Queries: Diwali, Buddhism and Brahmins

Koenraad Elst koenraad.elst at PANDORA.BE
Fri Mar 24 12:25:57 UTC 2000

Yashwant Malaiya wrote (9 maart 2000)
> There is a view that Buddhism arose in opposition to
> the Brahmins. Does anyone know when this view first arose?
> It does not appear to be correct.
> That Buddhism arose in protest is certainly not the
> Buddhist view.   How did this view become popular?

Today this question is totally politicized, so we must resist the temptation
of assuming that the initial suggestion that Buddhism was an
"anti-Brahminical revolt" was also politically motivated.  Unless it really

On this count, I think we must absolve the Indian Marxist *scholars*.
Though the assumption of socio-political concerns as the "true" motive
behind religious innovation comes naturally to Marxists, i find that the
older generation (DD Kosambi, DR Chanana) was as critical of Buddhist as of
Brahminical "superstitions" and "social injustices", detailing the
employment of serfs by Buddhist monasteries, their rejection of tribal or
runaway-slave candidates, their encouragement of passivity vis-à-vis
oppression in the name of Karma, etc.  Marxists back then were also
unimpressed by the egalitarian-activist interpretation of Buddhism by the
convert (1956) Dr. BR Ambedkar, an anti-Communist socialist.   It is only
lately, with Marxism becoming a marginal force in need of an alliance with
casteist-populist forces (formerly decried as "lumpen"), that some Marxist
scholars have started peddling this version of history.

One Marxist *politician* who played a central role in creating or
popularizing this story of Buddhism-as-revolt was Communist Party founder MN
Roy, who, in his book (if I remember correctly:) Role of Islam in Indian
History, ca.1930, claimed that Buddhism was an egalitarian revolt of the
masses (in fact, like hippyism, it originated with dissatisfied though
well-to-do upper-class youngsters), that it was crushed by "Brahminical
onslaught", and that the masses then welcomed Islam as the next liberator
from Brahminical oppression.  This fairy-tale is now standard fare in
schoolbooks and pop history books in India.

MN Roy probably didn't invent this himself.  Considering the parallel
between the Buddhist-Brahminical and Christian-Jewish antagonisms
(interiority vs. ritualism, compassion vs. the law), it is safe to surmise
some 19th-century Christian influence on the conventional wisdom regarding
Buddhist-Brahminical relations, particularly its systematic anti-Brahmin
bias.  But there maybe someone else has the details?  At any rate, now that
Christians are discovering "Jesus the Jew", it may be time to recognize
"Gautama the Hindu".

K. Elst

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