Tuesday, February 08, 2005

postal scrotum: misleading or trivial?

Sperwer writes:


Another couple of points:

1. Of course, even post enlightenment, buddha employed some techniques that were, at least superifically, common to the Hindu tradition, from adepts in which he originally learned them. But like his handling of the notion of dharma, he radically revised these methods to suit his own purposes (or rejected them altogether, e.g., asceticism, certainly of the extreme variety - wholly incompatabile with the middle way between the practices of the sramanas and those of the brahamnic householders). Hence, I think it's misleading, at best, to call him simply a Hindu practitioner - as opposed to unpacking that assertion along the lines I've just suggested.

2. Also, its clear that the broad division of society into priestly, warrior/ruler, agriculturist/merchant and "other" ranks predated buddha's time - although I doubt that the Aryans brought it with them; I think it's more likely that as a result of the Aryan ascendancy, Aryans just came to dominate the top two tiers of a hierarchy that probably also existed in the pre-Aryan population - as it appears to have done in almost all pre-modern societies. My sense of the scholarly literature, though, is that the elaborate system of dozens if not hundreds of specific castes is a much later phenomenon, and that even as late as the buddha's time, class mobility was possible (albeit unlikely) with the exception of the brahmans, the requirements for the ritual purity for which seemed to require hereditary entrance.


Either I'm misleading (grounds for principled disagreement) or I'm saying something trivially true (grounds for yawning agreement), per what you wrote earlier:

Similarly, although more accurate, I think that to assert that the buddha was a great [religious] leader who was or started out as a hindu is so say something that is trivial at best.

If I have to choose, I'll choose being trivial, though I didn't argue he was a great religious leader. The question "What is religion?" remains unsettled, so I'm agnostic as to Reppert's original query*, though leaning a bit toward the "he was a religious teacher" notion**. Maybe I'll flesh this out in a later post.

In fact, I thought my original claim was trivial when I wrote it. This whole exchange has been a surprise and a revelation for me. Now I know better.

So thank you: I'll speak more cautiously from now on, though I'm never quite sure whose toes I'll step on next!

Regarding point (2) above: I'd have to do a good bit of reading before I could offer my own opinion. There's a lot of scholarship out there about the Aryan influx (for lack of a better term), but I've read next to none of it.

*The query was: "The question I have is what makes Buddha a religious teacher, and not an ethical philosopher." Given the answers proffered by other writers, I think the question should be changed to, "The question I have is what, if anything, makes Buddha a religious teacher, and not an ethical philosopher."

**This would be in contrast to the idea that the Buddha was a philosopher in the Greek sense. I'd be curious to know how many of the prominent Greek philosophers practiced something like Hindu or Buddhist meditation.


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