Monday, January 18, 2016

Vaishnavism and Buddhism

Vaishnavism and Buddhism

The analysis is done based on history centric opinions of western and Indian scholars. Also Swami Vivekananda has pointed many stuffs in this angle. In fact Swami Vivekananda is the first scholar to study Hinduism from a history centric point of view. It may sound different to mythology oriented people, but this is the true fact about ancient India.

To make long story short - we need to understand in details about three evolutions inside Hinduism - Brahminism, Tantra, Vaishnava.

Brahminism was an orthodox, conservative system, did not allow others to initiate into Vedic study. So others advent Tantra, a liberal system, but secret - worship of various deities through formal rituals - Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha etc are deities of Tantra. Vaisnava got developed later based on Purana, more liberal, and open in public - Vishnu as authority. And all these Puarans are written after Buddhism downfall. Shiva worship through Shiva-linga was present even before Buddhism. Buddhism had tried to dominate that Shiva worship. So they had built Buddhism monastery near to each Shaiva-peeta. e.g Buddha-gaya.

We need to analyse these in a history centric way. Our tendency is inclined towards mythology centric study based on Puranas. But we need to ask question - what is the origin of Purana?

A section of Buddhism known as Hinayana, were involved in idol worship. They were worshipping Buddha as God in temples, though Buddhism core belief system does not accept God. In fact they had built many temples in India. In Vedic Hinduism, there was no mention of temples, only Asrama concept was there.

Those Buddhists were later merged into Hinduism as Vaishnava and they only declared Buddha as Jagannatha or Vishnu. In fact there was no Buddhism in India. That itself was considered as Hinduism because all Hindu people were involved in worshipping Buddha. They borrowed vegetarianism from Buddhism. Otherwise in Vedic era, people used to eat meat. Link -

Those worshipper Buddhists-cum-Vaishnavas wrote many Puranas. Those authors were called Suta-muni. Suta means lower caste people. For example Jagannatha temple in Orissa was a Buddhism temple, later converted into Vishnu. Link -

All this transition had happened over a five hundred years starting from 200 BCE. Later Buddhist worshipper groups formally separated from core Buddhism because they don't believe in God. And that was known as Vaisnava sect, worshipping Buddha as latest incarnation of Vishnu in various temples. Buddha is considered as one incarnation out of ten incarnation of Vishnu [Dasavatara]. When Buddhism was eradicated from India by Kumaril Bhatta, Shankara etc, they did not take Buddha name out of fear, but continued as Vishnu. In fact current Vaishnavism is denying any link to historical Buddha of 600 BCE. Rather it is replaced by a mythological Buddha.

Of late in 10th century, Ramanuja took birth in that Vaisnava group. Then Madhva, Chaitanya Dev etc gave more maturity to Vaisnavism. Now Vaisnavism is considered as a main stream faith system in Hinduism.

History vs Mythology - Ramayana and Mahabharat

History vs Mythology - Ramayana and Mahabharat

Ramayana and Mahabharat document the ancient Indian history. But those are not considered as formal history texts in Indian Universities. Why?

First of all Ramayana and Mahabharat is considered as Itihasa. Itihasa means old narratives. In a sense it is the history of India. But there are few differences which need to be addressed before marking these as formal history texts.

1. Human History - When we say history in academic sense, it is referred to Human history, documentation of Human civilization. It does not cover the history of deities or Devatas like Indra, Varuna etc and demons or Rakshasa like Ravana, Bakasura etc.

Whereas books like Ramayana and Mahabharat contain both Human history along with the history of Devata and Rakshasa. So people don't accept history of Devata and Rakshasa as natural evolution of civilization. Those are considered as a part of mythology.

2. Earthly events - Generally history documents social, political, economical, cultural events or protocols present in past civilizations on earth. It does not cover the supra-cosmic events happened in heaven or hell.

Whereas Ramayana and Mahabharat contain past events occurred on earth as well as from heaven and hell. For example - Arjuna going to heaven for one year, Dasaratha went to heaven to help Indra etc. Yudhistira went to hell with own body as a visitor, Krishna brought dead son of a Brahmin etc. Those are considered as mythology because it does not fit into normal human perception.

3. Teachings - The purpose of history is to document the past events without any interpretation. For example - King Ashoka killed all in Kalinga, converted into Buddhism and spread Buddhism throughout the world. But history does not extend to incorporate Buddha's teaching. Because teaching is an interpretation to be covered in other stream of knowledge. Those are not a part of history.

Whereas Ramayana and Mahabharat contain past events along with teachings. For example - Vishma was sleeping on arrow bed and Krishna met him along with Pandavas. Then teaching given by Vishma is described at length. Similarly in battle field Krishna-Arjuna discussion is narrated as sacred book Gita. So these books also incorporate philosophies, moral teachings, and spiritual teachings. So people don't accept those as history or mythology. Rather those could be fit into philosophy stream.

4. Consistency -  In any stream of knowledge consistency is a challenge. Historical events are studied keeping sequence of events, possibly with time period. Also information should be consistent across all authors or books.

Whereas Ramayana and Mahabharat contain a lot of inconsistent events. Rama ruled for 11,000 years. His father Dasaratha also was said to have lived for 16,000 years.  Krishna met Jambuban of Treta. Krishna was dancing with sixteen thousand girls and then got married to another set of sixteen thousand girls. Radha, the lover of Krishna is NOT mentioned in Mahabharat, but she is a popular character in today's Krishna temple. Many such events are conflicting in various Puranas like Bhagavatam etc. So rational mind considers those as mythology.

5. Miracles - History covers incidents. It does not covers accidental miraculous events.

Whereas  Ramayana and Mahabharat contain many such miracles. Krishna lifting mountain in little finger. Ravana was moving in a magic flight, Hanuman jumping Indian ocean etc. So people does not accept these because there is no such scientific explanation of these events.

We need to remove all super-natural events, characters from these two books to be considered as history. 

6. Authenticity - Any stream of knowledge must be authentic including History. For example the existence of Buddha is known from various stone images and writings presents on stone. Writings from stones, discoveries from various monuments, study of metals, soils gives clue about past. For example Harappan Civilisation.

Whereas events documented in Ramayana and Mahabharat do not mention source of information - What are places, which period etc. For example Ravana is from Sri-lanka or not? Was Rama born in current Ayudhya or some other place? Where is the birth place of Krishna in current India? There are no uniform answers to all these events. So people doubt authenticity of places and events.

7. Author - Any information without author name is irrelevant. This is very important in case of History. People go by the authority of that person in that stream of knowledge.

Ramayana is written by Valmiki. Some says he wrote through visual meditation because he did not know Rama until Narada revealed it. It seems he also wrote beforehand what Rama is going to do in future. There are thousands Ramayana in Sanskrit and local languages. In one Ramayana in Sanskrit,  where Sita is Ravana's sister and Rama kidnapped Sita. So there was a fight between Rama and Ravana. Similarly Vyasa wrote Mahabharat through Ganesha from heaven. And same Vyasa wrote many Puranans, all are inconsistent. Buddha is mentioned by Vyasa in Bhagavatam. Then Buddha is before Vyasa or after Vyasa? Some say Vyasa is just a title of publishers. There were many Vyasa, many Suta-muni etc.

8. Rituals - It is mentioned in various Smritis and Sutras, during rituals, Kings used to arrange discussion and speech program as pastime. Because the rituals like Ashvamedha, Rajasuya, Putra-kamesti Yajna use to continue for months. And whole day people cannot chant mantra. So during the gap, as a refreshing or entertaining activities, people used to describe about past kings and past events. At later point of time those tales are documented as Ramayana and Mahabharat. Since these tales are associated with rituals, there were various narrators, so there are inconsistencies. Every preacher wants to highlight their lineages through exaggeration. People added a lot of miraculous stories on the top of real facts, diluted facts to get public attention, name and fame.

And in due course of narration they have also described the process followed in those rituals. For example in Ashvamedha Yajna, the queen had to sleep with dead horse over night for symbolic sex, killing of animals in yajna facing towards a particular direction, various objects required for those rituals etc. So these rituals cannot be a part of history. And people consider those as mythology.

9. Religion - People keep History subject as a secular subject. So people do not want to include spiritual process or methods like Yoga, Vedanta, Advaita topics into History.  Life of saints can be included, but the sadhana or paths followed by them should be kept out of history context.

Whereas Ramayana and Mahabharat contain spiritual topics, religious protocols, caste system, Svadharma based on caste etc. And many will NOT be interested in these Hindu religious topics. These books also do not include Buddha's method, Jain's method etc. So these texts are looked as belonging to a particular religious sect. These are not organized as a universal history book.

10. Foreign driven - The most interesting thing is our history is driven by foreigners. We have collected data from foreign visitors like Hiuen Tsang, Al-Biruni etc. Indian never documented anything other than few Sanskrit books.

Indian Sanskrit books talk of cyclic civilization like Satya-Treta-Dvapara-Kali. It includes both evolution and involution of human progress. So the time is cyclic. Whereas western thought process is linear civilization. That includes only evolution as a linear human progress. So their historic time is linear. Indians were never history centric, rather they were Purana centric. So Indians have to revisit their strategy to migrate from mythology centric to history centric study.

11. Ordinary humans - Generally History considers humans from all social layers in a balance way. It covers starting from Kings, businessmen, till ordinary human life style.

Whereas our Puranas are centered around few Kings as a major information. Ordinary human lives, social issues are not highlighted. So there is an imbalance in documentation. Whereas history centric people try to learn about ordinary citizens and their life styles, general politics, people culture etc. Those are missing from Ramayana and Mahabharat.

Rama left home to keep father's promise – obedient to father. Was it a normal life style for ordinary citizen or Rama was unique? Draupadi got married to five brothers - polyandry and she was paraded naked in Indian parliament in front of all ministers and her own five husbands – no dignity of women. Vidura was a Dalit, still became the India's PM – caste is not a bottleneck, Vyasa did sex with three dead cousin's wife to give birth to Dhrutarastra, Pandu, Vidura – Liberal sex life, Krishna kidnapped Rukmini – love marriage. Were these events common to general public or these were unique to royal family?

This is another reason, why people do not correlate these events to their day-to-day lives. They think these are not humanly possible for ordinary citizens. So whatever values or morals taught in these texts do not influence normal humans. So in India there is a lot of corruption, harassment, untouchability, because people are not inspired to practice these texts in action, though they preach these in words.  Basically people revere Rama, Krishna, Pandava, Vishma etc as role models. But they do not put into action thinking they were super-natural actors with special divine power. People do not accept those as history of common man, or actions from common man.

12. Conclusion

So we need to consider Ramayana and Mahabharat as a superset of History book. These contains past events, morals and spiritual teachings, religion, various Yogas, history of Devata, Rakshasas, miracles etc.

We need to filter all these super-natural facts to give it a status of history. And there are a lot of superstitions which are considered as tradition due these Puranas. Because people remember these facts eternally as Hindu tradition. For example, following caste system, believing in demons and various non-vedic demi-gods, practice of unhygienic rituals – e.g. throwing dirt into river Ganga in the name of purity etc. So we need to demarcate the ancient ‘secular’ social customs from ‘religious’ Hindu tradition. History must be analyzed in a secular, scientific and data driven method.

Swami Vivekananda nicely said - "The Smritis and the Puranas are productions of men of limited intelligence and are full of fallacies, errors, the feelings of class and malice. Only parts of them breathing broadness of spirit and love are acceptable, the rest are to be rejected. The Upanishads and the Gita are the true scriptures."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Vivekananda was outcasted - A shame on hinduism

Vivekananda was outcasted due to foreign travel
A shame on Orthodox Hinduism

It is a little-known fact that Swami Vivekananda was "outcasted" by the Bengali orthodoxy upon his triumphant return from the Parliament of the World Religions in Chicago. The most dramatic consequence came in 1897, when he returned to Calcutta. The following is excerpted from A Comprehensive Biography of Swami Vivekananda by Shailendranath Dhar.

In the evening of march 21, 1897, Swami Vivekananda and the Maharaja of Khetri, accompanied by a large party, paid a visit to the temple of Kali at Dakshineswar which, as is well-known to our readers, had been the scene of Sri Ramakrishna's sadhanas and where the saint had lived for forty years.

In the reception given to Swamiji at Dakshineswar, as described above, there was a discordant note which did not reach his ears but which became loud soon afterwards and produced an unpleasant controversy in the press. Babu Trailokya Nath Biswas, the proprietor of the temple, who had been informed about the impending visit earlier in the day, had actually come to the temple and was present when the visit occurred but did not personally receive Swami and his party, which included a princely personage, viz., the Maharaja of Khetri.

"In an indirect way," wrote Trailokya to The Bangabashi newspaper, "Swami and his followers were driven away from the temple, but not in a direct way as stated by Babu Bholanath [in the same newspaper]. I never ordered anyone to welcome Swami and the raja, nor did I myself do it. I thought that I should not have any, the least, intercourse with a man who went to a foreign country and yet calls himself a Hindu. While Swami Vivekananda and his followers were leaving my temple, Babu Bholanath Mukherjee told them that they would have no interview with me.... Your account of the re-abhisheka of the Deity [i.e., the evening worship was repeated to purify the temple] is perfectly true."

A member of the family of Rani Rashmani protested in a letter which was published in The Indian Nation on April 12, 1897, against Trailokya's claim that the temple of Kali at Dakshineswar belonged to himself. He asserted that it belonged as much to him as to any other descendant of the late Rani Rashmani and that the recent scandal would not have taken place had it been under the management of any other member of the family.

Notwithstanding well-meant efforts to ease the situation, the story of Swamiji's alleged expulsion from the Kali temple gained ground. While The Bangabashi and other Bengali newspapers who opposed Swamiji kept it alive by continually writing on it, his old "friends," the Christian missionaries, had a new dart in their quiver for attacking him. Dr. Barrows who, as we know, had lately arrived in India and had turned against Swamiji [having originally supported him at the Parliament], took it as one more proof of the correctness of his theory that Swamiji was not a true Hindu and had not preached Hinduism in America.

It seems that, even for some time after he had heard about the row kicked up against him by the orthodox people, Swami Vivekananda took little notice of it. His attitude was even one of defiance of these critics, as we find it expressed in a letter dated May 30, 1897, "Our books tell us that the practice of religion is not for a sudra. If he discriminates about food, or refrains from foreign travel, it avails him nothing and it is all useless toil for him. I am a sudra and a mleccha (a non-Aryan, a barbarian)--why should I worry about observance of these rules? What matters it to me if I take the foods of the mlecchas and the untouchables of Hindu society?"'

A few months later, when he came to know about the propaganda that was being carried on by Dr. Barrows and the missionaries to the effect that he had been outcasted in India, he wrote on the latter point to Mary Hale on July 9, 1897 as follows, "As if I had any caste to lose, being a sannyasin!" He added, "Not only no caste had been lost, but it has considerably shattered the opposition to sea-voyage--my going to the West. ... On the other hand, a leading Raja of the caste I belonged to before entering the order got up a banquet in my honor, at which were most of the big bugs of that caste ... It will suffice to say that the police were necessary to keep order if I ventured out into the street! That is outcasting indeed!"

In earlier chapters we have dealt with the campaign of vilification carried on against Swami Vivekananda by the Christian missionaries and by Pratap Chandra Majumdar [of the reformist Brahmo Samaj] in America and also in India. In their present campaign they reiterated their old charge that he was not a true representative of Hinduism, bolstering it with the arguments they borrowed from the charge-sheet drawn up by the Hindu orthodox opponents of the Swami in their own campaign against him. There was something funny in Christian missionaries and Brahmo reformers who did not believe in caste attempting to belittle one for non-orthodoxy in such matters as eating un-Hindu food, dining with mlecchas, going on sea-voyage, etc.

References -
  2. Life History of Swami Vivekananda