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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Understanding the Relationship Between Buddhism and Hinduism

Fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism
Fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism
       I'm moving through the excellent The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, by Randall Collins.  Collins has a couple of main theses that he applies to all of the great philosophical/religious advances of the entire world.  The first is that intellectual ideas are developed by people through networks.  Individuals do create ideas, but only in conjunction with others.  The chief was that indivduals create ideas within these networks is by arguing with each other.  These arguing individuals are also influenced by the contingent circumstances of the world around them, as well as by their own allegedly non-contingent ideas.
      Collins is at this most provocative in his discussion of the formation of Buddhist and Hindu thought in India.  Collins argues that literally all Hindu thought was inspired in opposition to Buddhism, which began the tradition of sophisticated religious/philosophical thought within India.  For several hundred years, Buddhism expanded, sub-divided and dominated the debate over the nature of being in India.   Meanwhile, Hinduism maintained its position in newly settled area (southern inda) and among the rural land owning class, while curious Brahmans both became Buddhists and brought Buddhist ideas to Hinduism.  Collins points out that the original Buddhist were basically all Brahmans (the religious/legal caste in India) and that Buddhism supported the caste system in India, just like Hinduism.
     Buddhists, on the other hand, emerged first as critics of Vedic religious practice, which is the shared religious predeccesor of both Buddhism and Hinduism.  Vedic practice is what we would call "primitive."  Vedic practice is also largely an import from the Indo European invasions during pre-history.  Buddhism, on the other hand, incorporated many non Indo European practices that must have been hold overs from developed Shamanistic practices among indigenous Indian tribes who were "conquered" by those practices Vedic religion.  For example, the idea of crazy holy men wandering around naked and not cutting their hair etc.:  Not a Vedic practice.
   Basically, Buddhism charged onto the scene about 500 BC, managed to convert a big-time Emperor (Ashoka) who conquered all of India more or less.  He was replaced by an equally anti-Buddhist ruler, and then everything disintegrated.  Buddhism succeded initially because it created an institutional culture (monks, monasteries) whereas the power of the Vedics/Hindus was concetrated among small land-holder Brahmans.
   Eventually though, the Vedic/Hindus learned from Buddhism (after all, they shared a religious back-ground and language), came up with their own takes on sophisticated Buddhism ideas, and proceeded to wipe the floor with the Indian Buddhists, who were pretty much done by the early middle ages (1100 AD, say.) 
   Afterwards, Hinduism developed along the lines of western ideas of idealistic, abstract philosophy and in opposition to first Muslim, then British invaders.  As part of the process of this late development (1500 AD onward) those thinkers acted to obscure chronology as part of a nation-hood making exercise for Hindus.  And this is why I thought this discussion was particularly interesting: It's really hard to get a handle on that Buddhist and Hindu relationship.  But now:

VEDIC >>>>BUDDHISM(against Vedic ritualism)>>>>HINDUISM(imitating Buddhism)>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>"MODERN" HINDUISM (like European philosopy)

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