentence could be
interpreted as contradicting the rest, for it seems to be saying that Hinduism
has incorporated Buddhist doctrine as if it was imported from outside.
Another problem is that Gandhi had a theistic conception of Hinduism, which
constitutes a fundamental difference with agnostic Buddhism.
In the same vein, Dr. Sarvepalli
Radhakrishnan, President of India and a typical Congress Brahmin, has written: “Buddhism
is only a later phase of the general movement of thought of which the Upanishads
were earlier [expressions]. Buddha did not look upon himself as an
innovator, but only a restorer of the way of the Upanishads.”46
This may be more defensible, in that Upanishadic philosophy, like Buddhism and
unlike Gandhi’s Vaishnavism, is not theocentric.
An oft-quoted Orientalist support for
this position was given by Dr. T.W. Rhys-Davids, who had conformed to the modern
interpretation of Buddhism as original and subversive, yet had observed: “We
should never forget that Gautama was born and brought up a Hindu and lived and
died a Hindu. His teaching, far-reaching and original as it
was, and really subversive of the religion of the day, was Indian throughout He
was the greatest and wisest and best of the Hindus.”47
On the occasion of
the celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment
(disregarding the uncertainty among historians about the Buddha’s dates)48,
and coinciding with the mass-conversion of Mahar Untouchables to Buddhism led by
Dr. Ambedkar, Prof. V.S. Jha, Vice-Chancellor of Benares Hindu University, wrote
the preface to the book Buddhism and Hinduism by Gurusevak Upadhyaya,
“who reminds Hindu readers, in particular, of the Brahmanical roots of Buddhism
on the one hand and its impact on the shaping of Hinduism throughout the
centuries, on the other”. The BHU Vice-Chancellor gave as his
own judgment that “the essential message of the Buddha constitutes not a
‘different’ religion but forms an integral part of Hinduism itself, supplying to
it the dynamism needed for continuous self-criticism and self-purification”.49
Leading spokesmen of Buddhism may
complete our parade of witnesses to the essential unity of Hinduism and
Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has said: “When I say that Buddhism
is a part of Hinduism, certain people criticize me. But if I were to say
that Hinduism and Buddhism are totally different, it would not be in conformity
with truth.”50 it is no
coincidence that the Dalai Lama has attended a number of Sangh Parivar events,
e.g. the VHP’s second World Hindu Conference in Allahabad in 1979.51
Likewise, the 5th European Hindu
Conference in Frankfurt featured a speech by Bhikkhu Jnana Jagat, Buddhist
member of the Bodh Gaya temple management committee and of the VHP. He
presented the standard VHP viewpoint on Buddhism, viz. that “from time
immemorial the ‘Vedic culture’ and ‘Shramana (ascetic) culture’ have been
growing and flourishing simultaneously in this land. Both
being the integral part of the same Aryan culture or way of life have been
enriching and sustaining each other through centuries.”52
It is all a bit vague, but hard to refute.
10.6. Vivekananda on the Buddha
In contrast with the Arya Samaj’s
rather bitter criticism of Buddhism, the trend among urban, vaguely anglicized
Hindus throughout the 20th century is to glorify the Buddha without measure, and
to consider Buddhism a branch of Hinduism with which Hindus have no quarrel.
This embracing of Buddhism is strongly present in the Hindutva movement as well.
A trend-setting example was Swami Vivekananda’s fondness of the Buddha as
attested by his own most famous speeches and by his associates.
Swami Vivekananda’s close associate
Sister Nivedita testifies that Swamiji was a great devotee of the Buddha: “Again
and again he would return upon the note of perfect rationality in his hero.
Buddha was to him not only the greatest of Aryans but also ‘the one absolutely
sane man’ that the world had ever seen. How he had refused worship! (…)
How vast had been the freedom and humility of the Blessed One! He attended
the banquet of Ambapali, the courtesan. Knowing that it would kill him,
but desiring that his last act should be one of communion with the lowly, he
received the food of the pariah, and afterwards sent a courteous message to his
host, thanking him for the Great Deliverance. How calm!
How masculine! (…) He alone was able to free religion entirely from the argument
of the supernatural, and yet make it as binding in its force, and as living in
its appeal, as it had ever been."53 Sister
Nivedita also relates that Swamiji’s first act after taking Sannyas was to
"hurry to Bodh Gaya, and sit under the great tree"; and that his last journey,
too, had taken him to Bodh Gaya.54
Before we move on to some direct
quotations from Vivekananda’s own works, we comment on this rendering of his
thoughts by his pupil Sister Nivedita, if only because it is entirely
representative of the line taken by Swamiji’s organized following, the
Ramakrishna Mission. The first remarkable thing is the superlatives.
Even if we allow for the greater tendency to use exclamation marks and inflated
superlatives typical of the age, the fact remains that no Hindu religious
teacher, from Rishi Yajnavalkya to Shankaracharya and down to Sant Tulsidas, has
ever been lauded in such strong terms by either Swami Vivekananda or any of his
pupils. This unquestioning idealization of the Buddha is entirely typical
of modern Hinduism, both in anti-religious circles, where he is hailed as a
"rationalist", and in Hindu Renaissance movements such as Vivekananda’s own
Ramakrishna Mission and the following of Sri Aurobindo.
The one paragraph which we have just
quoted is packed with modern myths or at least fashionable notions about the
Buddha. The Buddha’s "perfect rationality" would probably not he conceded
by rationalists when they read about the Buddha’s perception of seductive nymphs
(sent by the Gods to distract him) when meditating under the Bodhi Tree, or with
his claim of knowing all his previous incarnations. Still, the point is
well taken: it is true and commendable that the Buddha, like Confucius, chose to
keep metaphysical speculation outside his discourse, on the pragmatic plea that
life is too short for sterile pursuits which distract our attention from those
fields of interest where genuine knowledge and liberating action are within
Some of the idealization of the Buddha
reported by Sister Nivedita goes beyond what would be acceptable to modern
tastes. Thus, to say that the aged Buddha "knew" that the pork (or the
"pig’s meat", meaning the sweet potato normally eaten by pigs) offered to him by
the pariah "would kill him", is a typical attribution of omniscience to a Guru;
the phenomenon can still be witnessed among contemporary adepts of various
Gurus. It is a dubious honour to die willingly of a perfectly avoidable
cause such as food poisoning, merely for the sake of "communion with the lowly".
If this were the case (more probably it is a projection of modem social
concerns), did the Buddha not apprehend that others present would die along with
him from the same cause? Or did he consider that the normal fate of the
"lowly"? Or should we accept that in his omniscience, he had foreseen the
effect of this food on every other participant in the meal as well? At any
rate, all this supernatural omniscience seems to be in contradiction with Sister
Nivedita’s next claim, which is in the modernist mode again: that he "was able
to free religion entirely from the argument of the supernatural".
Sister Nivedita’s rendering of Swami
Vivekananda’s position is only sketchy, but so is the understanding of
Vivekananda by the millions of Hindus who consider him to be one of the greatest
exponents of Hinduism. No wonder, then, that the words of praise to the
Buddha just quoted are now the commonplace view of the Buddha among urban Hindus
whose convictions are strongly influenced by modem Gurus like Vivekananda.
10.7. Sages of old eclipsed by the Buddha
A point only raised
in passing by Vivekananda, but quite fundamental to an understanding of the
position of Buddhism vis-ŕ-vis Hinduism, concerns the centrality of the Buddha’s
person. That the Buddha "refused worship"55
sounds good to us anti-authoritarian moderns, but it is hardly unique, and
presenting it as unique is unfair to Hindu tradition. In pre-Buddhist
scripture, we find very little "worship" of human religious figures, e.g. we
never find Rama "worshipping" his Guru Vasishtha. Fact is that the
focusing of a religious tradition in a single person (who was subsequently
deified, with the Gods as his servants) is not attested in Vedic literature,
which is apaurusheya, "impersonal", part of a hoary tradition not
attributed to any single individual. Symbols of the Vedic religion include
fire, the starry sky, the Aum sound, the swastika, but not any individual; by
contrast, the central symbol of Buddhism is the Buddha.
Buddhism is, in spite of its claims to
universalism and rationality, a pioneer of the paurusheya,
"person-centred" traditions; in this respect, it is a forerunner of
Christianity, which deifies Jesus, and of Islam, where Mohammed as the
mard-i-kâmil (Persian-Urdu: "accomplished man", model man) eclipses the
entire earlier history of his people (denounced as jâhilîya, "age of
ignorance"). in fact, Buddhism does one better, for while Christianity and Islam
still present their own divinely revealed messages against the background of the
tradition of Biblical prophets, Buddhist scriptures carry practically no
references to the Vedic or any other preexisting traditions, except negative
ones. Their world starts with the Buddha’s awakening and his
dharma-chakra-pravartana ("setting in motion the wheel of Buddhism"), and
what little of earlier history Buddhists admit into their intellectual horizon
(e.g. the stories of the Buddha’s previous lives) serves exclusively as
prefiguration or preparation of these strictly Buddhist events.
It is quite possible that the followers
have done injustice to the Buddha by worshipping him, that they have disobeyed
him by making him the exclusive horizon of their religious consciousness.
At that point, we are faced with limitations of historical knowledge similar to
those surrounding the genesis of Christianity (did Jesus intend to found a new
religion separate from Judaism?), and there is no point in making unverifiable
claims about "what the Buddha
really said". In the eyes of his followers at any rate,
Siddhartha Gautama, more thoroughly than Jesus and Mohammed, eclipsed all
sources of inspiration anterior to his own mission.56
In all three cases, the doctrines and
ethics (in the case of Islam even the civil law system) by which their followers
live are entirely linked with the founders, whether historically springing from
them and their immediate associates or unhistorically attributed to them by
later authorities. This is not to deny that the positions of the Buddha,
the Christ and the Prophet are different ones within their respective
traditions, merely to draw attention to the near-monopoly of these three
individuals on the ethical and spiritual horizons of their followers, an
individual monopoly quite without parallel in the Vedic or in the ancient Greek
religion. It is only in post-Buddhist Hinduism that historical figures (or
even metahistorical Gods) acquire a remotely similar monopoly, e.g. the
pre-Buddhist characters Rama and Krishna only become objects of worship in the
post-Buddha period if we accept the modern dating of Ramayana and Mahabharata
which presents both Rama and Krishna as Avataras of Vishnu.
On the other hand,
the worship of the Buddha admits of a different interpretation, in keeping with
the Hindu tradition of Gurudom.57 "Guru worship" is
usually disparaged as the ultimate in idol worship and cultism, but informed
Hindus reject this criticism. The Guru is venerated in his impersonal
capacity as an embodiment of the realized Self; it is not the person but the
universal Brahman which is venerated through him. Likewise, the Buddha who
is venerated is not the individual Siddhartha Gautama, but the "Buddha nature"
which Gautama, like other Awakened individuals before and after him, had
Guru worship is expressive of that
which, in the Hindu view, makes Hinduism superior to other religions: its
tradition of techniques which make the "realization" of the Brahman in an
individual possible. Most religions simply do not have ways to achieve
this, do consequently not have enlightened masters through whom one can
venerate the living Brahman; they can only talk about the divine but not bring
it alive in a human being. All this, of course, on the
Hindu-Buddhist assumption that what yoga achieves is not just some "funny
feeling"58 but a state of consciousness which
really is radically superior to the ordinary. If this state of
consciousness is indeed venerable, it is normal that lesser mortals, in
preparation of their own ascension to this state (in this or a future life)
venerate it through individuals who have realized it.
There is nothing exclusive about this
"Guru worship": it is agreed that the Absolute Consciousness or Brahman is
present in everyone, in the pupil or worshipper and in all sentient beings as
well as in the Guru, and that it has been "realized" by numerous masters.
At this point, however, the difference between Hinduism and. Buddhism
resurfaces. Hindus may hold it against the Buddha that he disturbed the
world order by focusing exclusively on the "liberation from suffering" through
meditation (implicitly disparaging the validity of all non-spiritual pursuits),
but very few Hindus would deny the Buddha’s genuine yogic realization and hence
his rightful place in the pantheon of genuine Gurus. By
contrast, judging from Buddhist scripture and from modern Buddhist publications,
Buddhists whose horizon of realized spiritual masters includes non-Buddhist
sages are rare.59
The Hindu pantheon of
sages is open-ended, and Hindu claims about the genuine self-realization of this
or that particular Guru imply absolutely no denial of the spiritual merits of
any other sage, whether Hindu or non-Hindu.60 This
may be true in theory for Buddhists as well, but in practice, Buddhists are less
open to any input from outside their own tradition, less explicit in
acknowledging the validity of other paths. in the Hindu endeavour of seeking and
verifying any common ground between Hinduism and Buddhism, theory may be more
important than practice: the Buddhist practice of isolating the Buddha from his
historical context, viz. the Hindu institution of Gurudom, may simply be a
temporary historical development which can be reversed by a closer study of the
philosophical basis of Buddhism. It seems that in this respect,
Hindu-Buddhist unity is a theoretically arguable proposition, but the de facto
state of affairs suggests a more separate identity for Buddhism.
10.8. Vivekananda on Buddhist non-theism
A closer reading of Vivekananda merely
confirms his veneration for the Buddha and his agreement with the Buddhist
rejection of dualist theism. About the latter point, his Buddhist
contemporaries themselves were not all in agreement, and Vivekananda’s view that
the Buddha was an “agnostic" was criticized by his friend Dharmapala (of the
Lanka-based Buddhist missionary organization, the Maha Bodhi Society, founded in
1891 and closely linked with the Theosophy movement), whom he is said to have
helped with his speech at the Parliament of Religions. The two got
estranged and by 1897 they were accusing each other of "undue malice". While
Vivekananda remained a Buddha fan, the Maha Bodhi Society turned anti-Hindu and
even rewrote its version of Buddhist history to minimize the role of Islam and
maximize the role of Hinduism in the elimination of Buddhism from India.61
Regardless of his personal relations
with Buddhists, Vivekananda explicitly goes along with what he understands to be
the Buddhist argument against the reliance on a personal God: "Ay, the Buddhists
say that ninety per cent of these vices that you see in every society are on
account of this idea of a personal God; this is an awful idea of the human being
that the end and aim of this expression of life, this wonderful expression of
life, is to become like a dog. Says the Buddhist to the Vaishnava, ‘If
your ideal, your aim and goal is to go to the place called Vaikuntha where God
lives, and there stand before Him with folded hands all through eternity, it is
better to commit suicide than do that.’ (…) I am putting these
ideas before you as a Buddhist just for the time being, because nowadays all
these Advaitic ideas are said to make you immoral, and I am trying to tell you
how the other side looks.”62
In this case, the claimed Buddhist
objection against the theistic goal of eternally being
with God in Heaven is also the Advaitic objection: both Buddhism and
Advaita Vedanta aim for total emancipation from the relative and fleeting world,
and refuse to settle for a lesser goal such as being "with" (i.e. still separate
from) the Divine. It must be admitted that the vast majority of Hindus
have no conception of spiritual achievement beyond being "with" their chosen
deity. The same is true for popular devotional Buddhism, where the
agnostic yogic radicalism is replaced with reliance on quasi-deities (Amitabha,
Guan Yin, etc.). Here again, what may superficially seem as a contrast between
Hinduism and Buddhism is in fact an internal contrast within both Buddhism and
Hinduism, viz. between radical philosophies of liberation and popular devotional
Vivekananda also reiterates the atheist
argument against the doctrine of Creation by a divine Person: "We have seen
first of all that this cannot be proved, this idea of a Personal God creating
the world; is there any child that can believe this today? Because
a Kumbhakara creates a Ghata, therefore a God created the world!"63
In other words: from the fact that all phenomena within the cosmos have been
caused or created, it doesn’t follow that the cosmos as a whole was likewise
caused or created by an external agent.
This atheist skepticism forms a bridge
between ancient non-theist philosophy and modern rationalism: "Has ever your
Personal God, the Creator of the world, to whom you cry all your life, helped
you?-is the next challenge from modem science." And back to ancient non-theism:
"And we have seen that along with this idea of a Personal God comes tyranny and
priestcraft. Tyranny and priestcraft have prevailed wherever
this idea existed, and until the lie is knocked on the head, say the Buddhists,
tyranny will not cease.”64 Here, Vivekananda
fulfils his self-appointed role as herald of modernity and of the implicit
modernity avant la lettre (universalism, non-theism, rejection of
irrational belief) of ancient philosophies including Vedanta and Buddhism.
Few modern Hindus follow Vivekananda in
this radical rejection of theism: usually they snake a superficial compromise
between their families’ traditional theistic beliefs and veneration for
non-theistic thinkers including the Buddha, without thinking through the
inherent contradiction. Thus, we can see Gandhiji’s inclusion of Buddhism
in Hinduism (as he understood it: Vaishnava theism) falters on this point:
"I have heard it contended that Buddha
did not believe in God. In my humble opinion such a belief contradicts the
very central fact of Buddha’s teaching. He undoubtedly rejected the notion
that a being called God was actuated by malice and like the kings of the earth
could possibly be open to temptations and bribes (animal sacrifice) and could
possibly have favourites. He emphasized and redeclared the
eternal and unalterable existence of the moral government of the universe.”65
This is an unconvincing way to paper
over the stark difference between Gandhi’s own devotional theism and the
Buddha’s self-reliant approach which had no place for devotions to or
speculative discourse about God. Though the Buddhist canon
seems to take for granted the existence of the Vedic Gods (plural!-monotheism
was totally foreign to Buddhism)66, they were not
accorded any importance whatsoever in the Buddhist spiritual path. The
Buddhist law of Karma, or what Gandhi calls "the moral government of the
universe", is conceived as a Natural Law, not as the doing of a Divine Person.
It is true that devotional theism has
crept into Buddhism at a later stage, but Gandhi’s claim is not about these
later trends but about the Buddha himself. Gandhi’s approach is quite
typical of the rather hurried way in which anglicized Hindus try to dismiss
doctrinal differences as peripheral and nonessential, without bothering to offer
a proper analysis. The same superficial approach is in evidence in the
Sangh Parivar, which is quite akin to Gandhi in its understanding of Hinduism.
10.9. Coomaraswamy on Hindu-Buddhist unity
When surveying the modern Hindu opinion
on Buddhism, we cannot skip the contribution of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy.
As he stayed aloof from politics and from Hindu activism, we do not want to
include him in the Hindutva movement, yet we do choose to include him in this
survey for the following reasons. Firstly, he was definitely
an apologist of Hinduism, a defender of Hindu values and traditions (including
the caste system) against the numerous misconceptions and prejudices common
among the Western and anglicized-Indian audiences.67
Secondly, his observations on the sameness and difference of Buddhism and
Hinduism are so lucid and accurate, that we do not want to be without them when
evaluating the often rather simplistic evaluations of a Vivekananda or a
We need not postpone a judgment on the
question whether, or to what extent, Buddhism is part of Hinduism, as it is
rather simple to solve; or so, at least, Coomaraswamy teaches us. For an
initial general judgment: "There is no true opposition of Buddhism and
Brahmanism, but from the beginning one general movement, or many closely related
movements. The integrity of Indian thought, moreover, would not be broken
if every specifically Buddhist element were omitted; we should only have to say
that certain details had been less adequately elaborated or less emphasized. (…)
[The Buddha] in a majority of fundamentals does not differ from the Atmanists,
although he gives a far clearer statement of the law of causality as the
essential mark of the world of Becoming. The greater part of
his polemic, however, is wasted in a misunderstanding."68
The "misunderstanding" concerns the seeming opposition between the Upanishadic
notion of Self (âtman) and the Buddhist doctrine of Non-Self (anatta/anâtman).
Coomaraswamy explains that "the
distinction appeared clear enough to Gautama and his successors; but this was
largely because the Brahmanism against which they maintained their polemic was
after all merely the popular aspect of Brahmanism. From a study of the
Buddha’s dialogues it would appear that he never encountered a capable exponent
of the highest Vedantic idealism, such a one as Yajnavalkya or Janaka (…) It
appeared to Gautama and his followers then and now that the highest
truths-especially the truth embodied by Buddhists in the phrase Anatta-lay
rather without than within the Brahmanical circle".69 To
Coomaraswamy, however, the same truth was present in the Upanishads, "where the
truth was held, that the Atman is ‘not so, not so’”.70
A misunderstanding arises when people
are using the same word but with a different meaning: "At first sight nothing
can appear more definite than the opposition of the Buddhist An-atta,
‘no-Atman’, and the Brahman Atman, the sole reality. But in using
the same term, Atta or Atman, Buddhist and Brahman are talking of
different things, and when this is realized, it will be seen that the Buddhist
disputations on this point lose nearly all their value. (…) There is nothing,
then, to show that the Buddhists ever really understood the pure doctrine of the
Atman, which is ‘not so, not so’. The attack which they led upon the idea
of soul or self is directed against the conception of the eternity in time of an
unchanging individuality; of the timeless spirit they do not speak (…) In
reality both sides were in agreement that the soul or ego (mânas, ahamkâra,
vijńâna, etc.) is complex and phenomenal, while of that which is ‘not so’ we
The Self being pure subject, it cannot
be the passive object of knowledge, and in that sense it is unknowable, but in a
state of kaivalya ("isolation [of consciousness from its objects]", to
use Patanjali’s term) or enstasis, it is subject and object at the same
time. By contrast, any specific functions of consciousness, such as
sensorial perception, memory, imagination and ratiocination are-and this is what
one comes to realize pretty early in meditation practice-objects of
consciousness, arising and passing away, parading before the eye of
consciousness like clouds in a windy sky. All these mental phenomena can
be dismissed as fleeting phenomena, but sheer consciousness cannot: it is the
sea on which the waves appear as temporary shapes, necessary as the permanent
basis to make the momentary waves possible.
The classical Buddhist position that
the Self is as temporary and "unreal" as the modifications of its contents (its
ever-changing objects), can only be taken by someone who doesn’t know the
established meaning of the term "Self”, one who doesn’t know that consciousness
itself is the Self, and that it underlies any state of consciousness
including Bodhi, the Awakened state. But, Coomaraswamy observes, there was
no dearth of people who had mistaken or non-Upanishadic notions about the Self
(equating it with the body, or the brain, or the sense of individual identity,
or a transmigrating personality complex called soul), and it is from such people
that the Buddha acquired a mistaken understanding of the Self too:
"Either Gautama was only acquainted
with popular Brahmanism, or he chose to ignore its higher aspects. At any
rate, those whom he defeats in controversy so easily are mere puppets who never
put forward the doctrine of the unconditional Self at all. Gautama
meets no foeman worthy of his steel, and for this reason the greater part of
Buddhist polemic is unavoidably occupied in beating the air. This
criticism applies as much to modern as to ancient exposition.”72
The confusion need not be blamed on the
followers, but may be traced to the Master himself: "The ‘further shore’ is a
symbol of salvation used by both parties; in the Tevijja Sutta Gautama
suggests that it is employed by the Brahmans to mean union with Brahma (in the
masculine [= as a theistic conception of a Divine Person]), whereas he himself
means Arahatta [= Enlightenment]. if he really understood the Atmanist position
in this manner, it proves that he spoke without knowledge; if he assumed that
this was the Brahman position for the purposes of argument, he was guilty of
deliberate dishonesty. The latter view should not be entertained.
But it is undeniable that Gautama’s dialogue is largely determined by
controversial necessity. The compilers of the Dialogues
had to represent the Buddha as victorious in argument, and they succeed by
setting up a dummy which it is easy to demolish, while the object of nominal
attack, the Atman theory, is never attacked.”73
Coomaraswamy describes the Non-Self
doctrine as essentially a knot into which Buddhist debaters got themselves
entangled by being too clever: "Gautama constantly accuses others of
eel-wrigging, but in the Dialogues he adopts the same method himself. (…) words
are interpreted in new senses. In particular, the word atta (Atman)
is used in a different sense from that of the Brahman Atmanists, and thus an
easy victory is secured by ‘thinking of something else’. The
coining of the term
An-atta to imply the absence of a perduring individuality is a triumph of
ingenuity, but it should not blind us to the fact that the perduring Atman of
the Brahmans was not an individuality at all.”74
Coomaraswamy concedes the greater
systemic perfection of Buddhism as compared to the inspired poetry of the
Upanishadic seers, but this does not decide the question of who is right and who
is wrong: "It may readily be granted that Buddhist thought is far more
consistent than the thought of the Upanishads. The Upanishads are the work
of many hands and extend over many centuries; amongst their authors are both
poets and philosophers. The Buddhist Dhamma claims to be the pronouncement
of a single rationalist, and to have but one flavour. Gautama propounds a
creed and a system, and it is largely to this fact that the success of his
missionary activities was due. (…) No one will assert that the Upanishads
exhibit a consistent creed. But the explanation of their
inconsistencies is historical and leaves the truth of their ultimate conclusions
quite untouched. (…) we find in point of fact that the essential thought of the
Upanishads is never grasped by the Early Buddhists, and, is sometimes but
obscurely apprehended by modern exponents."75
It is not doubted that the Buddha
attained the highest state of consciousness, or what he called Awakening; what
is doubted, in fact confidently rejected, is that this state automatically
confers other qualities, such as intellectual knowledge about rival philosophies
and their jargon. As Agehananda Bharati wrote: "To be a
mystic is one thing; to be perfect in the moral or any other field is quite a
different thing; and these perfections are not learned by yoga techniques (…)
any more than you learn loving your neighbours by playing poker or cello.”76
So, in spite of an intellectual
misunderstanding concerning the notion of Self, the substance of the Upanishadic
and Buddhist spiritual paths remains essentially the same. The central
point of agreement is the value and discipline of non-attachment:
"Implicit in Brahman thought from an
early period (…) and forming the most marked features of later Indian
mysticism-achieved also in the Mahayana, but with greater difficulty-is the
conviction that ignorance is maintained only by attachment, and not by such
actions as are void of purpose and self-reference; and the thought that This and
That world, Becoming and Being, are seen to be one by those in whom ignorance is
destroyed. In this identification there is effected a reconciliation of
religion with the world, which remained beyond the grasp of Theravada Buddhists.
The distinctions between early Buddhism and Upanishadic Brahmanism, however
practically important, are thus merely temperamental; fundamentally there is
absolute agreement that bondage consists in the thought of I and Mine, and
that this bondage may be broken only for those in whom all craving is extinct.
In all essentials Buddhism and Brahmanism form a single system.”77
However, Buddhism is merely a single
discipline, whereas Brahminism is conceived as all-encompassing. Buddhism
is exclusively concerned with moksha, whereas Brahmanism has a vision
concerning the other goals of life (purushârtha) as well: sensuous
enjoyment (kâma), worldly success (artha), and playing one’s part
in the larger scheme of things (dharma). The latter notion means
both doing the duties befitting one’s status, qualities and station in life, and
participating in the cosmic cycles through ritual (e.g. participating in the
year cycle by celebrating the seasonal festivals, a cornerstone of every
religion). There is no Buddhist Dharma-Shastra or Artha-Shastra, much less
a Buddhist Kama-Sutra.
Buddhist art developed certain typical conventions, these were largely borrowed
(e.g. the classic hairdo of Buddha statues was apparently adopted from Bactrian
Indo-Greek art)78, for there is no specifically
Buddhist aesthetics springing from a Buddhist worldview. If "all is
suffering", then beauty too is not worth pursuing, and aesthetics is of no
concern to pure Buddhism.
As Coomaraswamy observes: "In comparing
Buddhism (the teaching of Gautama, that is) with Brahmanism, we have then to
understand and take into account the difference of the problem to be solved.
Gautama is concerned with salvation and nothing but salvation: the Brahmans
likewise see in that summum bonum the ultimate significance of all
existence, but they also take into account the things of relative importance;
theirs is a religion both of Eternity and Time, while Gautama looks upon
Eternity alone. it is not really fair to Gautama or to the Brahmans to contrast
their Dharma; for they do not seek to cover the same ground. We
must compare the Buddhist ethical ideal with the (identical) standard of
Brahmanhood expected of the Brahman born; we must contrast the Buddhist monastic
system with the Brahmanical orders; the doctrine of Anatta with the doctrine of
Atman, and here we shall find identity. (…) Buddhism stands
for a restricted ideal, which contrasts with Brahmanism as a pars contrasts
with the whole".79
10.10. Coomaraswamy on Hindu-Buddhist differences
Ananda Coomaraswamy concedes that
Buddhism developed a more satisfactory systematization of certain Upanishadic
ideas than the Upanishads themselves: "Gautama repudiates the two extreme views,
that everything is, and that everything is not, and substitutes the thought that
there is only a Becoming. (cfr.
Samyutta Nikaya, xxii:90:16) it is due to Gautama to say that the
abstract concept of causality as the fundamental principle of the phenomenal
world is by him far more firmly grasped and more clearly emphasized than we find
it in the early Upanishads; nevertheless the thought and the word ‘Becoming’
are common to both, and both are in agreement that this Becoming is the order of
the world, the mark of organic existence, from which Nibbana, or the Brahman
(according to their respective phraseology) alone is free.”80
In spite of this common view, a
difference develops in its practical conclusions: "Where a
difference of outlook appears is in the fact that the Buddha is content with
this conclusion, and condemns all further speculation as [unedifying]; and thus,
like Sankara, he excludes for ever a reconciliation of eternity and time, of
religion with the world.”81
Shankara (ca. AD 800) was the
Vedantin who polemicized against Buddhism but at the same time incorporated a
lot of Buddhist thought, so that he is often described as a "crypto-Buddhist".
Like the Buddha, he founded an order of monks vowed to celibacy, the act of
world-rejection par excellence, a sin against the Vedic commandment to pay off
one’s debt (riha) to the ancestors by raising a family. In spite of
philosophical differences between Shankara and the Buddhists, Shankara did
introduce the Buddhist rejection of the world into Hinduism:
"The same result is reached in another
way by those Vedantins of the school of Shankara who developed the doctrine of
Maya in an absolute sense (Shvetâshvatara Upanishad 4:9-10) to mean the
absolute non-entity of the phenomenal world, contrasted with the only reality of
the Brahman which alone is. This is one of the two extreme
views rightly repudiated by Gautama, but there is agreement to this extent that
both Gautama and the Mayavadins reject the unreal world of Becoming, either
because it is inseparable from Evil, or simply because it is unreal.”82
Though Shankara’s influence in medieval
and modern Hinduism is enormous, his position is greatly at variance with the
Vedic and Upanishadic worldview:
"But the interpretation of the term
Maya to signify the absolute nonentity of the phenomenal world, if it belongs to
the Vedanta at all (which is to be doubted: the conception of the absolute
nonentity of the phenomenal world is entirely contrary to many passages in
Brhadârânyaka and Chândogya, as well as to the Brahma Sűtra
1:2, which asserts that ‘Everything is Brahman’ (…)), is comparatively late; and
even in the Rigveda (10:90) we find another thought expressed,
in which the whole universe is identified with the ‘Eternal Male’ [= Purusha],
afterwards a recognized symbol of the Atman. The same idea finds many
expressions in the Upanishads, notably in the saying ‘That art Thou’.”83
This, then, is the proper and original
understanding of Upanishadic monism: that the relative and the absolute, the
world of form and the formless, the sensorial world and the Brahman, are somehow
two states of a single essence, both equally real. The distinctive Vedic
vision, setting it apart from Shankara’s or the Buddha’s view, is that the world
itself is also an expression of the Absolute state:
"There is thus asserted from two points
of view an irreconcilable opposition of Becoming and Being, Samsâra and Nirvâ?a,
This and That. Over against these extremes there appears another doctrine
of the Mean, entirely distinct from that of Gautama which merely asserts that
Becoming, and not either Being nor non-Being is the mark of this world.
This other Mean asserts that the Sole Reality, the Brahman, subsists, not merely
as non-Becoming, but also as Becoming (…). In truth, there are two forms of
Brahman, that is to say-‘The formed and the unformed, the mortal and the
immortal, the abiding and the fleeting, the being and the beyond’. (Brhadâranyaka
Upanishad 2:3:1) The Brahman is not merely nirguna, ‘in no wise’, but
also sarvaguna, ‘in all wise’; and he is saved-attains Nirvana, knows the
Brahman-who sees that these are one and the same, that the two worlds are one.
(…) Here the phenomenal world is not without significance, but
has just so much significance as the degree of our enlightenment allows us to
discover in it.”84
The similarity with
the Mahayana-Buddhist Heart Sutra is more than superficial: "Emptiness is not
different from form, form is not different from emptiness. What is form
that is emptiness, what is emptiness that is form.”85
Here, Mahayana absorbs the Vedic vision, transcending the Buddhist dualistic
view pitting emptiness (Nirvana) against form (equated with suffering). As
in some other respects, Mahayana appears here as a partial return of Buddhism to
its Vedic roots.
10.11. Coomaraswamy on Buddhist world-negation
A practical consequence of the
respective attitudes to involvement in the world is that Brahmanism values
family life as the locus of the continuation of worldly existence, while
Buddhism rejects it as merely a factor of more suffering. Like
Saint Paul saying that the married state is but a way out for weak people,
definitely inferior to celibacy ("to marry is better than to burn")86,
Buddhism extols celibate monkhood above the state of the householder, and makes
the latter the ancilla of the former, viz. for providing novices and food
to the monastic order. Actually, "the use of the term
kulapati (‘head of a family’, householder) for a monk was considered to be
an insult.”87 So, Coomaraswamy
frowns upon this Buddhist value standard, which "is not really a middle path,
and (...) remains, in contrasting the bright state of the Wanderer with the dark
state of the Householder, if not all morbidly ascetic, nevertheless unmistakably
a rule of abstention, rather than moderation.”88
against this fundamental trait of Buddhism: "Gautama hardly contemplates the
possibility that freedom may also be attained by those who are still engaged in
worldly activities".89 The aesthetician
Coomaraswamy may understandably not be inclined to world-renunciation, but he
ought to consider the possibility that achieving liberation through meditation
is a full-time job, one which just happens to be factually incompatible with a
worldly career. The latter may be worthwhile in a relative sense, and
Coomaraswamy could certainly wax eloquent about the refined mental states needed
for and developed by an artist’s creative activity, but that is just not the
same thing as the liberation achieved by silent meditation.
On the other hand, Coomaraswamy
acknowledges that the institution of celibate monkhood was by no means a
Buddhist innovation; it already formed part of India’s pre-Buddhist religious
landscape. He quotes Hermann Oldenberg to support the view that the
Buddhist institution of celibate monkhood, though certainly non-Brahmanical, was
already a traditional and well-known institution in the Buddha’s own day: "There
was nothing in Buddha’s attitude generally which could be regarded by his
contemporaries as unusual, he had not to introduce anything fundamentally new;
on the contrary, it would have been an innovation if he had undertaken to preach
a way of salvation which did not proceed on a basis of monastic observances."90 Such
an "innovation" was preached in the Bhagavad-Gita, though on the basis of "the
already old doctrine of the identity of This and That, Becoming and
not-Becoming.(…) its essential thought is the recognition of Karma Yoga and
Bhakti Yoga side by side with Jnana Yoga as ‘means’ of salvation."91
I venture to doubt that Karma Yoga
(work free from attachment to the fruits of the work) and Bhakti Yoga (devotion)
can yield the same spiritual results as Jnana Yoga (meditation). There is
not necessarily equality between the different paths acknowledged as
legitimate. On the other hand, the recognition of Karma and Bhakti as
spiritual paths strengthens the ethical pluralism typical of Hinduism. As
Coomaraswamy puts it:
"This Religion implies that each
individual has to pursue a dharma determined by his station in life.
This is the concept of swa-dharma (own-dharma) emphasized with great
vigour in the Bhagavad Gita. The concept is based on the rejection of an
absolutist standard of morality (…): ‘In this conception of own-dharma there
appears at once the profound distinction of Hindu from all absolutist
moralities, such as the Mosaic or Buddhist.’ The own-dharma is
a form of morality appropriate to the individual according to his social and
This way, Hinduism contrasts with
Buddhism by having room for worldly pursuits along with the spiritual pursuit:
"Thus it is that even laymen may attain to perfect freedom, in a life obedient
to vocation, if only the activity be void of motive and self-reference.(…)
Bondage and deliverance are alike to be found in the home and in the forest, and
not more nor less in one than the other; everything alike is Holy (in terms of
Buddhism, ‘Void’), and men and women are not less so than mountains or
forests. Above all, this reconciliation of religion with the
world is but a Becoming, it has a meaning which cannot be fathomed by those who
turn their backs upon it in order to escape from its pains and elude its
Here, the cleavage is not only between
Buddhism and Brahmanism, but runs through Brahmanism itself: "Precisely the same
crisis that we here speak of as distinguishing of Brahmanism itself (…) it has
been held by Brahmans, as it had been also for a time assumed by Gautama, that
salvation must be sought in penance (tapes) and in the life of the
hermit. Gautama introduced no radical change in merely insisting on the
futility of carrying such disciplines to a morbid extreme. (Perhaps we ought to
say no change at all, for it would be difficult to point to any early or
important Brahmanical text advocating a mental and moral
discipline more severe than that of the Buddhist Brethren; on the contrary, the
Upanishads constantly insist that salvation is won by knowledge alone, and that
all else is merely preliminary.)”94
The extremism in discipline against
which the Buddha reacted is better sought in Jainism, where it is well-attested:
Mahavira Jina sought out the most extreme circumstances to live in, and till
today Jain sadhus are known for their extreme penances. The difference
between the two sects is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Buddhists
shave off their hairs while Jains pluck them out. Jainism claims to be much
older than Buddhism, and unlike the neo-Buddhists, its
apologists do not see their religion as a reaction against Brahmanism, but as an
entirely original religion equally old as, if not older than the Vedic religion.95
Fact is that Shramanism as a broader category predated Buddhism by centuries,
and it must have included sects practising a severe asceticism, against which
the Buddha reacted by establishing a more moderate path.
The Shramanic tendency was generally
characterized by a rejection of the world, certainly of worldly
responsibilities. This, then, certainly sets it apart from the Vedic
worldview, with its celebration of worldly joys and its assumption of worldly
responsibilities. Though both doctrines have borrowed from one another, as
exemplified most sharply by the case of Shankara, and though they cannot be
simply equated with Jainism and Buddhism on the one hand and Hinduism on the
other, they certainly remain as two antagonistic poles in India’s religious
10.12. Aurobindo on Buddhist pessimism
On the philosophical differences
between Buddhism and Hinduism, Ananda Coomaraswamy has done the homework which
the Hindu thinkers failed to do, or only did in a very sketchy way. On the
other hand, he merely articulated in some detail a view which many Hindus
vaguely subscribe to, and which they do not consider worthy of much exploration
because it is just so obvious.
One Hindu thinker who gave the matter
some thought and expressed himself along the same lines as Coomaraswamy, is Sri
Aurobindo. He blames Buddhism for its negative attitude to the world, and
Shankara for importing the same into Hinduism and thereby transforming the Vedic
message beyond recognition: "Ancient or pre-Buddhistic Hinduism sought Him both
in the world and outside it; it took its stand on the strength and beauty and
joy of the Veda, unlike modern or post-Buddhistic Hinduism
which is oppressed with Buddha’s sense of universal sorrow and Shankara’s sense
of universal illusion,-Shankara who was the better able to destroy Buddhism
because he was himself half a Buddhist.”96
Because of Shankara’s Mayavadi views,
most outsiders identify Hinduism as a "world-denying" religion. Aurobindo,
however, contrasts Shankara-cum-Buddhist asceticism with Vedic life-affirmation.
"The ancient Aryan culture recognised all human possibilities but put this [viz.
the spiritual life] highest of all and graded life according to a
transitional scale in its system of the four classes and the four orders.
Buddhism first gave an exaggerated and enormous extension to the ascetic ideal
and the monastic impulse, erased the transition and upset the balance. Its
victorious system left only two orders, the householder and the ascetic, the
monk and the layman, an effect which subsists to the present day. It
is this upsetting of the Dharma for which we find it fiercely attacked in the
Vishnu Purana under the veil of an apologue, for it weakened in the end the life
of society by its tense exaggeration and its hard system of opposites.”97
It is, indeed, often overlooked by
modern Hindus claiming Buddhism as part of their own religion that there is a
tradition of Hindu (or at least Brahmanic) polemic against Buddhism. Even
the inclusion of the Buddha in the list of Vishnu’s incarnations is not that
innocent, as admitted here in one of the better manuals of Hindu doctrine:
"The Buddha is mentioned as one of the
ten incarnations in several Puranas including Matsya, Varaha, Padma, Agni and
Bhagavata. The Bhagavata Purana (1:3:24) says: ‘When Kaliyuga sets in, the
Lord will be born in Magadha as Buddha, son of Ajana, in order to weaken the
enemies of the gods.’ The Agni and Varaha Puranas state that
the Lord was born as Mayamoha. Taking the form of a shaven-headed naked
mendicant, the Lord deluded the demons so that they would give up the Vedic
rituals and thus became poweriess."98
So, his incarnation was only to deceive
evil people, to weaken them by teaching them a false doctrine. The
inclusion of the Buddha in the list of incarnations was only a way of
rationalizing evil, viz. of explaining the success of a false doctrine as
somehow useful in God’s larger scheme. The falsity of Buddhism does not
reside in its yogic aim and method, but in its depreciation of all non-yogic
Aurobindo advocates a return to the
spirit of pre-Buddhist Hinduism: "Ancient Hinduism aimed socially at our
fulfilment in God in life, modem Hinduism at the escape from life to God. The
more modem ideal is fruitful of a noble and ascetic spirituality, but has a
chilling and hostile effect on social soundness and development; social life
under its shadow stagnates for want of belief and delight, shraddhâ and
ânanda. If we are to make our society perfect and the nation is to live
again, then we must revert to the earlier and fuller truth.”99
He asserts that the genius of Vedic civilization was to see the divine dimension
also in the world of form, in lay society, in arts and sciences; and that
Buddhism was part of a movement of world-renunciation which over-emphasized the
spiritual pursuit to the detriment of these other dimensions.
In defence of Buddhism, then, one could
argue that a temporary over-emphasis on the pursuit of Liberation was necessary,
simply because there are technical aspects to it which require specialization.
The science of yoga could never have been developed but for the work of people
who dropped everything else and totally immersed themselves in this pursuit.
If the belief that the world is nothing but suffering helped them to concentrate
on their yoga practice, we could see that as at worst a useful mistake.
And hopefully, the pioneering exploration of yoga by people like the Buddha may
lead to the development of more efficient (less life-consuming) methods for
achieving the same result.
That is more or less how modern Hindus
justify the incorporation of the Buddha: he was a specialist of one discipline,
viz. meditation up to the point of Liberation, just as others were specialists
of grammar, astronomy, statecraft, temple-building or poetry. Neither his
nor any of the other specialisms exhaust the essence of Hindu civilization, but
they have all contributed indispensable elements to it.
10.13. Savarkar on Buddhist defeatism and treason
After these stratospheric philosophical
observations, let us now move on to the down-to-earth political comments by
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who devoted a few pages of his influential book
Hindutva to Buddhism. Skipping all possible considerations of the
Buddha’s spiritual merits, he attacks Buddhism’s lack of martial involvement in
society, and its lack of nationalist identification with India. Shocked by
his own candidness, he makes a few genuflections before the Buddha, but then
reverts to his negative judgment.
that he has the answer to a question which historians are still debating today:
"We fear that the one telling factor that contributed to the fall of Buddhism
more than any other has escaped that detailed attention of scholars which it
deserves.”100 Our curiosity is
aroused, and Savarkar assures us that the usual explanations, including
"Philosophical differences" and the "inanitation and demoralization of the
Buddhistic Church", with Viharas attracting "a loose, lazy and promiscuous crowd
of men who lived on others", are insufficient.101 They
would have been inconsequential "had not the political consequences of the
Buddhistic expansion been so disastrous to the national virility and even the
national existence of our race".102
So, according to Savarkar, the downfall
of Buddhism was due to a healthy reaction against certain morbid political
implications of Buddhism. By implication, he joins hands with those
secularists who allege that the downfall of Buddhism was the doing of Hindus
rather than Muslims.
Savarkar illustrates the disastrous
effect of Buddhism on the polity with an event from the Buddha’s own life: "No
prelude to a vast tragedy could be more dramatic in its effect in foreshadowing
the culminating catastrophe than that incident in the life of the Shakya Sinha,
when the news of the fate of the little tribal republic of the Shakyas was
carried to their former Prince when he was just laying the foundation stone of
the Buddhistic Church. He had already enrolled the flower of
his clan in his Bhikkhusangha and the little Shakya Republic thus deprived of
its bravest and best, fell an easy victim to the strong and warlike in the very
lifetime of the Shakya Sinha. The news when carried to him is said to have
left the Enlightened unconcerned."103
So far, so good: it is undisputed that
the Buddha did not strongly intervene (he made some initial remonstrations but
did not insist) to prevent the destruction of his own tribesmen. These had
angered Vidudabha, son of Prasenadi, king of Koshala: because of their caste
pride, they had given an illegitimate daughter as a bride to the prince,
withholding their legitimate daughters. But according to Savarkar, this
unconcern about one’s tribal or national welfare and sheer survival became the
norm when Buddhism won the ruling class over to its own doctrines in most of
India. The result was that "the woeful fate that had
overtaken the tribal republic of Kapila Vastu befell the whole of Bharatvarsha
itself and it fell an easy prey to the strong and warlike-not like [the] Shakyas
to their own kith and kin, but [to] the Lichis and Huns."104
In effect, Savarkar accuses Buddhism of
corrupting Indian culture in two distinct ways: by extolling non-violence, thus
making Indians defenceless before more warlike enemies; and by propagating a
universalist unconcern with the particularise interests of one’s own family,
tribe and nation. Savarkar contrasts the requirements of nationalism with
Buddhist universalism, and claims history as his witness that in the past,
Buddhism had already paralysed people’s patriotism to the point of making
barbaric invasions possible:
"Thus it was political and national
necessity that was at once the cause and the effect of the decline of Buddhism.
Buddhism had its centre of gravity nowhere. So it was an
imperative need to restore at least the national centre of gravity that India
had lost in attempting to get identified with Buddhism."105
To take up Buddhism’s alleged lack of
patriotism first, this allegation is truly remarkable. The kings and
soldiers of Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar have never
lacked in vigour when it came to defending their sovereignty against foreign
invaders; witness the centuries of repeated wars between the Sinhalese people of
Sri Lanka and invading armies from the several Tamil kingdoms. If the
Buddhists had not fought, their states would have ceased to exist long ago.
Conversely, non-Buddhist kings in India
are not known to have propagated "patriotism" to the extent of meriting
contrastive comparison with the supposed "universalism" of Buddhist rulers.
Most of them were rulers of kingdoms which covered only a small part of India,
and the kings they fought were mostly fellow Indians. Admittedly, a notion
of "India" (Bhâratavarsh) as a cultural unit was in the air, but this
didn’t keep them from fighting their neighbours, just like European kings were
not much hampered in their military pursuits by the awareness that their
neighbours belonged to the same Christian religion and cultural space. At
this point, Savarkar is giving the lead in the Hindutva tendency to project
modem nationalism onto ancient Indian history.
Savarkar hints at historical events
involving Buddhism which would give proof of downright treason: "The reaction
against universal tendencies of Buddhism only grew more insistent and powerful
as the attempt to re-establish the Buddhist power in India began to assume a
more threatening attitude. Nationalist tendencies refused to barter with
our national independence and accept a foreign conqueror as our overlord.
But if that foreigner happened to be favourably inclined towards Buddhism, then
he was sure to find some secret sympathisers among the Indian Buddhists all over
India, even as Catholic Spain could always find some important section in
England to restore a Catholic dynasty in England. Not only
this but dark hints abound in our ancient records to show that at times some
foreign Buddhistic powers had actually invaded India with an express national
and religious aim in view.”106
One of these dark hints is
explicitated: "We cannot treat the history of this period exhaustively here but
can only point to the half symbolic and half actual description given in one of
our Puranas of the war waged on the Aryadeshajas by the Nyanapati (the king of
the Huns) and his Buddhistic allies. The record tells us (…) how the
Buddhistic forces made China the base of their operations, how they were
reinforced by contingents from many Buddhistic nations, and how after a tough
fight the Buddhists lost it and paid heavily for their defeat. They
had formally to renounce all ulterior national aims against India and give a
pledge that they would never again enter India with any political end in view."107
It would be wrong to dismiss a
testimony simply because it is given in the Puranas, a notorious mixture of fact
and fiction. All the same, the testimony cited by Savarkar is meagre, and
the question remains to what extent even genuine facts have not been
reinterpreted post factum in terms of the (possibly irrelevant) religious
adherence of the parties involved.
In another book,
Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, Savarkar gives other instances of
Buddhist treason. Starting with the well-known fact that the
Greco-Bactrian and Kushana invaders adopted Buddhism, he speculates that they
thereby attracted the loyalty and collaboration of native Buddhists. It
would have been interesting if he had documented this allegation.
Along the same lines, but with
decreasing credibility, he accuses the Buddhists of the same treasonous
collaboration with non-Buddhist powers. He alleges that when Mohammed bin
Qasim marched on Sindh in the early 8th century, "these Indian Buddhists were
elated to see the Muslim foreigners march against the Hindu kingdom. These
Buddhists, who bore malice towards the Hindus, perhaps thought that these new
Muslim aggressors might embrace their Buddhist cult, as did their forerunners,
the Greeks under Menander or the Kushans under Kanishka, and establish a
Buddhist empire over India. So they went and greeted the
Arabian-Muslim leader when he captured Port Deval from the hands of King Dahir.”108
Savarkar then imagines what the message
they brought to Qasim sounded like: "We have nothing to do with Dahir and his
Vedic Hindu cult. Our religious faith differs very widely from theirs. (…)
Never suspect for a moment that we shall even enlist ourselves in King Dahir’s
armed forces or help him in any way. So we pray that the Buddhists should
not be subjected to any indignities or troubles at your hands." And
Qasim’s reaction to this request "which amounted to complete surrender" was that
he "gave them temporary assurance of safety".109
King Dahir fought but was killed and
his army put to flight. Savarkar asks and answers the question: "But what
were the Buddhists doing in this national catastrophe? At
the news of the fall of King Dahir and the victory of the Muslims, these
Buddhists began to ring bells in their vihars to greet the Muslim conquerors,
and prayed in congregations for the prosperity of the Muslim rulers!"110
The translator, S.T.
Godbole, has taken the trouble of authenticating Savarkar’s claims in
well-reputed history books.111 Though some of
these histories and translations are a bit quaint and could do with an update,
they may be considered essentially trustworthy. At any rate, one cannot
expect an amateur-historian like Savarkar to improve upon what was an accepted
version of the facts among the professional historians of his day. These
sources do give a semblance of confirmation to the allegation of a Buddhist role
in acts of capitulation and collaboration, e.g. Al-Baladhuri
mentions that "two Samanis, or priests" (apparently Shramanas, Buddhist monks)
went all the way to Qasim’s employer Hajjaj "to treat for peace".112
However, the full sentence says that Qasim "went to Nirun, the inhabitants of
which had already sent two Samanis, or priests, of their town to Hajjaj to treat
for peace", meaning that the “Samanis" were representatives of the general will,
not merely of Buddhist interests.
To complicate matters further, the
exact meaning of the Arabic rendering of Indian terms is ambiguous, starting
with the meaning of budh/budd/but. As the Buddhists had been the
first big producers of ornate sculptures for veneration, viz. Buddha
statues, the word but became the standard Persian term for "idol", so an
idol-worshipper was called But-parast, and an idol-breaker But-shikan,
even when the idol was not a Buddha statue. Al-Baladhuri
says that "the Indians give in general the name of budd to anything
considered with their worship or which forms the object of their veneration.
So, an idol is called budd.”113 Moreover,
Al-Baladhuri also used "Budha" as a toponym: when an emissary of Hajjaj perished
in the Indian frontier region, it was claimed that "he was killed by the Jats of
Budha".114 Likewise, is
anything Buddhist involved when, according to a sub-title in the Chach-Nâmah,
"Budhiman comes to Muhammad Kasim, and receives a promise of protection"?115
In the circumstances, is it likely that the freshly arrived Arab chronicler
could distinguish a category of "Buddhists" in the general population of Hindus?
Nevertheless, it is the established
opinion among modern historians that the Buddhists did commit treason, e.g.: "His
[Qasim’sl work was greatly facilitated by the treachery of certain Buddhist
priests and renegade chiefs who deserted their sovereign and joined the invader.116
On the other hand, even if specific cases of Buddhist treason can be
substantiated, it is not excluded that non-Buddhist citizens were equally eager
to be on the best possible terms with the probable victor. That
much is indeed related by the Arabic sources pertaining to the period after
the conquest: Hindus coming to Qasim’s court to offer their surrender.117
There is of course a difference between surrendering before the battle is joined
and surrendering after the battle is lost; still, the Hindus who surrendered
could instead have opted for emigration, civil disobedience, guerrilla warfare
or plain martyrdom.
Here again, there is a semantic
problem: the "one thousand Brahmans" who came to surrender are described as
having "shaven heads and beards" and being "dressed in yellow clothes", the
typical look of Shramanas. At that stage, the Arab-Muslim newcomers simply
couldn’t distinguish between Brahmins and Buddhist monks, all But-parasts,
The explicitly religious hostility to
the Hindus which Savarkar claims as the Buddhists’ motivation is not in evidence
in these sources. Even if Buddhists committed treason, the reason may have
been opportunism and unwillingness to join the fight on any side (draft-dodging,
so to speak), without implying any animus against their non-Buddhist
compatriots. Yet, Savarkar puts all his cards on the hypothesis of an
intense Hindu-Buddhist antagonism, coinciding with a
nationalist-internationalist conflict of loyalties.
Whether historical or not, this view hardly fits in with the usual
"Buddhists are Hindus" line of the organized Hindutva movement. On the
contrary, it plays into the hand of a certain anti-Hindutva polemic, which
pictures Buddhism as a movement of anti-Hindu revolt then groaning under Hindu
oppression, and the Muslim invaders as liberators of those whom the Hindu regime
oppressed, including the Buddhists.
One of the trend-setters of this view
was M.N. Roy, founder of the Communist Party of India, who wrote: "Brahminical
orthodoxy having overwhelmed the Buddhist revolution, India of the eleventh and
twelfth centuries must have been infested with multitudes of persecuted heretics
who would eagerly welcome the message of Islam.".118
He does nothing to document this sensational claim, but it has become very
popular nonetheless. Along the same lines, the leading Marxist historian
Romila Thapar has said: "In an often horrible way, religious forms of expression
like Buddhism and Jainism have been persecuted and even exterminated [by
Hindus]. (…) The trauma for the Brahmins was that, in the
time of the Moghuls, they were counted among ‘the rest’, i.e. the non-Muslims.
Bad for them was also that Islam was more able to have a dialogue with the
inheritors of Shramanism.”119
When you consider that the
establishment of Islam in the entire area from Iran to Ningxia and from
Kazakhstan to Malaysia, including India, was followed by the complete
disappearance of living Buddhism in each of these regions, you may wonder what
Prof. Thapar’s definition of "dialogue" could be. Even Moghul Emperor
Akbar, who invited representatives of many religions to his court for
discussion, did not invite any Buddhist representative simply because Buddhism
did not exist in India at that time. Perhaps Prof. Thapar had the
collaboration of the Jain merchants and jewellers with the Sultans in mind.
The Jains, indeed, were better survivors than the Buddhists under Muslim rule.
Whatever the facts of history, Savarkar
plays into the hand of the anti-Hindu polemicists by confirming their claim that
Buddhism was hostile to Hinduism to the extent of collaborating with the Arab
invasion. Fortunately, there is still some justice in this world, or at
least in Savarkar’s world, for the "Buddhist traitors" did not escape their
karmic reward: "in spite of their traitorous solicitations of the Muslims,
these ‘Buddhaprasthees’-the idol-worshipping Buddhists who
preached extreme non-violence-were violently exterminated from Sindh by the
Muslim aggressors under Kasim, owing to their innate hatred for that sect.”120
Savarkar links Buddhist non-resistance
to the destruction of Buddhism: "But what they thus asked for as a boon proved
to be an inexorable curse for them. After winning the final battle, when
the Muslims rushed violently, like a stormy wind, through Sindh, they went on
beheading these Buddhists even more ruthlessly than they did the Vedic Hindus.
For, the Vedic Hindus were fighting in groups or individually at every place and
so they struck at least a little awe and terror in the minds of the Muslims. But
as there was no armed opposition in Buddhist Vihars and Buddhist localities, the
Muslims cut them down as easily as they would cut vegetable. Only those of
the Buddhists who took to the Muslim faith were spared".121
This development is
vaguely hinted at in the Arabic sources (to be read with the semantic
reservations outlined above), e.g. the Chach-Nâmah reports off-hand:
"Muhammad Kasim built at Nirun a mosque on the site of the temple of Budh,
and ordered prayers to be proclaimed in the Muhammadan fashion".122
Savarkar generalizes this explanation
of the extermination of Buddhism in Sindh to explain its disappearance from
India as a whole: "For the same reason and in the very same manner the Muslims
went on liquidating the Buddhist pockets of influence as they advanced
conquering province after province in India. (…) As most of the Buddhists
showed, through fear of death, willingness to embrace Islam, they were all
converted. Not a single Buddhist remained alive in the northwestern
provinces like Gandhar, Kamboj and others (…) On seeing Bakhtyar Khiljee march
on Bihar, several Buddhists took their religious books and fled to Tibet and
China. The rest were polluted and taken over into the Muslim fold. (…) Nowhere
can one find evidence to say that some Indian Buddhist army or some Buddhist
organization fought with the Muslim invaders any battle worth the name.”123
The Buddhist establishment at that time consisted exclusively of monasteries,
there was no Buddhist king left in India who could have made a distinctively
Buddhist contribution to the military defence of India.
10.14. Savarkar on Buddhist non-violence
Veer Savarkar particularly disliked the
glorification of non-violence, practised in his own day by Gandhiji, and
attributed retrospectively to the Buddha as well:
"Buddhism has conquests to claim but
they belong to a world far removed from this our matter-of-fact world, where
feet of clay do not stand long and steel could be easily sharpened, and
trishna/thirst is too powerful and real to be quenched by painted streams
that flow perennially in heaven. These must have been the considerations
that must have driven themselves home to the hearts of our patriots and thinkers
when the Huns and Shakas poured like volcanic torrents and burnt all that
thrived. (…) So the leaders of thought and action of our race had to rekindle
their Sacrificial Fire to oppose the sacrilegious one and to re-open the mines
of Vedic fields for steel, to get it sharpened on the altar of Kali, ‘the
Terrible’, so that Mahakal, the ‘spirit of the time’, be appeased. Nor
were their anticipations belied. The success of the renovated Hindu arms
was undisputed and indisputable. Vikramaditya who drove the
foreigners from the Indian soil and Lalitaditya who caught and chastised them in
their very dens from Tartary to Mongolia were but complements of each other.
Valour had accomplished what formulas had failed to do.”124
This is not meant to sound like naked
militarism and glorification of armed struggle, so the cultural fruits of this
martial spirit are also highlighted: "Once more the people rose to the heights
of greatness that shed its lustre on all departments of life. Poetry
and philosophy, art and architecture, agriculture and commerce, thought and
action felt the quickening impulse which consciousness of independence, strength
and victory alone can radiate.”125 This statement
would imply that all these disciplines had been in a state of decay during the
reign of Ashoka and other Buddhist rulers, a claim which we leave entirely to
Sometimes, this attack on Buddhist
non-violence is combined with a bit of polite lip-service to the Buddha: "As
long as the law of evolution that lays down the iron command: ‘immobile forces
are the easy prey of the mobile ones, those with no teeth fall prey to those
with deadly fangs; those without fangs succumb to those with hands, and the
cowards to the brave’ (Manu), is too persistent and dangerously imminent to be
categorically denied by the law of righteousness whose mottos shine brilliantly
and beautifully, but as the stars in the heavens do, so long as the banner of
nationality will refuse to be replaced by that of Universality
and yet, that very national banner hallowed as it is by the worship of gods and
goddesses of our race, would have been the poorer if it could not have counted
the Shakyasimha under its fold.”126 This, then,
represents a fairly common attitude in Hindutva circles: to disparage Buddhism
as a corrupting force through its promotion of non-violence, and at the same
time praise the Buddha as a spiritual giant.
It is nowadays commonly assumed that
the rise of the ideal of non-violence (ahimsâ) in the Indian scale of
values is due to the influence of Buddhism. You find this belief not
merely in vulgarizing history books, but also in Veer Savarkar’s seminal book
Hindutva, as quoted, and other like-minded publications. Yet, the
doctrine of non-violence definitely precedes Buddhism by centuries. It
is in the Mahabharata that we repeatedly find the famous formula: Ahimsa
paramo dharmah, "non-violence is the highest value/norm/duty/religion".127 Then
already, vegetarianism was a central application of the Ahimsa doctrine: the
Mahabharata discusses 18 kings who have banned meat-eating and lists 30 kings
who have refrained from taking meat themselves.128
In that respect, Buddhism was a step backwards from ahimsa, for the Buddhist
monks were allowed to accept meat if it was offered to them.
Centuries before the Buddha, in distant
Afghanistan, the Iranian reformer Zarathushtra already preached non-violence (towards
people, towards the cow, towards Mother Earth), and in this he was quite
possibly only one spokesman of a trend that was catching on in various centres
of Aryan culture.129 The most extreme form of
ahimsa, losing all sense of proportion, was to be found in Jainism, a tradition
which by its own account is much older than the Buddha.
To be sure, the ahimsa motive in this
trend is more complex than we modems might think. It is mixed with a new
concept of purity: vegetarianism not only avoids killing, it also avoids taking
dying substances into your body. Zarathushtra’s prohibition of animal
sacrifice not only avoided killing the animal victim, but also kept the sacred
fire pure from the defilement which a dying victim brings. Ahimsa has a
ritual and even a kind of hygienical aspect apart from its ethical aspect of
compassion with all sentient beings. Certain inside
observers explain both the ethical and the ritual valuation of ahimsa as a
consequence of the spread of yogic practices, which develop people’s
Moving closer to the thought current to
which Buddhism is most closely related, we find various notions of ahimsa in the
Upanishads. One scholar mentions "an important but apposite passage in the
Brihadâranyakopanishad (5:2:1-3), which uses three debased expressions:
dâmyata (have self-control), datta (give), dayadhvam (have
compassion). The foundations for formulating ahimsâ as positive
compassion (dayâ) have been laid here. There are good
reasons for believing that this and other Upanishadic texts pre-date Buddha and
Mahavira, so that the grounds of their insight have already been laid.”131
Chhândogya Upanishad mentions ahimsa in several places, one of them being
a list of virtues to be practised, including asceticism (tapes),
generosity (dânam), uprightness (arjavam) and truth-speaking (satya-vâchanam):
these virtues are said to be as necessary for the sacrifice as the fees given to
the priests. Here, we are already close to the Buddha’s
"five precepts", one of which is ahimsa.132
The notion of ahimsa
has even been traced to the Vedic sacrificers who, all while killing sacrificial
animals, tried to do so with a minimum of suffering for the victim and with a
specious explanation that this particular form of killing was not really
killing.133 Even in the performance of a violent
act, the ideal of non-violence was already present. This
unease about committing violence is already recognizable in the custom among
primitive hunters to appease the spirit of the animal which they are about to
hunt down. At any rate, it has been argued that the Shramanas "seem to
have adopted nonviolence from Brahmanic circles".134
The Buddha, a latecomer on the ahimsa
scene, prescribed non-violence as one of the rules to which his followers should
adhere. But he did not introduce it in secular affairs, the way Mahatma
Gandhi introduced it as a technique of moral and political pressure. He
never said that it was better to get killed than to kill; he simply stayed away
from secular situations where killing took place. It is related several
times that a king on his way to the hunting-ground or the battle-field took the
occasion to meet the Buddha who was staying on his way to the battlefield at
that time, but never did the Buddha admonish him to cancel his programme of
violence, though he did preach against animal sacrifice, i.e.
against violence in the religious sphere. Nor did he prescribe
strict vegetarianism to his monks, because "beggars can’t be choosers" and have
to accept what generous laymen offer them.135
On the other hand, "right livelihood",
one of the elements of the Noble, Eightfold Path, is definitely an injunction
against professions in which the Buddhist rules of conduct are systematically
violated. The permission for monks to accept meat is limited by the
requirement that the animal must not have been slaughtered for the specific
purpose of offering it to the monk. On the whole, we can say that the
Buddha saw non-violence as a condition for his spiritual path, but not as a new
law with which to govern the world; governing the world was a business which he
as a prince had abandoned when he took up the search for Liberation.
Moreover, he applied this principle with moderation, unlike the Jain monks who
took it to absurd lengths (and even the Jains did not expect their kings to live
by the rules of non-violence imposed on the monks). In Buddhist history, we
don’t see non-violence interfere with the normal exercise of power.
Buddhist kings have not felt constrained to non-violence when it came to
repelling invaders, and some have even waged wars of conquest.
Buddhism started as a Kshatriya
religion and in a number of countries it has remained just that. In China,
Buddhist monasteries like Shaolin were famous as centres of martial arts
practice, particularly the “hard” variety (the gentler styles being more
associated with Taoism). Bodhidharma, pioneer of Chan/Zen
Buddhism, belonged to a martial caste from Kerala and is traditionally credited
with bringing the Keralite martial arts to China.136 In
Japan, the Samurai class found in Zen Buddhism the best psychological basis for
a life on the brink of death, a life of total obedience to the master who could
send his men into slaughter and suicide missions at any time.137
Buddhist non-violence remained an optional discipline for spiritual seekers and
seldom interfered with the way of the world.
It is therefore too simplistic, if not
simply untruthful, to say that Buddhism robbed India of its fighting capability
by imposing an ethic of non-violence. Even Jainism with its more extreme
concept of non-violence has been the adopted religion of kings who were as harsh
and aggressive as any. Rulers were left to practise the duty of the ruler,
which could well include the use of force, along with amorous pursuits and other
activities not befitting the monk. In this respect, Buddhism has abided by
the Hindu tradition of separate duties and privileges according to station of
life and status in society.
10.15. Savarkar on Ashoka
Like the Buddha, Ashoka is exempt from
criticism in the official history books. Savarkar correctly observes that
this is an innovation under Western influence: “We know that it could be easily
pressed against this statement that the greatest and even the most powerful
Indian Kings and Emperors known, belong to the Buddhist period. Yes,
but known to whom?-to Europeans and those of us who have unconsciously imbibed
not only their thoughts but even their prejudices.”138
Effectively, before Orientalism and
English education, most Hindus had never heard of Ashoka. He does not
figure in popular stories as do Vikramaditya or Prithviraj Chauhan. It is
the European glorification of Buddhism and the Christian sympathy for his
conversion story (appalled at the slaughter in his own Kalinga war) which
introduced Ashoka into the Hindu consciousness. As usual, Hindutva
spokesmen don’t try to beat the dominant school of thought, but readily join it.
In this case, Savarkar joins the chorus of praise for Ashoka:
“There was a time when every school
history in India opened from the Mohammedan invasion because the average English
writers of that time knew next to nothing of our earlier life. Lately the
general knowledge has extended backwards to the rise of Buddhism and we too are
apt to look upon it as the first and even the most glorious epoch of our
history. The fact is, it is neither. We yield to none in our love,
admiration and respect for the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. They are
all ours. Their glories are ours and ours their failures.
Great was Ashoka, the Devapriya, and greater were the achievements of the
The only amendment to the dominant view
which Savarkar proposes, is to restore the perspective, viz. of similar
non-Buddhist kings in far larger number and of no lesser merit: “But
achievements as great if not greater and things as holy and more politic and
statesmanly had gone before them and indeed enabled them to be what they were. So,
we do not think that the political virility or the manly nobility of our race
began and ended with the Mauryas alone-or was a consequence of their embracing
Buddhism.”140 This is certainly a welcome
corrective to Jawaharlal Nehru’s highly selective and partisan vision of Indian
history, which exalts Ashoka (along with Akbar) beyond all proportion.
In a later work,
Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, Savarkar has sharpened his
criticism of Ashoka. He blames him for causing a degeneration of the
martial qualities of the Indian people, illustrated by their declining capacity
to deal with foreign invaders, from Alexander (327 BC) to Demetreos (ca. 200
“How very strange it is that brave
Indian Kshatriyas, their republics, and soldiers and common populace had all
defeated and repulsed (…) the aggressive Greeks under Alexander and Seleucos and
drove them back, should now be overrun so very easily by the much weaker and
degenerated Bactrian Greeks! Owing to the constant dread of the brave
fighting warriors of India, Alexander and Seleucos could not sleep soundly in
their military camps But these second-rate Bactrian Greek military leaders could
sleep soundly in the royal palace of Ayodhya (…) This Greek invasion took place
within thirty to forty years of Asoka’s adoption of Buddhism. (…) the
reason why these inferior and weaker Greeks should conquer the Indians so very
easily, was (…) that the Indian heroism and the Indian capacity to resist
aggression must have deteriorated to a horrible extent.”141
It seems that Ashoka’s policies of
non-violence have taken on mythical proportions in the minds of both his fans
and his critics. It is unlikely that “heroism” and “the capacity to resist
aggression” in the outlying northwestern provinces could have been affected this
badly by the policy of an emperor in distant Pataliputra. It is not
impossible that new research into this epoch of Indian history may discover a
grain of truth in Savarkar’s sweeping allegation, but this criticism of Ashoka
remains illustrative of Savarkar’s disproportionate focus on martial qualities,
obviously related to his own youthful involvement in the armed fringe of the
Praful Bidwai: “Hindutva’s fallacies and fantasies”, Frontline,
The Telegraph, 7-11-1998, quoted in Praful Bidwai: “Hindutva’s fallacies and
fantasies”, Frontline, 21-11-1998.
Bidwai: “Hindutva’s fallacies and fantasies”, Frontline, 21-11-1998.
Lindtner: “From Brahmanism to Buddhism”, Asian Philosophy, 1999, p.22. It
could be argued that belief in an extra-cosmic Creator is but a clumsy
interpretation of certain instances of Vedic poetry, and not strictly Vedic
(even the neo-Vedic monotheist Swami Dayananda was arguably a pantheist, who
located his one God within the universe). Hindu reformists would probably
say the same of caste pride, which by Dharmakirti’s day seems to have been
established well enough as a cornerstone of Hindu society.
Lindtner: “From Brahmanism to Buddhism”, Asian Philosophy, 1999, p.22.
Tad ekam: “That One”. Sat/asat: being/non-being, e.g. many
Buddhist texts assert that of the Self, one cannot really say that “it is” nor
that “it is not”, an idea which Lindtner (p.26) traces straight to Yajnavalkya’s
dictum neti neti.
Lindtner: “From Brahmanism to Buddhism”, Asian Philosophy, 1999, p.5.
Kalupahana: Buddhist Philosophy, p.44-45. Reference is to S.
Indian Philosophy (Allen & Unwin, London 1962), vol. 1, p.360, and to EJ.
Thomas: “Buddhism in Modern Times”, University of Ceylon Review)
(Colombo), 9 (1951), p. 216.
Kalupahana: Buddhist Philosophy, p.44-45. Kalupahana locates the Buddha’s
uniqueness in the fact that he “personally verified” the law of
karma through his own “clear paranormal clairvoyant vision”. The
occultish terminology does injustice to the Buddha and hurts the Buddhist claims
of rationality, but more importantly, Kalupahana’s assertion implies the
improvable claim that no one had achieved that state of consciousness before
10:44, see e.g. Bhikkhu Pesala: The Debate of King Milinda, p.62.
the formulation of Edwin Arnold: Light of Asia.
high-brow debates between the two are presented in N.N Bhattacharyya:
Buddhism in the History of Indian Ideas; Chitrarekha V. Kher: Buddhism as
Presented by the Brahmanical Systems; and V. Subramaniam, ed.:
is heard regularly; one who has gone in print with it is BHU Prof. Kedar Nath
Mishra, interviewed by John Feys: “Christians? Not an Issue”, Studia
Missionalia 1993, p. 290.
broadcast to the nation, 26-3-1964, reproduced in Mainstream, 24-5-1986.
Ashoka really was a Buddhist is still a matter of dispute, quite comparable to
the question whether the pro-Christian Roman Emperor Constantine really
converted to Christianity. In both cases, the claim is known only through
sources belonging to the religion which benefited. His references to
“Dharma” may have a broader meaning than just Buddhism, and his reverence for
things Buddhist may simply have been part of the larger Hindu attitude, like
that of the Shaiva king Harsha who looked well after the Buddhist site Bodh
B.K. Baranjia: “Emperor Ashoka rides again”, Sunday Observer, 18 March
1990. Nehru had borrowed the glorification of Ashoka as the greatest ruler
in history from H.G. Wells’ book An Outline of History, written just
after World War 1, when pacifist sentiment was at its strongest and Ashoka’s
reputed renunciation of violence after the Kalinga war counted as an example for
all rulers to emulate. It goes without saying that Nehru was 100% ignorant
of primary sources on Buddhism and Ashoka.
Ahir: India’s Debt to Buddhism, p.40. Note that no modern Buddhist ever
writes about “Buddhism’s debt to India”,-their whole line of Buddhism’s absolute
originality militates against admitting it. Kanishka was a Kushana, one of
the semi-nomadic Central-Asian peoples collectively known
pars pro toto as Scythians or Shakas, hence “Shaka Era”. If Nehru
had known anything about Buddhism, particularly its other-worldliness, he would
have dropped it like Hinduism which stank in nostrils because it had been
presented as superstition and caste oppression by Islamic and Christian
missionaries and some leading Western thinkers of his days.
the mildest of examples, Thomas Cleary (Buddhist Yoga, p.vii) introduces
“the subtle metaphysics and refined methods of spiritual development
characteristic of Buddhist Yoga” by contrasting them with “the elaborate
psycho-physical exercise routines of Hindu Yoga”. That could have been
worse, but still, Dr. Cleary, how about acknowledging “the subtle metaphysics
and refined methods of spiritual development” like Samkhya and Patanjala Yoga
extant in Hindu Yoga too?
history of Ladakh’s relation with the state of Kashmir, including the 1947
request for a partition of Kashmir to avoid passing under Muslim dominance, is
given in P. Stobdan: “Overlooking Ladakhi aspirations”, Indian Express,
youth to join BJP”, Organiser, 12-2-1995.
Tsering and Tsewang Nurboo, in: “Ladakh visited”, Pioneer, 4/12/1995.
Ambedkar, p-334, with reference to B.R. Ambedkar: Pakistan or the
Partition of India, reprinted as vol.8 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar:
Writings and Speeches.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.3, p.267 (in the Chapter: “The
triumph of Brahminism: regicide or the birth of counter-revolution”). To
this sweeping statement, he adds: “So neglected is this truth that no one will
be found to give it his ready acceptance.” In fact, this non-acceptance need not
be a sign of neglect.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.3, p.229 (in the Chapter “The
decline and fall of Buddhism”).
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.3, p.229-230.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.3, p.232.
Bidwai: “Hindutva’s fallacies and fantasies”, Frontline, 21-112001.
While accusing L.K. Advani of history falsification, Bidwai himself does just
that, and restates long-discredited myths such as the arrival of Christianity
with Saint Thomas, all while denying solid facts such as the Christian
missionary intention to convert (restated unambiguously by the Pope himself in
Delhi 1999). In the West, secularism implies pinpricking religious fraud
and arrogance, but in India, secularists are the most eloquent defenders of myth
Samâj: “Society of the masses/majority”. Bahujan is used by casteist
parties as a term for all non-“upper” castes, i.e. Scheduled Castes and Tribes
plus Other Backward Castes
Ambedkarite publication summarizing Ambedkar’s case against Islam is Surendra
Ajnat: Ambedkar on Islam (1986), published in an earlier version as “Why
did Dr. Ambedkar not embrace Islam?”, Outcry (organ of the Ambedkar
mission, Canada), April 1984. It is a Buddhist reply to musings in Dalit
circles that Ambedkar’s choice in favour of Buddhism was a mistake because Dalit
mass conversion to Islam would have frightened the Hindus more.
Buddhist epistemology, see Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.512-520.
Light of Truth, p.516-517.
be compared to the pre-Socratic idea of reducing all different substances to jut
one of them, e.g. “everything is water”, meaning that air or fire are somehow
watery at bottom,
affirmation that bliss is the fundamental experience of the cosmos is the
central message of the Taittirîya Upanishad, esp. 2:7-8. Bliss is
the most fundamental layer in the Upanishadic view of personality as
five-layered (body tissue, vital energies, mind, higher intelligence, and
“bliss”), the most intimate layer around the impersonal Self.
‘policy’, is the central value taught in the fable collection Panchatantra,
conceived as a manual to teach statecraft to princes.
Eliade: Yoga, p. 37; enstasis is a translation of samâdhî.
Bharati: The Light at the Center, p. 128.
decribed by the British convert Sangharakshita: “Religio-nationalism in Sri
Lanka”, Alternative Traditions, p.69 ff.
met Arya Samaj president Vandematharam Ramachandra Rao, he was in his eighties
but looked about fifty; he attributed his splendid condition to the daily
practice of yoga.
Nardev Vedalankar: Basic Teachings of Hinduism, p.43.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.35-37.
Payne: The Tantric Ritual of Japan. Feeding the Gods: the Shingon Fire
Kedar Nath Mishra, my philosophy professor at BHU, for pointing out how the
distinctive features of Hindu ethics and social philosophy can be deduced from
the central value of responsibility, which sets Hinduism (along with
Confucianism) apart from Jainism and Theravada Buddhism.
Woodroffe (originally under pseudonym Arthur Avalon): Shakti and Shakta,
Kosambi: Ancient India, p. 179.
= “propaganda”, viz. of pure Islam among nominal Muslims to eliminate their
lingering Pagan customs.
delivered in Colombo in 1927, quoted by Gurusevak Upadhyaya: Buddhism and
Hinduism, p. iii.
Indian Philosophy, vol.2, p.469.
Rhys-Davids: Buddhism, p.116-117, quoted in D. Keer: Ambedkar,
Heinz Bechert, ed.: When Did the Buddha Live? The Controversy on the
Dating of the Historical Buddha, and Sriram Sathe: Dates of the Buddha.
Gurusevak Upadhyaya: Buddhism and Hinduism, Foreword, dated 8 Nov. 1956.
in Organiser, 22-11-1992.
McKean: Divine Enterprise, p. 104. She comments: “Whatever his
political motivation, the Dalai Lama’s appearance on this platform supports the
VHP’s assertions concerning its embrace of Jain, Sikh and Buddhist groups.”
Jnana Jagat: "Contribution of Buddhism to Indian Culture", 5th European Hindu
Conference (conference souvenir volume), p. 57.
Nivedita: The Master as I Saw Him, p. 210-211.
Nivedita: The Master, p. 215. Sannyâsa: vow of renunciation.
quoted by Sister Nivedita: The Master as I Saw Him, p. 21 0.
observation was suggested to me by Prof. Kedar Nath Mishra of the Philosophy
Department at BHU.
Mrs. Yamini Liu for pointing this out to me. See also Swami Dayananda
Saraswati (of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Coimbatore, no relation with the founder of
the Arya Samaj): The Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta.
how the effect of yoga was described by an American Jesuit acquaintance,
according to Ram Swarup: Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, p.45. Ram
Swarup was describing what the Jesuit had said to Sita Ram Goel when he took the
latter for a retreat. "Christian experience is not a funny feeling given
by Yoga," he said.
point, sages, who have earned spiritual merit by practising a yogic
method (which, if non-Buddhist, would undermine the superiority if not unicity
of the Buddha’s method), must he strictly distinguished from Gods: the inclusion
of Vedic and other Gods in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon is well-attested, see
Louis Frédéric: Les Dieux du Bouddhisme (French: "The Gods of Buddhism").
can be argued further with reference to China: Taoist and folk-religions lore
has absorbed many Buddhist characters and notions, while Chinese Buddhism
(though having implicitly interiorized a certain Taoist attitude, esp. in
Chan/Zen Buddhism) is much less hospitable to recognizably non-Buddhist inputs.
in Amiya P. Sen: Hindu Revivalism in Bengal, p.333-335.
Lahore Address (1897), p.33. The part about Advaita being linked with
immorality seems to be referring to the Christian missionary polemic which
derives morality from belief in a personal God Who rewards and punishes, and
which equates non-dualism (from modern materialism to Upanishadic monism:
Aham brahmâsmi, "I am Brahma") with hubris and the refusal to submit to
"God-given" rules of morality. The equation between belief in God and
subjection to standards of morality was also made explicitly in 19th-century
anti-Christian polemic in Europe, e.g. vulgarly in the motto "ni Dieu ni
maître" (French: "neither God nor master"), or in Friedrich Nietzsche’s
deriving the demise of morality from the "death of God".
Lahore Address, p.33. Kumbhakâra = "potter”; ghata=“pot".
Lahore Address, p.34.
in Colombo quoted in Gurusevak Upadhyaya: Buddhism and Hinduism, p.iii.
Gandhi had not studied Buddhism from its primary sources. He had a strong
tendency to project his own beliefs on other faiths.
19th century, Westerners who contrasted Buddhism positively with polytheist
Hinduism tried to force Buddhism into the mould of monotheism, a tendency
strongly and rightly criticized by T.W. Rhys-Davids: Buddhist Suttas
(vol. 11 of F. Max Müller, ed.: Sacred Books of the East), p. 164.
radical example: in The Bugbear of Literacy (first published two years
after his death, in 1949), A.K. Coomaraswamy questions the supreme importance
which Western educationists attach to literacy.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, p. 2 20.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p. 198.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p. 198.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p. 199-200. Mânas = "mind",
ahamkâra ="ego", vijńâna = "highest intelligence".
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.200.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.205-206. The relevant passage of the
Tevijja-Sutta can be found in T.W. Rhys-Davids: Buddhist Suttas, p.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.206.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.206-207.
Bharati: Light at the Center, p. 179.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.221.
at least the generally accepted view: Buddhism was initially aniconic, then used
non-anthropomorphic icons (the wheel, the Buddha’s feet), and only started
depicting the person of the Buddha when in contact with the Bactrian Indo-Greeks
(3rd century BC), hence the borrowing. Others argue that Buddhism did use
Buddha statues since its very beginning, as the evidence of various types "casts
doubt on the practice of deliberate avoidance of Buddha images", according to
art history Professor Susan L. Huntington: "Early Buddhist art and the theory of
aniconism", Art Journal, winter 1990, p.401; this does not exclude
borrowing of specific iconographic conventions.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.219. Emphasis mine.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.208. Nibbâna (Pali) = nirvâna.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.208.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.208-209. Mâyâ is the magic force by which the
Gods create the world, or, in Shankara’s view, the illusion of the world.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.208-209. The translation "Eternal Male" for
Purusha is rejected by some Hindus as yet another Western (perhaps even
Freudian) imposition. As a Vedic term, Purusha means both "person"
or "human being" and "male person", eventhough in modern Hindi usage it does
mean specifically the male; the confusion between "male" and "human" is
admittedly widespread, vide French homme or English
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.209-210.
in E.B. Cowell, ed.; Buddhist Mahayan Texts p. 153.
7:9. Taking a lead from Christian Lindtner’s thesis (briefly referred to
in his "From Brahmanism to Buddhism", Asian Philosophy, 1999, p.37) that
many of Jesus’ sayings can be traced to still-extant Buddhist sources, we may
speculate that the Christian introduction of an ideal of celibacy in the Jewish
and Hellenistic world was another borrowing from Buddhism.
Lahiri: Chinese Monks in India, p. 55.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.211.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p. 211.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.211-212, with reference to Oldenberg: Buddha,
English translation, 2nd ed. (1904), p.119. Coomaraswamy notes, however, that
the Anguttara Nikaya (iii:451) mentions twenty-one lay Arhats, and that
Gautama’s father Suddhodana also counts as one.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.212. The date of the Gita is uncertain, but the
dominant scholarly opinion puts its final version at several centuries after the
Shastri: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, p.33, quoting Coomaraswamy: Myths of
the Hindus and the Buddhists, p.10.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.213.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha, p.213.
Tukol: Compendium of Jainism, p.10-20
Aurobindo: India’s Rebirth, p.88.
Aurobindo: Foundations of Indian Culture, p.71.
Sundar Ramaswamy in Irene Schleicher, ed.: Vedic Heritage Teaching Program,
Aurobindo: India’s Rebirth, p.88.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.18.
well-established that Buddhist monasteries did acquire such a reputation, both
in India and abroad, see John Stevens: Lust for Enlightenment: Buddhism and
Sex. Thus, the caption under a sexually explicit Japanese painting
(opp. p.93) reads: "Buddhist monks and a nun misbehaving themselves.
In the Far East, Buddhist monks and nuns had a perhaps not undeserved reputation
for lascivious behaviour."
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.18.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.19. Shakya Sinha: "lion of the Shakya tribe", i.e.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.19.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.28.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.25.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.25-26. The ancient source quoted for this story is
the Bhavishya Purâna, Pratisarga Parva.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p.133-134. Savarkar wrote this book in
Marathi: Bhâratiya itihâsâtîla sahâ sonerî pâne, it was translated into
English by S.T. Godbole.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p. 134.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p. 136. Vihâra = Buddhist monastery.
those by C.V. Vaidya, S.N. Dhar, A.L. Srivastava, Henry M. Elliot, M. Titus, and
the original testimonies, the Chach-Nâmah and Al Baladhuri’s
Kitâb Futűh-ul-Baldân, both in English translation in H.M. Eliot & John
Dowson: History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, vol.1.
in Elliot & Dowson: History of India, vol.1, p.121.
in Elliot & Dowson: History of India, vol.1, p.120.
least that is how Elliot & Dowson understood it: History of India, vol.1,
in Elliot & Dowson: History of India as Told by Its Own Historians,
Majumdar, H.C. Raychoudhary, Kalikinkar Datta: An Advanced History of India,
in Chach-Nâmah, in Elliot & Dowson: History of India, vol.1,p.182.
Roy: Historical Role of Islam, p.81.
with Romila Thapar by Marc Colpaert in Wereldwijd, March 1986.
There is no information about this "dialogue" in Romila Thapar: A History of
India, vol.1, which covers the period when these religions encountered each
other. On the contrary: "Buddhism and Islam, both being institutionalized,
proselytizing religions, attracted the same potential following. This led
to a strong antagonism between the two and the attacks on the monasteries
resulted in an exodus of Buddhists from eastern India to south-cast Asia." (p.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p.143.
Savarkar: Six glorious Epochs, p.136.
Elliot & Dowson: History of India, vol.1, p.158; emphasis added.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p. 143.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.20-22.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.22.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.38.
11:13, Anushasanaparva 115:1, 115:25, 116:38, Ashwamedhaparva 43:21. The
subject-matter of the Mahabharata precedes the Buddha by centuries, but its
final editing took place only centuries after the Buddha; as material kept on
being added, it is admittedly difficult to date the historical information given
in the epic, even to merely divide it in "pre-Buddhist" and "post-Buddhist".
115:59-67. In that context, Vyasa (or whoever wrote the epic) also claims
that meat-caters had introduced animal sacrifice into the Vedic
yajńa, so that this practice was not the original tradition but a
degenerative trend. This may well be an ancient case of back-projection of
contemporary values onto ancestral tradition.
is good, Zoroaster thought. (…) Already, with Zoroaster, the outline of an
ecological ethic was being sketched", according to Cyrus R. Pangborn (Zoroastrianism,
p.114-115), who also notes among Zoroastrian duties "nurture of plants [and]
animals", "social peace" and "moderation" (ibid.). I consider the theory
that Zarathushtra lived in the 6th century BC (by common chronology roughly
contemporaneously with the Buddha, in Karl Jaspers’ mythical Achsenzeit or Axial
Age), as sufficiently disproves, see e.g. Pangborn: op.cit., p.4.
the late Ekkirala Krishnamacharya from Visakhapatnam, of the Theosophy-related
World Teacher Trust, explained it this way in a lecture in Mechelen (Belgium) in
G. Arapura: "Ahimsa in Basic Hindu Scriptures", Journal of Dharma,
1991/3, p.197-210, spec. p.199-200.
Upanishad 3:17:4, 8:15:1. The five precepts (to which you are still
expected to commit yourself when you take a Buddhist meditation course) are:
truthfulness, non-violence, non-stealing, chastity, non-intoxication.
in detail in Herman W. Tull: "The killing that is not killing: men, cattle and
the origins of non-violence (ahimsâ) in the Vedic sacrifice",
Indo-Iranian Journal 39 (1996), p.223-244, building largely on
Hanns-Peter Schmidt: "The origin of Ahimsâ”, in Mélanges d’Indianisme ŕ la
Mésmoire de Louis Renou (Paris 1968).
W. Tull: "The killing that is not killing", Indo-Iranian Journal 39
had the occasion to notice at the Tibetan Institute (deemed university) in
Sarnath, Tibetan monks living in India, where (unlike in Tibet) vegetarian
alternatives to meat are available in plenty, habitually eat meat.
Red Pine, tra.: The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, introduction.
e.g. Taisen Deshimaru: The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.20.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.20.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p.20.
Savarkar: Six Glorious Epochs, p.68-69.
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