Monday October 22, 2018

The Birth of ‘The Awakened One’: Is Buddhism a part of the Vedantic thought process?

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By Gaurav Sharma

India has eternally served the world with an oceanic infinitude of religious doctrines and postulations in order to bridge the fissures of boundaries which have been created by the puny mind of man.

While superficially it may appear that such a multitude of religious credos amplify the fault lines between men, such a notion is akin to thinking that different opinions and views are pernicious to the health of a democracy.

The current of history is replete with epochs that marked a departure from the customary thoughts and prevalent mode of living, specifically, when they reached the nadir of degraded existence.

And this is also true for the genesis of Buddism.

The Birth of ‘The Awakened One’

Buddha, also known as ‘Shakyamuni’ or Gautama Buddha, literally translates as ‘The Awakened One’. He is thought to have been born between the 6th and 4th century BCE, a time when the people of India, although following the Vedas in the namesake, had deviated from the true goal of Vedic philosophy.

Ritualistic ceremonies and rites for material pleasures had become prominent. Animal sacrifices, which form an important edict of the early Vedic schools, had reached a flash-point of unscrupulous meat eating.

More importantly, the Vedic scriptures had been usurped while becoming the sole preserve of the priestly class or the brahmanas, who had eschewed the essential tenet of non-violence and consequently become like degraded dirt.

To revitalize the decaying morality of individuals, Buddha propounded one of the most basic yet critical precepts of Dhammapada: “All beings fear death and pain, life is dear to all; therefore the wise man will not kill or cause anything to be killed.”

By rejecting the Vedic rituals, Buddha saved the people and the animals from the barbaric onslaught of the corrupt and degenerate priests.

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Confounding Conundrums

The crown jewel of the the Vedanta–Srimad Bhagavatam declares boldly: “In the beginning of the age of Kali, the Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear in the province of Gaya as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, to bewilder those who are always envious of the devotees of the Lord.”

On the contrary, Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in Lumbini, Nepal, and his mother was Queen Mahamaya. By making such a statement, the revered Hindu scripture clearly appears to be at odds with framework of history.

A deeper scrutiny into the life of Buddha suggests otherwise and, indeed verifies the claims of the scripture.

Siddhartha became the Buddha after he attained spiritual enlightenment during his meditation under the Bodhi tree in Gaya.

Furthermore, Siddhartha’s mother, Queen Mahamaya, died several days after Siddhartha’s birth, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, Anjana.

Buddhists, however, staunchly denounce the claim that Buddha was an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Conversely, they cite it as a concerted attempt by Hindus to stem the flow of Buddhism.

In the metaphysical realm, Buddhism, with its emphasis on ‘non-self’ or non-belief in the existence of the soul and God embraces and espouses Shunyata– the void or nothingness that is the essence of everything to which we must return.

This stands in stark opposition to the propositions of the Vedas which clearly accept the existence of a Supreme controller and, in fact, seek to reestablish the link between God and man.

While the Buddha unequivocally refused to discuss how the world was created or what was existence in Nirvana, the Vedas contain vivid descriptions of the spiritual world and the creation of its counterpart.

Demystifying the Riddle

While the distinctions might seem to be the only visible commonality amongst the two fraternal religions, there are striking parallels where the tide of humanistic Buddhist teachings congregate with the profound spiritual wisdom of the Vedas.

The Buddhist conception of arahant is synonymous with the Hindu brahmin. The Dhammapada states: “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.”

Treading on similar lines, the Bhagavad Gita elucidates a set of qualities that fine-tunes the Buddhist concept of Brahmin with the Vedic conception.

Both Krishna and Buddha define purity as a state of mind and reject birth as a determinant of ones spiritual progress.

Within the Buddhist tradition Nirvana–release from the cycle of birth and death is attained when the ‘three fires’ of raga, dvesha and moha–passion, aversion and ignorance are extinguished.

Nirvana bears a striking resemblance to the Hindu concept of Moksha, which is also achieved by transcending the three modes of ignorance, passion and goodness.

Even the means of breaking the shackles of suffering or the fetters of Karma bear a staggering similitude.

The Noble Eightfold Path–the system of eight steps propounded by the Buddha for progressing towards Nirvana are nothing but mere offshoots of yama and niyama–a set of basic do’s and don’ts as mentioned by the Hatha-Yoga of Patanjali.

The pali term jhana or zen used by Buddhists is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyan–to meditate. Both propose the cultivation of insight to prevent the oscillations of the mind.

In his fascinating odyssey of enlightenment, Buddha denied the existence of God. Yet, paradoxically, he was tempted by Mara– the Evil One, with many pleasures in an effort to make him relinquish his quest. Mara can easily be visualized as Yamaraj–the Hindu God who doles out punishments for ‘sinful’ activity.

The mesmerising correlations do not end there. In the Vayu Purana Daksha calls Shiva–the God in charge of the mode of ignorance–as Buddha.

The fragrant essence of the teachings of  the Buddha– Look inward: Thou art Buddha, is a euphemism for the ambrosial Vedantic aphorism:

Tat Tvam Asi–Thou are That.

 

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  • Great subject! I wish the writer wrote in a simpler language that caters to an average online reader, instead of long, complicated sentences such as “oceanic infinitude of religious doctrines and postulations in order to bridge the fissures of boundaries which have been created by the puny mind of man”.

Next Story

The Other Side of “Hindu Pakistan”

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province

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Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Sagarneel Sinha

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country. BJP didn’t let the opportunity go by launching a scathing attack on Tharoor and his party for insulting Hindus and Indian democracy, forcing the Congress party to distance itself from its own MP’s comment. Only one year is left for the next general elections and in a politically polarised environment such comments serve as masala for political battles where perception is an important factor among the electorates.

Actually, Tharoor, through his statement, is trying to convey that “India may become a
fundamentalist state just like its neighbour — Pakistan”. Tharoor is a shrewd politician and his remarks are mainly for political gains. The comments refer to our neighbour going to polls on 25 th of this month which has a long history of ignoring minorities where the state institutions serve as a tool for glorifying the religious majority bloc and ridiculing the minorities. This compelled me to ponder about the participation of the Hindus — the largest minority bloc of the country, in the upcoming polls.

There are total 37 reserved seats for minorities in Pakistan — 10 in the National Assembly
(Lower House), 4 in the Senate (Upper House) and 23 in various state legislatures — 9 in the Sindh assembly, 8 in Punjab and 3 each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistani Hindus, like other minorities have the dual voting rights in principle. But the reality is they have no rights to vote for their own representatives as the seats are reserved — means the distribution of these seats are at the discretion of parties’ leadership. Practically speaking, these reserved seats are meant for political parties not for minorities. In case of general seats, it is almost impossible for a Hindu candidate to win until and unless supported by the mainstream parties of the country. The bitter truth is — the mainstream parties have always ignored the Hindus by hesitating to field them from general seats. In 2013, only one Hindu candidate — Mahesh Kumar from the Tharparkar district won from a general seat, also became the only minority candidate to make it to the National Assembly from a general seat. This time too, he is nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — a major centre-left party of Pakistan. However, there are no other Hindu candidates for a general seat from the two other significant centre-right parties — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI). Although, there is a Hindu candidate named Sanjay Berwani from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — a Karachi (capital of Sindh province) based secular centrist party of Pakistan.

Shashi_tharoor
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is
elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country.

The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures. It means that despite the state’s hostile policies, Hindus have been able to remain stable in a highly Islamist polarised society. 90% of the Hindu population of the country lives in the Sindh province. Hindu population in Umerkot,Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts of the Sindh province stands at 49%, 46% and 33% respectively — making them the only three substantial Hindu districts of the country. The three districts have 5 National Assembly and 13 Provincial seats. However, Hindus have never well represented from these seats.

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province. Many of them belong to the Schedule caste — the Dalit community. A recent report based on Pakistan Election Commission’s data says that out of 2.5 lakh women of Tharparkar district, around 2 lakh of them are not included in the electoral list — means that they are not entitled to vote for the upcoming general elections. All over the country, there are about 1.21 crore women voters who will not be able to vote in the elections. The reason is the lack of an identity card. Most of them are poor who are unable to pay the expenses required for an identity card. This has made difficult for independent Hindu Dalit candidates like Sunita Parmar and Tulsi Balani as most of their supporters will not be voting in the upcoming polls. In Tharparkar district, around 33% percent are the Hindu Dalits — brushed aside by the mainstream parties. The reserved seat candidates are based on party nominations, where mainly the upper caste Hindus are preferred. Radha Bheel, a first time contestant and the chairperson of Dalit Suhaag Tehreek (DST), a Dalit organisation, says that the fight is for the rights of the lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. Sunita, Tulsi, Radha and the other independent Hindu candidates know
that the possibility of winning from the general seats is bleak but for them the contest is for their own identity — an identity never recognised by the political parties and the establishment of Pakistan.