Early Buddhist rejection of the Vedas

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at umich.edu
Wed May 8 12:30:05 UTC 1996

	The clearest evidence from the early Buddhist texts for the
rejection of the Vedas, not just of the caste of the Brahmans or their
sacrifices, is found in the TevijjaSutta of the Diighanikaaya among other
sources.  It specifically refers not only to the three Vedas, but to a
number of specific Vedas and their Shaakhaas:  Addhariya, Tittiriya,
Chandoka, Bahvarijjha.  These are brought up in the context of the
Brahmans belonging to these Vedic schools teaching paths "into a state of
union with Brahmaa" (brahmasahabyataaya maggam pa~n~naapenti), which is a
reference to the Upanizad-like teachings of these different branches.  The
specific Rizis mentioned are ATThaka, Vaamaka, Vaamadeva, Vessaamitta,
Yamataggi, Angirasa, Bhaaradvaaja, VaaseTTha, Kassapa, and Bhagu.  These
Brahmans and their Rizis are then ridiculed as claiming to show a path to
the union with Brahmaa which none of them have ever seen:  "Verily,
VaaseTTha, that Braahmans versed inthe Three Vedas should be able to show
the way to a state of union with that which they do not know, neither have
seen - such a condition of things has no existence.  Just, VaaseTTha, as
when a string of blind men are clinging one to the other, neither can the
foremost see, nor can the middle one see, nor can the hindmost see - just
even so, methinks, VaaseTTha, is the talk of the Braahmans versed in the
Three Vedas but blind talk: the first sees not, the middle one sees not,
nor can the latest see.  The talk then of these Braahmans versed in the
Three Vedas turns out to be ridiculous, mere words, a vain and empty
thing."  (Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas, p. 173).  "And you further say
that even the Rizis of old, whose words they hold in such deep respect,
did not pretend to know, or to have seen where, or whence, or whither
Brahmaa is."  (Ibid, 178).
	The positive significance of expressions like Vedagu and Vedantagu
in early Nikaaya texts is more like the positive significance of a
redefined term like BraahmaNa = baahitapaapadhammo, not in reference to any
presumed Vedic texts or traditions for which either the Buddha himself or
his followers had great respect, not unlike the redefinition of a good
sacrifice (ya~n~na) as daana in the Nikaayas.  In all likelihood the 
terms Vedagu and Vedaantagu indicate the early Buddhist appropriation of 
current terms, with redefined content.
	The Tevijja Sutta interestingly has an assertion of the Three
Siilas (ibid, p. 188).  Rhys Davids suggests in his note:  "These three
Siilas may perhaps have been inserted in the Sutta as a kind of
counterpoise to the Three Vedas." 
		Madhav Deshpande

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