The Buddha and the Upanishads

John C. Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Thu Dec 7 16:04:47 UTC 2006

The various narratives of the life of Siddhartha briefly mention his  
education. In many parts of traditional south Asia this means a  
"religious education" to the present day.  Assuming that the  
narrative of his princely status is substantially correct, his  
education would have come at the hands of religious teachers,  
presumably in the eastern Indic region those who knew not only the  
three Veda, but also the Atharaveda and the upanishads.

Whether Siddhartha could read or write is immaterial. Such high level  
(social & religious) instruction would have been oral following the  
millennia-long tradition.  In the discussions of the six heretics,  
the Upanishads are not mentioned but he refutes each one's solution  
to presuppositions postulated in the Upanishads. Thus his  
"Upanishadic education" would have both been reinforced and expanded.

While I claim no specialization in the "Buddha's life," I do hold  
that Siddhartha was one of the most highly educated (religiously)  
individuals of his time and that this is verified by his many  
conversions of Brahmins and other ascetics who have themselves high  
levels of religious education. (After all, when Vajrapani is on your  
side you can't lose!)

John C. Huntington, Professor
(Buddhist Art and Methodologies)
Department of the History of Art
The Ohio State University
Columbus, OH, U.S.A.

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On Dec 7, 2006, at 9:28 AM, Timothy C. Cahill wrote:

> On Thu, 7 Dec 2006, Richard Gombrich wrote:
>>     However, unless we subscribe to the view that the Buddha was  
>> omniscient and could therefore respond to texts which would be  
>> composed in the future, I do not understand how his references to  
>> important passages in the BAU etc. can fail to be interpreted as  
>> showing that they already existed when he preached.
> Thanks very much for these references!  One small question about  
> the remark above.  The Buddha is not generally regarded as a  
> textual scholar, and so the carefully chosen phrase "response to  
> texts" of course refers to his discourses.  Apart from this,  
> however, is there any evidence that the Buddha could read?  Or  
> anything to indicate that the BAU was ever inscribed by the time  
> the Buddha taught?
> best,
> Tim Cahill
> -- 
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