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Presenting The Buddha as almighty: A case of pseudo-history?

buddha, buddism, sramana, vedism, sankara, philanthropy,mercantile

Religion is a very sensitive issue. Often confused a with the word spirituality and god, a religion whichever it may be is more of a way of life rather than a quest or path to truth. Thus religions are more people oriented and not exactly divine. The very many individuals who change their religions have often reported that they did so because they could find more freedom and peace in their current religion and its customs than in their previous one. This is certainly a change in way of life. This change is an acceptance of traditions, rules, norms, teachings and beliefs of the founders of that faith.

As such there have been, are, and will be many religions that essentially are born out of interactions between communities. It is also true that several religions of past were merged into bigger and more pre-dominant religions whose founders were more charismatic and whose teachings found more acceptance as per the day. Yet these founding fathers of faiths did offer something new and did introduce concepts that may seem to have been revolutionary though one doubts a deliberate,cunning, inducement trick packaged therewith.


Most importantly they chose time for expounding the basic tenets of their religion and start their teaching programme. Like for example one of the ancient religions namely buddism has survived for more than 2500 years in its various forms.The founder Buddha was born into a Scythian royal family and also many-and-most of his important boddisatvas or ordained monks were from brahminical lineage like for example some his well known direct disciples were kashyapa, bhargava, mudgala, jatukarna, vaasishti(belonging to sage vasistha’s lineage?) vadhoola etc. who were brahmins from different lineages and also known to have been well ordained people of that age. To them he entrusted the responsibility of spreading and preserving his teachings through what are known as sutras or formulas and also maintain his relics well. For once buddism embraced by many royals of India like emperor asoka and the one’s of china made it the most dominant faith along silkroute and for once it seemed that it might as well crossover to Europe as many greek/roman traders and soldiers who settled in asia had turned buddist.

One important reason for the spread of buddism thosedays seems to have been its stress on philanthropy, non-voilence a general egalitarianism and collectivism and stress on diplomatic solution to problems than outright destructive warfares that most kings sought to. And what not , Buddha even advocated non-voilence to the extent that he argued that even hardened criminals may be given chances to repent and serve people and hence the kingdoms should not give tough punishments. Many of those who embraced buddism even in its early years were the ones who had committed crime but took to buddha’s lane as he forgave offenders to a great extent. The famous tale of buddha’s encounter with the notorious cannibal who wore a garland of fingers of his victims and his being cleansed of his sins “by falling at buddha’s feet” supports his call for forgiveness of criminals.

This call for compassion may have been another innovation that drove hordes to buddism. The ones who converted were to practice their religion through serving and intellectual pursuits. They were persuaded by monks to avoid wars and clash as far as possible and make living through industriousness and trade. Some of the buddist institutions like nalanda run philanthropically also attained repute for its knowledge base consisting of a large volume of books. Many early buddist settlements like Ajanta, Mathura, gandhara(Afghanistan), kanchi etc were also great trade centres, thus emphasizing the mercantile nature of the religion. The great munificence in terms of resources and converts of the very many royals in subcontinent and central asia greatly aided its growth.

However during that age the arrival of vedic saints like sankara, tirugnanasambandar,appar,kumarila bhatta etc spelt out an ultimate disaster to both buddism and Jainism in their relevant form and drove them out of relevant spheres. However the defeated buddists continued to operate clandestinely under the patronage of obscure and dubious rulers. As a result many of buddist and jain aspects and laws of religion began to show up in form of ritualistic vedic religion in many kingdoms.

The very many petty kingdoms that arose out of the confusion resulting from the demise of empire of cholas in 13th century seemed to have helped these ideologies further. For example let us take the case of sri sankara a saint who was a bête noire against buddism. As of now it has been accepted that he established a “hindu” monastic order and set up four mutts in the for corners of india to reinforce “hinduism”. One doubts as to what criteria sankara could have left for the choice of pontiffs for his mutts and expounding of advaita philosophy down the age. The fact that sankara a “saivite” son of lord sivan chose to leave mutts at places like dwaraka,badrinath,sringeri and puri which were mostly puranic places of importance associated with lord Vishnu if at all he did which itself seems out of question brings some questions to mind. Ceratinly by doing so he would have contradicted his own resolution into the concept of “tat tvam asi”(meaning “that is you” or one has to seek truth all by himself). Being blessed with gnosis of lord sivan sankara sang the glory of lord narayana extensively and very profusely whom he knew as one of the several forms of supreme being. But then the argument that he established monastries in places of vaishnavism does point to misinformation and pseudo history being propogated in relation to the great seer.

One reason for propogation of such myths could be the desire of sramana monks to spread buddist ideas in garb of vedism excelled at by sree sankara and also to encapsulate their ideas in the name of advaitic doctrine. Many buddist philosophers have held out the view that Buddha is one of the incarnations of sree narayanan and so the four mutts at predominantly vaishnavite centres must actually have been buddist monastries that were transformed to “mutts” of sree sankaracharya many centuries after him. This alone could be the explanation for the fictitious and non-descript monastries and one could hardly be led to think that sankara’s activities may be interpreted as a duplicitous schism that is opposed to vedism and the propogators of the monastery myth certainly intend to portray sankara as a dubious seer in the eye of an intelligent and unbiased investigator.One never fails to note the inherent cunning psyche of the creator of such stories which immediately brings to the mind of an average analyst two things.

If at all one accepts the theories and views propounded therewith on the great saint, then the propagator implies all the credit and benefits has to come to me and my ideas shall be accepted, if at all the analyst after introspection rejects and refutes the theory and becomes critical of the same or suspects it of being dubious in nature then all such suspicions must fall to tarnish the great saint. Even the contemporary portraits of the saint sankara show him as a red robed shaven monk with a stick in hand which is more resembles and suits buddist/jain ascetics than a vedic seer who wear the plaited locks and sacred ash marks of the ones devoted to worshipping the feet of lord sivan and sree narayanan.

This attempt at propogating monotheistic sramana doctrines and religion in form of ancient vedism did not end with philosophy which did produce multiple variants, like say for example, the sree vaishnava philosophy of scholar ramanuja that advocated egalitarianism and also differed with sankara was in many ways a sramana philosophy like buddism, Jainism,catholicism et.all.ramanuja openly converted people of various streams into onefold called “iyengars” much in line with buddism and jainism. Again one the well accepted sramana view of considering Buddha as an incarnation of lord Vishnu being the central objective for propounding such a philosophy.

The newly founded sect went to the extent completely practicing sramanic religion in the form of vedism in which cult focus and role of an acharya or teacher attained great importance, further borrowing the concept of religious processions and importance to philanthropy particularly in the form of big banquets made spirituality which has to be an individual’s quest for truth look like a social obligation and a business activity that yielded commercial benefits to the organizer.Nevertheless many ancient temples went on to become cultural centres whose functions were a great opportunity for entertainment professionals. They began to loose the spiritual effulgence and grace that was bestowed on them. Thus we see that many temples particularly those built on top of hills , which claim to be the ones of puranic importance to vedism may actually have been buddist/jain temples. This view gets more strong when one looks at practices like not allowing women for worship as seen in sabarimala in kerala , the office and “powers” for a “chief” priest which again means business. Several elements of tantric and ritualistic worship now in practice are also supposed to have been of sramana origin and so are some of the deities or atleast their interpretations.

One does not attain the beatitude of almighty asmuch by mechanical act of worship as by simpleminded devotion , adherence to truth and duties.
Published: 2008-11-05
Author: K Sethu Madhavan

About the author or the publisher
A management professional with eight years experience in telecommunications industry, I have written a lot of articles in subjects related to management and strategic information analysis.

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