Book One, Part V—The Buddha and His Predecessors

1. *The Buddha and the Vedic Rishis* -- 2. *Kapila—The Philosopher* -- 3. *The  Bramhanas* -- 4. *The Upanishads and their Teachings*

§1. The Buddha and the Vedic Rishis

    1. The Vedas are a collection of Mantras, i.e., hymns or chants. The reciters of these hymns are called Rishis.
    2. The Mantras are mere invocations to deities such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, Soma, Isana, Prajapati, Bramba, Mahiddhi, Yama and others.
    3. The invocations are mere prayers for help against enemies, for gift of wealth, for accepting the offerings of food, flesh and wine from the devotee.
    4. There is not much philosophy in the Vedas. But there were some Vedic sages who had entered into speculations of a philosophical nature.
    5. These Vedic sages were: (1) Aghamarsana; (2) Prajapati Parmesthin; (3) Brahmanaspati, otherwise known as Brihaspati; (4) Anila; (5) Dirghatamas; (6) Narayan; (7) Hiranyagarbha; and (8) Visvakarman.
    6. The main problems of these Vedic philosophers were: How did the world originate? In what manner were individual things created? Why have they their unity and existence? Who created, and who ordained? From what did the world spring up, and to what again will it return ?
    7. Aghamarsana said that the world was created out of Tapas (heat). Tapas was the creative principle from which eternal law and truth were born. From these were produced the night (tamas). Tamas produced water, and from water originated time. Time gave birth to the sun and the moon, the heaven and the earth, the firmament and light, and ordained the days and nights.
    8. Brahmanaspati postulated the genesis of being from non-being. By the term non-existence, he denoted apparently the infinite. The existent originally sprang up from the non-existent. The non-existent (asat, nonens) was the permanent foundation of all that is existent (sat, ens) and of all that is possible and yet non-existent (asat).
    9. Prajapati Parmesthin started with the problem: "Did being come out of non-being?" His view was that this was an irrelevant question. For him water was the original substance of that which exists. For him the original matter--water--came neither under the definition of being nor under that of non-being.
    10. Paramesthin did not draw any distinction between matter and motive power. According to him, water transformed itself into particular things by some inherent principle to which he gave the name Kama, Cosmic Desire.
    11. Anila was another Vedic Philosopher. To him the principal element was air (vayu). It possesses the inherent capacity for movement. It is endowed with the generating principle.
    12. Dirghtamas maintained that all living beings rest and depend ultimately on the sun. The sun, held up and propelled by its inherent force, went backward and forward.
    13. The sun is composed of a grey-coloured substance, and so are lightning and fire.
    14. The sun, lightning, and fire formed the germ of water. Water forms the germ of plants. Such were the views of Dirghatamas.
    15. According to Narayana, Purusha (God) is the first cause of the universe. It is from Purusha that the sun, the moon, the earth, water, fire, air, mid-air, the sky, the regions, the seasons, the creatures of the air, all animals, all classes of men, and all human institutions, had originated.
    16. Hiranyagarbha. From [a] doctrinal point of view he stood midway between Parmeshthin and Narayan. Hiranyagarbha means the golden germ. It was the great power of the universe, from which all other powers and existences, divine and earthly, were derived.
    17. Hiranyagarbha means [=refers to] fire. It is fire that constituted the solar essence, the generating principle of the universe.
    18. From the point of view of Vishvakarman, it was quite inadequate and unsatisfactory to hold that water was the primitive substance of all that is, and then to derive from it this world as a whole by giving it an inherent power of movement. If water be the primitive substance which is endowed with the inherent principle of change, we have yet to account for that from which water derived its being, and derived the motive power, the generating principle, the elemental forces, the laws and all the rest.
    19. Vishvakarman held the view that it was God which was the motive power. God is first and God is last. He is earlier than the visible universe; he had existed before all cosmic forces came into being. He is the sole God who created and ordained this universe. God is one, and the only one. He is the unborn one (aja) in whom all the existing things abide. He is the one who is mighty in mind and supreme in power. He is the maker--the disposer. As father he generated us, and as disposer he knows the fate of all that is.
    20. The Buddha did not regard all the Vedic Sages as worthy of reverence. He regarded just ten Vedic Rishis as the most ancient, and as the real authors of the Mantras.
    21. But in the Mantras he saw nothing that was morally elevating.
    22. In his view the Vedas were as worthless as a desert.
    23. The Buddha, therefore, discarded the Mantras as a source from which to learn or to borrow.
    24. Similarly, the Buddha did not find anything in the philosophy of the Vedic Rishis. They were groping to reach the truth. But they had not reached it.
    25. Their theories were mere speculations, not based on logic nor on facts. Their contributions to philosophy created no social values.
    26. He therefore rejected the philosophy of the Vedic Rishis as useless.

§2. Kapila— The Philosopher

    1. Among the ancient philosophers of India, the most pre-eminent was Kapila.
    2. His philosophical approach was unique, and as philosopher he stood in a class by himself. His philosophy was known as the Sankhya Philosophy.
    3. The tenets of his philosophy were of a startling nature.
    4. Truth must be supported by proof. This is the first tenet of the Sankhya system. There is no truth without proof.
    5. For purposes of proving the truth, Kapila allowed only two means of proof--(1) perception, and (2) inference.
    6. By perception is meant mental apprehension of a present object.
    7. Inference is threefold: (1) from cause to effect, as from the presence of clouds to rain; (2) from effect to cause, as from the swelling of the streams in the valleys to rain in the hills; and (3) by analogy, as when we infer from the fact that a man alters his place when he moves that the stars must also move, since they appear in different places.
    8. His next tenet related to causality--creation and its cause.
    9. Kapila denied the theory that there was a being who created the universe. In his view a created thing really exists beforehand in its cause, just as the clay serves to form a pot, or the threads go to form a piece of cloth.
    10. This is the first ground on which Kapila rejected the theory that the universe was created by a being.
    11. But there are other grounds which he advanced in support of his point of view.
    12. The non-existent cannot be the subject of an activity; there is no new creation. The product is really nothing else than the material of which it is composed: the product exists before its coming into being ,in the shape of its material of which it is composed. Only a definite product can be produced from such material; and only a specific material can yield a specific result.
    13. What then is the source of the empirical universe?
    14. Kapila said the empirical universe consists of things evolved (Vyakta) and things that are not evolved (Avyakta).
    15. Individual things (Vyakta Vastu) cannot  be the source of unevolved things (Avyakta Vastu).
    16. Individual things are all limited in magnitude, and this is incompatible with the nature of the source of the universe.
    17. All individual things are analogous one to another, and therefore no one [of them] can be regarded as the final source of the other. Moreover, as they all come into being from a source, they cannot constitute that source.
    18. Further, argued Kapila, an effect must differ from its cause, though it must consist of the cause. That being so, the universe cannot itself be the final cause. It must be the product of some ultimate cause.
    19. When asked why the unevolved cannot be perceived, why does it not show movement which would make it perceivable, Kapila replied:
    20. "It may be due to various causes. It may be that its fine nature makes, it imperceptible, just as other things of whose existence there is no doubt, cannot be perceived; or because of their too great a distance or proximity; or through the intervention of a third object; or through admixture with similar matter; or through the presence of some more powerful sensation; or the blindness or other defect of the senses or the mind of the observer."
    21. When asked, "What then is the source of the universe? What makes the difference between the evolved and unevolved part of the universe?
    22. Kapila's reply was:  "Things that have evolved have a cause, and the things that have not evolved have also a cause. But the source of both is uncaused and independent.
    23. "The things that have evolved are many in number, and limited in space and name. The source is one, eternal and all-pervasive. The things evolved have activities and parts; the source is imminent in all, but has neither activities nor parts."
    24. Kapila argued that the process of development of the unevolved is through the activities of three constituents of which it is made up, Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. These are called three Gunas.
    25. The first of the constituents, or factors, corresponds to what we call as light in nature, which reveals, which causes pleasure to men; the second is that [=what] impels and moves, what produces activity; the third is what is heavy and puts under restraint, what produces the state of indifference or inactivity.
    26. The three constituents act essentially in close relation; they overpower and support one another, and intermingle with one another. They are like the constituents of a lamp, the flame, the oil, and wick.
    27. When the three Gunas are in perfect balance, none overpowering the other, the universe appears static (Achetan) and ceases to evolve.
    28. When the three Gunas are not in balance, one overpowers the other, the universe becomes dynamic (sachetan), and evolution begins.
    29. Asked why the Gunas become unbalanced, the answer which Kapila gave was [that] this disturbance in the balance of the three Gunas was due to the presence of Dukha (suffering).
    30. Such were the tenets of Kapila's philosophy.
    31. Of all the philosophers, the Buddha was greatly impressed by the doctrines of Kapila.
    32. He was the only philosopher whose teachings appeared to the Buddha to be based on logic and facts.
    33. But he did not accept everything which Kapila taught. Only three things did the Buddha accept from Kapila.
    34. He accepted that reality must rest on proof. Thinking must be based on rationalism.
    35. He accepted that there was no logical or factual basis for the presumption that God exists or that he created the universe.
    36. He accepted that there was Dukha (suffering) in the world.
    37. The rest of Kapila's teachings he just bypassed as being irrelevant for his purpose.

§ 3. The Bramhanas

    1. Next to the Vedas are the religious books known as the Bramhanas. Both were held as sacred books. Indeed the Bramhanas are a part of the Vedas. The two went together and were called by a common name, Sruti.
    2. There were four theses on which the Bramhanic Philosophy rested.
    3. The first thesis was that the Vedas are not only sacred, but that they are infallible, and they are not to be questioned.
    4. The second thesis of the Bramhanic Philosophy was that salvation of the soul--that is escape from transmigration--can be had only by the due performance of Vedic sacrifices, and observances of religious rites and ceremonies, and the offering of gifts to Brahmins.
    5. The Brahmins had not only a theory of an ideal religion as contained in the Vedas, but they also had a theory for an ideal society.
    6. The pattern of this ideal society they named Chaturvarna. It is imbedded in the Vedas, and as the Vedas are infallible, and as their authority cannot be questioned, so also Chaturvarna as a pattern of society was binding and unquestionable.
    7. This pattern of society was based upon certain rules.
    8. The first rule was that society should be divided into four classes: (1)  Brahmins; (2) Kshatriyas; (3) Vaishyas; and (4) Shudras.
    9. The second rule was that there cannot be social equality among these four classes. They must be bound together by the rule of graded inequality.
    10. The Brahmins to be at the top, the Kshatriyas to be kept below the Brahmins but above the Vaishyas, the Vaishyas to be below the Kshatriyas but above the Shudras, and the Shudras to be the lowest of all.
    11. These four classes were not to be equal to one another in the matter of rights and privileges. The rule of graded inequality governed the question of rights and privileges.
    12. The Brahmin had all the rights and privileges which he wished to claim. But a Kshatriya could not claim the rights and privileges which a Brahmin could. He had more rights and privileges than a Vaishya could claim. The Vaishya had more rights and privileges than a Shudra. But he could not claim the rights and privileges which a Kshatriya could. And the Shudra was not entitled to any right, much less any privilege. His privilege was to subsist without offending the three superior classes.
    13. The third rule of Chaturvarna related to the division of occupations. The occupation of the Brahmin was learning and teaching and the performance of religious observances. The occupations of the Kshatriya was fighting. Trade was assigned to the Vaishyas. The occupations of the Shudras was service of the three superior classes. These occupations assigned to different classes were exclusive. One class could not trespass upon the occupation of the other.
    14. The fourth rule of Chaturvarna related to the right to education. The pattern of Chaturvarna gave the right to education to the first three classes, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. The Shudras were denied the right to education. This rule of Chaturvarna did not deny the right to education to the Shudras only. It denied the right to education to all women, including those belonging to the class of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.
    15. There was a fifth rule. According to it, man's life was divided into four stages. The first stage was called Bramhacharya; the second stage was called Grahastashram; the third stage was called Vanaprasta and the fourth stage was called Sannyasa.
    16. The object of the first stage was study and education. The object of the second stage was to live a married life. The object of the third stage was to familiarise a man with the life of a hermit, i.e., severing family ties, but without deserting his home. The object of the fourth stage was to enable a man to go in search of God and seek union with him.
    17. The benefits of these stages were open only to the male members of the three superior classes. The first stage was not open to the Shudras and women. Equally the last stage was not open to the Shudras and women.
    18. Such was the divine pattern of an ideal society called Chaturvarna. The Brahmins had idealised the rule and had realised the ideal without leaving any cracks or loopholes.
    19. The fourth thesis of Brahmanic Philosophy was the doctrine of Karma. It was part of the thesis of transmigration of the soul. The Karma of the Brahmins was an answer to the question, "Where did the soul land on transmigration with his new body on new birth?" The answer of the Brahmanic Philosophy was that it depended on a man's deeds in his past life. In other words, it depended on his Karma.
    20. The Buddha was strongly opposed to the first tenet of Brahmanism. He repudiated their thesis that the Vedas are infallible and their authority could never be questioned.
    21. In his opinion, nothing was infallible and nothing could be final. Everything must be open to re-examination and reconsideration, whenever grounds for re-examination and reconsideration arise.
    22. Man must know the truth--and real truth. To him freedom of thought was the most essential thing. And he was sure that freedom of thought was the only way to the discovery of truth.
    23. Infallibility of the Vedas meant complete denial of freedom of thought.
    24. For these reasons this thesis of the Brahmanic Philosophy was most obnoxious to him.
    25. He was equally an opponent of the second thesis of the Brahmanic Philosophy. The Buddha did admit that there was any [=some] virtue in a sacrifice. But he made a distinction between true sacrifice and false sacrifice.
    26. Sacrifice in the sense of self-denial for the good of others, he called true sacrifice. Sacrifice in the sense of killing an animal as an offering to God for personal benefit, he regarded as a false sacrifice.
    27. The Brahmanic sacrifices were mostly sacrifices of animals to please their gods. He condemned them as false sacrifices. He would not allow them, even though they be performed with the object of getting salvation for the soul.
    28. The opponents of sacrifices used to ridicule the Brahmins by saying, "If one can go to heaven by sacrificing an animal, why should not one sacrifice one's own father? That would be a quicker way of going to heaven."
    29. The Buddha wholeheartedly agreed with this view.
    30. The theory of Chaturvarna was as repugnant to the Buddha as the theory of sacrifices was repulsive to him.
    31. The organization of society set up by Brahmanism in the name of Chaturvarna did not appear to him a natural organization. Its class composition was compulsory and arbitrary. It was a society made to order. He preferred an open society and a free society.
    32. The Chaturvarna of the Brahmins was a fixed order never to be changed. Once a Brahmin always a Brahmin. Once a Kshatriya always a Kshatriya, once a Vaishya always a Vaishya, and once a Shudra always a Shudra. Society was based on status conferred upon an individual by the accident of his birth. Vice, however heinous, was no ground for degrading a man from his status, and virtue, however great, had no value [=ability] to raise him above it. There was no room for worth, nor for growth.
    33. Inequality exists in every society. But it was different with Brahmanism. The inequality preached by Brahmins was its official doctrine. It was not a mere growth. Brahmanism did not believe in equality. In fact, it was opposed to equality.
    34. Brahmanism was not content with inequality. The soul of Brahmanism lay in graded inequality.
    35. Far from producing harmony, graded inequality, the Buddha thought, might produce in society an ascending scale of hatred and a descending scale of contempt, and might be a source of perpetual conflict.
    36. The occupations of the four classes were also fixed. There was no freedom of choice. Besides, they were fixed not in accordance with skill, but in accordance with birth.
    37. On a careful review of the rules of Chaturvarna, the Buddha had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the philosophic foundations on which the social order was reared by Brahmanism were wrong if not selfish.
    38. It was clear to him that it did not serve the interests of all, much less did it advance the welfare of all. Indeed, it was deliberately designed to make [the] many serve the interests of the few. In it man was made to serve a class of self-styled supermen.
    39. It was calculated to suppress and exploit the weak, and to keep them in a state of complete subjugation.
    40. The law of Karma as formulated by the Brahmins, thought the Buddha, was calculated to sap the spirit of revolt completely. No one was responsible for the suffering of man except he himself. Revolt could not alter the state of suffering ; for suffering was fixed by his past Karma as his lot in this life.
    41. The Shudras and women--the two classes whose humanity was most mutilated by Brahmanism--had no power to rebel against the system.
    42. They were denied the right to knowledge, with the result that by reason of their enforced ignorance they could not realize what had made their condition so degraded. They could not know that Brahmanism had robbed them completely of the significance of their life. Instead of rebelling against Brahmanism, they had become the devotees and upholders of Brahmanism.
    43. The right to bear arms is the ultimate means of achieving freedom which a human being has. But the Shudras were denied the right to bear arms.
    44. Under Brahmanism the Shudras were left as helpless victims of a conspiracy of selfish Brahmanism, powerful and deadly Kshatriyas, and wealthy Vaishyas.
    45. Could it be amended? Knowing that it was a divinely ordained social order, he knew that it could not be. It could only be ended.
    46. For these reasons the Buddha rejected Brahmanism as being opposed to the true way of life.

§4. The Upanishads and Their Teachings

    1. The Upanishads constituted another piece of literature. It is not part of the Vedas. It is uncanonical.
    2. All the same, they did form a part of religious literature.
    3. The number of the Upanishads is quite large. Some important, some quite unimportant.
    4. Some of them were ranged against the Vedic theologians, the Brahmin priests.
    5. All of them agreed in viewing Vedic study as a study of nescience or ignorance (avidya).
    6. They were all agreed in their estimate of the four Vedas and the Vedic science as the lower knowledge.
    7. They were all agreed in questioning the divine origin of the Vedas.
    8. They were all agreed in denying the efficacy attributed to sacrifices, to the funeral oblations, and the gifts to the priests which are the fundamentals of the Brahmanic philosophy.
    9. This, however, was not the main topic with which the Upanishads were concerned. Their discussions centred round Brahman and Atman.
    10. Brahman was the all-pervading principle which binds the universe, and [they maintained] that salvation lay in the Atman realizing that it is Brahman.
    11. The main thesis of the Upanishads was that Brahmana was a reality and that Atmana was the same as Brahmana. The Atmana did not realize that it was Brahmana because of the Upadhis in which it was entangled.
    12. The question was, Is Brahmana a reality? The acceptance of the Upanishadic thesis depended upon the answer to this question.
    13. The Buddha could find no proof in support of the thesis that Brahmana was a reality. He, therefore, rejected the thesis of the Upanishads.
    14. It is not that questions on this issue were not put to the authors of the Upanishads. They were.
    15. Such questions were put to no less a person than Yajnavalkya, a great seer who plays so important a part in the Brahadarnyka Upanishad.
    16. He was asked, "What is Brahmana? What is Atmana " All that Yajnavalkya could say, "Neti! Neti! I know not! I know not! "
    17. "How can anything be a reality about which no one knows anything?" asked the Buddha. He had, therefore, no difficulty in rejecting the Upanishadic thesis as being based on pure imagination.


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