Buddhism is often considered to be an anti-Vedic atheist philosophy. While today there are huge number of schools and sects within Buddhism (exceeded perhaps only by Islam in terms of number of divisions, sects, sub-sects within), if we review the original teachings of Gautam Buddha, we find that he was only trying to teach the concepts of Vedas to best of his understanding.
Vocabulary of Buddhism
1. The vocabulary of Buddhism is adopted from prevailing literature.
The word Buddha comes in Mahabharat Shantiparva 193/6 to mean ‘intelligent’.
Bodhisatva has been used for Sri Krishna in Shishupal Vadh 15/58 and its commentary by Vallabhdeva.
Bhikshu again is a word denoting certain sage in Mahabharat Shantiparva 325/24 and Gautam Dharmasutra 3/2.
Shraman comes in Brihadaranyak Upanishad and Gautam Dharmasutra
Nirvana comes from Deval Dharmasutra
and so on.
2. The famous Buddhist chant of Om Mani Padme Hum speaks for itself on glory of Om – that originates from Vedas and is integral part of Hinduism.
Vedas in teachings of Mahatma Buddha
3. In Sutta Nipat 192, Mahatma Buddha says that:
Vidwa Cha Vedehi Samechcha Dhammam Na Uchchavacham Gachhati Bhooripanjo.
People allow sense-organs to dominate and keep shuffling between high and low positions. But the scholar who understands Vedas understands Dharma and does not waver.
4. Sutta Nipat 503:
Yo Vedagu Gyanarato Sateema …….
One should support a person who is master of Vedas, contemplative, intelligent, helpful if you desire to inculcate similar traits.
5. Sutta Nipat 1059:
Yam Brahmanam Vedagum Abhijanjya Akinchanam Kamabhave Asattam……
One gets free from worldly pains if he is able to understand a Vedic Scholar who has no wealth and free from attraction towards worldly things.
6. Sutta Nipat 1060:
Vidwa Cha So Vedagu Naro Idha Bhavabhave Sangam Imam Visajja…..
I state that one who understands the Vedas rejects attraction towards the world and becomes free from sins.
7. Sutta Nipat 846:
Na Vedagu Diththia Na Mutiya Sa Manameti Nahi Tanmayoso….
One who knows Vedas does not acquire false ego. He is not affected by hearsay and delusions.
8. Sutta Nipat 458:
Yadantagu Vedagu Yanjakaale Yassahuti Labhe Taras Ijjeti Broomi
I state that one who acquires Ahuti in Havan of a Vedic scholar gets success.
These are just a few examples from works of Mahatma Buddha.
Why Mahatma Buddha rejected Vedas
9. Mahatma Buddha did not reject Vedas per se, but the malpractices happening in name of Vedas. For example, if you call someone – He is a Neta of India – today, he may get offended and feel as if you have called him corrupt and manipulative. This is not because Neta word in itself means ‘corrupt’, but because this is what we see of the so-called Netas today.
Similarly, when Mahatma Buddha questioned birth-based casteism, animal sacrifice and other nonsense practices, he was answered that Vedas sanction so. Thus, like any sane morally upright person would do, Mahatma Buddha stated that: “If Vedas sanction these evil practices, then I reject Vedas.”
Had Gautam Buddha obtained an opportunity to study the actual Vedas and not go by the false notions prevailing, he could no way have issued such a statement.
And the country + entire world would have been strong enough to counter barbaric attacks of West/ Central Asian tribals that has resulted in the greatest problem of last 1000 years – terrorism.
10. If you review the basic precepts of Buddhism, they are simply Vedic teachings reworded.
- For example, the 4 cardinal truths on life, suffering, desire, cessation is straight from Yoga and Nyaya Darshan. In fact Nyaya Darshan 1.2 echoes almost the same essence in as many words.
- The 8 fold path is adequately covered in a variety of ways in all ancient texts – Vedas, Manusmriti, Mahabharat and Yoga Darshan for example.
- The emphasis on Ahimsa is adapted from Yoga Darshan that puts Ahimsa as the first essential discipline for progress in Yoga- the process of realizing self and God.
- Theory of rebirth and Law of Karma that Buddhism is built upon finds its foundation in mantras of Vedas. Refer examples in http://agniveer.com/3203/islam-vedas/
- Rejection of birth-based caste-system is also in lines with Vedas. Refer http://agniveer.com/series/caste-system-3/
- Emphasis on meditation is straight adopted from the Yoga Darshan that itself is based on Vedas.
- The 5 commandments for Buddhists and especially monks are from Yoga Darshan 1.2.3
In summary, one can state that Buddhism, as preached by Gautam Buddha, was a system of morality based on Vedas.
Why was Mahatma Buddha atheist?
11. Mahatma Buddha was not atheist. Atheism developed later. At best, Gautam Buddha can be said to be agnostic. He believed that first and foremost duty is to raise one’s intellect level through practice of moral code of conduct and mind control.
12. Mahatma Buddha did not believe in arguments or debates. He had a very practical approach. He thus refused to either deny or acknowledge presence of God or a supreme entity. He was content with teaching self-control and self-constraint and did not take trouble of attempting a solution of the great problems of Universe: How it began? Is it everlasting? Have I existed in past? Will I exist forever? etc.
Later philosophers of Buddhism did attempt to solve these mysteries through their own analysis and that is how Buddhism developed so many branches and sects.
In Kula Mayukyaovad Majjhama Nikaya there is a reference where someone asked Gautam Buddha whether the world is everlasting. He replied, “Did I ever promise that I shall teach you whether the world is everlasting or not? If not, then do not press the inquiry.”
In Sabbasava Sutta, he suggests that such inquiries into self and universe are meaningless.
Thus Mahatma Buddha focused on practical aspects and neglected the theoretical or metaphysical aspects. This was perhaps because he wanted to ensure that ritualistic malpractices do not overshadow the core essence of his teachings.
However these are natural questions in any human being and thus later Buddhists had to make up for this deficiency in a variety of ways.
But if we review the original philosophy of Mahatma Buddha, there is no evidence of he being atheist or anti-Vedic.
His attitude towards Vedas and Theism was that of indifference rather than rejection. In this indifference lied his Vedic foundation. Because he eventually adopted only from the Vedas to form his ideology and strived to be an honest practitioner of “Accept truth, reject the rest.” to best of his capability and intent.
Impact of Buddhism
13. Buddhism had a great impact during its times. It paved way for rejection of distortions and external symbols towards nurture of morality. Since Buddhism did not challenge any of the key philosophical foundations of existing way of life – rebirth, law of karma, emphasis on morality – it became popular not only in India and across Asia. But soon it declined especially in India.
14. As Mahatma Buddha himself said, “The body contains within itself the power to renew its strength but also the causes that lead to its destruction.”
In case of Buddhism, the cause lied in its incompleteness. While it adopted the moral precepts of Vedas, it ignored the metaphysical foundations. Thus while a whole generation of Buddhist philosophers did spring up later, they could not address the key metaphysical questions convincingly and cohesively – On Self, Universe and Unchangeable Laws. This may work for pragmatics but not for the truly philosophical minds.
A mind tired with illogical ways of life may find great reprieve in focusing purely on moral precepts and meditation. But for someone who hails for a culture having a vast legacy of philosophical richness in every mundane and not-so-mundane aspect of life, there are more questions needed to be explored to quench the intellectual thirst.
Acharya Shankar debated with Buddhists of his era and proved that whatever Buddhism (of that era) argues by denying existence of God can also be explained by Adwait (One singular entity everywhere). Thus for centuries the debate between atheists and Vedics continued giving rise to a vast number of philosophical texts in India.
15. Later Buddhism tried to deny more clearly the existence of God and even that of soul but could not give a satisfactory substitute. They believed in eternal immutable law and never ending chain of cause and effect. But in absence of an entity ensuring that the laws work smartly and for our benefit, it was a blind alley: A religion without a deity! A worshipper without an object of worship!
This forced Buddhists to evolve their own elaborate set of ceremonies, rituals, idols, chants and practices, but this only brought them in rift with the original concepts. Some historians state that idol-worship began with Buddhism. All this kept splitting it into so many branches that are startlingly different at times. The religion supposed to be based on logic, intellect and mind-control, developed loads of superstitions, blind beliefs, tantra practices, witchcraft and myths of miracles. Today the divine Dalai Lama superstition has become foundation of popular Buddhism.
16. The rift widened so much that the religion, which is said to have been based on foundation of Non-Violence or Ahimsa, and which is said to have rejected Vedas because Vedas were perceived to sanction animal-sacrifice, is one of the largest consumers of meat-products today! In many Buddhist places, they hang a board outside meat-shop that says: “Believe Us, This meat is not for you.” Now the monks are guilt-free in eating meat in these shops!!
When someone asked Dalai Lama while he was helping himself with a serving of meat, he said, ” I am Buddhist. I am not vegetarian!”
Ironically, what is taught today across world is that Mahatma Buddha got perturbed when he saw people carrying animals for sacrifice and hence rebelled! Very few people perhaps know that the cult that had its very origin in Animal Rights is the largest killer of animals today! All for taste!
And followers of Vedas – which were alleged to endorse animal killing – are today the greatest proponents of Animal Rights!
In fact, many sects of Buddhism believe that Mahatma Buddha died due to indigestion from consumption of pork offered as charity. (as per these sects whatever provided in charity must be consumed.)
Similarly, while Buddhism (which started with rejecting man-made caste system) is now divided into so many sects/ sub-sects with its own sectoral practices that are necessary to adopt to be one of them, it is followers of Vedas who reject all man-made divisions and appeal for oneness of entire humankind regardless of man-made rituals and beliefs.
The roles are completely reversed today.
Coming back to the roots – Vedas – seems to be the best way to emulate Gautam Buddha today!!
17. While Buddhism could create appeal among other regions and can impress Christians today (Christianity derives its philosophical foundation in Buddhism and hence it is the next logical bridge for Christians to an evolved and more matured view of life), but for India – that has been home to a whole chain of eminent thinkers, the vagueness of Buddhism could not hold its appeal for long.
Today, whatever Buddhism prevails in India is primarily a reaction to the birth-based caste system and related rituals which are wrongly attributed to Vedas.
18. The final blow to Buddhism came from Islamic invasion in medieval era. The Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan are mute spectators of that gory period of history. Buddhism, by its very rejection of other aspects of life except moral precepts, became most vulnerable to Muslim attacks. This has been the greatest damaging gift of Buddhist ideology to present era. The escapist Buddhist view that preferred to be neutral to all that happens with us in world, coupled with a damaging caste-system among Hindus, made sure that barbaric uncivilized tribals could decimate us and establish their dominance. Hinduism could still survive due to its inherent emphasis on realism, but Buddhism perished. And this untimely perish had further adverse outcomes on future of India in the form of philosophical downtime.
19. Ask any weight-trainer and he would tell you that if you need to build big biceps, you need to focus on leg-squats as well. Lop-sided development does not work. It only causes injuries. Similarly mere focus on moral precepts do not work for society. One has to dwell into other aspects – society, politics, science, philosophy, metaphysics, etc – for things to work out. That is why Vedas emphasize and train on a vast variety of subjects.
While Buddhism adopted the moral precepts from Vedas, it made a blunder by ignoring the fuller picture. And that changed the path of history forever.
In fact Buddhism was not supposed to be a distinct sect in first place. It was merely supposed to be a philosophy focusing on moral aspects of life. Mahatma Buddha did not gave any preachings on other aspects at all. The blunder was that his followers took his narrow specific focus as a complete recipe of life.
Often we get so enamored by personalities that we lose the big picture. We consider fullness in whatever attracts our attention for long. For example, we witnessed the cricket drama for a month and now there seems nothing more patriotic than winning a World Cup and recommending Bharat Ratna for a cricketer! Similarly, most cults sprang up because the followers failed to consider the deeds and views of their role models as a critical PART of a bigger picture and instead considered completeness in that SMALL PART.
Mahatma Buddha considered eradication of misery as the Mission. While this is true, he took it to a narrow extreme and hence created a philosophy that was too pessimistic for common man to be motivated enough for worthwhile actions. This coupled with absence of any discussions on the key questions that initiate spiritual thinking – who am I, will I die forever, will this world end etc – left no incentive for a layman to extend his efforts beyond sitting in an isolated place trying to control the mind. Why would then one make sacrifice for nation, fight the enemies and work for smiles on face of his fellow-beings when he does not know clearly why he is doing so?
Today, psychologists would tell you that running away from miseries cannot bring the same level of motivation for worthwhile actions than desire for greater happiness.
Avoidance of miseries because world is full of miseries implies that one would naturally escape from worldly duties because even these performance of these duties would cause indulgence and hence miseries.
After all, Buddhist philosophy asserted that our misery began the moment we were born. To deny even the Self (Anatma) to become indifferent to pain becomes goal of life. How can then indifference generate actions when there is even no vaguely clear end-goal to be reached and denial is the best recipe?
Mahatma Buddha talked of 4 right beliefs: Knowledge of misery, Knowledge of origin of misery, Knowledge of cessation of misery and knowledge of path leading to cessation of misery.
But when even ‘I’ does not exist, who will work for getting these right beliefs? And what would be obtained? This incompleteness led to rank pessimism. The philosophies that emerged to counter this blinded belief system of Mahatma Buddha also suffered from the same pessimism and inherent inertia against vigorous actions.
Buddhism was doing bicep curls but not squatting sufficiently. It took only one part of Vedic message but ignored the rest.
Thus nationalism and reformist zeal could not co-exist prominently with Buddhism (even though Mahatma Buddha himself was an extremely dynamic man). It left Buddhism defenseless against savage attacks and created ‘Parable of Boiled Frog‘. If you put a frog in hot water, it would jump out immediately. But if you put it in a beaker and gradually increase the temperature of water from cold to warm to hot to boiling, the frog does not jump out. It dies instead. This is because the nervous system of frog is unable to detect gradual changes in temperature.
Lack of focus on proactive action plus view of life being a misery in either case – action or no action plus belief in everything being futile because everything is temporary plus refusal to look into bigger picture and focussing only on a narrow set of precepts, turned Buddhism into a frog. It offered little resistance to invaders and virtually opened the doors for savages to India.
And whatever Buddhism survived is far from original thoughts of the founder – a countless number of sects/ subsects with extremely diverse view and having only image of Gautam Buddha in common.
It is true that there is suffering in world. But to say that it is unalloyed pure suffering, with no iota of pleasure is a dangerous generalization. Absolute unalloyed pessimism cannot goad man to action. The world is not an abode of misery. The Benevolent God could not have made such a nasty world where suffering reigns. Even the most miserable in the world has some sort of joy which keeps him up. Even stoics had to summon up exceptional resolve when they prepared themselves for suicide. No sane being wishes to die because behind all miseries there is a hope that the all-blissful God will not leave us in lurch. Whether one believes in God or not, in this hope for a better future lies the bliss and acceptance of Supreme power. To deny this is to deny reality. And a philosophy that denies realism cannot face the challenges of real world.
Kapila states in Sankhya 5.113 that at least during Sushupti (deep slumber), Samadhi (deep meditation) and Moksha (Salvation) soul gets an experience of Supreme bliss.
Swami Dayanand succinctly explained the flaw in lines of Vedas: “If you compare the pleasure and pain of the world, pleasures many times exceed the pain. And many pure souls earn the bliss of salvation by constant practice of virtuous actions.”
(If Agniveer were to pick the most inspiring quote from entire Vedic teachings it has ever come across, it would undoubtedly be this one.)
This makes the Vedic philosophy distinctly optimistic and invigorating. It assuages the rigor of present life and makes the future hopeful. It illumines our present as well as future.
We wish if someone could have made this statement during times of Mahatma Buddha! History would have been different. But alas!
In absence of this, Buddhism turned to escapism (even though Mahatma Buddha himself was a man of action). When the savages attacked, we were occupied with our meditations to ignore the self and cause of misery through indifference. We neglected built up of strong armies, regular training, and R&D on defense. We were indifferent to need for reformist zeal to break the very roots of caste-system and gender discrimination, we refused to look into the Vedas to discover what the original teachings were. We were simply practicing indifference to real challenges around.
And today, while Buddhism does not prominently exist in India (except in Dharmashala where Dalai Lama is forced to have asylum after Chinese aggression), the philosophy and the myriad of other philosophies that emerged to amend or counter it, turns us into a fatalistic society. We have developed high inertia, resist the urge to face challenges, attempt to use philosophy as a tool to justify our escapism and have gradually moved towards becoming indifferent to whatever does not pinch us too strongly. Ahimsa has become just an alibi for laziness and cowardice.
No, we don’t mean that Buddhism is to be blamed for all this. Not at all. Buddhism was a natural reaction to the prevailing ironies in the society of those times. And an essential one. We believe that people have different needs and level of evolution and hence for many including Mahatma Buddha this was the most optimal view of life. For a society that was focusing too much on blind rituals and irrational social practices, Buddhism gave the right shock to spur up more rational and logical thinking. The roots of the problem lay much earlier and Buddhism was merely a logical and necessary outcome.
Teachings of Mahatma Buddha are based purely on moral aspects of Vedas. His teachings also showcase his respect for Vedas. His vocabulary and usages were derived from Vedic texts. Thus he was in summary a Vedic preacher to best of his abilities.
Thus there is NO WAY that Buddhism of Gautam Buddha can be termed as separate from Vedic Dharma. It is as much an offshoot attempting to reach the source – Vedic wisdom – as other sects.
However the defection of the narrow incomplete focus of Buddhism into a complete philosophy in its own right (which it never meant to be in first place) was detrimental to national interests.
Had Buddhism been a more informed and complete philosophy based on a more thorough and rigorous study of Vedas instead of its paradoxical apparent rejection based on extremely superficial grounds, history would have been different.
Had Buddhists spent efforts to reform the society the way Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Swami Dayanand attempted, instead of attempting to split into a separate sect (which it never was), history would have been different.
Similarly, if all other sects and cults would have not been based on bounded rationality of a few well-intentioned men and had instead attempted to grab the complete picture of the concepts in their original source, the Vedas, world would have been a much more sensible place today. Much more tolerant, broader in outlook and rational.
Whatever good that we see in any cult or sect is already existing in Vedas though elaborated through works and teachings of great legends from time to time. However because most of these founders were addressing their imminent short-term needs and the followers believed in exclusivity of their sect, the holistic view got missing.
The key lesson is that any incomplete or temporary solution for today would eventually become a problem tomorrow.
The only way is to adopt the complete solution.
Swami Dayanand suggested a way to approach this issue of so many sects and cults and religions touching one part of the elephant each. Let all the common points in all these sects be brought together that are acceptable to all. For example, non-violence, morality, nationalism, truthfulness, non-stealing etc. Then eliminate all assumptions, beliefs and practices unique to each sect that is not otherwise explainable. This becomes the Universal Dharma for all human beings and this is exactly what Vedas teach.
Agniveer respects all the great men of history who attempted to bring society closer to Vedic living. And aspires that we evolve to reach the original source that all these great legends were attempting to reach – The wisdom of Vedas. Instead of viewing completeness in our own silo, let us attempt to integrate all the silos together into One. Lets get back to the roots instead of holding on to each tiny branch as the source. No we don’t mean that all branches be cut-off and only root of the tree should remain. We only desire that each branch knows that we form a tree only when all the branches are together and supported by the root. A branch detached from rest of the branches and root would only be a dry piece of wood. So lets all be One Tree and strengthen the roots of the Tree that would then strengthen us all.
This is the only way to pay our homage to their legacy. Our failure to do so brought us the miseries we faced till today.
Our success would ensure Shantih (peace, bliss, happiness) everywhere.
ॐ द्यौ: शान्तिरन्तरिक्षँ शान्ति:
पृथिवी शान्तिराप: शान्तिरोषधय: शान्ति: ।
वनस्पतय: शान्तिर्विश्वे देवा: शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्ति:
सर्वँ शान्ति: शान्तिरेव शान्ति: सा मा शान्तिरेधि ॥
ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति: ॥
References: Works of Pt Gangaprasad Updhyaya, Pt Bhagvadutta, Justice Gangaprasad, Pt Dharmadeva Vidyamartanda and several other scholars
Note: The views expressed are supposed to be a perspective to stir up thoughts, discussions and introspection. They may be viewed in context of the Agniveer’s stand and not otherwise.