The Buddha's familiarity with upanisadic ideas

Timothy C. Cahill tccahill at LOYNO.EDU
Fri Dec 8 21:38:19 UTC 2006


    Familiar with the *ideas*, yes.  With the *passages*, well, I guess 
not.  (Although the Richard Gombrich had me very hopeful there for a 
second!)  No info that his father was a Vaajasaneyin, as far as I know. 
Nor can we be sure that his father kept a priest from/for each Veda, but 
Peter Harvey mentions that the republic of the Sakka people "was not 
Brahmanized, and rule was by a council of household-heads, perhaps 
qualified by age or social standing."  So perhaps the Magadha connection 
was not strong for our young Buddha.

    I'm not clear about your question: "...could he have become
> familiar with the esoteric teachings (Upanisads) of all three Vedas?"

My guess is that as a youth he had no special acquaintance with 
speculations on the utility of rituals since he wasn't a brahman, nor a 
Jain.  He probably acquired such a background as a result of being a 
spiritual seeker as an adult in an environment where such questions were 
in the air.  The Buddha probably knew the word "upaniSad" not as a 
set/stratum of texts but as a common noun (= 'connection', 'hidden name', 
'equivalence').  So I'm curious about your statement that the
> Upanisads, if they existed in the Buddha's time, were not
> yet isolated from their Vedic context for public
> polemic purposes, since traces of this appear
> only significantly after the Buddha, most solidly
> with Sankara's commentaries on them.

    Oh, never mind!  I just realized I'd misread you.  Of course, these 
"upaniSads" are supposed to be esoteric for their brahman communities, but 
become public property, open for debate to all others (Jains, Ajivikas) in 
an age of lively debate of 'new' ideas.  You're of course quite right in 
saying that they don't become eligible for debate theologically (within 
the Vedanta tradition) until much later. And this is "isolation from their 
Vedic context."


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