Sunday, August 14, 2011

A discussion on Buddha and Buddhism

Sriram asks:

Anna,

I present a few doubts which one of my colleagues raised.

1) Is it Buddha who argued that in Vedic rituals/yagas animals should not be killed? Do Vedas/Upanishads also preach killing animals as an offering to god? Swamiji also quoted that Vedas/Upanishads were highest truths and they cannot be attributed to any person. They can defend themselves according to Swami Vivekananda.

2) I remember reading somewhere in the works of Swami Vivekananda that what Buddha preached is revolutionary Hinduism. Did he do so just to oppose suppression of lower castes by upper castes, may be mostly Brahmins, at that time?

3) Did Buddhism fail since its ideals like sannyasa were too high to be taken up by the common man?

Amirapu Natarajan answers:

During that time the sacrifice of animals touched an all-time high, almost verging on madness. So it was necessary to control it and that was what Buddha did. In the karma-kanda of Vedas animal sacrifice is prescribed. All the early religions around the world prescribed animal sacrifice. There is nothing wrong with it.
Yes, Vedas can defend themselves as far as the eternal truths contained in are concerned. They are eternal and do not change with changing times. But the other details may not stand to the test of time. The Vedas contain eternal truths. For example, All is Brahman; Thou art that; I am He, etc. These truths will stand the test of time. But the ceremonials need not or may not. Ceremonials change with time and habit.

We should observe how the society works. Society usually runs after a particular idea to the exclusion of everything else. We know very well that we want to balance things and not one thing in exclusion of all others. It was animal sacrifice that was the fashion everybody was running after at a point of time. After sometime, criticising animal sacrifice has become a fashion. It was also taken to maddening lengths.

Swami Vivekananda clearly explained what happened to Buddhism: "In spite of its wonderful moral strength, Buddhism was extremely iconoclastic; and much of its force being spent in merely negative attempts, it had to die out in the land of its birth, and what remained of it became full of superstitions and ceremonials, a hundred times cruder than those it was intended to suppress. Although it partially succeeded in putting down the animal sacrifices of the Vedas, it filled the land with temples, images, symbols, and bones of saints."

Now, we have a different version of sacrifice. We take a coconut and break it at the altar. It breaks with great violence and drains out a lot of water and has flesh which is eaten. Doesn't it show any semblence? The problem lies not with any ceremonial but how we observe it. MODERATION is the rule prescribed by Bhagawad Gita. ('yuktAhAra vihArasya'.)

When Buddha came about the preistcraft was at its worst tyranny. Buddha tried to control it. Yes, in a way it may appear like, he was trying to save lower castes from upper castes. But that idea is pretty superficial. Buddha was trying to bring a greater reform. He was attempting to strike at the root and only that would change the society and would bring real solace to people. He was a man of great heart and his heart bled for the oppressed.

Swamiji explained that Buddhism was a mere rebel child of Hinduism. It is all the same. But the greatest contribution of Buddha is his great heart with which he tried to broadcast the eternal truths to all and sundry without any reservation.

But Buddhism preached a very high ideal and has prescribed the same ideal to all the people. That was its mistake. In any society all the people will not be able to follow the same ideal. They need different ideals. If you give all the people the same, high ideal, they fail to understand it and try to implant what all they know into that which tremendously degrades the whole fabric of the society. That is what happened as Buddhism spread and as time passed. Hence Adisankara had to drive out Buddhism. But Adisankara was definitely not against the ideals of Buddha but its degeneration. Even Sankara preached the same ideal of Advaita as Buddha did.

ADVAITA VEDANTA ACCEPTS VARIATION. Vedanta prescribes different ideals to different groups of people so that all have a opportunity to grow slowly without competing with and killing each other and climb the ladder of the society as well as in their personal, spiritual life. (Read KARTAVYA NISHTA. you may download it from our web-site www.unworldliness.org)

You may also read two paragraphs from Swami Vivekananda which I quote hereunder.

"India has not yet assimilated the work of Buddha. She is hypnotised by his voice, not made alive by it."

"In what way do you see this importance of Buddhism in India today?"

"It is obvious and overwhelming. You see India never loses anything; only she takes time to turn everything into bone and muscle. Buddha dealt a blow at animal sacrifice from which India has never recovered; and Buddha said, 'Kill no cows', and cow-killing is an impossibility with us."

"The vast majority of people do not understand the meaning of this doctrine. In India any compromise regarding the Self means that we have given power into the hands of the priests and have forgotten the great teachings of the prophets. Buddha knew this; so he brushed aside all the priestly doctrines and practices and made man stand on his own feet. It was necessary for him to go against the accustomed ways of the people; he had to bring about revolutionary changes. As a result this sacrificial religion passed away from India for ever, and was never revived."

It is a very difficult question and needs time and meditation to understand.

6 comments:

  1. thanks anna for your answer. i understood your answer.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Buddhism did not fail. It was a reaction to too much of ritualism and priestcraft. While the intial phase of Buddhism did oppose both, in due course it succumbed to both. Mahayana brought in Image worship, Vajrayana assimilated tantric practices. Eventually it became as rigid and ritualistic as the religion it rebelled against.
    While monastics played a major role in spread of buddhism, Buddha never preached that it was essential to be a sanyasi to attain nirvana. Buddha was a thorough rationalist. However, no mass religious movement can remain just a dry rationalistic one. People love ritual and simple, routine practices.
    Buddhism fulfilled a role in Indian spiritual arena and it moved out when the society was ready for revival of upanishadic hinduism in jnana kanda form, spearheaded by Shankaracharya.
    Revival of Buddhism in India owes much to Anagarika Dharmapala and western endorsement to eastern philosophy, apart from the neo buddhism espoused by Ambedkar et al.

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  3. Decline of Buddhism in India:
    I have few doubts why buddhism has been swept away. I am interested in knowing reasons. Below were some of reasons I heard from people.
    1. Due to brahmin priests, it declined. This is the reason which i heard from many people.

    But I disagree with above view. Buddha slammed priestcraft ship and their practices. So naturally his followers should be against priests. How come again people will listen to priests and change their religion back to hinduism.

    2. Due to Hindu rulers, it declined.
    But there are evidences in history that some hindu rules like Ashoka, Gupta empires propagated buddhism and built temples for it.So I am skeptical about this reason.

    3. @ sridhar anna: Anna, you said buddhism later succumbed to rituals and it got diluted compared to actual one propagated by Buddha. So as it was made a mass religion (which majority like due to simplicity of doing rituals than meditation) now with rituals people should have continued to followed it. But still why it vanished in most of places?

    4. Shankaracharya had driven out Buddhism.
    I dont know authenticity of above statement but many people voice this opinion. But shankaracharya propagated many principles similar to buddhism, I could not understand why would he preach against it? what are the things shankaracharya did not like in buddhism if at all he preached against it. Even the ideal of sannyasa is upheld by sankaracharya in his vivekachudamani and infact he recommends it from what i understood reading the quotes of vivekashudamani.

    5. Buddha was by that time considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu and thus became a part of Vaishnavism.

    Probably if above was reason, then saivaites might be angry and they may not follow buddhism. What about other people belonging to different castes? How above was reason for decline of Buddhism?

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  4. killing of animals and Buddhism:
    Buddha fought against killing animals as sacrifice to god. But he never spoke against non-vegetarianism or killing of animals for food. There is no dietary regulation in Buddhism as per my knowledge leaving aside monks.Perhaps monks follow a vegetarian diet.
    My Q: When killing a goat/Hen/Cow for eating by human being is not wrong then how it is wrong to offer to god which Buddha opposed. After offering to god, eventually it is being eaten by human beings. So why can't the entire process can be understood as offering food to god before consuming it?

    Swamiji Stand on killing animals:
    Statements from practical vedanta Lecture: Part 1:
    So, from the standpoint of the highest ideal, the lowest animal and the highest man are the same. If you believe there is a God, the animals and the highest creatures must be the same. A God who is partial to his children called men, and cruel to his children called brute beasts, is worse than a demon. I would rather die a hundred times than worship such a God. My whole life would be a fight with such a God But there is no difference, and those who say there is, are irresponsible, heartless people who do not know. Here is a case of the word practical used in a wrong sense. I myself may not be a very strict vegetarian, but I understand the ideal. When I eat meat I know it is wrong. Even if I am bound to eat it under certain circumstances, I know it is cruel. I must not drag my ideal down to the actual and apologise for my weak conduct in this way. The ideal is not to eat flesh, not to injure any being, for all animals are my brothers. If you can think of them as your brothers, you have made a little headway towards the brotherhood of all souls, not to speak of the brotherhood of man!
    My Doubt: Swamiji prescribed non vegetarianism for physical strength if necessary. In above paragraph he said as per highest ideal, eating animals is wrong.Still he said he was eating under some circumstances. I was confused about those two statements. They appear contradictory.
    If a person truly and wholeheartedly consider animals as his brothers,the view in that person mind is his human brother and animal brother are same. How can he kill and eat his brother? Plants are also same as human being as per above para. Then plants should also be not eaten. Under these observations, it may not be possible for following such an ideal. I could not understand the ideal of mentally having view as my brother and physically eating it. Swamiji also criticised the view of a religion which says animals are made as food for us. He quoted the example of a tiger which views human beings as its food.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahimsa is a very high form of worship of the divinity in all beings, even th highest form. In several places of bhagavat gita Ahimsa is considered as one of the greatest traits. It is also the stepiing stone into the realm of Yoga according to Patanjali's ashtangik marg. In Mahabharata sages on the path of liberation have beend described to subsist on roots and fruits only. However a person does not become non violent by not eating flesh, then cows and goats would have been considered spiritually superior to men. This is one of most misunderstood concepts in India. If ahimsa is truly great for spiritual advancement people of certain regions/castes of India would have been more spiritually advanced than others. It so happens that they are also the most materialistic, worshipping Gods only for money and fortune.
      So Ahimsa is for spiritually advanced souls who are on the path to enlightenment and liberation and not meant for all and sundry.
      It so happens that some very high souls out of compassion may become strict vegetarian while others may do so for the purpose of teaching others (yad yad acharate srestha, tat tat eva itara janah), that killing is bad.
      Coming back to your point, killing of animals for the sake of killings (wanton killing) is something which Buddha prohibited. He did not ask everybody to give up eating flesh. That’s why in Buddhism there is no restriction on eating flesh.
      On the otherhand Vaishnavas do not eat flesh because they believe that Narayana is there in every jiva - another variation of the Advaita.
      However Swami Vivekananda is a realized soul, he did not have any need to follow convention like Ahimsa for the sake of enlightenment. Also anything that these great men do are for teaching others. The 19th century India was a heap of superstitions, deeply immersed in tamas or darkness. He wanted youth to be strong and vigorous in body mind and spirit, to fight for their rights, to be true khatriyas, to reclaim their land from the foreign marauders. To inculcate vigour one has to develop Rajas or passion and therefore one has to eat food which would give them the necessary strength. Flesh is scientifically proved to provide that vigor and strength. Therefore he encouraged eating flesh.


      As per Gita also the food that you take goes on building your character because food can be classified as Satvik, Rajasik or Tamasik and the gross food only contributes to material well being while the finer portion contributes to spiritual well being and that’s why some Sadhaks, esp. the Vaishnavites are so particular about their food. On the other hand Tantra sadhaks have no restriction on taking flesh because they practice a different form of Sadhana althogether.

      Then again he cited Ahimsa as the highest ideal for others who choose to follow that path, who are true Brahmanas, like the sages of the Mahabharata. All great teachers like Vivekananda preach different messages for different categories of people because all cannot be made into the same mould. In the language of Sri Ramakrishna, when the mother brings fish, she cooks different food according to the tastes and preferences of her children, for some soup, for some Pulao, for others fries etc.

      Vide Gita – ahmisa is a duty of the Brahmanas, not of Khatriyas. Brahmanas should strive for realization or moksha, so they should treat every being as God and desist from violence to any living being.

      Finally one quote of Sri Ramakrishna – food per se is not a constraint. If anybody can keep his mind on God by eating even restricted flesh, I would say that person is blessed. If on the other hand even by subsisting on Ghee and rice only, if one cannot forsake lust and greed and remains worldly, fie on him.

      Delete
    2. Ahimsa is a very high form of worship of the divinity in all beings, even the highest form. In several places of bhagavat gita Ahimsa is considered as one of the greatest traits. It is also the stepping stone into the realm of Yoga according to Patanjali's ashtangik marg. In Mahabharata sages on the path of liberation have been described to subsist on roots and fruits only. However a person does not become non violent by not eating flesh, then cows and goats would have been considered spiritually superior to men. This is one of most misunderstood concepts in India. If ahimsa is truly great for spiritual advancement people of certain regions/castes of India would have been more spiritually advanced than others. It so happens that they are also the most materialistic, worshipping Gods only for money and fortune.
      So Ahimsa is for spiritually advanced souls who are on the path to enlightenment and liberation and not meant for all and sundry.
      It so happens that some very high souls out of compassion may become strict vegetarian while others may do so for the purpose of teaching others (yad yad acharate srestha, tat tat eva itara janah), that killing is bad.
      Coming back to your point, killing of animals for the sake of killings (wanton killing) is something which Buddha prohibited. He did not ask everybody to give up eating flesh. That’s why in Buddhism there is no restriction on eating flesh.
      On the otherhand Vaishnavas do not eat flesh because they believe that Narayana is there in every jiva - another variation of the Advaita.
      However Swami Vivekananda is a realized soul, he did not have any need to follow convention like Ahimsa for the sake of enlightenment. Also anything that these great men do are for teaching others. The 19th century India was a heap of superstitions, deeply immersed in tamas or darkness. He wanted youth to be strong and vigorous in body mind and spirit, to fight for their rights, to be true khatriyas, to reclaim their land from the foreign marauders. To inculcate vigour one has to develop Rajas or passion and therefore one has to eat food which would give them the necessary strength. Flesh is scientifically proved to provide that vigor and strength. Therefore he encouraged eating flesh.


      As per Gita also the food that you take goes on building your character because food can be classified as Satvik, Rajasik or Tamasik and the gross food only contributes to material well being while the finer portion contributes to spiritual well being and that’s why some Sadhaks, esp. the Vaishnavites are so particular about their food. On the other hand Tantra sadhaks have no restriction on taking flesh because they practice a different form of Sadhana althogether.

      Then again Swamiji cited Ahimsa as the highest ideal for others who choose to follow that path, who are true Brahmanas, like the sages of the Mahabharata. All great teachers like Vivekananda preach different messages for different categories of people because all cannot be made into the same mould. In the language of Sri Ramakrishna, when the mother brings fish, she cooks different food according to the tastes and preferences of her children, for some soup, for some Pulao, for others fries etc.

      Vide Gita – ahmisa is a duty of the Brahmanas, not of Khatriyas. Brahmanas should strive for realization or moksha, so they should treat every being as God and desist from violence to any living being.

      Finally one quote of Sri Ramakrishna – food per se is not a constraint. If anybody can keep his mind on God by eating even restricted flesh, I would say that person is blessed. If on the other hand even by subsisting on Ghee and rice only, if one cannot forsake lust and greed and remains worldly, fie on him.

      Delete