Last night I bought a book that, so far, has been a very mixed blessing. The book is “The Hidden Glory of India,” written by Steven J. Rosen and published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Recognizing the Book Trust’s background as from the Hare Krishna sect, I didn’t plan to place too much of my attention on the book, however, while it’s caused me to roll my eyes more than once, it’s simultaneously been an interesting read.
A pal of mine recently asked me about the source of my saying that I have Buddhist leanings. If you’re unfamiliar, you’ll have to invest the twelve years it’ll take you to read my last post. After that post, I’d debated removing the part of my bio that mentions having Buddhist leanings. However, after giving a few more minutes of my life to this Vaishnav book by the Hare Krishnas, I’ve come across something that I think is interesting, endearing, and that makes it fine for me to leave that part of my bio intact.
The Hidden Glory of India begins with some claims that I find to be a bit obnoxious, although not unexpected. Some Vaishnav sects (not all) place Krishna above Vishnu and then consider him essentially the same, or higher than, Brahman. For lots of different reasons I find this questionable, especially in the context of the bigger Hindu picture. But I can respect it, nonetheless. The Hare Krishnas are large proponents of that belief and I suppose with that in mind, I shouldn’t have been surprised to crack this book open and read that Vaishanvism is solely responsible for not only the preservation of Sanatana Dharma, but also its very creation.
Until I’m sufficiently educated in such a way as to conclusively prove that Vaishnavism is THE founder/foundation of Sanatana Dharma, I’m mostly likely to just giggle at the claim. However, as the “preservation” marg in Hinduism that principally worships the Preserver god, Vishnu, half of the claim does compute – at least in theory.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that He appears whenever Dharma wanes and Adharma begins to flourish. Depending on who you speak to, there have been at least ten officially-recognized avatars of Vishnu on our planet. One of these, again depending on who you ask, was The Buddha.
I’d mentioned briefly in the last post about Buddhism that after its birth, Buddhism eventually fell prey to the usual cycle of religion with man. Of course, what spawned Buddhism’s birth in the first place was the same drama occurring within Hinduism. This apparently, according to the Hare Krishnas, is why the Buddha came.
As The Hidden Glory of India states, “…The majority of India strictly followed the Vedic tradition until the time of the Buddha. By that time, there was rampant misinterpretation of Vedic texts. This resulted in the performance of outdated sacrifices (meant for previous ages)…To remedy the situation, the Buddha found he had to repudiate the Vedas in toto.” I’m not sure the Vedas needed repudiated “in toto,” but certainly the Buddha made his mark. The book continues, “In the 8th century C.E., however, Shankara, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, appeared. He reestablished the Vedic scripturs, albeit in a slightly altered form. Shankara taught that the Vedas were divinely inspired but were to be interpreted in a metaphorical and, ultimately, impersonalistic way. In other words, for Shankara, God was primarily an abstract force, and any personal reference to God in the scriptures was to be taken either in a symbolic sense or as a statement of God’s lesser nature. This appealed to Shankara’s predominantly Buddhist audience, who were trained to think in terms of abstract philosophy and psychology, and not in terms of recognizing a Supreme Being. In summary, Buddha’s appearance in this world served the function of distracting people from the Vedic texts because people were misinterpreting those texts, and Shankara served the purpose of reestablishing the Vedas in a way that Buddhists could appreciate. According to Vaishnavas, this was part of a divine plan to reinstate Vedic culture.”
This information comes thirty-six pages into the book, and is one of the very few things so far that doesn’t strike me as pompous. Beyond that, credit should be given where credit is due. I’ve read the Buddha’s story a number of times in my studies, but this slant is the first of its kind for me, and I love it. After all, it makes sense.
As an aside, in this context it might also be noted that the The Preserver coming in the avatar of Buddha could very nearly have destroyed what we now know as Hinduism. That’s probably pretty indicative of the condition Hinduism was in at the time. The involvement of Shiva in the form of Shankara is a nice lesson in balance that I’m also pulling from this chapter in The Hidden Glory of India.