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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  1. In the Maha-samya Sutta there was an occasion when the devas from almost all the planes came to see the Buddha when he was dwelling in the Great Wood together with 500 bhikkhus, all of them arahants. The Buddha introduced their names to the monks, Vishnu was one of those present. The Buddha mentioned him by the name Venhu.

    The Venhu Sutta shows Vishnu as one of the young devas who came to visit and talked with the Buddha:

    At Savatthi. Standing to one side, the young deva Venhu recited this verse in the presence of the Blessed One: " Happy indeed are those human beings attending on the Fortunate One. Applying themselves to Gotama's Teaching, who train in it with diligence."

    The Blessed One said: "When the course of teaching is proclaimed by me, O Venhu," said the Blessed One, "Those meditators who train therein. Being diligent at the proper time. Will not come under Death's control."- The Connected Discourse of the Buddha" A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya by Bhikkhu Bodhi ,page 432)

    According to "Hinduism and Buddhism An Historical Sketch" (Vol. 2 page 746) , Sir Charles Elliot who was a British diplomat mentioned that this correlates with the Rig Veda text before Hinduism started. Both texts mentioned that Vishnu and Shiva are minor deities instead of the Lords of the Universe as popularly known by worshippers:

    " Vishnu and Rudra (Shiva) are known even to the Rig Veda but as deities of no special eminence. It is only after the Vedic age that they became , each for his own worshippers, undisputed Lords of the Universe…..The Pali Pitakas frequently introduce popular deities , but give no prominence to Vishnu and Siva. They are apparently mentioned under the names of Venhu and Isana, but are not differentiated from a host of spirits now forgotten. ….The suttas of the Digha Nikaya in which these lists of deities occur were perhaps composed before 300 B.C. "- Sir Charles Elliot

  2. Goenka Nor Snakracharya are Final Authorities to Decide whether Buddh was Avatar of Vishnu or Not.
    For all of you Buddh or Buddha Never Invented, Nor Created Buddhism . Buddha Practiced or Followed his way of Hinduism or his branch of Hinduism. Buddha was hindu, He Practiced was Hindu, and His Nirvana was as a Hindu, He left his Knowledge as Hindu.
    Buddhism was created by his innocent followers in Far East after about 400 Years of Buddhas NIrvan

    1. The Buddha does not claim to be an incarnation (Avatāra) of Hindu God Vishnu, who, as the Bhagavadgitā 11 charmingly sings, is born again and again in different periods to protect the righteous, to destroy the wicked, establish the Dharma (right).

  3. The fact that the earliest Buddhist texts, such as the Pali Jatakas, mention Buddha's birth as King Rama, Kapila, Janaka, is called "Mahapurusha" and Purushottama and Narasiha shows that Buddha is none other than Vishnu himself. In ignorance, both Buddhists and Hindus have been denying this fact. When we search the popular thousand names of Vishnu as found in the Mahabharata, we find other names that clearly remind us of Lord Buddha.

    Vishnu is called "shaanta-aakaaram" -- ever peaceful. Buddha too is the sage who has stopped, he is stillness personified.

    Veveshti Vyaapnoti iti Vishnuh-That which pervades everywhere is Vishnu. That which has the nature of pervasiveness is Vishnu. He is the one who pervades all and nothing ever pervades Him. Even in early Pali texts Lord Buddha is able to go anywhere in any realm - in one of the Suttas to Ananda, he explains his voice alone can reach anywhere in this universe.

  4. In 'Secrets of the Earth - Questions and Answers on the Line of Ten Avatars of Vedic Tradition' Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet discusses the timing of the Dasavatara in terms of the Earth's Precession of the Equinoxes, and the Astrological Ages. Elsewhere the same author discusses the measure of the Kali Yuga in terms of the Precession of the Equinoxes. The measure of 432,000 being in seconds of degrees of the 360 degree Precession. 360* x 60' x 60" = 1,296,000". And so 432,000" = 1/3 of Precession or 4 Astrological Ages of 2160 years each. The implications of this are vast. It is worth considering Vishnu's description as the Preserver actually DOES have something to do with the Preservation signs of the Zodiac. [See http://circumsolatious.blogspot.com/2009/08/vishnu-in-mothers-symbol-and-in-sri.html] Anyhow I know many are certain that Buddha was the 9th Avatar of Vishnu. I am simply not one of them. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I do believe that identifying Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu is a LONG-STANDING mistake.


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