Monday, April 11, 2011

Ancient Indian Religion: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

.Ancient Indian Religion: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:
The vedic religion or Brahmanism was the orthodox religion. The new faiths established in 6th century B.C. like Jainism, Buddhism, Charvakas, Ajavikas, were heterodox religions.
To begin with, Vedic religion always gave a lot of importance to animal sacrifices called yajnas. This practice was suitable in a cattle dominated economy. However, this practice of sacrificing cattle was not suitable for an agrarian economy as cattle was required for agricultural production.
After the 6th century B.C., there was transition from pastoralism to agricultural production. There was a need for more cattle. But the vedic sacrifices destroyed the cattle wealth. This was resented by common folk and the philosophy of new religions gave a solution to their grievances.

It is argued that the conservatism of orthodox faith was responsible for the emergence of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha preached against the killing of cattle. He said that the ancient sages never taught that cattle should be killed. Cows are like members of family and they were allowed to attend ceremonies like any other member of the family. Buddha criticized the practice of animal sacrifices and he advocated the preservation of the lives of these animals. Perhaps this attracted large number of agrarian and non agrarian communities towards Buddhism.
Traders and kshatriyas who were disappointed with Brahmanism, were now attracted towards Buddhism. It is found that it was these people who became the main backbone of Buddhism and Jainism. In fact, Gautama Buddha himself was a kshatriya.
The Buddhist texts give higher status to kshatriyas than the brahmanas. Ajatasatru, the king of Magadha became a great supporter of Buddhism although he did not follow all the teachings of Buddha. The wealth accumulated by traders made them able to claim a great social status which was not forthcoming in brahmanical faith. As a result they approached Buddhism.
All the sections of society were welcome in the Buddhism organization called sangha. There was equality among all the members of sangha. Women were also attracted towards Buddhism as it gave more freedom to them. It is stated that material changes were responsible for the emergence of Buddhism.
However, it is found that religion became popular only in eastern U.P. and Bihar which belong to eastern part of India. It is because of the fact that there was eastward migration of vedic people and established settlements on Gangetic river basin. With the kshatriyas becoming powerful in this region and traders becoming prosperous, they clamored for greater social status, which was provided to them, when they became Buddhists. The rich traders donated to Buddhist sanghas. Many Buddhist monuments were constructed with this wealth. The Vedic religion did not give importance to women sections like prostitutes who were accepted to the Buddhist faith.
The brahmanical religion did not approve of the profit earned from money lending.The practice of charging interest was considered by the brahmanical texts as immoral. But Buddha asked the people to pay the proper rate of interest and clear all debt before entering sangha. Buddhist faith protected the interest of petty shopkeepers.
Urban culture was criticized by the brahmanas. The traders and kshatriyas lived mostly in towns. In the Buddhist literature we do not find such criticism of urban centres.
Buddha preached in the language of the common people called Pali which could be understood by the people easily, while brahmanas wrote texts in Sanskrit language which was not understood by all the sections of population.
Therefore, in the changed circumstances, Buddhism was successful in becoming a very popular religion. Buddha preached that desire was the cause of all problems and hence he called the people to quit desire and achieve real happiness. He suggested certain methods of achieving this goal. This method was called 'middle path' which suggested maintaining a balance among all extremes.
However, after several years there emerged a division within Buddhism. These were called Mahayanism and Hinayanism. By this time Buddhism was popular in other regions of the world like Ceylon, China, Southeast Asia.
However, it lost its popularity as it became static and lost its vitality. People did not find much difference between Brahmanism and Buddhism as Brahmanism incorporated some of the changes suggested by Buddha and particularly from 5th century A.D. one can notice the revival of brahmanical faith.
At present, there are only few Buddhists in India although there are many monuments like in Saranath, Sanchi, Gaya, etc. which stand testimony to the existence of Buddhism in India.
1.Romila Thapar, From Lineage to State, OUP, 1985.
2.-------------------, A History of India Volume I, Penguin, 1966.
  3.R.S. Sharma, Material Culture and Social Formation in Ancient India, Delhi, 1983.

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