Gautama Buddha in Hinduism

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Buddha as an avatar at Dwaraka Tirumala temple, Andhra Pradesh.

Gautama Buddha, of Buddhism fame, is one of the avatars of the god Vishnu in Vaishnava Hinduism. Of the ten major Vishnu avatars, he is considered as the ninth incarnation.[1][2] His portrayal in Hinduism varies. In some texts such as the Puranas, he is portrayed as an avatar born to mislead those who deny the Vedic knowledge.[2] In others such as Gitagovinda of Vaishnava poet Jayadeva, Vishnu incarnates as the Buddha to teach and end animal slaughter.[1]

Buddhists traditionally do not accept the Buddha to be a Vishnu avatar.[1][3] The adoption of Buddha may have been a way to assimilate Buddhism into the fold of Hinduism.[1][2] Much like Hinduism's adoption of the Buddha as an avatar, Buddhism legends too adopted Krishna in its Jataka Tales, claiming Krishna (Vishnu avatar) to be a character whom Buddha met and taught in his previous births.[4] Some scholars such as Hermann Oldenberg, Thomas Rhys Davids and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan have stated that there is much in common between the two religions, and Buddha was "born, brought up, lived and died a Hindu".[5][6][7]

Avatar of Vishnu[edit]

Hinduism regards Buddha (bottom centre) as one of the 10 avatars of Vishnu

The Buddha has been important to Hinduism since the ancient times, given his teachings and royal support. The Hindu views (Brahmanical tradition) for the Buddha have neither been consistent nor constant. They have ranged from actively contesting the Buddhist premises and theology to sharing or adopting terminology, concepts as well as more recently, the persona of the Siddhartha as someone who was born in and matured into the Buddha in a Brahmanical system.[8] One such integration is through its mythology, where in Vaishnava Puranas, the Buddha is adopted as the ninth avatar of Vishnu.[8]

In the Dasavatara stotra section of his Gita Govinda, the influential Vaishnava poet Jayadeva (13th century) includes the Buddha amongst the ten principal avatars of Vishnu and writes a prayer regarding him as follows:

O Keshava! O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari, who have assumed the form of Buddha! All glories to You! O Buddha of compassionate heart, you decry the slaughtering of poor animals performed according to the rules of Vedic sacrifice.[9]

This viewpoint of the Buddha as the avatar who primarily promoted ahimsa remains a popular belief amongst a number of modern Vaishnava organisations, including the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.[10]

Buddha claimed as a Hindu[edit]

Buddha as Vishnu at Chennakesava Temple (Somanathapura).

Scholars contest whether the Hindu perceptions and apologetic attempts to rationalize the Buddha within their fold is correct.[8] Though an avatar of Vishnu, the Buddha is rarely worshipped like Krishna and Rama in Hinduism.[1] According to John Holt, the Buddha was adopted as an avatar of Vishnu around the time the Puranas were being composed, in order to subordinate him into the Brahmanical ideology.[11] Further adds Holt, various scholars in India, Sri Lanka and outside South Asia state that the colonial era and contemporary attempts to assimilate Buddha into the Hindu fold is a nationalistic political agenda, where "the Buddha has been reclaimed triumphantly as a symbol of indigenous nationalist understandings of India's history and culture".[12]

Other scholars such as Hermann Oldenberg, Thomas Rhys Davids and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan have stated that there is much in common between the two religions.[5][6][13] According to the British scholar and founder of Pali Text Society Rhys Davids, Buddha was "born, brought up, lived and died a Hindu".[6] It is a misconception, states Rhys Davids, that Gautama Buddha was an enemy to Hinduism, nor did he seek to destroy an alleged system of "iniquity, oppression and fraud".[6] Richard Gombrich, an Indologist and a professor of Buddhist Studies, and other scholars, the Buddha did not begin or pursue social reforms nor was he against caste althogether, rather his aim was at the salvation of those who joined his monastic order.[14][15][16] Modernists, states Gombrich, keep picking up this "mistake from western authors".[14] The Oxford professor and later President of India Radhakrishnan states that "Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion" and considered Buddha to be a Hindu".[5]

Texts[edit]

The Buddha is mentioned as an avatar of VIshnu in the Puranas and the epics such as:

In the Puranic texts, he is mentioned as one of the ten Avatars of Vishnu, usually as the ninth one. Another important scripture that mentions him as an avatar is Parashara's Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra (2:1-5/7).

Interpretations[edit]

Gautama Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu in a Persian-style painting.

Helmuth von Glasenapp attributed these developments to a Hindu desire to absorb Buddhism in a peaceful manner, both to win Buddhists to Vaishnavism and also to account for the fact that such a significant heresy could exist in India.[20]

The times ascribed to one "Buddha" figure are contradictory and some put him in approximately 500 CE, with a lifetime of 64 years, describe him as having killed some persons, as following the Vedic religion, and having a father named Jina, which suggest that this particular figure might be a different person from Siddhārta Gautama.[21]

Mutual adoption of iconography[edit]

Chakra has been a historic identifier of Vishnu's dharma, but it as Dharmachakra is also an esteemed symbol in Buddhism for the Buddha's doctrine.[22]

Mutual adoption of revered figures[edit]

While Hinduism adopted the Buddha in its mythology, Buddhism adopted the Hindu god Krishna in its own mythology. The story of Krishna occurs in the Jataka tales in Buddhism, for example.[23] The Vidhurapandita Jataka mentions Madhura (Sanskrit: Mathura), the Ghata Jataka mentions Kamsa, Devagabbha (Sk: Devaki), Upasagara or Vasudeva, Govaddhana (Sk: Govardhana), Baladeva (Balarama), and Kanha or Kesava (Sk: Krishna, Keshava).[24][25]

The Arjuna and Krishna interaction is missing in the Jataka version. In the Buddhist version, Krishna laments in uncontrollable sorrow when his son dies, and a Ghatapandita feigns madness to teach Krishna a lesson.[26] The Jataka tale also includes an internecine destruction among his siblings after they all get drunk. Krishna also dies in the Buddhist legend by the hand of a hunter named Jara, but while he is traveling to a frontier city. Mistaking Krishna for a pig, Jara throws a spear that fatally pierces his feet, causing Krishna great pain and then his death.[27]

At the end of this Ghata-Jataka discourse, the Buddhist text declares that Sariputta, one of the revered disciples of the Buddha in the Buddhist tradition, was incarnated as Krishna in his previous life to learn lessons on grief from the Buddha in his prior rebirth:

Then he [Master] declared the Truths, and identified the Birth: 'At that time, Ananda was Rohineyya, Sariputta was Vasudeva [Krishna], the followers of the Buddha were the other persons, and I myself was Ghatapandita."

— Jataka Tale No. 454, Translator: W. H. D. Rouse[4]

While the Buddhist Jataka texts co-opt Krishna-Vasudeva and make him a student of the Buddha in his previous life,[4] the Hindu texts co-opt the Buddha and make him an avatar of Vishnu.[28][29]

Differences between Buddhism and Hinduism[edit]

Buddha as an avatara at Airavatesvara Temple

While Buddha is included as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism, the two religions are different. Buddhism, like Hinduism and other major Indian religions, asserts that everything is impermanent (anicca), but, unlike them, also asserts that there is no permanent self or soul in living beings (anattā).[30][31][32] The ignorance or misperception (avijjā) that anything is permanent or that there is self in any being is considered a wrong understanding in Buddhism, and the primary source of clinging and dukkha.[33][34][35]

Buddha endorsed and taught the concept of rebirth. This refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception to death.[36] In Buddhist thought, however, this rebirth does not involve any soul, unlike Hinduism and Jainism.[37] According to Buddhism the atman concept is incorrect, untrue.[38]

Reception[edit]

B. R. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader who in 1935 declared his intention to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism and converted about 20 years later, rejected that Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu.[39] Among the 22 vows he gave to the Dalit Buddhist movement, the 5th vow is "I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda."[40]

According to Donald Swearer, the understanding of Buddha in Hinduism is a part of his wider and diverse influences. Even within Buddhism, states Swearer, Buddha and his ideas are conceptualized differently between Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, Japanese and other traditions. Similarly, in various traditions of Hinduism (and elsewhere), Buddha is accepted and interpreted in different ways.[41]

Narada Maha Thera, a Buddhist monk and translator born in Sri Lanka states that Buddha was not an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, nor a Savior. He remarks that the Buddha taught his disciples to be dependent on themselves for their liberation and not on any external deity who could liberate or save them from the result of their evil deeds because according to Buddha purification and defilement depend on oneself. He expresses that Buddha clearly taught his disciples that Buddha is only a teacher and it is us who ultimately will have to walk on the path of liberation.[42]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 73, 128. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8. 
  2. ^ a b c John Clifford Holt (2008). The Buddhist Viṣṇu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-81-208-3269-5. 
  3. ^ Charles Russell Coulter (2013). Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Routledge. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-135-96390-3. , Quote: "According to some, Buddha was the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Buddhists do not accept this theory."
  4. ^ a b c E.B. Cowell; WHD Rouse (1901). The Jātaka: Or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births. Cambridge University Press. p. 57. 
  5. ^ a b c Lars Tore Flåten (2016). Hindu Nationalism, History and Identity in India: Narrating a Hindu past under the BJP. Taylor & Francis. pp. 90–93. ISBN 978-1-317-20871-6. , Quote: "Rhys Davids says, 'Gautama was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu."
  6. ^ a b c d Thomas William Rhys Davids (2000). Buddhism: Being a Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha. Asian Educational Services. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-81-206-1479-6. 
  7. ^ K N Jayatilleke (2013). Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Routledge. pp. 369–370 with note 625. ISBN 978-1-134-54287-1. 
  8. ^ a b c John Clifford Holt (2008). The Buddhist Viṣṇu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 8–22. ISBN 978-81-208-3269-5. 
  9. ^ John Marshall / Jaya Tirtha Charan Dasa (1970-02-18). "Dasavatara stotra". Salagram.net. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  10. ^ Lecture 1974 by founder of ISKCON - A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada "Because people were addicted so much in violence, in killing the animals, therefore Buddha philosophy was needed"
  11. ^ Holt, John. The Buddhist Visnu. Columbia University Press, 2004, p.12,15 "The replacement of the Buddha as the "cosmic person" within the mythic ideology of Indian kingship, as we shall see shortly, occurred at about the same time the Buddha was incorporated and subordinated within the Brahmanical cult of Visnu."
  12. ^ John Clifford Holt (2008). The Buddhist Viṣṇu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 18–23, 31–32. ISBN 978-81-208-3269-5. 
  13. ^ K N Jayatilleke (2013). Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Routledge. pp. 369–370 with note 625. ISBN 978-1-134-54287-1. 
  14. ^ a b Richard Gombrich (2012). Buddhist Precept & Practice. Routledge. pp. 344–345, context and discussion: 343–370. ISBN 978-1-136-15623-6. , Quote: "Unlike the customs concerning property and succession it is admitted by traditionalists to be doctrinally indefensible, and it is of course heartily attacked by modernists. Some modernists go so far as to say that the Buddha was against caste altogether: this is not the case, but is one of mistakes picked up from western authors".
  15. ^ Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press, 2000, page 205-206
  16. ^ Christopher S. Queen; Sallie B. King (1996). Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. State University of New York Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-7914-2844-3. 
  17. ^ "Bhagavata Purana 1.3.24". Srimadbhagavatam.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  18. ^ Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1982.
  19. ^ Dhere Ramchandra Chintaman, Shri Vitthal: ek maha samanvaya, Shri Vidya Prakashan, Pune, 1984 (Marathi)
  20. ^ von Glasenapp 1962 page 113, cited in O'Flaherty, page 206.
  21. ^ Singh, p.266.
  22. ^ Hajime Nakamura (1964). The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India-China-Tibet-Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-8248-0078-9. 
  23. ^ "Andhakavenhu Puttaa". www.vipassana.info. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  24. ^ Law, B. C. (1941). India as Described in Early Texts of Buddhism and Jainism. Luzac. pp. 99–101. 
  25. ^ Jaiswal, S. (1974). "Historical Evolution of the Ram Legend". Social Scientist. 21 (3-4): 89–97. JSTOR 3517633. 
  26. ^ Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera (2007). Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names: A-Dh. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 825–826. ISBN 978-81-208-3021-9. 
  27. ^ H. T. Francis; E. J. Thomas (1916). Jataka Tales. Cambridge University Press (Reprinted: 2014). pp. 314–324. ISBN 978-1-107-41851-6. 
  28. ^ Daniel E Bassuk (1987). Incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity: The Myth of the God-Man. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-349-08642-9. 
  29. ^ Edward Geoffrey Parrinder (1997). Avatar and Incarnation: The Divine in Human Form in the World's Religions. Oxford: Oneworld. pp. 19–24, 35–38, 75–78, 130–133. ISBN 978-1-85168-130-3. 
  30. ^ Anatta Buddhism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
  31. ^ [a] Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-136-22877-3. 
    [b] Gombrich (2006), page 47, Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
  32. ^ [a] Anatta, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013), Quote: "Anatta in Buddhism, the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying soul. The concept of anatta, or anatman, is a departure from the Hindu belief in atman ("the self").";
    [b] Steven Collins (1994), Religion and Practical Reason (Editors: Frank Reynolds, David Tracy), State Univ of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791422175, page 64; "Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman, the opposed doctrine of ātman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence.";
    [c] John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism";
    [d] Katie Javanaud (2013), Is The Buddhist 'No-Self' Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?, Philosophy Now;
    [e] David Loy (1982), Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65–74
  33. ^ Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8. , Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an exteme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps – the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
  34. ^ Richard Francis Gombrich; Cristina Anna Scherrer-Schaub (2008). Buddhist Studies. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 209–210. ISBN 978-81-208-3248-0. 
  35. ^ Frank Hoffman; Deegalle Mahinda (2013). Pali Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 162–165. ISBN 978-1-136-78553-5. 
  36. ^ Keown, Damien (1996). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 107. 
  37. ^ Oliver Leaman (2002). Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings. Routledge. pp. 23–27. ISBN 978-1-134-68919-4. 
  38. ^ [a] Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-136-22877-3. 
    [b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8. , Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an extreme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps – the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
    [c] Gombrich (2006), page 47, Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
  39. ^ Michael Jerryson (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. Oxford University Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0-19-936238-7. 
  40. ^ Ucko, Hans (2002). The people and the people of God. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 101. ISBN 978-3-8258-5564-2. 
  41. ^ Donald Swearer (2016). Michael Jerryson, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. Oxford University Press. pp. 678–683. ISBN 978-0-19-936238-7. 
  42. ^ "Buddhism in a Nutshell". www.accesstoinsight.org. Retrieved 4 December 2016.