Who is a Hindu
Koenraad Elst Updated: 15 April 2021 07:30 IST

Who is a Hindu : 10. Are Buddhists Hindus?

Hindu Revivalist Views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Other Offshoots of Hinduism.

9. Are Indian tribals Hindus?   11. Are neo-Buddhists- Hindus?

10. Are Buddhists Hindus?

10.1. A polemic and a high-brow debate

Now that Christians have started talking about �Jesus the Jew�, it is to be expected that Hindus and Buddhists should explore the notion �Buddha the Hindu�, or at least to highlight the Hindu foundations on which the Buddha built.  It is now fairly widely accepted that Jesus was a millennarist cult leader inside the Jewish fold who did not conceive of his own message and mission as a new religion; the question may be asked whether the Buddha was not likewise an innovator within the Hindu tradition.  But so far, that question has only been raised by the Hindu Revivalists and a lone Western scholar, certainly not by Buddhists, and to secularists the question is mere proof of evil Hindu imperialist (�boa constrictor�) designs.

According to BJP leader and Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Buddha �did not announce any new religion.  He was only restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilisation�.1 Advani reportedly provoked the dismay of a handful of foreign Buddhist scholars by saying that the Buddha �derived his teachings from the Bhagwad Gita and was an avatar of Vishnu�.2 And the dismay of the polemicizing secularists who reported the event and claimed that �Buddhism arose as a distinct faith, in revolt against hierarchical Hinduism� while Advani�s position amounted to �communal poison�.3

Yet, when Hindu Revivalists claim Buddhism as a continuous evolute of Hinduism, they join an established viewpoint articulated by Western scholars with no axe to grind.  Christian Lindtner quotes with approval Dharmakirti�s list of four doctrines of contemporaneous Brahmanism which Buddhism rejected: �The authority of the Veda, the doctrine of a Creator of the world, the conviction that rituals can cause moral purity, and the haughtiness based on claims of birth�.  Then Lindtner adds: �Apart from that, ancient Indian Buddhism should be seen as reformed Brahmanism.�4 He shows that Vedic �cosmogonic speculations and Vedic exegesis were vital and formative for Gautama�s way of thinking�, that after the Vedic injunction, he was �concerned with tad ekam beyond sat and asat�.5 After presenting many more Vedic concepts adopted by Buddhism, Lindtner summarizes that �early (canonical) Buddhism to a very considerable extent can and should be seen as reformed Brahmanism�.6

Though Western scholarship is usually invoked as the ultimate trump card with which to silence opponents, the Buddha-separatist authors prefer to ignore or dismiss it in this case.  Thus, Buddhist scholar Davidi.  Kalupahana, who rejects the inclusion of Buddhism in Hinduism, is irritated with Western scholarship: �Hindu scholars writing on Buddhism made such statements as this: �Early Buddhism is not an absolutely original doctrine.  It is no freak in the evolution of Indian thought.� But even a more sober scholar from the West felt that �Buddhism started from special Indian beliefs, which it took for granted.  The chief of these were the belief in transmigration and the doctrine of retribution of action (�) They were already taken for granted as a commonly accepted view of life by most Indian religions.��7

Kalupahana calls these views �unhistorical�, �uncritical� and �superficial�; and by implication, he calls them �not sober�, and ridicules them for denying that Buddhism was �a freak in the evolution of Indian thought�.8 This is but one instance of the humourless reaction of contemporary Buddhists against the suspicion that Buddhism was not sent down in a flash from heaven, but developed organically from its Hindu roots.

The first one to hold these views which irritate certain modern Buddhists may well have been the Buddha himself, who claimed to teach �the ancient way along which the previous Buddhas walked�.9 His pride lay not in being original, but in being a representative of a timeless truth: �The Buddhas who have been and who shall be, of these am I and what they did, I do.�10

Yet, the undeniable rootedness of the Buddha�s teachings in vaguely �Hindu� ideas and traditions does not exclude the possibility that at least on some doctrinal points, Buddhism does constitute a break-away, a definite rejection of some prevalent views and practices.  Four important points are sure to be mentioned in modern company: Buddhism�s purported rejection of caste inequality, the value of non-violence, the doctrine of No Self, and a pessimistic and avowedly escapist view of the world.  They will all be considered in this and the next chapter.

10.2. Buddhism as India�s state religion

The relation between Hinduism and Buddhism, or between Brahmanism and Shramanism, i.e. the non-Vedic sects practising world-renunciation (celibate monkhood), has been one of intellectual controversy since antiquity.11 Today, Shramanism is represented by the traditions of Jainism and Buddhism, but in the time of their eponymous founders, Vardhamana Mahavira Jina and Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, there were dozens of separate Shramana sects with their distinctive doctrines and rules.  Vedic Hinduism has also incorporated Shramanism in the form of the Dashanami order of celibate monks founded by Shankaracharya (ca. 800 AD) and other Sadhu orders founded by a number of Sants.  In the rest of this chapter, we will only consider the attitude of the Hindu movement vis-�-vis Buddhism.

The Hindu position regarding Buddhism is also of some practical importance due to the following circumstances.  Firstly, the relations with Buddhist countries are considered to be of great political importance as a counterweight to the Western, Islamic and Communist blocs.  Secondly, Buddhism has made a remarkable but heavily politicized come-back in India, first with the conversion of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and millions of his Scheduled Caste followers (1956), and soon after with the settlement of a high-profile Tibetan refugee community and a Tibetan Government-in-Exile (1959).

The Hindutva position on Buddhism is generally not one of hostility, though in the past, Swami Dayananda and Veer Savarkar did write a few trenchant paragraphs criticizing Buddhism.  Today, the tendency is simply to include Buddhism in Hinduism, with very little effort to give a scholarly articulation to this claim apart from emphasizing the Bharatiya origin of Buddhism.

Buddhism was turned into �India�s undeclared state religion� by Jawaharlal Nehru.12 Thus, he borrowed the Buddhist term Pancha Shila (five moral rules) to describe the �five principles of peaceful coexistence� laid down in the Sino-Indian Treaty of 1954 a la the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between Germany and Bolshevik Russia in 1917.  When invoking the national tradition of religious pluralism, Nehru credited Buddhism: �Even since the distant past, it has been India�s proud privilege to live in harmony with each other.  That has been the basis of India�s culture.  Long ago, the Buddha taught us this lesson.  From the days of Ashoka, 2300 years ago, this aspect of our thought has been repeatedly declared and practised.�13 The omission of Hindu tradition here is obviously unfair: the Buddha, rather than bringing religious pluralism, was himself a beneficiary of a well-established pluralism, which allowed him to preach his doctrine for fifty years and die in old age of natural causes.

The Lion Pillar of the Maurya emperor Ashoka was made into India�s official state emblem and is depicted on Indian currency notes and coins.  The 24-spoked Dharma Chakra in India�s national flag was understood to be a symbol introduced by Ashoka (it also figures on his pillars, between the two lions), known for his patronage of Buddhism and claimed to be a convert to Buddhism.14 Nehru, on top of presenting the Chakra as a truly representative and truly Indian symbol (as would befit the national flag), explicitly associated it with Ashoka and with the ideology-based policies he stood for:

�That Wheel is a symbol of India�s culture.  It is a symbol of many things that India had stood for through the ages. (�) we have associated with this flag not only this emblem, but in a sense, the name of Ashoka, one of the most magnificent names not only in India�s history, but in the history of the whole world.�15

Unknown to Nehru, the Chakra was a pre-Ashokan and pre-Buddhist symbol of �uniting the many�, viz. the different autonomous parts of India under one suzerain or �wheel-turner� (chakravarti; the term implied in the Buddhist term dharmachakrapravartana, �setting in motion the wheel of the Dharma�).  So, in spite of Nehru, the centre-space of India�s flag ended up being taken by a truly national rather than a sectarian symbol.  Nehru�s intended imposition of a specific historical model and the concomitant ideological message on a national symbol does amount, at least in principle, to the declaration of a state ideology.  Like Ashoka, who used his throne to preach Dharma, Nehru was guilty of �varna-sankara�, here not in the sense of intermarriage between varnas but in the sense of mixing up the distinct social functions: as rulers, they had no business setting themselves up as preachers, since these are distinct roles best exercised by separate groups of people.

Even in the choice of the official calendar, Nehru managed to impose his Buddhist leanings.  Against the general preference for the widely-used Vikram Samvat (counting from Vikramaditya, 57 BC) or the traditional Kali Yuga (counting from Krishna�s death, 3102 BC), he opted for the Shaka Samvat, supposed to have been instituted by another Buddhist emperor, Kanishka: �Our modern young republic has immortalised him by adopting Saka Era which was started by him in 78 AD when he ascended the throne.�16 The exact basis of this calendar is actually disputed, and in this case Nehru�s concern was perhaps less pro-Buddhist than simply anti-Hindu.  Shaka Samvat was for him a way to distance himself from the Hindu preference, comparable to his advocacy of Jana Gana Mana over Vande Mataram as national anthem, of English over Hindi as the link language, of �Hindustani� (i.e. Urdu) over proper Hindi, and of Western-Arabic over Sanskritic numerals.

While political speeches and Government-approved schoolbooks in India are full of criticism of �the evils of Hindu society�, there is not one which will offer even the faintest criticism of the Buddha and Buddhism.  In orientalist Western and urban Indian circles, both Hindu and secularist, it is taken for granted that all kinds of things are wrong with Hinduism, but criticizing Buddhism is just not done. it is very hard to find a contemporary book on Buddhism which fails to disparage Hinduism at some point.17

Except in Christian missionary literature and a single Hindutva pamphlet, any incisive criticism of Buddhism by contemporary authors is truly hard to find.  So, at the level of academic and public discourse, Hinduism finds itself in an uphill battle for the public�s favour with Buddhism, unless it incorporates Buddhism.

10.3. Buddhism as an ally against Islam

Before dealing with the Hindu attitude vis-�-vis Buddhism proper, we should mention a commonality of interest between Hindus and Buddhists vis-�-vis a third party, viz.  Islam.  Three regions are in focus:

1. Bangladesh, where Muslim settlers backed by the Islamic Government took over the lands of Buddhist and other non-Muslim tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, effectively expelling the natives.  Some of these fled to India, while others started an armed resistance movement called Shanti Bahini (�peace squad�), which agreed to dissolve itself under the terms of a peace treaty concluded with the Bangladesh Government in 1997.

2. India�s Northeast, where Buddhist and other non-Muslim tribes are confronted with Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh; the picture is complicated by resentment among non-Muslim natives against the Buddhist refugees from Bangladesh, especially in Arunachal Pradesh.

3. Ladakh, where a shrinking Buddhist majority feels threatened by a growing and assertive Muslim minority, all the more so because nearby Kargil has witnessed exactly the development which Ladakhis fear: through demographics and conversions (esp. of Buddhist brides married into Muslim families); a small immigrant group of Muslims in the 19th century has by now become the majority, and the Buddhist character of the region is but a memory.18

All three situations are monitored regularly (though certainly not closely, merely giving publicity to reports and resolutions which the affected communities themselves have prepared) by the Hindutva press.  The Buddhist minority in Kargil (in Jammu & Kashmir) shares the long-standing RSS demand that an anti-conversion law be enacted.  The BJP has succeeded in recruiting a number of Ladakh Buddhists into its ranks.19 After summing up some discriminations imposed by the Muslim state and district authorities on the Buddhists of Kargil, representatives of the Ladakh Buddhist Association complain:

�As if this is not enough, there is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil�s Buddhists to Islam.  In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were allured and converted from village Wakha alone.  If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so.  Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed.�20

The most challenging face of Buddhism in India is that of the neo-Buddhist movement initiated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. However, here too the commonality of Hindu and Buddhist interests in facing Islam is explicit, at least in Dr. Ambedkar�s own writings though less so in those of his present-day followers.  Whatever criticism of Hinduism Ambedkar may have formulated, his open rejection of both Christianity and Islam (who assiduously courted him in the hope that he would bring the Scheduled Castes into their fold) has endeared him to Hindu activists.  Ambedkar took a cool and hard look at Islam as a sworn enemy of Hindu society, even while being bitterly critical of the latter.

Dr. Ambedkar was particularly outspoken about the social injustices in Islam, especially in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India (1940).  According to his biographer Dhananjay Keer, �some penetrating and caustic paragraphs were deleted, it is said, at the instance of Ambedkar�s close admirers� for the sake of his own safety; but what remains is still quite radical.21 Dr. Ambedkar also rejected Islam because it had destroyed Buddhism in India and other countries.  Many present-day Ambedkarites never tire of quoting his one-liner: �The history of India is nothing but a history of a mortal conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism.�22 But Dr. Ambedkar has also written: �There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism was due to the invasions of the Muslims.�23

Referring to the Persian word for �idol�, but, derived from Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar observes: �Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Muslim mind idol worship had come to be identified with the religion of Buddha.  To the Muslims they were one and the same thing.  The mission to break idols thus became the mission to destroy Buddhism.  Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went.  Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhara and Chinese Turkestan (�) in all these countries Islam destroyed Buddhism.�24

Moreover: �The Muslim invaders sacked the Buddhist universities of Nalanda, Vikramasila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few.  They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded.  The monks fled away in thousands to Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. A very large number were killed outright by the Muslim commanders.�25

It is useful to quote Dr. Ambedkar as restating these facts, for the secularists work overtime to deny them.  Thus, Marxist history-rewriter Praful Bidwai claims: �Despotic state power persecuted Buddhists for centuries as brahminical Hinduism held sway in large parts of India.  Buddhism was all but banished from this land and found refuge in Sri Lanka, Tibet, Myanmar, Thailand and eastwards.�26 In fact, Buddhism went to these lands at a time when it was still flourishing in India, so that at the time of the Muslim invasions, the surviving monks fled to those countries because they knew a Buddhist establishment was already in existence there.

Today, Dalit leaders like Bahujan Samaj Party president Kanshi Ram woo the Muslim community.27 Yet, the pro-Islamic orientation which some of them (most staunchly V.T. Rajshekar in his fortnightly Dalit Voice) want to give to the Ambedkarite movement, is not at all in consonance with Dr. Ambedkar�s own view of Islam.28 Many of Dr. Ambedkar�s observations on Islam would now be branded as �Hindu communalist� by the very people who claim his heritage. in fact, the literature of the RSS Parivar offers no counterpart to Ambedkar�s strong language about Islam: he was more openly anti-Islamic than Savarkar, Golwalkar or any Hindutva stalwart who is regularly accused of being just that.  From the Hindu Revivalist point of view, Ambedkar, in writing his incisive criticism of Islam, did the homework which the Hindutva ideologues neglected.

10.4. Swami Dayananda on Buddhism

The one Hindu leader who could always be counted upon to polemicize against rival religions was Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayananda Saraswati.  However, contrary to his refutations of Christianity and Islam, Dayananda�s critique of Buddhism is limited to certain highbrow points of philosophy, and avoids attacks on the morality of the founder or on the humanity of the religion�s historical career.  We forego discussion of the scholastic points on the epistemology and metaphysics of Buddhism.29 We will consider the argument against the far more fundamental Buddhist doctrine of Dukkha (suffering).

Against the cardinal principle of Dukkha, �(all is) suffering�, the first of the Buddha�s �Four Noble Truths�, Dayananda asserts: �Had there been nothing in this world but pain and sorrow, no living soul would have had an inclination for anything in this world; but it is our daily experience that the souls do desire for the objects of this world, hence it cannot be true that in the whole universe there is nothing but pain and sorrow.  If the Buddhists really believe in the above doctrine, why do they attend to the health of their bodies, and for this purpose take food and drink and follow the laws of health and in case of sickness take medicine etc.? (�) If they answer that they certainly do these things but at the same time believe that they lead to misery and pain, it can never be true because the soul takes to what is conducive to its happiness and shuns what entails misery and suffering.  Practice of virtue, acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, association with the good and the like undoubtedly are conducive to man�s happiness.  No wise man can ever assert that these result in pain and sorrow.�30

Our natural experience is indeed that both suffering and happiness exist.  While certain unwise forms of pleasure are pregnant with experiences of pain, it is rather sweeping to include all occasions of happiness in this category.31 It is by no means certain that happiness is unreal; at most one could say that all worldly happiness is very unimpressive when compared with the profound happiness of the yogic state of consciousness.

Moreover, asymmetrical models like the Buddhist inclusion of happiness in suffering are liable to being inverted, with the inverted model being just as reasonable: just as all happy moments may be considered spoiled by the concomitant fear of losing that which makes happy, all fleeting moments of suffering are redeemed by the ensuing moments of relief resulting in restored happiness.  This way, one could just as well say that �all is bliss�.  But Dayananda upholds the more commonsensical position, which is that, of course, both happiness and suffering are real.

Though the actual meditation practices taught by Vedantic and Buddhist yogis are not very different, the intellectual constructions which the two traditions have built around the yogic experience are in some ways diametrical opposites.  In Vedanta, the basic vision is positive: the experience of the Self is Reality-Consciousness-Bliss, it is what we have to get into.32 An afterthought could be that compared with this yogic bliss, any external form of happiness is comparatively bleak; but it could also be the realization that the same blissful Self pervades everything.  In Buddhism, the basic vision is negative: life is suffering brought about by the unquenchable thirst of desire; it is what we have to get away from.  Fortunately, an alternative is found in the experience of Nirvana, so all is well that ends well; but the negative starting-point remains the distinctive signature of Buddhist philosophy.

In the Upanishads, the awakening to the Self is the crown of all possible happy experiences, a happiness worth seeking for its own sake.  To the Vedic seers, the worldly experiences are a mixed bag of sorrow and happiness, in which capable people can ensure (through n�ti, �policy�, intelligent conduct)33 that the balance of their lives is on the positive side; but this real measure of worldly happiness should only spur us onwards to a more perfect happiness of enstasis (to use Mircea Eliade�s term)34 in the Self.  This experience is desirable not because it is an escape from worldly suffering, but because it is so terrifically true, a true perception of one�s true Self.

Swami Dayananda could have made his critique of Buddhism more attractive if he had elaborated more on what Buddhism has in common with the positive Vedantic way.  What is in common is after all the most important part, viz. the practice of inner concentration.

An unpleasant suggestion would be that yogic practice was outside Dayananda�s intellectual focus because he himself didn�t practise much.35 This is in general a real problem: monks whose prestige is derived from the assumption that they practice yoga, but who don�t really practise.  As the late Agehananda Bharati, the Austrian Indologist and nominally also a Hindu monk, observed: �Yoga and other esoteric wisdoms are talked about, the monks and the other gurus of the Hindu Renaissance are listened to and quoted, but their votaries do not really meditate.  They talk about meditation.  This also holds for modern monks whose professed job it is to meditate.� The same is true in Buddhism, e.g. in Sri Lanka, the practice of meditation fell into disuse centuries ago, to be replaced by ritualism, scholastic argument and political intrigue.36 This goes far in explaining the petty anti-Hindu sectarianism (including successful incitement to the destruction of Hindu temples) common among the Lankan Buddhist clergy.  It is not the accomplished yogis who indulge in sectarian identity politics.

However, to my knowledge, and judging from the apparent seriousness with which leading lights of the present-day Arya Samaj practise yoga, the suggestion would be unfair in the case of Dayananda.37 The more fitting explanation would probably remind us first of all that even yogic accomplishment does not magically create worldly skills such as intellectual knowledge, not even knowledge pertaining to other spiritual philosophies beside one�s own.  As we shall see, even the Buddha himself can reasonably be suspected of incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of other (viz Upanishadic) philosophies, a matter entirely divorced from his undeniable yogic accomplishment.  Dayananda�s objective was at any rate not to give a full account of rival viewpoints, merely to indicate where they strayed from the Vedic vision as he understood it.

10.5. Incorporating the Buddha

In recent decades, the Buddha has been enshrined as one of the great sages of Hinduism.  This is largely due to the influence of Western tastes, which have promoted the Buddha (supposedly a rationalist and votary of social justice as against Hindu superstition and caste oppression) to the status of India�s major claim to fame.  This influence has operated mainly through two entries to Hindu society: a certain governmental effort springing from Jawaharlal Nehru�s glorification of the Buddha and the pro-Buddhist Emperor Ashoka, and genuine intellectual developments in non-Arya Samaj Hindu Revivalism.

Even the Arya Samaj has been touched by this tendency, and its newer publications have little anti-Buddhist polemic left in them.  Rather, the tendency now is to pick from Buddhism those points which are seemingly in common with the Arya Samaj�s programme.

For example, in the Chapter �Our saints and sages� of an Arya Samaj catechism book, the very first sage discussed is the Buddha.  Most of the text simply narrates the well-known episodes of the 29-year-old Siddharta Gautama discovering the phenomenon of suffering and of the accomplished Buddha dissuading king Bimbisara from conducting a large-scale sacrifice of animals. In the summary of the Buddha�s five �most important teachings�, the fourth one is: �All human beings are equal.  There is no high or low caste.�38 Though it is doubtful that the Buddha cared about social inequality, this anti-caste plank is now routinely attributed to him, and the Arya Samaj follows suit by adopting it into its own longstanding campaign for social equality.

An even sharper contrast between criticism and subsequent glorification of Buddhism is found in the writings of Veer Savarkar, whom we shall get to know as an unforgiving critic of Buddhism.  In a chapter titled �Reverence to Buddha�, Savarkar tones down his attack: �We have while writing this section wounded our own feelings.  So we hasten to add that the few harsh words we had to say in explaining the political necessity that led to the rejection of Buddhism in India should not be understood to mean that we have not a very high opinion of that Church as a whole!  No, no!  I am as humble an admirer and an adorer of that great and holy Sangha, the holiest the world has ever seen, as any of its initiated worshippers.(�) The consciousness that the first great and the most successful attempt to wean man from the brute inherent in him was conceived, launched and carried on from century to century by a galaxy of great teachers, Arhats and Bhikkus who were born in India, who were bred in India and who owned India as the land of their worship, fills us with feelings too deep for words.�39

There is scope for debate about the Hindu or un-Hindu inspiration in the basic doctrines of Buddhism, partly equivalent to the doubts about the exact meaning of the term Hindu.  The fact remains that the Hindu Renaissance starting among English-speaking Hindus in Calcutta resolutely chose to embrace the Buddha and emphasize his Hindu-ness.

The first reason for including Buddhism in Hinduism (and it is an observation which in itself cannot honestly be doubted) is that, after its establishment as a separate sect, Buddhism has continually moved closer to its Puranic or Tantric surroundings.  Tibetan Buddhism, a fairly late offshoot of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, is very close to Hinduism in most respects, starting with its elaborate ritualism.  But in Japanese Buddhism too, we find many practices that are not traditionally Japanese nor Buddhist in the strictest sense, but that have been carried along by Buddhism as a part of its Hindu heritage, e.g. the fire ceremony of the Shingon sect which, like the Vedic sacrifice, is called �feeding the Gods�.40

Indeed, Mahayana itself marks a major step back towards Hinduism, not just because of its adoption of externals like the Sanskrit language and devotional rituals to a legion of divine beings, but in its basic spirit: it aims beyond the monk�s individual salvation (the concern of Theravada Buddhism as of Jainism) to universal salvation for all monks, laymen and other beings, thereby restoring the central Hindu value of responsibility for the world.41

Sir John Woodroffe, a British apologist of Hinduism (as in his book Is India Civilized?), observed: �There are then based on this common foundation three main religions, Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism.  Of the second, a great and universal faith, it has been said that, with each fresh acquirement of knowledge, it seems more difficult to separate it from the Hinduism out of which it emerged and into which (in Northern Buddhism) it relapsed.  This is of course not to say that there are no differences between the two, but that they share in certain general and common principles as their base.�42

Even if Buddhism originally constituted a break-away from the established religion in some respects, it was inevitable that it would assimilate much of Hinduism, for the simple reason that it recruited its monks in a Hindu environment: �From the very beginning the Order contained Brahmins who might have renounced caste but retained their intellectual traditions.  The current Brahmin ideology (not ritual or cults) was often taken for granted, just as the Brahmins had given up beef-eating and accepted non-killing (ahims�) as their main philosophy.  The higher philosophies of both Buddhist and Brahmin began to converge in essence.�43

The replacement of Pali with Sanskrit as the language of Mahayana Buddhism is an excellent illustration of this tendency.  Most Buddhist philosophers (e.g. Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Asanga, Ashvaghosha) were born Brahmins.

With that, we have only admitted that Buddhism has been influenced by Hinduism.  The fact that Buddhism moved closer to Hinduism does not prove that Buddhism itself is essentially Hindu, rather the opposite: if it could move closer, it was because its basic position was substantially different from Hinduism.  If it is merely a question of influence, then the Buddhists might choose to emphasize the separate identity of Buddhism by �purifying Buddhism of its Hindu accretions� in a kind of Buddhist Tabligh campaign.44

This way, a Hindu effort to win Buddhists over to a recognition of the basic Hindu character of Buddhism would be hurt rather than helped by highlighting the influence which Hinduism has exerted on later Buddhism.  The intellectually and strategically more important question is therefore whether there is a fundamental doctrinal kinship between Hinduism and Buddhism, not one of external influence but one inherent in the Buddha�s own teachings, so that Buddhism can be described as merely one branch of Hinduism.

The question is definitely answered in the affirmative by most anglicized Hindus in the 20th century.  Speaking to a largely Buddhist audience, Mahatma Gandhi declared that �the essential part of the teachings of Buddha now forms an integral part of Hinduism. (�) It is my fixed opinion that the teaching of Buddha found its full fruition in India, and it could not be otherwise, for Gautama was himself a Hindu of Hindus.  He was saturated with the best that was in Hinduism, and he gave life to some of the teachings that were buried in the Vedas and which were overgrown with weeds. (�) Buddha never rejected Hinduism, but he broadened its base.  He gave it a new life and a new interpretation.�45

However, the first sentence could be interpreted as contradicting the rest, for it seems to be saying that Hinduism has incorporated Buddhist doctrine as if it was imported from outside.  Another problem is that Gandhi had a theistic conception of Hinduism, which constitutes a fundamental difference with agnostic Buddhism.

In the same vein, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, President of India and a typical Congress Brahmin, has written: �Buddhism is only a later phase of the general movement of thought of which the Upanishads were earlier [expressions].  Buddha did not look upon himself as an innovator, but only a restorer of the way of the Upanishads.�46 This may be more defensible, in that Upanishadic philosophy, like Buddhism and unlike Gandhi�s Vaishnavism, is not theocentric.

An oft-quoted Orientalist support for this position was given by Dr. T.W. Rhys-Davids, who had conformed to the modern interpretation of Buddhism as original and subversive, yet had observed: �We should never forget that Gautama was born and brought up a Hindu and lived and died a Hindu.  His teaching, far-reaching and original as it was, and really subversive of the religion of the day, was Indian throughout He was the greatest and wisest and best of the Hindus.�47

On the occasion of the celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha�s enlightenment (disregarding the uncertainty among historians about the Buddha�s dates)48, and coinciding with the mass-conversion of Mahar Untouchables to Buddhism led by Dr. Ambedkar, Prof. V.S. Jha, Vice-Chancellor of Benares Hindu University, wrote the preface to the book Buddhism and Hinduism by Gurusevak Upadhyaya, �who reminds Hindu readers, in particular, of the Brahmanical roots of Buddhism on the one hand and its impact on the shaping of Hinduism throughout the centuries, on the other�.  The BHU Vice-Chancellor gave as his own judgment that �the essential message of the Buddha constitutes not a �different� religion but forms an integral part of Hinduism itself, supplying to it the dynamism needed for continuous self-criticism and self-purification�.49

Leading spokesmen of Buddhism may complete our parade of witnesses to the essential unity of Hinduism and Buddhism.  The Dalai Lama has said: �When I say that Buddhism is a part of Hinduism, certain people criticize me.  But if I were to say that Hinduism and Buddhism are totally different, it would not be in conformity with truth.�50 it is no coincidence that the Dalai Lama has attended a number of Sangh Parivar events, e.g. the VHP�s second World Hindu Conference in Allahabad in 1979.51

Likewise, the 5th European Hindu Conference in Frankfurt featured a speech by Bhikkhu Jnana Jagat, Buddhist member of the Bodh Gaya temple management committee and of the VHP.  He presented the standard VHP viewpoint on Buddhism, viz. that �from time immemorial the �Vedic culture� and �Shramana (ascetic) culture� have been growing and flourishing simultaneously in this land.  Both being the integral part of the same Aryan culture or way of life have been enriching and sustaining each other through centuries.�52 It is all a bit vague, but hard to refute.

10.6. Vivekananda on the Buddha

In contrast with the Arya Samaj�s rather bitter criticism of Buddhism, the trend among urban, vaguely anglicized Hindus throughout the 20th century is to glorify the Buddha without measure, and to consider Buddhism a branch of Hinduism with which Hindus have no quarrel.  This embracing of Buddhism is strongly present in the Hindutva movement as well.  A trend-setting example was Swami Vivekananda�s fondness of the Buddha as attested by his own most famous speeches and by his associates.

Swami Vivekananda�s close associate Sister Nivedita testifies that Swamiji was a great devotee of the Buddha: �Again and again he would return upon the note of perfect rationality in his hero.  Buddha was to him not only the greatest of Aryans but also �the one absolutely sane man� that the world had ever seen.  How he had refused worship! (�) How vast had been the freedom and humility of the Blessed One!  He attended the banquet of Ambapali, the courtesan.  Knowing that it would kill him, but desiring that his last act should be one of communion with the lowly, he received the food of the pariah, and afterwards sent a courteous message to his host, thanking him for the Great Deliverance.  How calm!  How masculine! (�) He alone was able to free religion entirely from the argument of the supernatural, and yet make it as binding in its force, and as living in its appeal, as it had ever been."53 Sister Nivedita also relates that Swamiji�s first act after taking Sannyas was to "hurry to Bodh Gaya, and sit under the great tree"; and that his last journey, too, had taken him to Bodh Gaya.54

Before we move on to some direct quotations from Vivekananda�s own works, we comment on this rendering of his thoughts by his pupil Sister Nivedita, if only because it is entirely representative of the line taken by Swamiji�s organized following, the Ramakrishna Mission.  The first remarkable thing is the superlatives.  Even if we allow for the greater tendency to use exclamation marks and inflated superlatives typical of the age, the fact remains that no Hindu religious teacher, from Rishi Yajnavalkya to Shankaracharya and down to Sant Tulsidas, has ever been lauded in such strong terms by either Swami Vivekananda or any of his pupils.  This unquestioning idealization of the Buddha is entirely typical of modern Hinduism, both in anti-religious circles, where he is hailed as a "rationalist", and in Hindu Renaissance movements such as Vivekananda�s own Ramakrishna Mission and the following of Sri Aurobindo.

The one paragraph which we have just quoted is packed with modern myths or at least fashionable notions about the Buddha.  The Buddha�s "perfect rationality" would probably not he conceded by rationalists when they read about the Buddha�s perception of seductive nymphs (sent by the Gods to distract him) when meditating under the Bodhi Tree, or with his claim of knowing all his previous incarnations.  Still, the point is well taken: it is true and commendable that the Buddha, like Confucius, chose to keep metaphysical speculation outside his discourse, on the pragmatic plea that life is too short for sterile pursuits which distract our attention from those fields of interest where genuine knowledge and liberating action are within man�s reach.

Some of the idealization of the Buddha reported by Sister Nivedita goes beyond what would be acceptable to modern tastes.  Thus, to say that the aged Buddha "knew" that the pork (or the "pig�s meat", meaning the sweet potato normally eaten by pigs) offered to him by the pariah "would kill him", is a typical attribution of omniscience to a Guru; the phenomenon can still be witnessed among contemporary adepts of various Gurus.  It is a dubious honour to die willingly of a perfectly avoidable cause such as food poisoning, merely for the sake of "communion with the lowly". If this were the case (more probably it is a projection of modem social concerns), did the Buddha not apprehend that others present would die along with him from the same cause?  Or did he consider that the normal fate of the "lowly"?  Or should we accept that in his omniscience, he had foreseen the effect of this food on every other participant in the meal as well?  At any rate, all this supernatural omniscience seems to be in contradiction with Sister Nivedita�s next claim, which is in the modernist mode again: that he "was able to free religion entirely from the argument of the supernatural".

Sister Nivedita�s rendering of Swami Vivekananda�s position is only sketchy, but so is the understanding of Vivekananda by the millions of Hindus who consider him to be one of the greatest exponents of Hinduism.  No wonder, then, that the words of praise to the Buddha just quoted are now the commonplace view of the Buddha among urban Hindus whose convictions are strongly influenced by modem Gurus like Vivekananda.

10.7. Sages of old eclipsed by the Buddha

A point only raised in passing by Vivekananda, but quite fundamental to an understanding of the position of Buddhism vis-�-vis Hinduism, concerns the centrality of the Buddha�s person.  That the Buddha "refused worship"55 sounds good to us anti-authoritarian moderns, but it is hardly unique, and presenting it as unique is unfair to Hindu tradition.  In pre-Buddhist scripture, we find very little "worship" of human religious figures, e.g. we never find Rama "worshipping" his Guru Vasishtha.  Fact is that the focusing of a religious tradition in a single person (who was subsequently deified, with the Gods as his servants) is not attested in Vedic literature, which is apaurusheya, "impersonal", part of a hoary tradition not attributed to any single individual.  Symbols of the Vedic religion include fire, the starry sky, the Aum sound, the swastika, but not any individual; by contrast, the central symbol of Buddhism is the Buddha.

Buddhism is, in spite of its claims to universalism and rationality, a pioneer of the paurusheya, "person-centred" traditions; in this respect, it is a forerunner of Christianity, which deifies Jesus, and of Islam, where Mohammed as the mard-i-k�mil (Persian-Urdu: "accomplished man", model man) eclipses the entire earlier history of his people (denounced as j�hil�ya, "age of ignorance"). in fact, Buddhism does one better, for while Christianity and Islam still present their own divinely revealed messages against the background of the tradition of Biblical prophets, Buddhist scriptures carry practically no references to the Vedic or any other preexisting traditions, except negative ones.  Their world starts with the Buddha�s awakening and his dharma-chakra-pravartana ("setting in motion the wheel of Buddhism"), and what little of earlier history Buddhists admit into their intellectual horizon (e.g. the stories of the Buddha�s previous lives) serves exclusively as prefiguration or preparation of these strictly Buddhist events.

It is quite possible that the followers have done injustice to the Buddha by worshipping him, that they have disobeyed him by making him the exclusive horizon of their religious consciousness.  At that point, we are faced with limitations of historical knowledge similar to those surrounding the genesis of Christianity (did Jesus intend to found a new religion separate from Judaism?), and there is no point in making unverifiable claims about "what the Buddha really said". In the eyes of his followers at any rate, Siddhartha Gautama, more thoroughly than Jesus and Mohammed, eclipsed all sources of inspiration anterior to his own mission.56

In all three cases, the doctrines and ethics (in the case of Islam even the civil law system) by which their followers live are entirely linked with the founders, whether historically springing from them and their immediate associates or unhistorically attributed to them by later authorities.  This is not to deny that the positions of the Buddha, the Christ and the Prophet are different ones within their respective traditions, merely to draw attention to the near-monopoly of these three individuals on the ethical and spiritual horizons of their followers, an individual monopoly quite without parallel in the Vedic or in the ancient Greek religion.  It is only in post-Buddhist Hinduism that historical figures (or even metahistorical Gods) acquire a remotely similar monopoly, e.g. the pre-Buddhist characters Rama and Krishna only become objects of worship in the post-Buddha period if we accept the modern dating of Ramayana and Mahabharata which presents both Rama and Krishna as Avataras of Vishnu.

On the other hand, the worship of the Buddha admits of a different interpretation, in keeping with the Hindu tradition of Gurudom.57 "Guru worship" is usually disparaged as the ultimate in idol worship and cultism, but informed Hindus reject this criticism.  The Guru is venerated in his impersonal capacity as an embodiment of the realized Self; it is not the person but the universal Brahman which is venerated through him.  Likewise, the Buddha who is venerated is not the individual Siddhartha Gautama, but the "Buddha nature" which Gautama, like other Awakened individuals before and after him, had realized.

Guru worship is expressive of that which, in the Hindu view, makes Hinduism superior to other religions: its tradition of techniques which make the "realization" of the Brahman in an individual possible.  Most religions simply do not have ways to achieve this, do consequently not have enlightened masters through whom one can venerate the living Brahman; they can only talk about the divine but not bring it alive in a human being.  All this, of course, on the Hindu-Buddhist assumption that what yoga achieves is not just some "funny feeling"58 but a state of consciousness which really is radically superior to the ordinary.  If this state of consciousness is indeed venerable, it is normal that lesser mortals, in preparation of their own ascension to this state (in this or a future life) venerate it through individuals who have realized it.

There is nothing exclusive about this "Guru worship": it is agreed that the Absolute Consciousness or Brahman is present in everyone, in the pupil or worshipper and in all sentient beings as well as in the Guru, and that it has been "realized" by numerous masters.  At this point, however, the difference between Hinduism and.  Buddhism resurfaces.  Hindus may hold it against the Buddha that he disturbed the world order by focusing exclusively on the "liberation from suffering" through meditation (implicitly disparaging the validity of all non-spiritual pursuits), but very few Hindus would deny the Buddha�s genuine yogic realization and hence his rightful place in the pantheon of genuine Gurus.  By contrast, judging from Buddhist scripture and from modern Buddhist publications, Buddhists whose horizon of realized spiritual masters includes non-Buddhist sages are rare.59

The Hindu pantheon of sages is open-ended, and Hindu claims about the genuine self-realization of this or that particular Guru imply absolutely no denial of the spiritual merits of any other sage, whether Hindu or non-Hindu.60 This may be true in theory for Buddhists as well, but in practice, Buddhists are less open to any input from outside their own tradition, less explicit in acknowledging the validity of other paths. in the Hindu endeavour of seeking and verifying any common ground between Hinduism and Buddhism, theory may be more important than practice: the Buddhist practice of isolating the Buddha from his historical context, viz. the Hindu institution of Gurudom, may simply be a temporary historical development which can be reversed by a closer study of the philosophical basis of Buddhism.  It seems that in this respect, Hindu-Buddhist unity is a theoretically arguable proposition, but the de facto state of affairs suggests a more separate identity for Buddhism.

10.8. Vivekananda on Buddhist non-theism

A closer reading of Vivekananda merely confirms his veneration for the Buddha and his agreement with the Buddhist rejection of dualist theism.  About the latter point, his Buddhist contemporaries themselves were not all in agreement, and Vivekananda�s view that the Buddha was an �agnostic" was criticized by his friend Dharmapala (of the Lanka-based Buddhist missionary organization, the Maha Bodhi Society, founded in 1891 and closely linked with the Theosophy movement), whom he is said to have helped with his speech at the Parliament of Religions.  The two got estranged and by 1897 they were accusing each other of "undue malice".  While Vivekananda remained a Buddha fan, the Maha Bodhi Society turned anti-Hindu and even rewrote its version of Buddhist history to minimize the role of Islam and maximize the role of Hinduism in the elimination of Buddhism from India.61

Regardless of his personal relations with Buddhists, Vivekananda explicitly goes along with what he understands to be the Buddhist argument against the reliance on a personal God: "Ay, the Buddhists say that ninety per cent of these vices that you see in every society are on account of this idea of a personal God; this is an awful idea of the human being that the end and aim of this expression of life, this wonderful expression of life, is to become like a dog.  Says the Buddhist to the Vaishnava, �If your ideal, your aim and goal is to go to the place called Vaikuntha where God lives, and there stand before Him with folded hands all through eternity, it is better to commit suicide than do that.� (�) I am putting these ideas before you as a Buddhist just for the time being, because nowadays all these Advaitic ideas are said to make you immoral, and I am trying to tell you how the other side looks.�62

In this case, the claimed Buddhist objection against the theistic goal of eternally being with God in Heaven is also the Advaitic objection: both Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta aim for total emancipation from the relative and fleeting world, and refuse to settle for a lesser goal such as being "with" (i.e. still separate from) the Divine.  It must be admitted that the vast majority of Hindus have no conception of spiritual achievement beyond being "with" their chosen deity.  The same is true for popular devotional Buddhism, where the agnostic yogic radicalism is replaced with reliance on quasi-deities (Amitabha, Guan Yin, etc.). Here again, what may superficially seem as a contrast between Hinduism and Buddhism is in fact an internal contrast within both Buddhism and Hinduism, viz. between radical philosophies of liberation and popular devotional attitudes.

Vivekananda also reiterates the atheist argument against the doctrine of Creation by a divine Person: "We have seen first of all that this cannot be proved, this idea of a Personal God creating the world; is there any child that can believe this today?  Because a Kumbhakara creates a Ghata, therefore a God created the world!"63 In other words: from the fact that all phenomena within the cosmos have been caused or created, it doesn�t follow that the cosmos as a whole was likewise caused or created by an external agent.

This atheist skepticism forms a bridge between ancient non-theist philosophy and modern rationalism: "Has ever your Personal God, the Creator of the world, to whom you cry all your life, helped you?-is the next challenge from modem science." And back to ancient non-theism: "And we have seen that along with this idea of a Personal God comes tyranny and priestcraft.  Tyranny and priestcraft have prevailed wherever this idea existed, and until the lie is knocked on the head, say the Buddhists, tyranny will not cease.�64 Here, Vivekananda fulfils his self-appointed role as herald of modernity and of the implicit modernity avant la lettre (universalism, non-theism, rejection of irrational belief) of ancient philosophies including Vedanta and Buddhism.

Few modern Hindus follow Vivekananda in this radical rejection of theism: usually they snake a superficial compromise between their families� traditional theistic beliefs and veneration for non-theistic thinkers including the Buddha, without thinking through the inherent contradiction.  Thus, we can see Gandhiji�s inclusion of Buddhism in Hinduism (as he understood it: Vaishnava theism) falters on this point:

"I have heard it contended that Buddha did not believe in God.  In my humble opinion such a belief contradicts the very central fact of Buddha�s teaching.  He undoubtedly rejected the notion that a being called God was actuated by malice and like the kings of the earth could possibly be open to temptations and bribes (animal sacrifice) and could possibly have favourites.  He emphasized and redeclared the eternal and unalterable existence of the moral government of the universe.�65

This is an unconvincing way to paper over the stark difference between Gandhi�s own devotional theism and the Buddha�s self-reliant approach which had no place for devotions to or speculative discourse about God.  Though the Buddhist canon seems to take for granted the existence of the Vedic Gods (plural!-monotheism was totally foreign to Buddhism)66, they were not accorded any importance whatsoever in the Buddhist spiritual path.  The Buddhist law of Karma, or what Gandhi calls "the moral government of the universe", is conceived as a Natural Law, not as the doing of a Divine Person.

It is true that devotional theism has crept into Buddhism at a later stage, but Gandhi�s claim is not about these later trends but about the Buddha himself.  Gandhi�s approach is quite typical of the rather hurried way in which anglicized Hindus try to dismiss doctrinal differences as peripheral and nonessential, without bothering to offer a proper analysis.  The same superficial approach is in evidence in the Sangh Parivar, which is quite akin to Gandhi in its understanding of Hinduism.

10.9. Coomaraswamy on Hindu-Buddhist unity

When surveying the modern Hindu opinion on Buddhism, we cannot skip the contribution of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy.  As he stayed aloof from politics and from Hindu activism, we do not want to include him in the Hindutva movement, yet we do choose to include him in this survey for the following reasons.  Firstly, he was definitely an apologist of Hinduism, a defender of Hindu values and traditions (including the caste system) against the numerous misconceptions and prejudices common among the Western and anglicized-Indian audiences.67 Secondly, his observations on the sameness and difference of Buddhism and Hinduism are so lucid and accurate, that we do not want to be without them when evaluating the often rather simplistic evaluations of a Vivekananda or a Savarkar.

We need not postpone a judgment on the question whether, or to what extent, Buddhism is part of Hinduism, as it is rather simple to solve; or so, at least, Coomaraswamy teaches us.  For an initial general judgment: "There is no true opposition of Buddhism and Brahmanism, but from the beginning one general movement, or many closely related movements.  The integrity of Indian thought, moreover, would not be broken if every specifically Buddhist element were omitted; we should only have to say that certain details had been less adequately elaborated or less emphasized. (�) [The Buddha] in a majority of fundamentals does not differ from the Atmanists, although he gives a far clearer statement of the law of causality as the

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