simplemind wrote:Another difficulty for me was his general hermeneutic. He works on an interpretive principle that says something like: "If the idea existed in religious thought before the Buddha, then it can be overlooked as anything specifically Buddhist" (my paraphrase). It's possible to parse the data this way, but it strikes me as a little arbitrary. What shouldn't a tradition build upon, or accept previous ideas? Is there a specific textual reason we have to think this principle is true?
Well said. As several scholars such as Gombrich and Bronkhorst point out, pre-buddhist notions of rebirth are really very different from that taught by the Buddha. The Vedas don't talk about it at all in the same way. A couple of Upanisads do, but we cannot be sure of their dates - they could as likely be post-Buddha, and thus Buddhist influenced, as they are the other way around. And, as you say, the idea that anything that precedes it is only accepted due to tradition is a fallacy. We would have to abandon even basic ethics in that case. It can just as easily be said that it is true, earlier people knew it to be true, and so did the Buddha. In fact, much of scientific knowledge is based on what goes before, it is accepted as true and works for the system, just that the new knowledge builds upon it, rather than replaces it. For Buddhism, part is a build up, part is replacement. Helps to know which is which. This requires some deep knowledge of Indian history, thought, religion, etc. and much language skills too.