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Friday, April 13, 2007

The Buddha put old wine in new bottles

Approaches to Buddhism Jayasuriya from New Jersey
The official or standard theory of the modern historians, philoso­phers, philologists and intellectuals of the Brahmanical school is that Buddhism was a 'protestant' and 'reformist' sect of 'the Hindu religion'. This hypothesis, repeated endlessly, upheld dogmatically and defended passionately, is founded on the assumption that every noble and profound idea must have originated within the 'Eternal Religion' (sandtana-dharma) which is 'the Hindu Religion.' The historians of Sanskrit do not harp on the theological myth of non­human origin of the 'revealed' texts. They know that the Vedas and the Upanisads are human and historical documents. A characteristic of their scholarship is that they do not discuss the date of the 'older' Upanisads nor analyse the origin of the major ideas found in these texts, especially of those ideas which constituted what Edgerton called 'the extraordinary norm' in Indian culture.' The Sanskritists believe that the older Upanisads belong to the 'Vedic Age,' whatever that may mean.
Since the Buddha flourished after the 'Vedic Age' (some even make room for an imaginary 'Epic Age' before the Buddha in spite of the fact that the epics grew between BC 200 and 200 AD), His teachings are later than the Upanisads. They do not see the possibility that, in many instances, the later portions of the so-called Vedic texts, especially of the Aranyakas, the Upanisads, and the Dharmasfaras, may have been composed as late as the Maurya Age; and, of course, they do not want to unsettle their traditional chronology and history of the Vedic period in spite of the concrete evidence of Indus archaeology. Hardly any scholar of this schoolshows an awareness of the importance of Jaina and Buddhist myths and traditions regarding the antiquity of Srarnava thought.
Having been convinced of the hypothesis of Brahmanical origins of Buddhism, the scholars of the Brahmanical school proceed to har­monize Vedanta and Buddhism. Syncretism is a dominant characteri­stic of this school. Here the Bhagavadgita, famous for its marvellous eclecticism and synthesis, is an authority and a model for our intellectuals. It is an article of faith with them to believe in the fundamental unity of all the religious traditions of the world. All the religions teach the same ultimate truth; therefore all the religious paths are good. This was one of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.1 `We Hindus accept every religion' said Swami Vivekananda." `My Hinduism is not sectarian. It includes all that I know to be the best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism', said Mahatma Gandhi.' 'No country and no religion have adopted this attitude of understanding and appreciation of other faiths so persistently and consistently as in India and Hinduism and its offshoot of Buddhism', and `the Hindu welcomes even the atheist into his fold', said Radha­krishnan.4
The average educated Indian who reads English quotes these high authorities and occasionally cites also from the works of Sri Aurobindo. He cherishes a chimerical but grand and synthetic picture of `the wonder that was India' in ancient times. Since he is not a scientifically trained historian, he is unable to distinguish between Vedic Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Puranic Hinduism. This category of educated modern Indians is an important, often effective, agency for propagating modernized notions of the Brahmanical school of history, especially among young students, journalists, and popular writers. The typical modern Hindu's apologetic attitude towards Indian culture has been ably analysed, albeit with occasional sarcasm, in a different context by Agehananda Bharati in two of his recent articles.'
The grass-roots scholars who passionately look for syncretism strengthen their belief in the hypothesis of Brahmanical origin of Buddhism by saying that the Buddha put old wine in new bottles, that He reintepreted the `Indo-Aryan ideals'. They tell us that the Buddhist Nirvana is identical with Upanisadic Brahman, that the tenet of `not-self' is a denial only of the ego, the 'lower self', and not of the Atman, and that the Buddhists have misunderstood the Buddha's teachings...Posted by Profile of Mike Ghouse at 7:39 AM Labels:

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