Buddhist Philosophy

The Upanishads And Teachings Of Sri Buddha – Part 5: Buddha’s Opinion On The Apaurusheyatva Or Divine Origin Of The Vedas

This is The Fourth Part Of Philosophical Paper Presented By Sunil Upasana In The Swadeshi Indology Conference – 2, Held At IGNCA, New Delhi On February 2017.

About Author: –

Sunil Upasana hails from Kerala (India) and has been a Bengalurean for 13 years. He has had a deep yearning to understand the profound philosophy that underlies Hinduism Read More.


To Read Fourth Part, Click here.

It is often believed that Sri Buddha rejected the authority of Vedas and that led him to set up a new religion. In fact, this is a baseless argument.

            Basing his opinion on early Buddhist texts, mainly Anguttara Nikaya and Brāhmana-dhammika-sutta, Robert Spence Hardy (Hardy 1866:43-44) comments that, Buddha himself admitted that the Vedas in their ‘original’ form are apaurusheya, but that later certain Brahmins corrupted it by adding sacrificial hymns, due to which Buddha ceased revering the Vedas. Quoting from the book –

“Buddha denied that the Brahmans were then in the possession of the real Veda. He said that it was given in the time of Kasyapa (a former supreme Buddha) to certain Rishis, who, by the practice of severe austerities, had acquired the power of seeing Divine Bliss. They were Attako, Vamako, Vamadevo, Wessamitto, Yamataggi, Angiraso, Bharaddwajo, Wasetto, Kassapo and Bhagu. The Vedas that were revealed to these Rishis were subsequently altered by Brahmans, so that they are now made to defend the sacrifice of animals, and to oppose the doctrine of Buddha. It is on account of this departure from the truth, that Buddha refused to pay them any respect.”

If the Vedas were corrupted by Brahmans, then there must be a version of the Vedas which are not corrupted. According to Buddha this version is revealed to previous Buddhas and hence they must be apaurusheya.

Brāhmaṇa-dhammika-sutta is very important in this respect. This sutta discusses the state and status of Brahmins in ancient times, especially before the Vedas get corrupted. Quoting from Brāhmaṇa-dhammika-sutta, Sutta Nipāta (L K Mills 2015:71-75).

“Thus have I heard: At one time the Radiant One dwelt at Sāvatthī, in the Jeta Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s park. Then many decrepit old Kosalan brahmins, aged, elderly, advanced in years, attained to old age, those indeed of palatial abodes, went to the Radiant One and exchanged greeting with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished they sat down to one side. Sitting there these Brahmins of palatial abodes said, “Master Gautama, are there now to be seen any Brahmins who practice the Brahmin Dharma of the Brahmins of old?” “No, Brahmins, there are no Brahmins now to be seen who practice the Brahmin Dharma of the Brahmins of old.” “It would be excellent if the good Gautama would speak to us upon the Dharma of the Brahmins of old if it would not be too much trouble.” “Then Brahmins listen well and bear in mind what I shall say”. “Indeed, venerable” said those Brahmins of palatial abodes to the Radiant One. He spoke as follows:

In ancient times the sages then

austerely lived, were self-restrained,

let go five bases of desire

to fare for their own benefit.

Brahmins then no cattle had,

no gold, no grain they hoarded up,

their grain, their wealth was Vedic lore—

this the treasure they guarded well.

…………………….

Unbeaten were Brahmins and inviolate—

guarded by Dharma-goodness then,

none hindered or obstructed them

when they arrived at household doors.

Until the age of eight-and-forty

they practiced celibate student life—

the brahmins of those ancient times

fared seeking knowledge and conduct good.

Brahmins then did not indulge

in sexual intercourse out of time,

during menstruation,

but only when wives were free from this.

…………………

Having begged rice, butter and oil,

with cloths and bedding too,

they sought and stored these righteously,

and from them made a sacrifice:

during that sacrificial rite

cattle they never killed.

………………

Givers of good and strength, of good

complexion and the happiness of health,

having seen the truth of this

cattle they never killed.

Those Brahmins then by Dharma did

what should be done, not what should not,

and so aware they graceful were,

well-built, fair-skinned, of high renown.

While in the world this lore was found

these people happily prospered.

But then in them corruption came

for little by little they observed

how rajahs had to splendors won

with women adorned and elegant,

…………………

filled with crowds of women fair

and ringed by herds of increasing cows—

all this the eminent wealth of men

the Brahmins coveted in their hearts.

Then they composed some Vedic hymns

and went chanting to Okkāka king:

“Great your wealth and great your grain,

make sacrifice to us with grain and wealth”.

That rajah, Lord of chariots,

by Brahmins was persuaded so

he offered all these sacrifices:

of horses, men, the peg well-thrown,

the sacrifice of soma drink

the one of rich results—

while to the Brahmins wealth he gave:

……………………

When they had all this wealth received

to hoard it up was their desire

for they were overwhelmed by greed—

their craving thus increased—

so they composed more Vedic hymns

and chanting went to Okkāka king.

“As water is, and earth, as well

as gold, as grain as well as wealth,

in the same way for human beings,

and cattle are necessities;

Great your wealth and great your grain,

make sacrifice to us with grain and wealth”.

That rajah, lord of chariots,

by Brahmins was persuaded—so

in sacrifice, he caused to kill

cattle in hundreds, thousands too.

But neither with hooves nor horns

do cows cause harm to anyone,

gentle they are as sheep

yielding us pails of milk;

in spite of this the rajah seized

their horns, slew them by the sword.

……………………

This adharmic wielding of weapons,

descended from times of old:

in this are the innocents slain,

while ritual priests from Dharma fell.”

The opinion of Buddha about the ancient life of Brahmins is very clear here. Buddha’s opinion on the infallibility of the Vedas can also be derived from this Sutta. Sutta says that Brahmins were austerely lived, self-restrained, unbeaten, inviolable, guarded by Dharma and so on. Because of these qualities, they were respected by people. What really implied here is that, in ancient times Brahmins possessed the non-corrupted version of the Veda and animal sacrifices were not prevalent then. Later they came under the influence of the lavish life style of the kings and began to long for wealth. They altered Vedic literature and approached the kings and persuaded them to perform sacrifices so that they acquire wealth themselves. They inserted hymns that support and validate animal sacrifice. Hundreds of animals were killed thus in the sacrifices. Gods and demons objected to this. But Brahmins did not accede and thus began to be disrespected by people and Buddha.

These facts emphasis that, Buddha did revere the original Vedas, devoid of animal sacrifice. He also valued the ancient Vedic sages as indicated in the Brāhmaa-dhammika-sutta. It is only after the insertion of sacrificial hymns that Buddha objected to the Vedas, hesitating to pay them the respect they formerly commanded. Buddha was very much aligned to the knowledge based portions of the Vedic compendium, the Upanishads[i]. Almost all the teachings of Buddha can be traced back to the Upanishads[ii]. He never rejected the Upanishadic Brahman in any of his suttas[iii]. Karma siddhānta, sanyāsa, morality[iv] and so on are all pre-Buddhistic in origin.


[i] “The only metaphysics that can justify Buddha’s ethical discipline is the metaphysics underlying the Upanishads. Buddhism is only a later phase of the general movement of thought of which the Upanishads were the earlier.”

Indian Philosophy Volume 1, S Radhakrishnan. Page 470.

“The Sakyan mission was out ‘not to destroy, but to fulfill’, to enlarge and enhance the accepted faith-in-God of their day, not by asseverating, but by making it more vital.”

A manual of Buddhism, Mrs. Rhys Davids. Page 194.

[ii] “The Upanishadic seers and Buddha both are opposed to the view of realistic pluralism that the self is an ultimate individual substance and that there is a plurality of such eternal selves. Buddha carries on the tradition of absolutism so clearly set forth in the Upanishads. For both, the Real is the Absolute which is at once transcendent to thought and, immanent in phenomena. Both take avidyā, the beginning less and cosmic Ignorance as the root-cause of phenomenal existence and suffering. Both believe that thought is inherently fraught with contradictions and thought-categories, instead of revealing the Real distort it, and therefore, one should rise above all views, all theories, all determinations, all thought-constructions in order to realize the Real. For both, the Real is realized in immediate spiritual experience. Both prescribe moral conduct and spiritual discipline as means to realize the Real, the fearless goal, the abode of Bliss…. Both believe in the established canon of logic that it is the unreal alone which can be negated. For both, that which is negated in avidyā, the imposed empirical character of the ‘I’ , and that which is retained is the Absolute. Both use the negative dialectic, the ‘neti neti’ (not this, not this) for indirectly pointing to the nature of the Inexpressible. All the epithets which the Upanishadic seers use for Atma or Brahma (or their synonyms) Buddha uses for Nirvāṇa. Atma and Nirvāṇa both stand for the ineffable non-dual Absolute. It must, however, be admitted that while the Upanishadic seers openly identify the Absolute with the Pure Self which is at once pure consciousness and bliss, Buddha, true to his negative logic, does not expressly identify the Absolute with the Pure Self, though the implication is clearly there. He identifies the Absolute with Nirvāṇa. Buddha’s omission to identify the Absolute with the Transcendent Self has led to the misunderstanding of his anātmavāda. But though Buddha does not expressly identify the Absolute with the Pure Self, nowhere has he expressly denied it. His descriptions of Nirvāṇa are similar to the descriptions of the Upanishadic Atma and leave no doubt that he is carrying on the tradition of the Upanishadic absolutism.”

The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, Chandradhar Sharma. Page 31-32.

[iii] “At first sight nothing can appear more definite than the opposition of the Buddhist an-attā, ‘no-ātman,’ and the Brāhman ātman, the sole reality. But in using the same term, attā or ātman, Buddhist and Brāhman are talking of different things, and when this is realized, it will be seen that the Buddhist disputations on this point lose nearly all their value. It is frankly admitted by Professor Rhys Davids that,

“The neuter Brahman is, so far as I am aware, entirely unknown in the Nikāyas, and of course the Buddha’s idea of Brahmā, in the masculine, really differs widely from that of the Upanishads.”

There is nothing, then, to show that the Buddhists ever really understood the pure doctrine of the ātman, which is ‘ not so, not so’. The attack which they led upon the idea of soul or self is directed against the conception of the eternity in time of an unchanging individuality; of the timeless spirit they do not speak, and yet they claim to have disposed of the theory of the ātman! In reality both sides were in agreement that the soul or ego (manas, ahamkāra, vijnāna, etc.) is complex and phenomenal, while of that which is ‘not so’ we know nothing.”

— Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, by Ananda Coomaraswamy. Page 199.

[iv] “Hence let a man takes care to himself. A man who steals gold, who drinks spirits, who dishonors his Guru’s bed, who kills a Brahman, these four falls, and as a fifth he who associates with them. But he who thus knows the five fires (Pancagni) is not defiled by sin even though he associates with them. He who knows this is pure, clean, and obtains the world of the blessed. Herein one can trace the origin of Parsvanatha’s doctrine of four-fold restraint (Caujjama Samvara), Mahavira’s five great vows (Panca Mahavvays) and of Buddhas five moral percepts (Panca-sila).”

A history of Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy, by Beni Madhab Barua. Page 120.

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