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Saturday, June 10, 2006

 

Buddhism and its Connections With Vedic Culture

By Stephen Knapp


It was several hundred years before the time of Lord Buddha that his birth
was
predicted in Srimad-Bhagavatam: "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."
(Bhag.1.3.24)
This verse indicates that Lord Buddha was an incarnation of the Supreme who
would appear in Gaya, a town in central India. But some historians may point
out that
Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was actually born in Lumbini, Nepal, and that
his mother
was Queen Mahamaya. Therefore, this verse may be inaccurate. But actually
Siddhartha
became the Buddha after he attained spiritual enlightenment during his
meditation under
the Bo tree in Gaya. This means that his spiritual realization was his
second and most
important birth. Furthermore, Siddhartha's mother, Queen Mahamaya, died
several days
after Siddhartha's birth, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother,
Anjana. So the
prediction in the Bhagavatam is verified.
When Lord Buddha appeared, the people of India, although following the Vedas,
had deviated from the primary goal of Vedic philosophy. They had become
preoccupied
with performing ceremonies and rituals for material enjoyment. Some of the
rituals included
animal sacrifices. The people had begun to sacrifice animals
indiscriminately on the plea
of Vedic rituals and then indulged in eating the flesh. Being misled by
unworthy priests,
much unnecessary animal killing was going on and the people were becoming
more
degraded and atheistic.
The rituals that included animal sacrifices, according to the Vedas, were
not meant
for eating flesh. An old animal would be placed in the sacrificial fire and,
after the mantras
were chanted, it would come out of the fire in a new and younger body as a
test to show
the potency of the Vedic mantras. However, as the power of the priests
deteriorated, they
could no longer chant the mantras properly and, therefore, the animals would
not be
brought back to life. So in the age of Kali all such sacrifices are
forbidden because there
are no longer any brahmanas who can chant the mantras correctly. Thus, Lord
Buddha
appeared and rejected the Vedic rituals and preached the philosophy of
nonviolence. In
the Dhammapada (129-130) Buddha says, "All beings fear death and pain, life
is dear to
all; therefore the wise man will not kill or cause anything to be killed."
The Vedic literature also teaches nonviolence, but Buddha taught the people
who
used the Vedas for improper purposes to give them up and simply follow him.
Thus, he
saved the animals from being killed and saved the people from being further
misled by the
corrupt priests. However, he did not teach the Vedic conclusions of
spiritual knowledge but
taught his own philosophy.
Buddha was born in the town of Lumbini in Nepal as the son of a king of the
Shakya
clan. He is generally accepted to have lived during 560-477 B.C. but has
been shown to
have been born in 1887 B.C. and died in 1807 B.C. Check the article
Reestablishing the
date of Lord Buddha for more evidence of this.
His mother, Queen Mahamaya, before she conceived him, saw him in a dream
descending from heaven and entering her womb as a white elephant. After his
birth his
father sheltered him from the problems of the world as much as possible.
Later, Buddha
married and had one son. It was during this time that he began to be
disturbed by the
problems life forced on everyone, especially after he had seen for the first
time a man
afflicted with disease, another man who was decrepit with age, a dead man
being carried
to the cremation grounds, and a monk who had dedicated himself to the
pursuit of finding
a release from the problems of life.
Soon after this, at the age of 29, he renounced his family and became a
wandering
beggar. For six years Buddha sought enlightenment as an austere ascetic. He
would eat
very little food, sometimes only one grain of rice a day, and his bones
would stick out as
if he were a skeleton. Finally giving that up, thinking that enlightenment
was not to be found
in such a severe manner, he again became a beggar living on alms. When he
started to
eat more regularly, the five mendicants who were with him left him alone,
thinking that he
had given up his resolution. During this time he came to Gaya where he
determinedly sat
in meditation under the Bo tree for seven weeks. He was tempted by Mara, the
Evil One,
with many pleasures in an effort to make Gautama Buddha give up his quest.
But finally
he attained enlightenment. It was then that he became the enlightened Buddha.
Buddha at first hesitated to teach his realizations to others because he
knew that
the world would not want them. Of what use would there be in trying to teach
men who
were sunk in the darkness of illusion? Nonetheless, he decided to make the
attempt. He
then went to Benares and met the five mendicants who had deserted him near
Gaya.
There in the Deer Park, in present day Sarnath, he gave his first sermon,
which was the
beginning of Buddhism.
Buddha taught four basic truths: that suffering exists, there is a cause for
suffering,
suffering can be eradicated, and there is a means to end all suffering. But
these four noble
truths had previously been discussed in the Sankhya philosophy before
Buddha's
appearance, and had later been further elaborated upon in Patanjali's Yoga
Sutras. So this
train of thought actually was not new.
Buddha also taught that suffering is essentially caused by ignorance and our
own
mental confusion about the purpose life. The suffering we experience can end
once we rid
ourselves of this confusion through the path of personal development.
Otherwise, this
confusion and ignorance causes us to perform unwanted activities that become
part of our
karma that must be endured in this or another existence. When karma ceases,
so does the
need for birth and, naturally, old age, sorrow, and death. With the
cessation of birth, there
is the cessation of consciousness and entrance into nirvana follows. Thus,
according to
this, there is no soul and no personal God, but only the void, the
nothingness that is the
essence of everything to which we must return. Although this was the basic
premise from
which Buddha taught, this theory was mentioned in the Nasadiya-sukta of the
Rig-veda
long before Buddha ever appeared.
However, Buddha refused to discuss how the world was created or what was
existence in nirvana. He simply taught that one should live in a way that
would produce no
more karma while enduring whatever karmic reactions destiny brought. This
would free one
from further rebirth.
In order to accomplish this, Buddha gave a complete system for attaining
nirvana
that consisted of eight steps. These were right views (recognizing the
imperfect and
temporary nature of the world), right resolve (putting knowledge into
practice or living the
life of truth and nonviolence toward all creatures, including
vegetarianism), right speech
(giving up lies, slander, and unnecessary talk), right conduct (nonviolence,
truthfulness,
celibacy, nonintoxication, and nonstealing), right livelihood (honest means
of living that
does not interfere with others or with social harmony), right effort
(maintaining spiritual
progress by remaining enthusiastic and without negative thoughts), right
mindfulness
(remaining free from worldly attachments by remembering the temporary nature
of things),
and right meditation (attaining inner peace and tranquility and, finally,
indifference to the
world and one's situation, which leads to nirvana). This, for the most part,
is merely another
adaptation of the basic yamas and niyamas that are the rules of what to do
and what not
to do that are found in the Vedic system of yoga.
However, because of Buddha's lack of interest in discussing any metaphysical
topics, many interpretations of his philosophy were not only possible but
were formed,
especially after his disappearance. The two main divisions of Buddhism that
developed
were the Hinayana, or lesser vehicle, and Mahayana, or greater vehicle. The
Hinayana was
more strict and held onto Buddha's original teachings and uses Pali as the
language of its
scriptures. It also accepts reaching nirvana as the goal of life. Hinayana
stresses one's own
enlightenment and puts less emphasis on helping others, and Mahayana
emphasizes the
need of enlightenment for the good of others while overlooking the need to
realize the truth
within. The Mahayana accepts Sanskrit as the language for its texts and
integrates
principles from other schools of philosophy, making it more accessible to
all varieties of
people. Gradually, as followers came from numerous cultural backgrounds,
Mahayana
Buddhism drastically changed from its original form.
The ideal of the Mahayana system is the bodhisattva, the person who works for
enlightenment for all other living beings. The personification of this
enlightened
compassion is one of the major deities of Buddhism, Avalokiteshvara, who is
represented
in a variety of forms and images. The mantra that is the sound
representation of this
enlightened compassion is om mani padme hum, which is chanted on beads by
aspiring
Buddhists. The vibration of this mantra evokes compassionate qualities and
feelings in the
heart and consciousness of a person who chants it.
A third division of Buddhism is the Vajrayana sect. This has the same
principles as
the Mahayana, but the Vajrayana bases its process for achieving
enlightenment on the
Buddhist Tantras, which are supposed to reveal a quicker path to
enlightenment. The
Vajrayana path is one of transforming the inner psychological energy toward
enlightenment
by the use of various types of yogic techniques. First they try to change
their conventional
perceptions of this world by identifying themselves with the Buddhist deity
that they feel
affinity for, and to view the mandala of the particular deity as the world.
Ultimately, this form of meditation, as well as other techniques used in
this system,
is meant to give one the experience of what is called the "clear light."
This clear light is said
to be experienced by everyone shortly after death, but most people hardly
notice it
because they are not prepared for it. The idea is that if one is prepared
for it before death,
it can help one to be ready to merge into it when he sees it after death.
As Buddhism flourished, the Hinayana spread through the south in Ceylan,
Burma,
and Thailand, while the Mahayana spread to the North and East and is now
found primarily
in Tibet, China, and Japan. The Mahayana school still uses knowledge of
kundalini and the
chakras in its teachings, other topics that are traced to the Vedic system.
It is this
Mahayana school which has now developed more than twenty sects with a
variety of
teachings that, in some cases, especially in the West, have become so
distorted that it is
impossible to distinguish the original principles that were established by
Buddha.
Besides the Vedic similarities in Buddhism already mentioned, there are many
additional correlations between the Vedic literature and the Buddhist
religion of the Far
East. For example, the word Ch'an of the Ch'an school of Chinese Buddhism is
Chinese
for the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means meditation, as does the word zen
in Japanese.
Furthermore, the deity Amitayus is the origin of all other Lokesvara forms
of Buddha and
is considered the original spiritual master, just as Balarama (the expansion
of Lord Krishna)
in the Vedic literature is the source of all the Vishnu incarnations and is
the original spiritual
teacher. Also, the trinity doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism explains the three
realms of
manifestations of Buddha, which are the dharmakaya realm of Amitabha (the
original
two-armed form is Amitayus), the sambhogakaya realm of the spiritual
manifestation (in
which the undescended form of Lokesvara or Amitayus reigns), and the
rupakaya realm,
the material manifestation (which is where the Buddha in the form of
Lokesvara incarnates
in so many other different forms). This is a derivative of the Vedic
philosophy. Thus,
Lokesvara is actually a representation of Vishnu to the Mahayana Buddhists.
Furthermore, all the different incarnations of Vishnu appear as different
forms of
Lokesvara in Buddhism. For example, Makendanatha Lokesvara is the same as
the Vedic
Matsya, Badravaraha Lokesvara is Varaha, Hayagriva in Buddhism is the
horse-necked
one as similarly described in the Vedic literature, and so on. And the
different forms of
Lakshmi, Vishnu's spouse as the Goddess of Fortune, appear as the different
forms of
Tara in the forms of White Tara, the Green Tara, etc. Even the fearful forms
of Lokesvara
are simply the fearful aspects of Lord Vishnu, as in the case of the
threatening image of
Yamantaka, who is simply the form of the Lord as death personified. The name
is simply
taken from Yamaraja, the Vedic lord of death.
Many times you will also see Buddhist paintings depicting a threefold
bending form
of Bodhisattvas and Lokesvaras much the same way Krishna is depicted. This
is because
the Bodhisattvas were originally styled after paintings from India, which
were prints of
Krishna. Most images of Tara are also similar to paintings of Lakshmi in
that one hand is
held in benediction. And Vajrayogini, the Buddha in female aspect, is
certainly styled after
goddess Kali or Durga. Kuvera, the lord of wealth in the Vedic culture, is
Kuvera
Vaishravana in Buddhism. There are many other carry-overs from the Vedic
tradition into
Buddhism that can be recognized, such as the use of ghee lamps and kusha
grass, and
the offerings of barley and ghee in rituals that resemble Vedic ceremonies.
In this way, we
can see the many similarities and connections in Buddhism with Vedic
culture, which is the
origin of many of the concepts found within Buddhism.
Therefore, after the disappearance of Lord Buddha, the authority of the
Vedas and
Vedic culture was reinstated by such scholarly personalities as
Shankaracarya,
Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka, Baladeva Vidyabushana, Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu, and others.

[Also available at www.stephen-knapp.com]

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