The Buddha and the Upanishads
a.passi at ALMA.UNIBO.IT
Mon Dec 11 21:11:28 UTC 2006
In this strong form, the critique seems simply untenable. We have
translations in Chinese from the late second century which tell us a
great deal about what Buddhism taught. That is two centuries or so
before Buddhaghosa. We even have some Gaandhaarii texts apparently
from the first century A.D. We have inscriptions and sculptures from
I must agree here. And what about A'svagho.sa? The Buddha-story is
very well developed both in the Buddhacarita and the Saundarananda --
so well developed that there is much reason to believe that this
biography of the life of the Sage of the 'Sakyas, obviously well-
known to the poet's contemporaries (NB I would not endorse the
opinion that it is a "historical" biography in the common meaning of
the word), comes as an end-product of a fairly long evolution. And,
together with the tale of the Buddha's life and that of his rather
simpatico half-brother Nanda, these kaavya-s contain entire sarga-s
completely dedicated to "hard-core" buddhist teachings, where the
doctrine, or rather the Way, is explained in much detail.
Nonetheless, the earliest MS fragments of these kavyas probably date
from the beginning of the C.E., and Johnston's monumental work of
exegesis seems to point to a date between the Ist century B.C.E. and
the Ist century after (and I don't give a hoot about the date of
Kani.ska -- there simply is not enough evidence to tie the poet, an
Easterner from Oudh, to the great Kushan king!).
Another point indicating an early age for both A'svagho.sa kaavya-s
(though definitely post-A'soka, in any event!) lies in the difference
between the Ramayana and Mahabharata legends as we know them now, and
the state in which they emerge, almost casually, in the "exempla"
quoted by the poet.
The real problem, IMHO, lies in the fact that we have, as of yet, no
way of reconstructing the time-line within which both ideas and
legends evolve. Must we really believe that it took 400 years to
creat the Great Epic? Or does literary and doctrinal evolution
proceed in great, non-linear, leaps and bounds?
Alex (Alessandro) Passi,
Dipartimento Studi Linguistici
Università di Bologna,
Via Zamboni 33
Bologna, 40126, Italy.
a.passi at alma.unibo.it
alexpassi at gmail.com
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