Friday, July 9, 2010

A Joint Declaration: Buddha Is NOT an Avatar of Vishnu

The above cartoon is based on the article 'Compassionate Goodwill'  by S. N. Goenka originally published in the December 1999 issue of the Vipashyana Patrikā and later in the Vipassana Newsletter (Dhamma Giri Edition), June 2000. The issue the cartoonist brings to light is the error of considering the Buddha (Siddhatta Gotama) to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Goenka explains that this is an insult to Buddha because Buddha's goal was to liberate people from the cycles of birth and death, and Vishnu is clearly an evolutionary being who incarnates repeatedly. The real joke is that the Hindu sage Shankaracharya  is more than happy to sign a joint statement regarding Buddha NOT being an incarnation of Vishnu because those upholding the Vedic wisdom know it is an insult or error to consider Buddha to be among the evolutionary avatars who incarnate in specific (fixed) astrological ages to improve (not escape!) the conditions of life on Earth. In short, the Vedic wisdom does not consider transcendence/negation of physical existence and cycles of death and birth to be the highest goal of spiritual or evolutionary attainment.

Below is Goenka's 'Compassionate Goodwill', which includes his logic for excluding Buddha as an avatar, as well as his dialogue and joint communiqué with H. H. Shankaracharya, followed by Sri Aurobindo's thoughts on Buddha's misunderstanding of the evolutionary journey and the goal or height of human existence.
Fostering Friendly Relations with Neighbouring Followers of the Buddha

Because the practice of universal Dhamma of sila, samadhi and pañña and the resultant brahmavihara of compassion is inseparable, it can play a successful role in uniting the adherents of different views. Close ties can certainly be developed and strengthened between India and its neighbouring countries based on this universal foundation.
But if we do not bear in mind the following dos and don'ts while establishing relations with these countries all our friendly efforts will not only be completely unproductive but will result in ill will and enmity.
1. When anyone calls the Buddha an incarnation of Vishnu and thinks that he is giving the Buddha a status equivalent to Ram and Krishna making him an object of worship, he is unknowingly making a big blunder. Actually, he is insulting the Buddha. The Buddha became completely liberated from the cycle of birth and death after attaining perfect self-enlightenment and declared,

Ayam antima jati-this is my last birth.
Natthidani punabbhavo-there is no rebirth for me.

How can the devotees of the Buddha accept that the Buddha, who is completely liberated from the wheel of existence, is an incarnation of Vishnu who incarnates himself again and again?
It seems that the belief in the theory of incarnation arose with the Puranas. The story describing the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu was originally created in the Vishnu Purana and was repeated in the other Puranas. The origin of this belief is so shamefully abusive that it not only gives offence to our neighbours but also produces pain in them like a poisonous arrow piercing the heart. According to this story in the Vishnu Purana, the Buddha was not the incarnation of the good qualities of Vishnu but of his unwholesome qualities such as ignorance and delusion (Mayamoha). The only aim of this incarnation was to turn the followers of the Vedas against the Vedas and prevent them from going to heaven so that the reign of Indra and other gods in heaven could be secure. This narrative censures not only the Buddha but also his teachings. The Buddha taught the ancient technique of Vipassana that tears asunder the veil of ignorance and liberates people from the cycle of birth and death. He became known as the embodiment of compassion in the whole world. To proclaim that he is an incarnation of ignorance and delusion who sends people to hell by spreading a net of deceit is not only a total falsehood but also extremely offensive. Therefore the mistake of proclaiming the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu made in the middle ages because of mutual hostility and enmity should not be repeated in the best interests of everyone.
The belief that Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, will completely destroy all Buddhists is even more offensive. One must understand how deeply it will hurt the devotees of the Buddha. If we really want to improve relations with our neighbouring countries this false theory of the incarnation of Vishnu as the Buddha must be stopped immediately for the benefit of all.
2. There is one more thing that is extremely hurtful to the feelings of our neighbours. When one says that the Buddha had nothing of his own to give to the world; the source of his teachings is from the Vedic tradition, this greatly hurts them because it is a totally false. The truth is that the Buddha was the leader of the Ṣramana tradition. Instead of giving importance to prayers he gave importance to one's own strenuous efforts and exertions. He clearly said, "I am not the giver of liberation, I am a giver of the path to liberation." This difference between the Vedic tradition and the Ṣramana tradition is very clear. How absolutely wrong it is to say that the Buddha had nothing of his own to give, when he has given such a detailed description of the interrelation between mind and body: "Because of (reactions to) the sensations that arise on the body, defilements arise in the mind and keep on multiplying, but if the sensations are observed equanimously, old sankharas are eradicated and new ones are prevented from arising." This in itself was a great contribution made by the Buddha. The liberating technique of Vipassana that he taught proved to be a priceless result-oriented scientific discovery not only for India and Nepal but also for all human beings of the world. Therefore, to say that the Buddha and his Ṣramana tradition is dependent on the Vedic tradition is false and unbearable for the devotees of the Buddha. It is best to avoid making such statements. Keeping the truth in mind, one should say that the Ṣramana and Vedic are both independent ancient traditions of India. Both these traditions which have prevailed concurrently for centuries have certainly influenced each other to some extent. But to say that one of them is derived from the other serves to devalue that tradition, which is not proper. Such statements will only alienate the followers of the other tradition.
3. To reassure the devotees of the Buddha of the neighbouring countries it is absolutely essential that the cordial relationship between the followers of the Vedic tradition and of the Buddha's tradition in India should grow. There should not be even a trace of mutual animosity between them. This is necessary not only to please our neighbours but also for the preservation of the integrity and unity of India.
The division of society into varna (class) based on birth and the system of castes and sub-castes derived from it has weakened the country so greatly! The caste system is still enfeebling the country. Whatever may the reason for the importance given to birth in a particular caste in the past, it was not proper even then. But considering the precarious situation today, this belief of regarding one as high or low only on the basis of birth is proving to be very dangerous to the country. This belief erodes the importance of Dhamma. Morality and ethical standards lose all value. One may have a high position in society in spite of committing a thousand immoral deeds just because he is born from the womb of a high-caste mother; while another may have a low place in society even though he leads a moral life just because he is born from the womb of a low-caste mother. This system is completely opposed to Dhamma. It is extremely unfortunate that birth from the womb of a certain mother became more important than a moral and ethical Dhammic life. The time has come for a complete transformation in this system. Only moral conduct should make one great or high; only immoral conduct should make one low. Even the lowest of the low should be able to obtain a high position in society by giving up immoral deeds and performing moral deeds. When this system is established, Dhamma will get its true importance and the poison of the caste system that has spread throughout the country will be removed. Mutual affection among the citizens of this country will increase, which will have a beneficial effect on the neighbouring countries.
The Dialogue with H. H. Shankaracarya

Before the seminar held in Lumbini, I had a discussion with H. H. Shankaracarya on this subject in Sarnath. I was very happy to find him expressing his total agreement with me on these three points. We called a press conference of local journalists and issued a joint communiqué. The English translation of the draft of this communiqué is quoted below.

We hope that the intelligent people of the country will agree to this and will extend their co-operation so that it will be beneficial for our country and improve our relations with the neighbouring countries. The purity and greatness of Dhamma (instead of sectarianism) will be established once again and all the people of different traditions in the country will practise the universal Dhamma, purify their minds and become accomplished in generating pure love, compassion and goodwill. There will be a great increase in the peace, harmony and prosperity of the country. In the purity of Dhamma is the good of all, the welfare of all, the liberation of all.

Joint Communiqué by Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswatiji of Kanchi Kamakoti Pith and Vipassanacharya Satya Narayan Goenkaji.
The Maha Bodhi Society Office, Sarnath, Varanasi. 3:30 p.m., 11 November 1999
This joint communiqué is being issued after the cordial talk between Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswatiji of Kanchi Kamakoti Pith and Vipassanacharya Guruji Shri Satyanarayana Goenkaji.

Both agree and wish that there should be harmonious and friendly relations between both ancient (the Vedic and the Ṣramana) traditions. If there has been any misconception in this matter in the minds of the people of the neighbouring countries, it should be removed at the earliest.

The following was agreed:

1. Due to whatever reason some literature was written (in India) in the past in which the Buddha was declared to be a reincarnation of Vishnu and various things were written about him. This was very unpleasant to the neighbouring countries. In order to foster friendlier ties between the two communities we decide that whatever has happened in the past (cannot be undone, but) should be forgotten and such beliefs should not be propagated.

2. A misconception has spread in the neighbouring countries that the Hindu society of India is organising such conferences to prove its dominance over the followers of the Buddha. To forever remove this misconception we declare that both Vedic and Ṣramana traditions are ancient traditions of India. Both have their own prestigious existence. Any attempt by one tradition to show itself higher than the other will only generate hatred and ill will between the two. Hence such a thing should not be done in the future and both traditions should be accorded equal respect and esteem.

3. Anybody can attain a high position in the society by doing good deeds. One becomes a low (person in society) if one does evil deeds. Hence anybody can-by doing good deeds and removing the defilements such as passion, anger, arrogance, ignorance, greed, jealousy and ego-attain a high position in society and enjoy peace and happiness.

We agree on all the three things mentioned above and wish that all the people of India from all the traditions should have cordial relations and the neighbouring countries should also have friendly relations with India.

In the above image of the Ten Avatars of Vishnu (from Wikipedia), note that Buddha is in the 9th position, seated (stagnant or stationary) in lotus position. The Buddha's focus on dissolving one's consciousness into the Immobile Transcendent, is out of place with the evolutionary and cyclical dynamism that is the essence of the Vishnu mythology.

An Excerpt from Sri Aurobindo's Letters on Yoga on the 'mistake' of Buddha:

    'It [the overmind liberation] can't be supreme if there is something beyond it—but there is a liberation even in higher Mind. But in speaking of supreme liberation I was simply taking the Buddhist-Adwaita view for granted and correcting it by saying that this Nirvana view is too negative. Krishna opened the possibility of overmind with its two sides of realisation, static and dynamic. Buddha tried to shoot from mind to Nirvana in the Supreme, just as Shankara did in another way after him. Both agree in overleaping the other stages and trying to get at a nameless and featureless Absolute. Krishna on the other hand was leading by the normal course of evolution. The next normal step is not a featureless Absolute, but the supermind. I consider that in trying to overshoot, Buddha like Shankara made a mistake, calling away the dynamic side of the liberation. Therefore there has to be a correction by Kalki. I was of course dealing with the ten Avatars as a "parable of the evolution", and only explaining the interpretation we can put on it from that point of view. It was not my own view of the thing that I was giving.' [bold emphasis added] '... Krishna opens the possibility of overmind, Buddha tries to shoot beyond to the supreme liberation but that liberation is still negative, not returning upon earth to complete positively the evolution Kalki is to correct this by bringing the Kingdom of the Divine upon earth, destroying the opposing Asura forces.'

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Unity and the Hindu Samaj

[This article was written by:]
Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet
Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology
Tamil Nadu, 18 June 2010

The article ‘Let All Hindus Come Together’ in the 17 June 2010 issue [of the New Indian Express] was heartfelt no doubt; much of what the author writes has been the cause of concern among thoughtful observers of the situation Hindus face in contemporary society, not only in India but throughout the world. We must recognise that over the past 2000 years orthodox religions have come to the forefront in world affairs. Together with their emergence the thirst for world domination arose. Organised faiths then became the major tools for the implementation of their respective hegemonic drives. This situation has never plagued Vedic culture. India has never invaded another country and sought to impose her beliefs on others. But this was not the case with the rise of organised belief systems. Recorded history over this period testifies to this development.
    Prior to these hegemonic drives using the tool of religion, there were ancient traditions which also served conquerors in those early days, but the tool they used to keep the flock together was very different, and it is precisely what is lacking in contemporary Hindu society. This was simple enough and was undisputed until only recently; it was through the calendar in use by all ancient societies, from the Vedic to the Egyptian, the Persian, the Greek and finally the Roman. They all made use of the cosmic harmony to unify the energies of the conquered around a common system. The Pax Romana that lasted for 700 years is an example of its effectiveness. Finally, in the early part of the last millennium, Christianity became consolidated and reigned supreme throughout most of the known world at the time, establishing its seat in Rome, the Eternal City. In keeping with the tradition, the Church Fathers formally adopted the then prevailing Mitraic system of calendar reckoning because Mitraism was Christianity’s main rival.
    Thus, the birth of Jesus was established accordingly, to coincide with the birth of the solar Mitra, as was the method in those times. With this tool in hand the religion spread to become the dominant force in the world, certainly the longest abiding influence in recorded history.
    This was the same calendar used throughout the ancient world. It was based on the actual provable harmony of our solar system with its four pillars, the Equinoxes and the Solstices. Two were the most important of all: Mahavishuva or the March Equinox, the beginning of the zodiacal year; and the Makar/Capricorn Sankranti, the December Solstice and shortest day of the year. Hence, in the Brihad Samhita of Varahamihira (6th Century), calculations are given only to determine these two correctly; the rest could be then accommodated accordingly.
    Certainly the December Solstice was the most important of all for ancient civilisations, including the Vedic where that 10th month (after Mahavishuva) was the month/sign of victory for the Initiate-Warrior. The importance of the Makar Sankranti in ancient times was obvious when we note that the placement of certain pyramids at Giza in Egypt was done so that the rising Sun on this special Solstice would fall between two of these colossi. The Great Pyramid itself was aligned with immaculate precision to the four Cardinal Poles. In ancient Rome the December Solstice introduced Capricorn by the important Saturnalia festival, since Saturn rules Capricorn and therefore found pride of place in Rome. Thereafter, the birth of Jesus established on 25 December did not seek to disrupt the tradition. In ancient Bharat we have the Epics and the Puranas following suit and confirming the importance of this 10th Sankranti, the Mahabharat itself beginning on this day. How much more important would this Solstice and Sankranti be for India, known in astrology to be ruled by Capricorn/Makar? For all practical purposes this rendered the culture eternal when it was based on the unchanging rhythms of the cosmic surround. As long as the cosmos lived, so long would the tradition live.
    But the problem Hinduism faces today and which Gautier has failed to appreciate is that it has indeed managed to survive – but only just. The author is correct in highlighting the danger Hinduism faces, but the remedy he suggests, an arbitrary Supreme Council to govern the entire Hindu Samaj, is anathema to this ancient tradition. His suggestion would fall in the category: ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’ And if by chance this Council did come about, it would truly mean the end of the ancient tradition in the only land where it has somehow managed to survive across the millennia. His suggestion signifies that Hinduism would re-align itself not with the cosmic harmonies but with contemporary trends established by orthodox religions – at a time when they themselves are struggling to survive.
    But we know that Hinduism is not a religion. To seek means to force it into that category, time-bound and incompatible with the Vedic Way, would truly mean the demise of that ancient tradition in the only land where it has managed to ‘hang in there’.
    The problem, the factor that ‘disunites’ the energies of 80% of the population – truly a brilliant divide-and-rule policy – is that there is no such calendar in use capable of empirical verification and absolutely faithful to the ancient Vedic tradition which alone was eternal because the cosmos is eternal wherefrom these reckonings are done. Today, thanks to the official adoption of the Nirayana system of computation for all Hindu observances by the Calendar Reform Committee in 1953, Hindus are bound to this method that does nothing to unite those energies and has no basis in the Veda, but which serves merely to foster vested interests of almanac writers whose livelihood depends on proffering different timings, at least a dozen or so, for this most sacred of all Sankrantis. In a word, they do not follow the ancient Vedic tradition of establishing the Makar Sankranti on the shortest day of the year; rather, they have carried the entire Hindu Samaj into the belief in a ‘floating’ ayanamsha (zero starting point), to which only they hold the key, and without an iota of sanction from the Veda.
    These are the vested interests that are keeping Hindus disunited and vulnerable. Only from within, as the ancient tradition teaches, can the Vedic basis of Hinduism find the source that unites and no longer divides. In this light Hindus have no one to blame for their current vulnerability but themselves. They have, to put it bluntly, lost the plot. To regain it there is only one method: the formal, immediate adoption of the provable Mahavishuva and Makar Sankranti, and to cease following those who have no knowledge of the true power of unification that cuts across all barriers of caste, creeds and sects, and yet miraculously harmonises and integrates them all. The ancients were wise indeed. They had the formula, and it was simple: the measure of the Earth Year, the entirely verifiable, empirical reckoning that eliminates vested interests since the Makar Sankranti does not shift as they claim and for which reason they have driven the Samaj to celebrate it TWENTY-THREE DAYS AFTER THE EVENT! Any Hindu can verify this with exactitude. No Pundit is required for the purpose.
    In Tamil Nadu more than 30 temples have seen the wisdom in this exposition and have incorporated the solar Sayana system, as it is known, into its calendric timings. It is hoped that the rest of the nation will follow suit and the present aberration will soon be a thing of the past. It is further hoped that at the up-coming Tamil Conference in Coimbatore, the organisers will see fit to include a discussion on this important theme, since the calendar based on the verifiable equinoxes and solstices was used in the Sangam periods, similar to all ancient civilisations. We may even suggest that the Tamil Nadu Government hold a seminar where the Nirayana pundits can be invited to present their rationale for inflicting this system on the entire community. They should face those who hold the contrary view; for if their ‘science’ is sound its defence should not be a problem. Unfortunately, all attempts to draw these pundits together to discuss this most important issue for Hindus have been unsuccessful. Vested interests, no doubt, stand in the way.
    Finally, Gautier’s suggestion that the (arbitrary) ‘Supreme Council’ issue ‘commands’ (adesh) for the Samaj to follow is, mercifully, not likely to appeal to any Hindu. Edicts and fatwas are not a part of their culture. The method to unify – today as it has always been – is through a calendar that unites and no longer divides.

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