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Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong
Hong Kong, 2009
Communication Address of Corresponding Author:
Dr. ANKUR BARUA Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,
Salt Lake City, Sector-2, Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA. Email: Mobile: email@example.com +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)
MODERN HINDUISM IS A RESTATEMENT OF BUDDHISM
Due to the striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, a group of modern scholars still believe that Buddhism is a restatement of Hinduism. But this notion is absolutely false as Hinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India.
There is enough historical evidence that Buddhism paved the way for refining the teachings of Hinduism. The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated into the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during the revival of Hinduism in 8th century A.D. As a result of this, we do not find any major difference between the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism in modern era. Thus, modern Hinduism is actually a restatement of Buddhism.
Key words: Buddhism, Restatement, Modern, Brahmanism, Hinduism.
MODERN HINDUISM IS A RESTATEMENT OF BUDDHISM
Introduction Conflicts of opinions prevail while exploring the parallel teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism. Some scholars cherish the opinion that Buddhism in India subsequently got incorporated into the Hinduism. They believe that modern Hinduism in India is a new form of ancient Buddhism.1,2,3
Due to the striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, there is another group of scholars who uphold the theory that Buddhism is a restatement of Hinduism.1,2,4 But this notion is absolutely false as Hinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. If someone has to relate any ancient religion in India with Buddhism, it should be the existing Brahmanism which paved way to the introduction of Buddhism in India by Sakyamuni Buddha during the 6th century B.C., who was a historical personality.
Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism Buddhism should be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism. Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four-tier caste system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of women was remarkably subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to the rescue by upholding the women’s rights and focused on empowerment of women in the society. Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who rose against all odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in the existing Indian society.1,2,5
The Revival of Hinduism The Vedic revival during the 8th century A.D. was referred to as the revival of Hinduism by the Western Scholars. This was initiated by Adi Shankaracharya in the Gangetic plains of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Hindus of Rajasthan also participated in this hostile revival activity. After the death of Harshavardhana, the Rajputs were arising on horizons of North India. The Rajputs belonged to the lineage from among the remnants of Hunas and other foreign hordes which were broken down by the activities of kings like Baladitya and the local tibals. The Rajputs were made prominent by the Brahmins for the specific purpose of suppressing Buddhism by use of force. They subsequently dominated the later part of the history of India and played a key role in the revival of Hinduism.1,2,3,5
During this time, the popular devotion to the Buddha was sought to be replaced by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna. The existing version of the Mahabharata was written in this period when the decline of Buddhism had already begun. It was specially meant for the lower caste community (Shudras), most of whom were Buddhists, in order to attract them away from Buddhism. However, Brahmanism still prevented the Shudras from having access to the Vedas. The Mahabharata was possibly rewritten to placate the Buddhist Shudras and to compensate them for this discrimination. The Mahabharata incorporated some of the humanistic elements of Buddhism to win over the Shudras. Overall, it played the role of bolstering the Brahminical hegemony. Thus, Krishna, in the Gita, was made to say that a person should not violate the divinely ordained law of caste. Eklavya was made to slice off his thumb by Drona, who found it a gross violation of dharma that a mere tribal boy should excel the Kshatriya Arjun in archery.6,7
The various writers of the puranas carried out this systematic campaign of hatred, slander and calumny against the Buddhists. The Brahannardiya Purana made it a principal sin for Brahmins to enter the house of a Buddhist even at times of great peril. The Vishnu Purana alleged that the Buddha as Maha Moha or the great seducer. It further cautioned against the sin of conversing with Buddhists and lays. Those who merely talked to Buddhist ascetics should be sent to hell. In the Gaya Mahatmaya, the concluding section of the Vayu Purana, the
town of Gaya was identified as Gaya Asura, a demon who had attained such holiness that all those who saw him or touched him went straight to heaven. Clearly, this demon was related to none other than the Buddha who preached a simple way for all, including the oppressed castes, to attain salvation.7
The Vayu Purana story went on to add that Yama, the king of hell, grew jealous. This was possibly because less people were now entering his domains. He appealed to the gods to limit the powers of Asura Gaya. The gods, led by Vishnu, were able to restrict his powers by placing a massive stone on the demon’s head. This monstrous legend signified the ultimate capture of Buddhism’s most holy centre by its inveterate foes.7
Kushinagar, also known as Harramba, was one of the most important Buddhist centres as the Buddha breathed his last there. The Brahmins, envious of the prosperity of this pilgrim town, invented an absurd theory in order to discourage people from going there. They spread a rumor that if one died in Harramba, he would go to hell. However, if one died in Kashi, the citadel of Brahmanism, he would go straight to the heaven. This belief got deeply rooted in the minds of the local community. So, when the Sufi saint Kabir died in 1518 AD at Maghar, not far from Kushinagar, some of his Hindu followers refused to erect any memorial in his honor there and instead set it up at Kashi. However, Kabir's
Muslim followers were less superstitious and they set up a tomb for him at Maghar itself.6,7
The Tendency of Hinduism to Absorb its Rival Faiths The tendency of Hinduism to absorb rival faiths was evident from the fact that many elements from other faiths had also gone into the making of Hinduism. While some scholars focus on outright persecution, others speak of a long process during which Buddhist practices became absorbed into Hinduism. Though the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence had originated with the Buddha and had certainly found its greatest exposition in the Buddha’s teachings, but by the second half of the 1st millennium A.D. it had become an integral part of the Hindu teachings. However, it is still not certain whether the Buddha was
absorbed into the Hindu pantheon as a gesture of compromise or as an attempt of divide in order to reduce the overwhelming might of Buddhism or whether Hinduism was eager to embrace as its own, certain values that Buddhism stood for against the short-comings of Brahmanism.1,2,3,5,6
The simplicity of the Buddha’s message in emphasizing its stress on equality and crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices and ritualism of Brahmanism had attracted the oppressed casts in large numbers. The Brahminical revivalists understood the need to appropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism and
discarded some of the worst of their own practices so as to be able to win over the masses back to the Brahminical fold. Imitating the Buddhists in this regard, the Brahmins, who were once voracious beef-eaters, had turned into vegetarians.7
Adi Shankaracharya Had Preserved Buddhism by Incorporating It into Hinduism The great Brahmin philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 AD), took keen interest in learning the inner aspects of Buddhist philosophy. He was alleged by some scholars to have hated Buddhism and engaged the Buddhist monks in public debates and each time he had emerged triumphant. But this theory was far from truth for the simple reason that, had he successfully defeated the Buddhist monks in debates all the time and had no faith in Buddhism, then there was no logic behind his undertaking the initiative to incorporate the finer aspects of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. So, by the time he had invited the Buddhist monks in public debates, he had already studied Buddhism and developed an immense respect for the teachings of the Buddha. 1,2,3,5
He had also realized that all the Buddhist monks with whom he had debated were not well-versed with the teachings of the Buddha. Due to their ignorance, they were unable to preach the true meaning of the doctrine of the Buddha in an
effective manner. So, he took the initiative to include the finer aspects of Buddhism into the core teachings of Hinduism. Under his supervision, the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Puranas were rewritten incorporating these new aspects. The Buddha was also transformed into an avatara (descent) of Vishnu. 1,2,3,5
The monastic practices had been unknown in Brahmanism, but this practice was also initiated under the leadership of Adi Shankaracharya. He had established ‘maths’ or monasteries at Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in the south, and Puri in the east.1,2,3
Modern Hinduism is a Restatement of Buddhism The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated into the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during the revival of Hinduism in 8th century A.D. As a result of this, we do not find any major difference between the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism in modern era. Lay people and many scholars often get deceived by ignoring the chronological order of historical development of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism and they are unable to make any distinction between these. We should understand that Hinduism was a later development after Buddhism. There is enough historical evidence that Buddhism paved the way for refining the teachings of Hinduism which came into existence after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. We must always
remember that the finer aspects of Buddhism had been later incorporated into Hinduism under the supervision of Adi Shankaracharya during the 8th century A.D. 1,2,3
So, by observing the strikingly similar teachings in both these religions, it would be wiser to conclude that modern Hinduism is a restatement of ancient Buddhism. The reverse of this statement is never true on historical perspectives, as an earlier religion cannot predict or copy the teachings of a future religion.1,2,3
Conclusions The Brahmins could never deny or disrespect the inner truths in the teachings of the Buddha in spite of having hatred against Buddhism as a religion. So, the subsequent absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu’s pantheon represented some sort of a compromise between the Brahmins and the Buddhists on moral and philosophical grounds. Buddhism stood for to promote peace and harmony in the society. This had been later incorporated into certain strands of modern Hinduism in order to make it more refined and acceptable to the society. Thus, the Buddha was finally given his just dues. From historical perspective, it is now clearly evident that Buddhism was never conquered on moral grounds and critical arguments, but was actually driven off by sheer force and might.1,2,3,5,6
Though the Buddha is now incorporated into modern Hinduism as Lord Vishnu’s pantheon, but he should not be regarded as a god of the Hindu religion. It needs to be emphasized once again that the Buddha was never a mythological figure as Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma or Rama, but he was a real historical personality who devoted his entire life to eliminate the sufferings of all sentient beings.4
References 1. Lal, V. 2004. Buddhism’s Disappearance from India [serial online]. [cited 2009 August 26]; [2 screens]. Available from: URL: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/paths/BuddhismDisappear.do c. 2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980. The Disappearance of Buddhism and the
Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast. Studies in History of Buddhism.
Delhi: B.R. Publishing Company:181-91. 3. Ahir, D.C. 2005. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? Delhi: B.R. Publishing. 4. Kantowsky, D. 2003. Buddhists in India Today: Descriptions, Pictures and
Documents. Delhi: Manohar Publications: 156.
5. Goyal, S.R. 1987. A History of Indian Buddhism. Meerut: 394. 6. Beal, S. 1884. Si-Yu Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. London: Trubner & Co., reprint ed., Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 7. Pakistan Defence. 2008. Disappearance of Buddhism from "Non Violent India": An Untold Story. Daily Muslims. [serial online]. [cited 2009 October 8]; [2 screens]. Available from: URL: http://www.defence.pk/forums/currentevents-social-issues/9222-disappearance-buddhism-non-violent-india-untoldstory.html
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