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Ambedkar, author of the Indian Constitution, was a student of theology, approaching it from his lower caste experience.

He argued that the Gita was compiled as a philosophical defense of Hinduism for the ruling classes at a time when Buddhism, perceived as more egalitarian, was gaining power. He cites the Gita's defense of killing one's own relatives because their souls are fine, a statement that both can defend any killing and at odds with a religion that abhors even killing animals in many cases, as well as Krishna's divine approval of the varna system, as evidence it was compiled as a defense of the status quo, a defense of both political violence and maintenance of the caste system by the Hindu ruling classes.

My questions are double. Is there any merit to this theory? And have any other scholars proposed it?

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No, it is without any merit as will be shown in this point by point rebuttal.

Is Buddhism egalitarian?

Let me give an excerpt from Ambattha Sutta, Digha Nikaya:

'So even if a Khattiya has suffered extreme humiliation, he is superior and the Brahmins inferior. 'Ambattha, this verse was pronounced by Brahma Sanankumara:

"The Khattiya best among those who value clan; He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men."

'This verse was rightly sung, not wrongly, rightly spoken, not wrongly, connected with profit, not unconnected. And, Ambattha I too say this:

"The Khattiya's best among those who value clan: He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men."

Ambattha Sutta: About Ambattha Pride Humbled in The Long discourses of the Buddha translation of Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe

I have an image of the text below to clear up any confusion.

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I am posting here Walshe's summary of Ambattha Sutta

About Ambattha (Pride Humbled). Pokkharasti, a famous Brahmin teacher, sends his pupil Ambattha (supposedly fully trained in Brahmin lore) to find out if the 'ascetic Gotama' is the great man he is alleged to be (and if, therefore, he bears the 'thirty-two marks of a Great Man'). Ambattha, proud of his Brahmin birth, behaves stupidly and arrogantly towards the Buddha, and thereby learns a thing or two about ancestry, besides being made to realise that the Khattiyas (the warrier-noble caste) are superior to the Brahmins. Humbled, he returns to Pokkharasti, who is furious at his conduct, hastens to see the Buddha, learns that he does indeed bear the thirty-two marks, and becomes a convert.

A summary of the thirty-four Suttas in in The Long discourses of the Buddha translation of Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe

Does Gita defend any killing?

Gita does not support pacifism in situations where one is facing oppression. No amount of pacifism will stop a Hitler from his oppression.

Yield not to impotence, O Partha; it is not worthy of thee. Shake off this paltry faint-heartedness and arise, O Parantapa:

Gita 2.3

The answer of a hero to hero, shall we say, but not that which we demand rather that he shall encourage always gentleness and saintliness and self-abnegation and the recoil from worldly aims and cessation from the ways of the world? The Gita expressly says that Arjuna has thus lapsed into unheroic weakness... because he is invaded by pity... Is this not a divine weakness? Is not pity a divine emotion which should not thus be discouraged by harsh rebuke? Or are we in face of a mere gospel of war and heroic emotion... The Teacher himself enumerating in a later chapter the qualities of the godlike nature in man places among them compassion to creatures, gentleness, freedom from wrath and from the desire to slay and do hurt, no less than fearlessness and high spirit and energy. Harshness and hardness and fierceness and a satisfaction in slaying enemies and amassing wealth and unjust enjoyments are Asuric qualities; they come from the violent Titanic nature which denies the Divine in the world and the Divine in man and worships desire only as its deity. It is not then from any such standpoint that the weakness of Arjuna merits rebuke..........

There is a divine compassion which descends to us from on high ... This compassion observes with an eye of love and wisdom and calm strength the battle and the struggle, the strength and weakness of man, his virtues and sins, his joy and suffering, his knowledge and his ignorance, his wisdom and folly, his aspiration and his failure and it enters into it all to help and to heal. In the saint and the philosopher it may cast itself into the mould of plenitude of love and charity; in the thinker and hero it assumes the largeness and the force of a helpful wisdom and strength. It is this compassion in the Aryan fighter, the soul of his chivalry, which will not break the bruised reed, but helps and protects the weak and the oppressed and the wounded and the fallen. But it is also the divine compassion that smites down the strong tyrant and the confident oppressor, not in wrath and with hatred, - for those are not the high divine qualities...

But such is not the compassion which actuates Arjuna in the rejection of his work and mission. That is not compassion but an impotence full of weak self-pity, a recoil from the mental suffering which his act must entail on himself... and of all things self-pity is among the most ignoble and un-Aryan of moods. Its pity for others is also a form of self-indulgence; it is the physical shrinking of the nerves from the act of slaughter, the egoistic emotional shrinking of the heart from the destruction of the Dhritarashtrians because they are 'One's own people" and without then life will be empty. This pity is a weakness of mind and senses ......

Commentary on Gita 2.3 by Sri Aurobindo

Does Gita defend the caste system?

Gita's Varna system has nothing to do with the caste system.

According to the aptitudes resulting from the dispositions of Nature (gunas) and works (karma), the social order of fourfold division has been created by Me. Though I am their originator, know me to be an agent but the spirit unchanging.

Gita 4.13

Caturvarnya or the social order of fourfold division is not the caste system, which is a system of social grouping solely based on birth. Brahmana, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudra, as conceived in the Vedas, is a division based on the natural constitution of man arising from the dominance of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, the constituents of nature (Gunas), as also on the duties they are fit to perform according to the aptitudes arising from their constitution. They are mere character types. …………………..

Commentary on Gita 4.13 by Swami Tapasyananda in his English translation of Srimad Bhagavad Gita

O great hero! The duties of Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and also Sudras have been divided according to the quality born of their own nature.

[Gita 18.41]

Serenity, control of the sense, austerity, purity, straight-forwardness, knowledge, insight, and faith in the Supreme Being - these are a Brahman's duties born of his own nature.

[Gita 18.42]

Prowess, splendor of personality, unfailing courage, resourcefulness, dauntless in battle, generosity, leadership - these are a Ksatriya's duties born of his specific nature.

[Gita 18.43]

Agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade form the duty of the Vaisya springing from his own nature, while the natural duty of a Sudra consists in subordinate service under others.

[Gita 18.44]

A great doctrine of the social philosophy of ancient India, regarding the fourfold class system, is here propounded. There has been no doctrine so much misapplied, misunderstood and misrepresented as this doctrine. The four Varnas of Brahmana, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras are today and for a long time past, understood as four hereditary castes. But the Varnas, as understood by the best Indian thinkers, are not castes based on birth in particular groups, but character types based on the domination of the Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika elements entering into the constitution of their body-mind, and this is determined by their evolution in their past lives. At least such is the Gita view. To have identified character types with endogamous castes is nothing but an aberration. …….

These four character types are universal all the world over and the prosperity of a society will depend on the man of the right nature and character being put to the right type of duty. For the individuals also doing the duty that is natural to his psycho-physical constitution, is the way of higher evolution.

Commentary on Gita 18.41 to 18.44 by Swami Tapasyananda in his English translation of Srimad Bagavad Gita

Timeline of Mahabharat War

Mahabharata war took place around 1300 BCE almost 800 years before Buddha. Is Ambedkar suggesting that Sri Krishna anticipated Buddhism 800 years before Buddha? I am not suggesting here that the Gita was composed in 1300 BCE. Gita may well have been composed after the time of Buddha. What I am suggesting is that the author of the Gita would know that it would be anachronistic to make the Gita talk against Buddhism since the event described in the Gita predates Buddha by centuries. This is the reason why no one has been able to show any direct argument in the Gita against or for Buddhism.

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  • Is there a translation error in Ambattha Sutta? Please do check again, let's try to avoid Buddhist bashing. Oct 16 at 8:30
  • @SaffronVajra, I have pasted a photo of the page from which I obtained the quote. Oct 16 at 12:12
  • It's a semicolon, not a colon. The two sentences are talking about two different things. The first sentence says that a khattiya is the best among those who value clans. The second sentence says that he with knowledge and conduct is best among gods and men. Other translators make this clearer, by adding a "but" between the two sentences. The second sentence referring to any person, regardless of background.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 12:25
  • I can only go by what Walshe translated. I am suspicious of translators adding a word into the text. Text torturing in order to white wash a text is of course a familiar disease. Oct 16 at 12:31
  • All you have to do is quote the very next page of Walshe, and it should say something like "Whoever is attached to questions of ancestry or clan or pride, or to giving and taking in marriage, is far from the supreme knowledge and conduct. The realization of supreme knowledge and conduct occurs when you’ve given up such things". I don't have the Walshe translation.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 15:35
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I am baffled as to how ruben2020's answer was upvoted and even approved, the answer Ruben gives is an extremely surface level reading of the Bhagvad Gita.

To me, the Bhagavad Gita seems to be composed in Classical Sanskrit, and not Vedic Sanskrit or any of the later Prakrit dialects, such as the ones upon which the Buddhist and Jain scriptures were authored in. Classical Sanskrit was formalized by Panini around 500 BCE according to wikipedia, which is around the time of the Buddha's life. So, linguistically, it doesn't make sense that the Bhagavad Gita was composed 800 years before the Buddha's lifetime.

Yet the same wikipedia article claims that the earliest reference of the Mahabharata comes from Panini, so yeah? Is the wiki article wrong here? If Mahabharata was composed after Panini, why does the trustworthy Wikipedia article claim that?

Tho the article does claim that it is uncertain if Panini did mention this Mahabharata, it also claims that he talks about characters from the Mahabharata.

The dating of Hindu scriptures is very ambiguous, so let's leave it at there and discuss the content of the Gita.

According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable. BG 4.13 (translated by Srila Prabhupada)

"O son of Prthä, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth — women, vaisyas [merchants] and sudras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination." BG 9.32 (translated by Srila Prabhupada)

It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly. Prescribed duties, according to one's nature, are never affected by sinful reactions. BG 18.47 (translated by Srila Prabhupada)

Do these three verses defend the ruling upper class? First let us examine the second verse, the verse clearly talks about how everyone can attain the Lord, regardless of their caste or gender, but this seems very contradictory to calling them "of lower birth" or unintelligent, this is because those were the times of that day, there was caste based discrimination an gender based discrimination in society during those times.

The four-fold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. Though I am its creator, know Me to be incapable of action or change. 4:13

the Lord here says that he divided the castes based on the qualities and work of that person, i.e Sattvas, rajas and Tamas.

The verified comment acknowledges that Gita states that everyone can attain the Lord but ignores this and claims Gita justifies ruling class supremacy while Buddhism advocates that everybody can get liberation regardless of this caste.

If Krishna was advocating for the supremacy of the ruling elite, he would've never said that everybody even "lower birthed" can attain him.

Iscon's Swami Prabhupada himself comments that the Lord removes the distinction between higher and lower (context of this verse).

The first and the third verse and completely philosophical, the Paramatma is the origin of the 3 modes of material nature yet is not the doer of the actions since he is beyond the concept of acting under the three modes.

The Gita "defending" Ethical War does not mean that the content of he Gita was something which was a counter to the Buddhist criticism, the times before Buddha too were very war like, it is a known fact that during the Mahajanapada Era, the states had standing armies and organized raids on one another.

I'm just extrapolating here but according to the Gita, it is better for a kshatriya to fulfill his duty and kill in battle, than to try to become a monk, which seems to be a type of role which may be better suited to brahmins.

What exactly is being a monk here? In the next statement Ruben2020 talks about how the Great Buddha talks about how everyone will get liberated whatever their social classes may be, so I'll assume that they're talking about Kshatriyas and other achieving Liberation.

This is completely false, I wonder if this person actually read the Gita or not (no offense!), Lord Krishna in the Gita explains multiple different paths one can attain salvation, he never said that these paths can only be accessed by Bramhana "monks", but he explains these to a Kshatriya who is Arjuna.

It is true that Lord Krishna was against intermixing of Varnas but so was the Great Buddha, Sona Sutta is where Buddha mocks Bramhanas for intermixing with other Varnas.

Buddha compares Dogs to Bramhanas, dogs come out better, Bramhanas are evil for marrying out of caste according to the egalitarian Buddha

I'd like to end this with a quote from Buddha who advocated that everyone should be liberated.

“Of all the scents that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the tastes that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the voices that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the caresses that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman.”

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    FWIW, I think the Sona Sutta (AN 5.191) you quoted is a polemical sutta that was inserted later (perhaps by the later Buddhist clergy to attack their Hindu opponents), and not originally spoken by Buddha, because (1) Buddha was not concerned with inter-caste marriage. (2) I have never heard of sex slave trade in ancient India. (3) Brahmins or Hindus in ancient India didn't need to beg for almsfood, unless they were renunciants or monks of some kind. (4) I don't think the Buddha would have carried out ad hominem attacks on his philosophical opponents, or at least this is not found elsewhere.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 9:35
  • Well Arthashastra clearly talks about hermits renouncing and begging for food, it also states that a true Bramhana should life like that, i've also never heard of slave trade in India during those times or any other time (Maybe Islamic times?). Oct 16 at 9:57
  • You put the green box around the wrong verses Oct 16 at 11:41
  • I didn't put the green box there, I got the image from somewhere else. Oct 16 at 13:47
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    @ruben2020 I do apologize for writing this post in a hate tone against Buddha, I have nothing against him, I only did this with spite and a response to your answer. Oct 17 at 1:38

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