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Post Info TOPIC: Buddha was every inch a Hindu – Koenraad Elst


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Buddha was every inch a Hindu – Koenraad Elst
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Buddha was every inch a Hindu – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst“Both Nehru and Ambedkar, as well as their followers, believed by implication that at some point in his life, the Hindu-born renunciate Buddha had broken away from Hinduism and adopted a new religion, Buddhism. This notion is now omnipresent, and through school textbooks, most Indians have lapped this up and don’t know any better. However, numerous though they are, none of the believers in this story have ever told us at what moment in his life the Buddha broke way from Hinduism. When did he revolt against it? Very many Indians repeat the Nehruvian account, but so far, never has any of them been able to pinpoint an event in the Buddha’s life which constituted a break with Hinduism.” – Dr. Koenraad Elst

Gautama BuddhaWhen did the Buddha break away from Hinduism?

Orientalists had started treating Buddhism as a separate religion because they discovered it outside India, without any conspicuous link with India, where Buddhism was not in evidence. At first, they didn’t even know that the Buddha had been an Indian. It had at any rate gone through centuries of development unrelated to anything happening in India at the same time. Therefore, it is understandable that Buddhism was already the object of a separate discipline even before any connection with Hinduism could be made.

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarBuddhism in modern India

In India, all kinds of invention, somewhat logically connected to this status of separate religion, were then added. Especially the Ambedkarite movement, springing from the conversion of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1956, was very driven in retro-actively producing an anti-Hindu programme for the Buddha. Conversion itself, not just the embracing of a new tradition (which any Hindu is free to do, all while staying a Hindu) but the renouncing of one’s previous religion, as the Hindu-born politician Ambedkar did, is a typically Christian concept. The model event was the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis, possibly in 496, who “burned what he had worshipped and worshipped what he had burnt”. (Let it pass for now that the Christian chroniclers slandered their victims by positing a false symmetry: the Heathens hadn’t been in the business of destroying Christian symbols.) So, in his understanding of the history of Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Ambedkar was less than reliable, in spite of his sterling contributions regarding the history of Islam and some parts of the history of caste. But where he was a bit right and a bit mistaken, his later followers have gone all the way and made nothing but a gross caricature of history, and especially about the place of Buddhism in Hindu history.

The Ambedkarite world view has ultimately only radicalized the moderately anti-Hindu version of the reigning Nehruvians. Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Buddhism was turned into the unofficial state religion of India, adopting the “lion pillar” of the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka as state symbol and putting the 24-spoked cakravarti wheel in the national flag. Essentially, Nehru’s knowledge of Indian history was limited to two spiritual figures, viz. the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, and three political leaders: Ashoka, Akbar and himself. The concept of cakravarti (“wheel-turner”, universal ruler) was in fact much older than Ashoka, and the 24-spoked wheel can also be read in other senses, e.g. the Sankhya philosophy’s world view  with the central Purusha/Subject and the 24 elements of Prakrti/Nature. The anglicized Nehru, “India’s last Viceroy”, prided himself on his illiteracy in Hindu culture, so he didn’t know any of this, but was satisfied that these symbols could glorify Ashoka and belittle Hinduism, deemed a separate religion from which Ashoka had broken away by accepting Buddhism. More broadly, he thought that everything of value in India was a gift of Buddhism (and Islam) to the undeserving Hindus. Thus, the fabled Hindu tolerance was according to him a value borrowed from Buddhism. In reality, the Buddha had been a beneficiary of an already established Hindu tradition of pluralism. In a Muslim country, he would never have preached his doctrine in peace and comfort for 45 years, but in Hindu society, this was a matter of course. There were some attempts on his life, but they emanated not from “Hindus” but from jealous disciples within his own monastic order.

So, both Nehru and Ambedkar, as well as their followers, believed by implication that at some point in his life, the Hindu-born renunciate Buddha had broken away from Hinduism and adopted a new religion, Buddhism. This notion is now omnipresent, and through school textbooks, most Indians have lapped this up and don’t know any better. However, numerous though they are, none of the believers in this story have ever told us at what moment in his life the Buddha broke way from Hinduism. When did he revolt against it? Very many Indians repeat the Nehruvian account, but so far, never has any of them been able to pinpoint an event in the Buddha’s life which constituted a break with Hinduism.

Vinayak Damodar SavarkarThe term “Hinduism”

Their first line of defence, when put on the spot, is sure to be: “Actually, Hinduism did not yet exist at the time.” So, their position really is: Hinduism did not exist yet, but somehow the Buddha broke away from it. Yeah, the secular position is that he was a miracle-worker.

Let us correct that: the word “Hinduism” did not exist yet. When Darius of the Achaemenid Persians, a near-contemporary of the Buddha, used the word “Hindu”, it was purely in a geographical sense: anyone from inside or beyond the Indus region. When the medieval Muslim invaders brought the term into India, they used it to mean: any Indian except for the Indian Muslims, Christians or Jews. It did not have a specific doctrinal content except “non-Abrahamic”, a negative definition. It meant every Indian Pagan, including the Brahmins, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, other ascetics, low-castes, intermediate castes, tribals, and by implication also the as yet unborn LingayatsSikhsHare KrishnasArya SamajisRamakrishnaites, secularists and others who nowadays reject the label “Hindu”. This definition was essentially also adopted by V.D. Savarkar in his book Hindutva (1923) and by the Hindu Marriage Act (1955). By this historical definition, which also has the advantages of primacy and of not being thought up by the wily Brahmins, the Buddha and all his Indian followers are unquestionably Hindus. In that sense, Savarkar was right when he called Ambedkar’s taking refuge in Buddhism “a sure jump into the Hindu fold”.

But the word “Hindu” is a favourite object of manipulation. Thus, secularists say that all kinds of groups (Dravidians, low-castes, Sikhs etc.) are “not Hindu”, yet when Hindus complain of the self-righteousness and aggression of the minorities, secularists laugh at this concern: “How can the Hindus feel threatened? They are more than 80%!” The missionaries call the tribals “not Hindus”, but when the tribals riot against the Christians who have murdered their Swami, we read about “Hindu rioters”. In the Buddha’s case, “Hindu” is often narrowed down to “Vedic” when convenient, then restored to its wider meaning when expedient.

One meaning which the word “Hindu” definitely does not have, and did not have when it was introduced, is “Vedic”. Shankara holds it against Patanjali and the Sankhya school (just like the Buddha) that they don’t bother to cite the Vedas, yet they have a place in every history of Hindu thought. Hinduism includes a lot of elements which have only a thin Vedic veneer, and numerous ones which are not Vedic at all. Scholars say that it consists of a “Great Tradition” and many “Little Traditions”, local cults allowed to subsist under the aegis of the prestigious Vedic line. However, if we want to classify the Buddha in these terms, he should rather be included in the Great Tradition.  

Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha was a Kshatriya, a scion of the Solar or Ikshvaku dynasty, a descendant of Manu, a self-described reincarnation of Rama, the son of the Raja (president-for-life) of the Shakya tribe, a member of its Senate, and belonging to the Gautama gotra (roughly “clan”). Though monks are often known by their monastic name, Buddhists prefer to name the Buddha after his descent group, viz. the Shakyamuni, “renunciate of the Shakya tribe”. This tribe was as Hindu as could be, consisting according to its own belief of the progeny of the eldest children of patriarch Manu, who were repudiated at the insistence of his later, younger wife. The Buddha is not known to have rejected this name, not even at the end of his life when the Shakyas had earned the wrath of king Vidudabha of Kosala and were massacred. The doctrine that he was one in a line of incarnations which also included Rama is not a deceitful Brahmin Puranic invention but was launched by the Buddha himself, who claimed Rama as an earlier incarnation of his. The numerous scholars who like to explain every Hindu idea or custom as “borrowed from Buddhism” could well counter Ambedkar’s rejection of this “Hindu” doctrine by pointing out very aptly that it was “borrowed from Buddhism”.

Devi Saraswati blesses Rishi YagnavalkyaCareer

At 29, he renounced society, but not Hinduism. Indeed, it is a typical thing among Hindus to exit from society, laying off your caste marks including your civil name. The Rigveda already describes the munis as having matted hair and going about sky-clad: such are what we now know as Naga Sadhus. Asceticism was a recognized practice in Vedic society long before the Buddha. Yajnavalkya, the Upanishadic originator of the notion of Self, renounced life in society after a successful career as court priest and an equally happy family life with two wives. By leaving his family and renouncing his future in politics, the Buddha followed an existing tradition within Hindu society. He didn’t practice Vedic rituals anymore, which is normal for a Vedic renunciate (though Zen Buddhists still recite the Heart Sutra in the Vedic fashion, ending with “sowaka”, i.e. svaha). He was a late follower of a movement very much in evidence in the Upanishads, viz. of spurning rituals (karmakanda) in favour of knowledge (jnanakanda). After he had done the Hindu thing by going to the forest, he tried several methods, including the techniques he learned from two masters and which did not fully satisfy him, — but nonetheless enough to include them in his own and the Buddhist curriculum. Among other techniques, he practised anapanasati, “attention to the breathing process”, the archetypal yoga practice popular in practically all yoga schools till today. For a while he also practised an extreme form of asceticism, still existing in the Hindu sect of Jainism. He exercised his Hindu freedom to join a sect devoted to certain techniques, and later the freedom to leave it, remaining a Hindu at every stage.

He then added a technique of his own, or at least that is what the Buddhist sources tell us, for in the paucity of reliable information, we don’t know for sure that he hadn’t learned the Vipassana (“mindfulness”) technique elsewhere. Unless evidence of the contrary comes to the surface, we assume that he invented this technique all by himself, as a Hindu is free to do. He then achieved bodhi, the “awakening”. By his own admission, he was by no means the first to do so. Instead, he had only walked the same path of other awakened beings before him.

At the bidding of the Vedic gods Brahma and Indra, he left his self-contained state of Awakening and started teaching his way to others. When he “set in motion the wheel of the Law” (dharma-cakra-pravartana, Chinese falun gong), he gave no indication whatsoever of breaking with an existing system. On the contrary, by his use of existing Vedic and Upanishadic terminology (Arya, “Vedically civilized”, Dharma), he confirmed his Vedic roots and implied that his system was a restoration of the Vedic ideal which had become degenerate. He taught his techniques and his analysis of the human condition to his disciples, promising them to achieve the same awakening if they practised these diligently.  

Buddha & BhikkusCaste

On caste, we find him is full cooperation with existing caste society. Being an elitist, he mainly recruited among the upper castes, with over 40% Brahmins. These would later furnish all the great philosophers who made Buddhism synonymous with conceptual sophistication. Conversely, the Buddhist universities trained well-known non-Buddhist scientists such as the astronomer Aryabhata. Lest the impression be created that universities are a gift of Buddhism to India, it may be pointed out that the Buddha’s friends Bandhula and Prasenadi (and, according to a speculation, maybe the young Siddhartha himself) had studied at the university of Takshashila, clearly established before there were any Buddhists around to do so. Instead, the Buddhists greatly developed an institution which they had inherited from Hindu society.

The kings and magnates of the eastern Ganga plain treated the Buddha as one of their own (because that is what he was) and gladly patronized his fast-growing monastic order, commanding their servants and subjects to build a network of monasteries for it. He predicted the coming of a future awakened leader like himself, the Maitreya (“the one practising friendship/charity”), and specified that he would be born in a Brahmin family. When king Prasenadi discovered that his wife was not a Shakya princess but the daughter of the Shakya ruler by a maid-servant, he repudiated her and their son; but his friend the Buddha made him take them back.

Did he achieve this by saying that birth is unimportant, that “caste is bad” or that “caste doesn’t matter”, as the Ambedkarites claim? No, he reminded the king of the old view (then apparently in the process of being replaced with a stricter view) that caste was passed on exclusively in the paternal line. Among hybrids of horses and donkeys, the progeny of a horse stallion and a donkey mare whinnies, like its father, while the progeny of a donkey stallion and a horse mare brays, also like its father. So, in the oldest Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala is accepted by his Brahmins-only teacher because his father is deduced to be a Brahmin, regardless of his mother being a maid-servant. And similarly, king Prasenadi should accept his son as a Kshatriya, even though his mother was not a full-blooded Shakya Kshatriya.

When he died, the elites of eight cities made a successful bid for his ashes on the plea: “We are Kshatriyas, he was a Kshatriya, therefore we have a right to his ashes”. After almost half a century, his disciples didn’t mind being seen in public as still observing caste in a context which was par excellence Buddhist. The reason is that the Buddha in his many teachings never had told them to give up caste, e.g. to give their daughters in marriage to men of other castes. This was perfectly logical: as a man with a spiritual message, the Buddha wanted to lose as little time as possible on social matters. If satisfying your own miserable desires is difficult enough, satisfying the desire for an egalitarian society provides an endless distraction from your spiritual practice.

Mahabhodi Temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.The Seven Rules

There never was a separate non-Hindu Buddhist society. Most Hindus worship various gods and teachers, adding and sometimes removing one or more pictures or statues to their house altar. This way, there were some lay worshippers of the Buddha, but they were not a society separate from the worshippers of other gods or awakened masters. This box-type division of society in different sects is another Christian prejudice infused into modern Hindu society by Nehruvian secularism. There were only Hindus, members of Hindu castes, some of whom had a veneration for the Buddha among others.   

Buddhist buildings in India often follow the designs of Vedic habitat ecology or Vastu Shastra. Buddhist temple conventions follow an established Hindu pattern. Buddhist mantras, also outside India, follow the pattern of Vedic mantras. When Buddhism spread to China and Japan, Buddhist monks took the Vedic gods (e.g. the twelve Adityas) with them and built temples for them. In Japan, every town has a temple for the river-goddess Benzaiten, i.e. “Saraswati Devi”, the goddess Saraswati. She was not introduced there by wily Brahmins, but by Buddhists.

At the fag-end of his long life, the Buddha described the seven principles by which a society does not perish (which Sita Ram Goel has given more body in his historical novel Sapta Shila, in Hindi), and among them are included: respecting and maintaining the existing festivals, pilgrimages and rituals; and revering the holy men. These festivals, etc. were mainly “Vedic”, of course, like the pilgrimage to the Saraswati which Balaram made in the Mahabharata, or the pilgrimage to the Ganga which the elderly Pandava brothers made. Far from being a revolutionary, the Buddha emphatically outed himself as a conservative, both in social and in religious matters. He was not a rebel or a revolutionary, but wanted the existing customs to continue. The Buddha was every inch a Hindu.

» Dr. Koenraad Elst is a Belgian writer and orientalist (without institutional affiliation). He was an editor of the New Right Flemish nationalist journal Teksten: Kommentaren en Studies from 1992 to 1995, focusing on criticism of Islam. He has authored fifteen English language books on topics related to Indian politics and communalism, and is one of the few western writers (along with François Gautier) to actively defend the Hindutva ideology.

Lord Buddha & Dr. Ambedkar

The Twenty-Two Pledges of a Neo-Buddhist

  1. I will not accept Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh as God and will not worship them.
  2. I will not accept Rama and Krishna as God and will not worship them.
  3. I will not accept Gauri, Ganpati, etc. belonging to Hindu canon, as God / Goddesses and will not worship them.
  4. I do not have any faith in divine incarnation.
  5. That the Buddha is the incarnation of Vishnu is a mischievous and false propaganda. I do not believe in it.
  6. I will not perform Shraddha Paksh or Pinda Pradaana (rituals to respect the dead).
  7. I will not act contrary to principles and teachings of Buddhism.
  8. I will not get any function performed in which the Brahmin is officiating as a priest.
  9. I believe that all human beings are equal.
  10. I will strive to establish equality.
  11. I will follow the Eightfold Path prescribed by the Buddha.
  12. I will abide by the Ten Paramitas prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I will show loving kindness to all animals and look after them.
  14. I will not commit theft.
  15. I will not commit adultery.
  16. I will not speak lies.
  17. I will not indulge in liquor drinking.
  18. I will live my life by relating pradnya (knowledge), sheel (purity of action) and karuna (compassion).
  19. I renounce Hinduism which has proved detrimental to progress and prosperity of my predecessors and which has regarded human beings as unequal and despicable; and embrace Buddhism.
  20. I have ascertained that Buddhism is saddamma (pure way of life).
  21. I believe that this (embracing Buddhism) is my new birth.
  22. I take the Pledge that hereafter I shall live / behave as per the teaching of the Buddha.


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Buddha was every inch a Hindu: A reply to those who think Gautama rejected Hinduism – Koenraad Elst

A wall-painting in a Laotian temple depicting the Bodhisattva Gautama---Buddha-to-be---undertaking extreme ascetic practices before his enlightenment. A Hindu god is overseeing his striving and providing some spiritual protection. The five monks in the background are his future five first disciples, after Buddha attains Enlightenment.

Dr. Koenraad ElstIn a past article, we had argued that the Buddha lived and died as a Hindu and that Bauddha Dharma is nothing but one of the sects within Hinduism. Ambedkarite neo-Buddhists and Ambedkar-touting secularists are understandably furious when their ambitions for a separate identity or their schemes for pitting Hindus against Hindus are thwarted. So we received a number of questions meant as rhetorical and as exposing the hollowness of our claim. Six are from a certain Mr. S. Narayanaswamy Iyer, then three more by a Dr. Ranjeet Singh. We reproduce them and then answer them. First Mr. Iyer’s questions:

(1) Which of our four Vedams did Buddha follow in his teachings?

Throughout his text, Mr. Iyer presupposes one of the most common weapons which the enemies of Hinduism use: changing the definition of “Hinduism” to and fro, depending on their own best interest. Thus, the Christian mission lobby swears that “tribals are not Hindus”, except when tribals defend themselves against encroachment by Bengali Muslim settlers or take revenge on the Christians for having murdered Swami Lakshmananda and four of his assistants; then they are suddenly transformed into “Hindus”. Here, as long as convenient, “Hindu” is narrowed down to “Brahmanical”. The Vedic tradition, started among the Paurava tribe established in Haryana, was the most prestigious tradition, first to take the shape of a fixed corpus and learned by heart by a class of people set apart just for this purpose. Tribe after tribe adopted this tradition, all while maintaining its own identity and religious practices. Kings in Bengal and South India imported the Vedic tradition and gave land to settle Brahmin communities just to embellish their dynasties with this prestigious Vedic tradition. But other traditions existed alongside the Vedas, both among speakers of Indo-Aryan and among Dravidians and others. Many non-Vedic elements come to light in a corpus collected in the first millennium CE, the Puranas. Many more were incorporated by the later Bhakti (devotion) poets or have subsisted till today as part of oral culture. All these Pagan practices together, Vedic and non-Vedic, constitute “Hinduism”.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” into India a thousand years ago, they meant by it: an Indian Pagan. In Islamic theology, Christians and Jews count as a special category, and Parsis were often considered as Persian and not Indian Pagans. But all the other Indians were called “Hindus”. Whether tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), atheists, polytheists, Brahmins, non-Brahmins, the Lingayats, even the not-yet-existing Sikhs or Arya Samajis or Ramakrishnaites—all of them were Hindus. It is now a mark of anti-Hindu polemicists that they manipulate the meaning of “Hinduism”, and interpret it more broadly or more narrowly as per their convenience. The first rule of logic is “a = a”, i.e. “a term retains the same meaning throughout the whole reasoning process”. So, against these manipulations, we will stick to one meaning for Hinduism, viz. the historically justified meaning of “all Indian Pagans.”

The Buddha had, according to Buddhist scripture, received a Kshatriyaupbringing. That means his outlook was formed by an at least passive initiation into the Vedas. Never in his long life did he repudiate this. On the contrary, he only developed ideas that were already present in the Vedic tradition. Thus, “liberation” was a goal that the Upanishadic thinkers had invented and that set them apart from practically all others religions (certainly from Christianity and Islam). Meditation or yoga as the technique to achieve this liberation was first mentioned in the Upanishads. Buddhist scripture mentions two meditation teachers with whom the Buddha studied. At most he invented a new meditation technique, Vipassana (now vulgarized as “Mindfulness”), but meditation was an existing tradition into which he was initiated by older masters, and to which he contributed his own addition, like others did.

Reincarnation and karma are at the heart of Buddhism, and is the first thing which outsiders associate with Buddhism; but these concepts were introduced in the Upanishads. Even the repudiation of what the Vedas had become, particularly the repudiation of ritualism, is already found in the Upanishads. And so is the rejection of desire, the extolling of the value of compassion (daya), and the first options for celibate monkhood. When Buddha became a recluse, he followed a path that was already well established, and that is already mentioned in the Rg Veda, though only in the third person (the Vedic poets themselves were elite figures and a different class from the renunciates). The Buddha rightly said that he had not invented anything new, that he was only treading an ancient path formerly trodden by the earlier Buddhas.

Hindu attitudes to the Vedas varied greatly. Some had never heard of them, some had heard the names but knew little of their contents, some thought they were interesting literature but not a guiding light for moral decisions or choosing a way of life, some adopted practices which they called Vedic though they were not, some paid lip-service to the Vedas, and some really practised Vedic rituals or learned the Vedas by heart. Within this continuum, the Buddha took his place, without this ever being a problem for the Brahmins. The only two attempts on his life were committed by a jealous pupil of his own, a leading Buddhist. Still, he died at an advanced age.

(2) Which of our 330 devatas did Buddha worship?

The more usual number is 33, but modern tourists (and therefore also the secularists) have opted for 330 million. This number is based on a mistranslation of “33 big gods” as “33 crore (one crore = ten million) gods”. Anyway, the number can vary, but yes, there are quite a few, let us settle for “a lot”. Like many elite characters and thinkers, the Buddha is reputed to be into other things than worship, as were many people in Vedic society. Sankhya was an atheist school, as was early Vaisheshika, and so were Jainism and the Charvaka school. The Mimansa school, orthodox par excellence, taught that Vedic rituals are effective alright, but the gods invoked during the ritual proceedings are mere cog-wheels in the magical mechanism set in motion by the priests. These gods have no reality in themselves and only exist in so far as they are invested with existence by the human beings who “feed” them. So, atheism was a recognized option among the Hindu elite, of which prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was a prominent member.

All the same, he paid homage to the gods on some occasions. His breakthrough to liberation was followed by an intervention of the supreme gods Brahma and Indra, asking him to share his bliss and teach his way to liberation with others—the very start of Buddhism. Had the Buddha or even the later editors of the Pali Canon been as anti-Vedic as the present neo-Buddhists imagine, they could easily have censored this episode out. At the end of his life, during which he was regularly consulted on political matters because he was after all very at home in statecraft, he was asked by the authorities of a republic to formulate the qualities by which a state prevents decline. In reply, he listed the “seven principles of non-decline”, and among them is an abiding maintenance of ancient religious traditions, including rituals and pilgrimages. The ancient religious practices which he knew, were Vedic or at any rate Hindu ones. Buddhist monks later carried Vedic gods such as Indra, Brahma, Ganapati and Saraswati to foreign lands. Japanese temples are dedicated to Benzai-ten or Saraswati, some house the “twelve Adityas/Ten”. The Shingon sect of Buddhism has a quasi-Vedic ritual called “feeding the gods”, exactly the same conception as in the Vedas. Thai and Indonesian Buddhists have adopted the cult of Rama, whom the Buddha did not really worship but whom he venerated as a great scion of the Ikshvaku lineage to which he himself belonged, and of whom he claimed to be a reincarnation. Neo-Buddhists object to the long-established Puranic teaching that both Rama and the Buddha are incarnations of Vishnu, but the germ of this teaching was planted by the Buddha himself when he claimed that Rama and he were the same person.

(3) Which of our samskarams did Buddha tell his followers to observe and perform?

Samskarams (life rituals) are meant for people living in society, as the Vedic poets did. Renunciates are living outside society, often they perform their own funeral upon “leaving the world”, and after that the samskarams no longer apply to them. The Buddha founded a monastic order, an organized form of renunciation. He did not found a separate non-Hindu religion (the way the first Christians did separate from Judaism), for his lay followers were part of Hindu society. Mostly we are informed of their caste provenance, their families, their marriage situations. Whatever customs or rituals applied in their respective Hindu communities applied to them as well. Jains developed a separate lay community, but even these lay Jains are part of Hindu society. They observe caste, often intermarrying with non-Jains belonging to the same caste but not with Jains belonging to another caste. In Buddhism, even this much separateness did not exist. Buddhism was nothing but a monastic community within Hindu society. So the Buddhist order did not observe Hindu lay society’s life ritual, just as many non-Buddhist renunciates didn’t.

(4) Which of our varnashrama rules, duties and practices did Buddha teach his followers, and which of those do they perform today?

Caste is a part of lay society, not applicable to renunciates. Their names revealing their caste provenance are replaced by monastic names. The questioner also betrays his short-sighted assumptions by projecting the caste relations of recent Hindu society on that of the Buddha’s time. Social order was in flux at the time, with the Buddha e.g. defending caste as defined by the paternal line regardless of the mother’s caste against king Pasenadi disowning his wife and son when he finds out his wife (and therefore, he assumes, his son) isn’t a true Kshatriya. Clearly, both conceptions of caste, viz. in the paternal line vs. full endogamy, were competing at the time, with the Buddha taking the then more conservative position, while later the principle of full caste endogamy (only marriage within one’s own caste) was to prevail. Mind you, the Buddha didn’t use this excellent opportunity of a king’s question on caste matters to fulminate against caste. If he was an anti-caste revolutionary, as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar imagined, he would have seized this opportunity to condemn caste itself, but he didn’t.

Caste was in existence but considerably more relaxed than in later centuries. For this reason, the Buddha’s attitude was more relaxed too, unlike the obsession with caste among the neo-Buddhists. Moreover, he had chosen not to rock the boat in a society that tolerated and maintained his monastic order. In every country where Buddhism found a place, it accepted whatever social arrangement prevailed. In Thailand, it didn’t abolish hereditary monarchy though this is a casteist phenomenon par excellence. In China it didn’t abolish the centralized-bureaucratic empire. On the contrary, when the Buddhist White Lotus sect drove out the Mongol dynasty, its leader, who had started out as a Buddhist monk and was deemed the Maitreya Buddha, established a new imperial dynasty, the Ming, replacing the Mongol ruling class by a Chinese ruling class but leaving the exploitative system in place. In Japan, it didn’t abolish militaristic feudalism; instead, its Zen school became the favourite religion of the Samurai warrior class. So, in India too, it fully accepted the arrangement in place, recruited mainly among the upper castes (most Buddhist philosophers were born Brahmins), and concentrated on its spiritual mission. Buddhism as an anti-caste movement is just a figment of the secularist imagination.

(5) Which Hindu priests initiated Buddha into sannyasa? Any lineage is founded by someone who takes the jump. Later on, it is continued by followers who go through an initiation ceremony; and when succeeding their guru, they go through an investiture ceremony. But the founder just has his moment of enlightenment. Asking about the founder’s initiation is the mediocre mind’s imposing his humdrum norms onto a genius. Thus, Ramana Maharshi was unprepared when suddenly, the insight overcame him; he didn’t receive it from a teacher. Even so, when Siddhartha Gautama went to the forest, he did become a pupil of at least two meditation masters. Probably they put him through some kind of initiation, though we don’t have the details on it.

The questioner means “Vedic” whenever he says “Hindu”, and projects everything we now know as Hindu (decried by the Arya Samaj as “Puranic”) onto the Vedic age. The institutionalization of Sannyasa (renunciation) took on a shape recognizable till today with Shankara in ca. 800 CE. In the Vedic age itself, the current formalities of Sannyasa did not exist. When Yajnavalkya retired to the forest (the occasion on which he pronounced his famous exposition of the Self to his wife Maitreyi), he did not have to take anyone’s permission. Valmiki of Ramayana fame set up his own hermitage, as did seer Vasishtha and his wife Arundhati. So he starts imposing current Hindu norms on the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago. This just illustrates the over-all unhistorical character of the neo-Buddhist rhetoric.

(6) When and where did the initiation take place?

As a youngster, the Buddha must have gone through the thread ceremony making him a full Kshatriya. This was unlike most modern Kshatriyas, who leave it only to the Brahmins to don the thread. Then, he went through the marriage ritual, at least according to the Pali Canon. Some scholars doubt that he had a wife and son and think that later scholars have merely turned a particular nun and a particular monk into his mother and son. Be that as it may, Buddhist scripture makes no effort at all to deny that he had gone through whichever appropriate Hindu rituals were part of the life of anyone belonging to his class and age group.

Later, when he became a renunciate, we are vaguely told that first he searched alone, then he had some companions (though we don’t have all the details about their relations), then he had two successive teachers. To be a renunciate at that time, he did not have to go through specific rituals, but he may have. Then, after he reached his awakening, he became the topmost man in his universe and didn’t recognize any living human being above him and empowered to put him through further ceremonies. His pupils became monks through a ceremony (dharmam saranam gacchami: “I take refuge in the dharma”), just as every other Hindu sect has its own procedure for allowing new members in. The relation of his pupils to him was the same as that of other renunciates to their guru. The institution of guru-dom was, again, exported by Buddhism as far as Japan.

Then we consider Dr. Singh’s additional questions:

1) Which were the rules, duties and practices he himself followed at that particular time, had followed and used to follow before in the youth and pre-Buddhahood mendicant life?

As the Pali Canon explains, he was the son of the president-for-life of the Shakyatribe, a Kshatriya by birth and upbringing. After he became a renunciate, he practiced asceticism and several meditation techniques of which names are given, though we cannot be sure which techniques are meant by these names. At any rate, they are the same names and probably refer to the same techniques which are incorporated in the Buddhist training scheme before the meditation technique that brought the Buddha his awakening.

2) Was his marriage with Yashodhara, his first cousin, in accord with the Vedic rules: as per Shaastra injunctions?

Writing only came to India after Alexander, i.e. well after the Buddha. Though the Shastras contain older material, they were at any rate written centuries later than the Buddha. In the age of the Vedic seers, they were totally non-existent. So, unless Dr. Singh insists that the Vedic seers were un-Hindu, it is not a defining trait of a “Hindu” to follow the Shastras. Like most anti-Hindu polemicists (and, alas, quite a few pro ones too), he displays a most unhistorical conception of what “Hinduism” means, projecting recent notions onto ancient history.

What this question alludes to, is the difference in marriage customs between the Shakya tribe and the Brahmanical injunctions. The Brahmins practise, and their Shastras prescribe, rules of “forbidden degrees of consanguinity”. By contrast, certain other peoples, such as the ancient Dravidians or the contemporaneous Muslims, practice cousin marriage. In this case, we find that the Shakya tribe practiced cousin marriage. The Buddha’s father and mother had been cousins, and his own reported union was also between cousins. The Shakyas were apparently aware that within the ambient society, they stood out with this custom, for they justified it with the story that they had very pure blood, being descendants of patriarch Manu Vaivasvata’s repudiated elder children, who had arrived at sage Kapila’s hermitage in the forest and built a town there, Kapilavastu(where the Buddha grew up). So, to keep Manu’s blood pure, the Shakyas had to marry someone with the same blood.

Some scholars say this is just a story made up to convince their neighbours. The true account, according to them, is that the Shakyas were originally an Iranian tribe that had moved along with the great migration eastwards, from the Saraswati plain into the Ganga plain. The prevalence of cousin marriages was one of the main differences between Iranians and Indians. That contemporaries describe the Buddha as tall and light-skinned seems to conform to the Iranian identity. Nowadays also, after twelve centuries in India, Parsis are still physically distinct. Well, be that as it may, the custom of cousin marriage was at any rate in existence among the Shakyas, whatever its provenance.

What we have here, is a typical case of Brahmanical norms being overruled by caste autonomy, another defining feature of Hindu society. For comparison, consider two rather dramatic examples. Widow self-immolation (sati) is forbidden in Brahmanical writings since the Rg Veda, where a woman lying down on her husband’s funeral pyre is told to rise, to leave this man behind and re-join the living; yet the custom flourished among the Kshatriyas, particularly the Rajputs. Brahmins could lay down norms all they wanted, and ambitious lower castes might well imitate these Brahmin norms; but if a caste decided to defy these norms, there was little that could be done about it. For another example: abortion is scripturally condemned as one of the worst sins. Yet, some castes, such as notoriously the Jats, could kill their unwanted children before or even after birth. If today’s India has a problem with the balance between the sexes because so many girl children are being aborted, this is very much against the Shastras (though secular feminists addressing ignorant Western audiences will still blame “Hinduism”). But caste autonomy means that the caste Panchayat (council) and not the Shastric law is the ultimate arbiter. So, if the Shakyas insisted on maintaining their own non-Brahmanical marriage customs, Hindu society allowed them to do so.

3) How; on what authority and provision of the scriptures, Hindu Shastras, had he entered the fourth ashram and entered sannyasa, a born prince as he was? Was it dharma for him, a born prince? Was it in accord with and as per the teachings and provisions of the scriptures and enjoined for princes, members of the Kshatriya varna? Is it and has it been so prescribed and postulated? If yes; could we know how and where? On what scriptural grounds: what pramanas, words and provision of the scriptures?

Here again, we have a lot of projection of later Hindu scripture onto Hindu society during the Buddha’s life. First off, the notion of a “fourth ashrama” is—and here I break ranks with most Hindus and most Indologists—a confused compromise notion. The Vedic system very sensibly distinguished three stages of life: before, during and after setting up one’s own family, i.e. Brahmacharya/student, Grihastha/householder and Vanaprastha/forest-dweller. The first stage is devoted to learning, the second to founding and administering your family (until your daughters are married off and your first grandson born), the third is devoted to renunciation. This renunciation could take different forms and have differently conceived goals, but at least since Yajnavalkya, it was understood as looking for the Self, working on your liberation. This is not split into two, Sannyasa is not more renounced than the Vanaprastha stage. It is only when ascetic sects introduced renunciation not as a sequel but as an alternative to family life, that Brahmins fulfilled their typical function of integrating new things by extending the ashrama scheme to include Sannyasa. So, what Buddha entered was not a “fourth stage” (he was still in the second stage and had never even entered the third stage), but an alternative to the second stage (family life), viz. renunciation as a full-time identity and lifelong profession. Just as Shankara was to do, and as Hindu monks mostly still do. Being pluralistic, Hindu society recognizes different forms of renunciation, both after family life and instead of family life.

As a Kshatriya, it was not considered the Buddha’s dharma to renounce the world. His father hoped his son would succeed him to the throne and made every effort to keep him from renouncing the world (including his caste vocation). Similarly, Shankara’s mother tried to dissuade and prevent her son from becoming an early renunciate, as he was her only hope of her having grandchildren. Hindu society recognizes the option of monkhood as an alternative to family life, but this doesn’t mean that individual Hindu lives and schemes cannot be adversely affected by this option. Both Siddhartha and Shankara disappointed their families and renounced their caste dharma to become monks.

Conclusion

Neither of the questioners has been able to pinpoint a moment in the Buddha’s life or preaching when he made a break with Hinduism. He inherited most of his ideas from the ambient Hindu tradition, and stands out mostly by the institution he founded, the Buddhist monastic order. His meditation technique may be his own, though with a canon written two centuries after his death and by scribes who were less than impartial, we don’t really know what happened. His intellectual system mostly systematized ideas which were in the air and had already found mention in the Upanishads. Among his monks, Brahmin philosophers gradually refined and perfected his philosophy, ascribing most of their new ideas to the master himself.

When Dr. B.R. Ambedkar “converted” to Buddhism in 1956, he made his co-“converting” followers promise that they would renounce Hinduism and specific Hindu practices. It was the first time in the history of Buddhism that this happened. The Buddha had never renounced, or made his novices renounce, any religion they formerly practiced—in fact, the notion of “a religion” (as opposed to “religion”, a very approximate translation of “dharma”) hardly even existed. Ambedkar’s involved the typically Christian notion of conversion as “burning what you have worshipped, worshipping what you have burned”. The box-type notion of religious belonging, with rejecting one identity in order to be able to accept another, is fundamentally un-Hindu. In other countries too, entering Buddhism did not entail any formal renunciation of DaoismShinto or any other tradition. So, when Ambedkar and his hundreds of thousands of followers (mostly caste-fellows from his own ex-Untouchable Mahar caste) “converted” to Buddhism, most Hindus saw this as just an entry into a particular Hindu sect. As V.D. Savarkar commented, Ambedkar “conversion” was a sure jump into the Hindu fold.

Buddhism was classed as a separate religion from Hinduism because travellers and then scholars had first become aware of it outside India. When separated from its Hindu roots, it did take on a life of its own. Yet in India, it was not more than one of the many Hindu sects, although numerically the most successful one.

Finally, the Buddhist separatist polemic is fundamentally unhistorical in projecting contemporary Hindu traits onto ancient Hindu society. Unfortunately, this also counts for much Hindu activist polemic. Shastric norms are absolutized, when in fact they were changing throughout history. And most importantly, devotional theistic forms of Hinduism, now long predominant, are projected onto ancient Hinduism which had several distinct conceptions of the divine, including atheism. It is common for Hindus to lambaste non-Hindus as “atheists”, as if there were no atheist Hindus. The category “atheists” would naturally include Buddhists, who can there-from deduce a separate non-Hindu identity. This way, narrow-minded Hindus themselves reinforce the unhistorical neo-Buddhist separatism. – Koenraad Elst’s Blog,  26 October 2013

» Dr. Koenraad Elst studied at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he has earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-Europeanism, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He has also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

Ambedkar's twenty-two anti-Hindu vows taken at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, Maharashtra.



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Bodhidharma in Kanyakumari – Buddhism as a branch of Hinduism existed 2000 yrs BP.

 
 
An article that appeared in today’s TOI (reproduced below) quotes from a lecture on how it looks probable that Bodhidharma, who took Buddhism to China could have had his training in remote southern parts of Tamilnadu such as Kanyakumari. The article wonders how there is no trace of Buddhist influence in Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam while some of the Sangam age poets had Buddhist name. The name that is quoted isSaatthan (சாத்தன்) and its mutations, all derived from the name Sastha! In this post I am sharing my views on these issues.
 
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First of all Buddhism was not considered as a separate religion until the beginning of the Common Era. It was one among the 6 Thoughts prevalent within the Hindu fold. All these Thoughts were different expressions of viewing life, cosmos, karma, rebirth and liberation or moksha but not considered as ‘alien’ Thoughts. The 6 Thoughts or religions (அறுவகைச் சமயம்) did not include Jainism but did include Buddhism. A reference to these 6 religions is found in the 1st century CE work Manimegalai.
 
 
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(How Manimegalai is a 1st century CE work? Manimegalai is the twin epic ofSilappadhikaram and the authors of these two epics were contemporaries. The Cheran king Senguttuvan was the elder brother of Ilango adigal who authored Silappadhikaram. This Cheran king was a contemporary of Gautamiputra Satakarni who helped him to cross the Ganges in his Northern expedition and with whom he defeated the Yavanas.Read my earlier article here. Gautamiputra Satakarni lived in the 1st century CE. Therefore I am positioning Silappadhikaram and Manimegalai in the 1st century CE.)
 
 
The names of the 6 religions are mentioned in the Epic of Manimegalai while a preceptor was describing his religion to Manimegalai (the heroine of the epic).
 
They are
Lokayadha,
Bauddha,
Sankhya,
Nyaya,
Vaisheshika and 
Mimamsaka
as expounded by Brihaspathi, Jina, Kapila, Akshapada, GaNaadha and Jaimini respectively.
 
The preceptor continues to tell what unites them together (as the 6 religions of the Hindu fold). It is the methodology that are accepted by all and the still in use (then).
 
Those methodologies are 6 in number and as follows:
(1) Perception (direct & indirect) or prathyaksha
(2) Inference (anumana)
(3) Testimony (shastra / texts)
(4) Analogy or comparison (upamana)
(5) Circumstantial presumption (arthapatti) and
(6) Proof of non-existence (abhava)
 
The verses in Tamil from Manimegalai on these are reproduced below:
 
 "பாங்குறும் லோகாயதமே பௌத்தஞ் 
   சாங்கியம் நையாயிகம் வைசேடிகம் 
    மீமாஞ் சகமாஞ் சமய வாசிரியர் 
    தாம் பிருகற்பதி சினனே கபிலன் 
    அக்கபாதன் கணாதன் சைமினி 
    மெய்ப் பிரத்தியம் அனுமானம் சாத்தம் 
     உவமானம் அருத்தாபத்தி அபாவம் 
     இவையே இப்போது இயன்றுள அளவைகள்" 
 
(Manimegalai 27- 78 to 85)
 
What is crucial in all these 6 methods is the 3rd one on Shastra or Sruti texts. They must have been common for all the 6 groups including Buddhism of that time. It is from the same Sruti texts, Buddhist monks had derived the need for non-violence and living a life of renunciation in pursuit of Buddhi or Jnana.
 
In fact what actually influenced Manimegalai to embrace Buddhist path was the over emphasis on non- violence and against killing. Buddha was known for his objection to animal sacrifices in the yajnas. As recent as the period of 12th century Jayadeva and the 15th century Annamacharya, Buddha was considered as the 9th avatar of Vishnu who came to spread compassion for all beings. (Read my article here.)
 
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Manimegalai has had a turbulent background. Her father Kovalan was executed by the king without any enquiry. This happened even before she was born. She grew up by listening to the gory story of Kannagi's  anger and the death of many innocent lives in the fire that spread due to Kannagi’s anger. To appease Kannagi, the king sacrificed the lives of 1000 goldsmiths. For a little girl, all these are difficult things to cope with. She herself has seen her mother Madhavi become a Buddhist monk!
 
 
Even in the background incident that she became a Buddhist monk, there was a famine in the city of Kanchi. People were dying of hunger. She was asked to go over there to serve them food. She has seen a lot of suffering around her that the insistence on compassion and non-violence preached by the Buddha motivated her to take up Buddhist path. This path was not an alien path, but a different path that aids in realisation of the Athman and in breaking the cycle of rebirth. In that it is as much a Hindu or Sanatana way of life.
 
 
Perhaps the Buddhist way of Realization gave room for the womenfolk too who wanted to graduate to it without going through the Ashrama dharma way. Manimegalai’s mother Madhavi was one inspiration. Another inspiration could have come from an ancestor of Manimegalai. That incident shows how the Buddhist path offered an easy way of skipping the Ashrama ways.  
 
It is about an ancestor of Manimegalai. She had an ancestor known by the name Kovalan (her father’s name) who lived 9 generations before her father. He was a rich trader and a friend of the Cheran King. Once he along with the king happened to listen to a lecture by the (Buddhist) monks and was influenced by their preaching (but the king was not). As a result he gave up all his belongings within a week and took up to meditation. From the description in Manimegalai, it seems that he had attained Nirvana and the place where he died, a Chaitya was erected. Manimegalai’s grandfather had come to worship at the Chaitya located in Vanji, the capital city of Chera land. It was there Manimegalai met her grandfather and came to know about this ancestor.
 
The exact verse is
 
தொழு தவம் புரிந்தோன் சுகதற் கியற்றிய 
    வானோங்கு சிமையத்து வாலொளிச் சயித்தியம் 
     ஈனோர்க்கெல்லாம் இடர் கெட வியன்றது 
     கண்டு தொழுதேத்துங் காதலின் வந்த.." 
 
(Manimegalai - 28- 130 to 133)
 
The present day commentators interpret this as the Chaitya of some Buddhist teacher and that Kovalan (ancestor of Manimegalai) was a follower. But the verse indicates that a chaitya was erected where he died in meditation and that Maasaathuvaan (grandfather of Manimegalai) came to worship him at the Chaitya.
 
If we observe the way of life of these characters in Silappadhikaram and Manimegalai, we can see that there was no conflict of ideologies in living as a Hindu and conducting the wedding in Vedic way (as was done for Kovalan – Kannagi wedding) and embracing renounced life of a Buddhist or dying through meditation. This could happen only if such renunciation was an accepted way of life for the people of Veda dharma. This was almost like how the ancients took to sanyasa or vaanaprastha in the woods to shed the mortal coils. But the Buddhist path offered immediate access to renunciation for women-folks too. (Manimegalai could have been inspired by her mother too who became a Buddhist monk). As long as the core principle did not deviate from ideas of karma, rebirth and Moksha, people did not consider them as alien Thoughts (religions).
 
 
This kind of a background culture indicated by Manimegalai makes no doubts about how Buddhism was present all over India from Harappa to Kanyakumari to Vanji. This also shows that Buddhism at that time was not alien to Hindu Thought.
 
Let readers recall the Harappan image that resembles Bhumi-sparsha Mudra that is the penultimate state of Nirvana.
fig.png
 
The comparable image of Buddha in the same state of Bhumi- sparsha mudra is shown below.
fig.png
 
 
(Read here my article on this.)
 
 
 
Now coming to the next issue raised in the TOI article on why Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam were silent on Buddhist thoughts. The obvious answer is that these two texts had pre-dated all the Buddhas. The earliest Buddha has been recorded in the Asiatic Society chronicles, by taking into account the then existing views from across Asia (read here). According to that the early Buddha appeared 3000 years before present. The two Tamil works (Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam) were olden than that time. In my opinion expressed in various other articles in this blog-spot, the presently available work of Tholkappiyam was written sometime between the 15th to 13thcenturies BCE after the 3rd deluge in the Indian Ocean. Thirukkural was earlier than that, penned 7000 years BP, just before the 1st deluge in the Indian Ocean.
 
 
{Even Manimegalai says that many Buddhas existed before. Siddhartha Gautama was not idolised then – at least in the Tamil lands. When Manimegalai asked ARavaNa adigaL ( அறவண அடிகள்), the teacher of Buddhist path about the way to remove the disease of rebirth, he started by telling that there existed many Buddhas and that what he was going to say was the essence of ideas of all those Buddhas.
 
"இறந்த காலத்து எண்ணில் புத்தர்களுஞ் 
   சிறந்தருள் கூர்ந்து திருவாய் மொழிந்தது" 
 
(Manimegalai 30-14) }
 
Now coming to the above issue, Thirukkural does not obey the rules of Tholkappiyam thereby indicating that it was very much prior to that. One example is the use of (rather non-use of) the letter ‘sa’ or ‘cha’ in the beginning of a word. It is because these letters are in Sanskrit as sa, sha, ja etc. Particularly the letters sha and ja are not in Tamil. When they are adopted from Sanskrit (vada-sol) they are changed as ‘sa’ (e-g: Shanmuga as Sanmugan and Jambu and Sambu in Tamil). This is to say that Sa does not exist in Tamil as the first letter of the word. There are of course exceptions which the Tholkappiyam sutra says as follows:
 
சகரக் கிளவியும் அவற்று ஓரற்றே
   எனும் மூன்று அலங்கடையே.
 
(Tholkappiyam 1-2-29)
 
As per this, if the words end with ‘a’, ‘ai’ and ‘au’ sounds, the letter can begin with sa-garam.(sa, saa, si, see, su,soo etc).
 
The other words starting with sa-garam are not pure Tamil words, as per this sutra.(it means a loan word from Sanskrit)
 
But Thirukkural does have a verse starting with a word that has sa as the first letter but not obeying the above sutra. It is given here:
 
லத்தால் பொருள் செய்து ஏமாக்கல்-பசு மண்-
கலத்துள் நீர் பெய்துஇரீஇயற்று.
 
(Thirukkural verse 660)
 
 Here the first word is “salam” starting with sa. Salam means bad karma. There is no similar (sounding) word in Sanskrit with the same meaning. This makes ‘salam’ an indigenous Tamil word – a word used in Thirukkural but not approved by Tholkappiyam. There are other words of similar nature from Sangam texts such as Malai padu kadam, Pura nanauru and ThirumurugaRRu-p-padai but they are derivatives from Sanskrit. This example is one among many to show that Thirukkural was olden than Tholkappiyam and the Buddhist period.
 
 
The analysis of the word with ‘sa’ beginning, answers the next and last issue of the Buddhist name in Tamil lands. It was Saatthan and Saatthanar.
 
 Earlier in this article, we saw the word “Saattham” in Tamil (சாத்தம்) for Shastra – the Sruti texts in a quote from Manimegalai. So the names Saatthan (சாத்தன்) or Saaththanaar (சாத்தனார்) {Saaththanaar is the name of the poet who authored Manimegalai} are Sanskrit derivatives, perhaps from the word Shastra or Shasta (for Iyyappan – again a derivative from Shastra). The presence of this name among Sangam age poets shows the prevalence of Shasta and not necessarily a Buddhist name.
 
 
Moreover there is another big story of a migration from Indus- Saraswathi regions around the same time of the 3rd deluge in 15th century BCE. A group of stone workers called ‘Aruvalar’ settled down in Kancheepuram which was until then an uninhabited area. These people brought their deity “Saatthan”!
 
 
Recent excavations in Sriperumbudur confirm the migration of stone workers for the first time in Tamil lands. For details read my article Vedic ‘Kurma’ excavated near Sriperumpudur.
 A literary history for this site dates back to 1900 years BP when the Cholan kingKarikalan worshiped at Saatthan temple in Kancheepuram, then known as Kacchi and got a weapon called "Chendu" from that deity. He went to the Himalayas after that and used this weapon to chisel the image of Tiger, the Cholan emblem on the Himalayas.  This weapon that was used for chiseling the mountain rock perhaps signifies the early period when stone cutting and stone-working was happening in Tamil lands. That instrument could in all probability be the “Uli” ( உளி ) the chiseling instrument.
 
 
What is important for this article is that there existed a Saatthan temple in a place dominated by migrant people from the Indus – Saraswathi region. These people only had built the famous ‘KallaNai” (கல்லணை ) across Cauvery. Their deity still exists in Kancheepuram.
 
 


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The following picture of Saatthan in a temple in Kancheepuram was earlier sent by a reader.
 
 
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So it is possible the name Saatthan came to stay in the Tamil society by the worshipers of this deity and the descendants of the migrant people and not necessarily through Buddhism. 
 
The TOI article ends with a note that the history of Kanyakumari must be approached in an impartial manner. I wish the same is extended to the very history of Tamil lands and more than anything else to Hinduism as revealed through Puranas and Ithihasas that contain world history itself!
 
 
A long Post script:-
 
The context in Manimegalai of revealing the 6 religions is as follows:
 
The heroine Manimegalai had a question uppermost in her mind. She wanted to know - What is the way to get rid of the Disease of Rebirths (பிறவிப் பிணி)? She wanted to search the answer by herself and therefore went about to meet the heads of all the Faiths residing in the city of Vanji, the capital city of the Chera land.  This is detailed in Chapter 27 of Manimegalai. This chapter gives valuable inputs on the religious views present in the Tamil lands about 2000 years ago. She met the heads of 10 different sects and listened to their replies to her question. These 10 sects are listed below.
 
 
1. ALavai-vaadhi (அளவைவாதி) – everything in some measurements. The religious head of this Thought identifies Veda Vyasa, Kruthakoti (Bhodayana) and Jaimini as the teachers of this Thought.
 
2. Saiva-vaadhi (சைவவாதி) - Saivism. Shiva as the supreme Lord
 
3. Brahma-vaadhi (பிரம்மவாதி) – Brahma as the supreme Lord
 
4. VaiNava- vaadhi (வைணவவாதி) – Vaishnavism. Here there is a specific mention of Vishnu Purana. The author says ‘the one who had read and understood the Purana of Vishnu explained Vaishnavism to Manimegalai. (“காதல் கொண்டுகடல் வண்ணன் புராணம் ஓதினன்” – Manimegalai 27- 98)
 
This shows that the text of Vishnu Purana had existed before the start of the Common Era. It was not a later day text as claimed by many.
 
5. Veda-vaadhi (வேதவாதி)– Vedas as supreme.
 
6. Aseega-vaadhi (ஆசீகவாதி) – The narrator, the chief of Aseega sect quotes his views from his religious text called “Nava kadhir” (நவ கதிர்) authored by “MaRkali devan” (மற்கலி தேவன்). The precepts sound close to Jainism. This could have been a branch of Jainism.
 
7. Niganda-vaadhi (நிகண்டவாதி) – Jainism. The narrator claims his Lord as Arugan (அருகன்).
 
8. Sankhya-vaadhi (சாங்கியவாதி) – Sankhya philosophy.
 
9. Vasisedika-vaadhi (வைசேடிகவாதி) – Vaiseshika philosophy.
 
10. Bhootha-vaadhi (பூதவாதி) – Charvaka philosophy.
 
In this way, the text of Manimegalai authenticates the existence of 10 different philosophical thoughts on God, rebirth and ways to attain Moksha (Liberation). 
 
The heroine Manimegalai exactly wanted to know what these different Thoughts tell about how to attain Liberation. Having heard from 10 different Heads of Thought, the chapter closes with a line that Manimagalai had thus learned about 5 religions! (“ஐவகைச் சமயமும் அறிந்தனள் ஆங்கென்.” Manimegalai 27 – 269). The 10 Thoughts or precepts  have been shrunk into 5 religions. They have been listed in the above article. The 6th religion is Buddhism.
 
 
************
 
From
 
Tracing Buddhist connect in the south
 
By
 
M.T.Saju
 
Buddhism is said to be India's contribution to the world and monks are believed to have travelled across the country and even to Sri Lanka to spread the religion.
 
It is strange that although a number of Jain monuments have been discovered across Tamil Nadu, no Buddhist structure has been found. In this context, a study conducted by a Buddhist scholar attains significance. It claims that Kanyakumari was once a famous centre of Buddhism.
 
According to Buddhist scholar S PadmanabhanBodhidharma, founder of Mahayana Buddhism (zen), studied Varma Sastra and Thekkan Kalari, a martial art form, which is still popular in Kanyakumari. “The difference between Vadakkan Kalari (of Kerala) and Thekkan Kalari is the fighting method.In the former, any weapon or stick is used but in Thekkan Kalari it is fought with bare hands. Bodhidharma never used weapons,“ he said. The masters of Thekkan Kalari were known as `asans'.“The asans of Kanyakumari have ancient palm leaf records dealing with varmam and adimurai and Bodhidharma is believed to have learned from them,“ he said.
 
Even though there is little archaeological evidence to prove the existence of Buddhism in TN, historians believe Madurai, Kanyakumari and Tiruvelveli were ancient centres of the religion, and its presence in the state can be traced to the 300BC, said Padmanabhan, who was in the city to deliver a lecture on “Bodhidharma in Kanyakumari.“ “Edict no 2 of emperor Ashoka speaks of the places where he sent Buddhist missionaries. It mentions `Tampraparni' and various dynasties of ancient TN namely Chera, Pandya, Satyaputra and Keralaputra. The name Tampraparni denotes Sri Lanka, as the island nation was known as `Taprobane' by Greek historians,“ he said.
 
It is surprising to note there is no mention of Buddhism in the Tirukkural and the earliest grammatical work Tholkappiyam. “Maduraikanchi, a sangam work by Mankudi Maruthanar, describes a Buddhist vihara at Madurai. The Buddhist works in China and Tibet has references to Pothiga, a hill bordering Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli. It is called Pothalagiri, Potala and Potalaka. In Mahayana tradition, Potala is the abode of the Buddhist deity Avalokitha. It is said that Avalokitha with his wife Tara Devi lived in this mountain,“ said Padmanabhan.
 
According to Padmanabhan, there are many Sangam poets whose names are related to Buddhism in some way or the other. “We come across names such as Sattan andSattanar in Tamil epics like Akananuru, Purananuru, Narrinnai and Kurunthogai. Sattan is the Tamilised form of the Sanskrit word Sastha, which is one of the attributes of the Buddha,“ he said.
 
Padmanabhan said only if the history of Kanyakumari could be approached in an impartial manner, the glory days of Buddhism and its contribution to the world could be highlighted better.


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How the Buddha was made out to be anti-Hindu – Koenraad Elst

Buddha

Dr Koenraad ElstFar from being a revolutionary, the Buddha emphatically outed himself as a conservative, both in social and in religious matters. He was not a rebel or a revolutionary, but wanted the existing customs to continue. The Buddha was every inch a Hindu. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Orientalists started treating Buddhism as a separate religion because they discovered it outside India, without any conspicuous link with India, where Buddhism was not in evidence. At first, they didn’t even know that the Buddha had been Indian. It had at any rate gone through centuries of development unrelated to anything happening in India at the same time. Therefore, it is understandable that Buddhism was already the object of a separate discipline even before any connection with Hinduism could be made.

Buddhism in modern India

In India, all kinds of invention, somewhat logically connected to this status of a separate religion, were then added. Especially the Ambedkarite movement, springing from the conversion of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1956, was very driven in retro-actively producing an anti-Hindu programme for the Buddha. Conversion itself, not just the embracing of a new tradition—which any Hindu is free to do, all the while staying a Hindu—but the renouncing of one’s previous religion, as the Hindu-born politician Ambedkar did, is a typically Christian concept.

The model event was the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis, possibly in 496, who “burned what he had worshipped and worshipped what he had burnt”. (Let it pass for now that the Christian chroniclers slandered their victims by positing a false symmetry: the Heathens hadn’t been in the business of destroying Christian symbols.)

So, in his understanding of the history of Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Ambedkar was less than reliable, in spite of his sterling contributions regarding the history of Islam and some parts of the history of caste. But where he was a bit right and a bit mistaken, his later followers have gone all the way and made nothing but a gross caricature of history, and especially about the place of Buddhism in Hindu history.

The Ambedkarite worldview has ultimately only radicalised the moderately anti-Hindu version of the reigning Nehruvians. Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Buddhism was turned into the unofficial state religion of India, adopting the “lion pillar” of the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka as state symbol and putting his 24-spoked dharmacakra (wheel) in the national flag. Essentially, Nehru’s knowledge of Indian history was limited to two spiritual figures, viz. the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, and three political leaders: Ashoka, Akbar and himself.

The concept of cakravarti (“wheel-turner”, universal ruler) was in fact much older than Ashoka, and the 24-spoked wheel can also be read in other senses, e.g. the Sankhya philosophy’s worldview, with the central Purusha/Subject and the 24 elements of Prakrti/Nature. The anglicized Nehru, “India’s last Viceroy”, prided himself on his illiteracy in Hindu culture, so he didn’t know any of this, but was satisfied that these symbols could glorify Ashoka and belittle Hinduism, deemed a separate religion from which Ashoka had broken away by accepting Buddhism.

More broadly, he thought that everything of value in India was a gift of Buddhism (and Islam) to the undeserving Hindus. Thus, the fabled Hindu tolerance was according to him a value borrowed from Buddhism. In reality, the Buddha had been a beneficiary of an already established Hindu tradition of pluralism.

In a Muslim country, he would never have preached his doctrine in peace and comfort for 45 years, but in Hindu society, this was a matter of course. There were some attempts on his life, but they emanated not from “Hindus” but from jealous disciples within his own monastic order.

So, both Nehru and Ambedkar, as well as their followers , believed by implication that at some point in his life, the Hindu-born renunciate Buddha had broken away from Hinduism and adopted a new religion, Buddhism. This notion is now omnipresent, and through school textbooks, most Indians have lapped this up and don’t know any better. However, numerous though they are, none of the believers in this story have ever told us at what moment in his life the Buddha broke way from Hinduism. When did he revolt against it? Very many Indians repeat the Nehruvian account, but so far, never has any of them been able to pinpoint an event in the Buddha’s life which constituted a break with Hinduism.

The term “Hinduism”

Their first line of defence, when put on the spot, is sure to be: “Actually, Hinduism did not yet exist at the time.” So, their position really is: Hinduism did not exist yet, but somehow the Buddha broke away from it. Yeah, the secular position is that he was a miracle-worker!

Let us correct that: the word “Hinduism” did not exist yet. When Darius of the Achaemenid Persians, a near-contemporary of the Buddha, used the word “Hindu”, it was purely in a geographical sense: anyone from inside or beyond the Indus region. When the medieval Muslim invaders brought the term into India, they used it to mean: any Indian except for the Indian Muslims, Christians or Jews. It did not have a specific doctrinal content except “non-Abrahamic”, a negative definition.

It meant every Indian Pagan, including the Brahmins, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, other ascetics, low-castes, intermediate castes, tribals, and by implication also the as yet unborn Lingayats, Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, Arya Samajis, Ramakrishnaites, secularists and others who nowadays reject the label “Hindu”. This definition was essentially also adopted by V.D. Savarkar in his book Hindutva (1923) and by the Hindu Marriage Act (1955). By this historical definition, which also has the advantages of primacy and of not being thought up by the wily Brahmins, the Buddha and all his Indian followers are unquestionably Hindus. In that sense, Savarkar was right when he called Ambedkar’s taking refuge in Buddhism “a sure jump into the Hindu fold”.

But the word “Hindu” is a favourite object of manipulation. Thus, secularists say that all kinds of groups (Dravidians, low-castes, Sikhs, etc.) are “not Hindu”, yet when Hindus complain of the self-righteousness and aggression of the minorities, secularists laugh at this concern: “How can the Hindus feel threatened? They are more than 80%!” The missionaries call the tribals “not Hindus”, but when the tribals riot against the Christians who have murdered their swami, we read about “Hindu rioters”. In the Buddha’s case, “Hindu” is often narrowed down to “Vedic” when convenient, then restored to its wider meaning when expedient.

One meaning which the word “Hindu” definitely does not have, and did not have when it was introduced, is “Vedic”. Shankara holds it against Patanjali and the Sankhya school (just like the Buddha) that they don’t bother to cite the Vedas, yet they have a place in every history of Hindu thought. Hinduism includes a lot of elements which have only a thin Vedic veneer, and numerous ones which are not Vedic at all. Scholars say that it consists of a “Great Tradition” and many “Little Traditions”, local cults allowed to subsist under the aegis of the prestigious Vedic line. However, if we want to classify the Buddha in these terms, he should rather be included in the Great Tradition.

Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha was a Kshatriya, a scion of the Solar or Ikshvaku dynasty, a descendant of Manu, a self-described reincarnation of Rama, the son of the Raja (president-for-life) of the Shakya tribe, a member of its senate, and belonging to the Gautama gotra (roughly “clan”). Though monks are often known by their monastic name, Buddhists prefer to name the Buddha after his descent group, viz. the Shakyamuni, “renunciate of the Shakya tribe”. This tribe was as Hindu as could be, consisting according to its own belief of the progeny of the eldest children of patriarch Manu, who were repudiated at the insistence of his later, younger wife.

The Buddha is not known to have rejected this name, not even at the end of his life when the Shakyas had earned the wrath of king Vidudabha of Kosala and were massacred. The doctrine that he was one in a line of incarnations which also included Rama is not a deceitful Brahmin Puranic invention but was launched by the Buddha himself, who claimed Rama as an earlier incarnation of his. The numerous scholars who like to explain every Hindu idea or custom as “borrowed from Buddhism” could well counter Ambedkar’s rejection of this “Hindu” doctrine by pointing out very aptly that it was “borrowed from Buddhism”.

Career

At 29, he renounced society, but not Hinduism. Indeed, it is a typical thing among Hindus to exit from society, laying off your caste marks including your civil name. The Rig Veda already describes the munis as having matted hair and going about sky-clad: such are what we now know as Naga Sadhus. Asceticism was a recognized practice in Vedic society long before the Buddha. Yajnavalkya, the Upanishadic originator of the notion of Self, renounced life in society after a successful career as court priest and an equally happy family life with two wives. By leaving his family and renouncing his future in politics, the Buddha followed an existing tradition within Hindu society.

He didn’t practice Vedic rituals anymore, which is normal for a Vedic renunciate (though Zen Buddhists still recite the Heart Sutra in the Vedic fashion, ending with “sowaka”, i.e. svaha). He was a late follower of a movement very much in evidence in the Upanishads, viz. of spurning rituals (karmakanda) in favour of knowledge (jnanakanda). After he had done the Hindu thing by going to the forest, he tried several methods, including the techniques he learned from two masters and which did not fully satisfy him,—but nonetheless enough to include them in his own and the Buddhist curriculum.

Among other techniques, he practised anapanasati, “attention to the breathing process”, the archetypal yoga practice popular in practically all yoga schools till today. For a while he also practised an extreme form of asceticism, still existing in the Hindu sect of Jainism. He exercised his Hindu freedom to join a sect devoted to certain techniques, and later the freedom to leave it, remaining a Hindu at every stage.

He then added a technique of his own, or at least that is what the Buddhist sources tell us, for in the paucity of reliable information, we don’t know for sure that he hadn’t learned the vipassana (“mindfulness”) technique elsewhere. Unless evidence of the contrary comes to the surface, we assume that he invented this technique all by himself, as a Hindu is free to do. He then achieved bodhi, the “awakening”. By his own admission, he was by no means the first to do so. Instead, he had only walked the same path of other awakened beings before him.

At the bidding of the Vedic gods Brahma and Indra, he left his self-contained state of awakening and started teaching his way to others. When he “set in motion the wheel of the Law” (Dharma cakra pravartana, Chinese Falungong), he gave no indication whatsoever of breaking with an existing system. On the contrary, by his use of existing Vedic and Upanishadic terminology (arya, “vedically civilised”; dharma), he confirmed his Vedic roots and implied that his system was a restoration of the Vedic ideal which had become degenerate. He taught his techniques and his analysis of the human condition to his disciples, promising them to achieve the same awakening if they practiced these diligently.

Caste

On caste, we find him is full cooperation with existing caste society. Being an elitist, he mainly recruited among the upper castes, with over 40% Brahmins. These would later furnish all the great philosophers who made Buddhism synonymous with conceptual sophistication. Conversely, the Buddhist universities trained well-known non-Buddhist scientists such as the astronomer Aryabhata.

Lest the impression be created that universities are a gift of Buddhism to India, it may be pointed out that the Buddha’s friends Bandhula and Prasenadi (and, according to a speculation, maybe the young Siddhartha himself) had studied at the University of Takshashila, clearly established before there were any Buddhists around to do so. Instead, the Buddhists greatly developed an institution which they had inherited from Hindu society.

The kings and magnates of the eastern Ganga plain treated the Buddha as one of their own—because that is what he was—and gladly patronized his fast-growing monastic order, commanding their servants and subjects to build a network of monasteries for it. He predicted the coming of a future awakened leader like himself, the Maitreya (“the one practising friendship/charity”), and specified that he would be born in a Brahmin family. When king Prasenadi discovered that his wife was not a Shakya princess but the daughter of the Shakya ruler by a maid-servant, he repudiated her and their son; but his friend the Buddha made him take them back.

Did he achieve this by saying that birth is unimportant, that “caste is bad” or that “caste doesn’t matter”, as the Ambedkarites claim? No, he reminded the king of the old view (then apparently in the process of being replaced with a stricter view) that caste was passed on exclusively in the paternal line. Among hybrids of horses and donkeys, the progeny of a horse stallion and a donkey mare whinnies, like its father, while the progeny of a donkey stallion and a horse mare brays, also like its father. So, in the oldest Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala is accepted by his Brahmins-only teacher because his father is deduced to be a Brahmin, regardless of his mother being a maid-servant. And similarly, king Prasenadi should accept his son as a Kshatriya, even though his mother was not a full-blooded Shakya Kshatriya.

When he died, the elites of eight cities made a successful bid for his ashes on the plea: “We are Kshatriyas, he was a Kshatriya, therefore we have a right to his ashes”. After almost half a century, his disciples didn’t mind being seen in public as still observing caste in a context which was par excellence Buddhist. The reason is that the Buddha in his many teachings never had told them to give up caste, e.g. to give their daughters in marriage to men of other castes. This was perfectly logical: as a man with a spiritual message, the Buddha wanted to lose as little time as possible on social matters. If satisfying your own miserable desires is difficult enough, satisfying the desire for an egalitarian society provides an endless distraction from your spiritual practice.

The Seven Rules

There never was a separate non-Hindu Buddhist society. Most Hindus worship various gods and teachers, adding and sometimes removing one or more pictures or statues to their house altar. This way, there were some lay worshippers of the Buddha, but they were not a society separate from the worshippers of other gods or awakened masters. This box-type division of society in different sects is another Christian prejudice infused into modern Hindu society by Nehruvian secularism. There were only Hindus, members of Hindu castes, some of whom had a veneration for the Buddha among others.

Buddhist buildings in India often follow the designs of Vedic habitat ecology or Vastu Shastra. Buddhist temple conventions follow an established Hindu pattern. Buddhist mantras, also outside India, follow the pattern of Vedic mantras. When Buddhism spread to China and Japan, Buddhist monks took the Vedic gods (e.g. the twelve Adityas) with them and built temples for them. In Japan, every town has a temple for the river-goddess Benzaiten, i.e. “Saraswati Devi”, the goddess Saraswati. She was not introduced there by wily Brahmins, but by Buddhists.

At the fag end of his long life, the Buddha described the seven principles by which a society does not perish (which Sita Ram Goel has given more body in his historical novel Sapta Shila, in Hindi), and among them are included: respecting and maintaining the existing festivals, pilgrimages and rituals; and revering the holy men. These festivals etc. were mainly “Vedic”, of course, like the pilgrimage to the Saraswati which Balaram made in the Mahabharata, or the pilgrimage to the Ganga which the elderly Pandava brothers made. Far from being a revolutionary, the Buddha emphatically outed himself as a conservative, both in social and in religious matters. He was not a rebel or a revolutionary, but wanted the existing customs to continue. The Buddha was every inch a Hindu. – Pragyata, 18 May 2018

Maitreya Buddha in the Nubra Valley



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 Ambedkar erred, Buddha was Hindu – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain is the editor of Vijayvaani.“Shakya Muni was clearly a Vedic Hindu; Buddhist tradition asserts that following his enlightenment, he preached his wisdom to mankind only at the urging of the Vedic Gods, Indra and Brahma. … Nor did Buddha reject the caste system per se; as an enlightened being, a person of prestige, he called himself a ‘Brahmin’. Most of his followers were upper caste and all later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is predicted to be a Brahmin, according to Buddhist tradition.” – Sandhya Jain

B. R. Ambedkar“Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” So said Dr B. R. Ambedkar, independent India’s first Law Minister, who is credited with reviving Buddhism centuries after its decimation by iconoclasts. As Ambedkar renounced his Hindu roots in despair over repeated indignities heaped upon him, and led his followers into the Buddhist fold, he inadvertently cemented an erroneous belief that Buddhism was a separate faith that arose out of a revolt from Hindu dharma. This West-sponsored view has since found many adherents.

So entrenched is this belief that even the recognition of Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu is often dismissed as a fraudulent manoeuvre to soften criticism of the Hindu creed. The truth is that it was Buddha who proclaimed this lineage. In the Dasaratha Jataka, he narrates the story of Rama and says: “At that time the king Suddhodana (Buddha’s father) was the king Dasaratha, Mahamayi (Buddha’s mother) was the mother, Rahula’s (Buddha’s son) mother was Sita, Ananda was Bharat, and I myself was Rama-pandita”.

This was well-known to Buddhists. A third century AD Prakrit inscription of the 14th regal year of king Virapurushardatta of the Ikshvaku house of Vijayapuri in Nagarjunakonda valley, hails Buddha as “born in the family that produced hundreds of great royal sages such as Ikshvaku” (Iksvaku-raja-pravararsi-sata-prabhava-vamsa-sambhava).

Moreover, Shakya Muni was clearly a Vedic Hindu; Buddhist tradition asserts that following his enlightenment, he preached his wisdom to mankind only at the urging of the Vedic gods, Indra and Brahma. It is pertinent that Indra’s weapon, the vajra (thunderbolt), is the principal symbol of Tibetan Buddhism.

Nor did Buddha reject the caste system per se; as an enlightened being, a person of prestige, he called himself a “Brahmin”. Most of his followers were upper caste and all later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is predicted to be a Brahmin, according to Buddhist tradition.

Scholars recognise that Buddhist ideas are consistent with the philosophy of the Upanishads. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, scholar, president of India, and father of Nehruvian academics, S. Gopal, said Buddha was not untouched by the intellectual ferment of his time regarding the struggles and experiences of the soul, which were part of “that supreme work of the Indian genius, the Upanishads”. Buddha diverged from the prevalent conventional ritualistic religion, but did not abandon the living spirit behind it. He himself admitted that the dharma which he had discovered through strenuous efforts is the ancient way, the Aryan path, the eternal dharma, which he adapted to meet the needs of the age.

Dr Rhys Davids too, asserts that: “Gautama was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu”. There is not much in Buddhist metaphysics, morality and teachings which cannot be found in one or other of the orthodox systems. Buddha’s originality lay in the manner in which he adopted, enlarged, and carried out to their logical conclusion principles of equity and justice admitted by important Hindu thinkers.

Buddha & BhikkhusThe Upanishads share Buddha’s contempt for ritualism. Buddhism shares the fundamental Hindu belief in the law of karma and the soul’s quest for nirvana. Buddha did not feel any disconnect with Hindu society and classed Brahmins along with Buddhist mendicants, bhikkhu being a term of honour. Buddhism became an independent faith when it travelled outside its Hindu milieu in India; within India it was nourished by kings, merchants and lay devotees within the fold of orthodox belief.

Like the Upanishads, Buddha repudiated the authority of the Vedas, in that both resisted the mechanical theory of sacrifices, insisting that there is no release from rebirth by the performance of sacrifice or practice of penance. Rather, liberation comes from the perception of truth, the knowledge of reality at the basis of all existence. Both admit that the absolute reality—described as neither void, nor not void, nor both, nor neither—is incomprehensible by intellect. Buddha accepted the idealism of the Upanishads and made it available to mankind.

Though Buddha was critical of the jati system he neither disowned it completely nor demonized it, but at times seemed to endorse it. S. Radhakrishnan observed that Buddha did not oppose caste, but adopted the Upanishadic view that the Brahmin or leader of society is not so much a Brahmin by birth as by character: “Not by birth is one a Brahmin, not by birth is one an outcast; by deeds is one a Brahmin, by deeds is one an outcast”.

Buddha admitted all castes into the sangha (monastic order) on the premise that all men could attain perfect knowledge through meditation and self-control. He dented caste exclusiveness, but did not abolish it, as only the erudite could fathom his complex philosophy, which is why most of his early disciples were Brahmins. Not once in his lifetime did Buddha claim to be founding a new religion.

Yet this canard of Buddhism at daggers drawn with Hindu dharma is being invoked to instigate caste tensions. Recently, Radhika Vemula and Raja Chaitanya, mother and brother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula, travelled to Nagpur to embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti. Vemula had committed suicide some months ago, possibly disillusioned with the sterile campus politics he had been lured into. Now, his family has succumbed to political mentors with an agenda and is repudiating its multi-caste identity, viz., OBC father (Vaddera) and Scheduled Caste (Mala) mother.

While children are entitled to claim quota benefits via the parent eligible under reservation norms, sterile politics could compromise Raja’s academic prospects. He has a prestigious Project Fellowship at the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad. His well-wishers should not instigate him to be political cannon fodder like Jawaharlal Nehru University student’s union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, who maybe stagnating academically and has grabbed the political lifeline thrown by his communist mentors.

India needs a new discourse on caste, given its growing divisiveness. Amidst the Bihar elections last November, Jamui MP, Chirag Paswan, expressed a desire to not be defined by jati identity and limited to being a dalit leader. Recently, he urged well-off SC families to renounce quotas for the benefit of the truly needy. Only such original thinking and initiatives can end the corrosiveness of identity politics. Others should take a leaf from this book and refrain from accusing Buddha, one of India’s greatest sons, of rupturing its civilisation. Reducing Buddha’s universal teaching to a casteist ideological weapon must also be firmly repudiated. – Vijayvaani, 19 April 2016

» Sandhya Jain is a senior journalist with The Pioneer in New Delhi.

Radhika Vemula and Raja Chaitanya, mother and brother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula, travelled to Nagpur to embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti

See also



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