L.S.Cousins selwyn at NTLWORLD.COM
Tue Oct 10 11:07:43 UTC 2000

Nanda asks:

>And what's Lance Cousin's view on this subject? Is Gautama a "Hindu"
>kshatriya or not?

Well, I am not sure why I suddenly appear here, but I had been
wondering whether to comment anyway.

Part of this issue is definitional, I think. If you define,
'Hinduism' as 'religion of Indian origin' then obviously 'Buddhism'
is one kind of 'Hinduism'. If it has some more specific content, then
Buddhism may well not be a part of 'Hinduism' in that particular
sense. And at least some of the many kinds of religious activity
normally included under the rubric of Hinduism will not be either.
This will be true whether we define religion in terms of ideas,
practices or social organization.

Part of it is a kind of religious politics: most but not all
Buddhists who have thought about the matter seem to object to the
idea that Buddhism would be subordinated to Hinduism as a part,
particularly if that is used as a way of saying that Buddhism really
teaches, say, Advaita Vedaanta. For that matter, many (or most?)
Jains, Sikhs, etc. have a similar objection. Hindus on the other hand
are resistant to anything they would see as an attempt to divide them
or separate them from their historical roots. Equally, however, it is
obvious that in so far as there is an entity known as 'Hinduism' as
against 'Islam', then Buddhism, Jainism and probably Sikhism are much
closer in most respects to Hinduism. That is almost certainly even
more the case if we look at ancient forms of Hinduism, including many
now extinct branches.

Academically it seems to me that this is essentially a question of
levels of generalization (and all non-tautological generalizations
are a question of percentages). So at a broad level of generalization
there is a religion called Abrahamism, existing in varieties known as
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as in a few minor versions
and exercising influence elsewhere. On the other hand there is a
religion we can call Dharmism, existing as 'Hinduism' (or one could
list Vaishnavism, etc.), Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Bon and
exercising a great deal of influence on later Taoism, Confucianism
and Shinto. In this sense we can say there are basically two world
religions (and many local religious traditions too). At a narrower
level we can speak of religions as they are self-identified and
regardless of the historical origin of such identification. Or, we
could say that the real equivalent to a religion such as Judaism
would be Shaivism or Eastern Buddhism. Still more narrowly we could
only speak of, say, Burmese Buddhism and so on. If we define things
sufficiently narrowly, then we can say that all such entities are
artificial constructs. None of these is 'correct'; they are simply
useful heuristic devices.

Looking at the issue historically, I do not believe it is meaningful
to artificially separate Hinduism and Buddhism as entities in South
Asia before the early centuries A.D. (or even later). There were
certainly followers of the Buddha, the Jina, Vishnu, etc. etc. There
was no conscious awareness of an entity called Hinduism; that is only
possible when you have something to set against it. There certainly
were numerous more-or-less related Indic religious traditions.
Individuals probably varied greatly in how they related to that
situation. But I don't believe that becoming a Buddhist, etc. meant
that you rejected some general religious tradition we could call
Hinduism or Brahmanism. Rather you adopted certain practices and
rejected others.

But Nanda is asking specifically about the history of the Buddha
himself. This comes down to the issue of the Sakkas/"Saakyas. It is
important to note that a number of individuals other than the Buddha
are specifically named as Sakkas in the Pali suttas. This seems to be
on a par with referring to someone as a Licchavi, etc. So there can
hardly be any doubt that at an early date in the history of Buddhist
literature the Sakkas were recognized as a distinct group of status,
almost certainly of k.satriya status. This fits the pattern of
organized clans in particular localities which is confirmed e.g. from
accounts of Alexander's invasion and later also from coinage issued
in particular areas. This kind of organization is only slowly
replaced by a more standard form of kingship at a local level.

So I would be confident that the Buddha was considered a k.satriya
from an early date. It is impossible to be certain as to what the
ethnic origin of the Sakkas would have originally been. As an
aristocratic ruling group they did not necessarily originate from the
area they ruled. In any case the boundary between linguistically
Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European languages is not likely to have been
static over the last two thousand plus years. Nor any supposed
ethnic/racial boundary. But without any definite evidence to the
contrary we should perhaps assume that there was no conspicuous
difference in appearance or culture between the Buddha and the ruling
class in Kosala or Maagadha.

I don't take the argument from cross-cousin marriage seriously, by
the way. That is because I assume that there would at this time have
been more variation in North Indian customs than at a later date.

Lance Cousins

selwyn at ntlworld.com

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