Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby Kusala » Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:59 am

Hello Dhamma friends. Does the Lord Buddha sound like an Aryan Superman? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anv5u3QgyzQ Maybe not in the Nazi sense, but an Indo-European sense?

We know from reading the early Suttas that the Lord Buddha had deep blue eyes and dark-haired. So is the early Suttas describing an Aryan Superman?

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Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 08, 2011 12:30 pm

"Brahman, the fermentations by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a deva: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The fermentations by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a gandhabba... a yakkha... a human being: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.
- Dona Sutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby Kusala » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:25 pm

Hello Dhamma friends. Could this gentleman from Afghanistan be the vestige of the ancient Aryas(Aryans)?

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Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby zavk » Fri Mar 18, 2011 3:09 am

Hi all

This question about the Aryan identity of the Buddha was something that had piqued my interest too. I do not have knowledge of scholarship about the shared heritage of the Indo-Europeans as such. However, I have looked into the ways in which the notion of 'Aryanism' became associated with general perceptions of Buddhism. There are some interesting accounts of how the notion of 'Aryanism' was deployed in discussions of Buddhism. I don't have the material with me at the moment so I will post again with those examples.

The emergence of knowledge about the 'Indo-European' and the related notion of Aryanism has to be situated within its ideological context. This knowledge emerged in a time of colonialism, the same period when 'Buddhism' developed as an object of knowledge in the West. This was also a time of significant advances in the science of philology. Connections were made between the classical Indian language of Sanskrit and the classical languages of Europe, and hence consolidating the category of 'Indo-European'. Due to various cultural, social, political, and ideological factors, theories of language groups developed into theories of racial groups. The study of root verbs became a study of bloodlines.

Let me clarify that my aim here is NOT to denigrate philology. I do not have the expertise to even attempt anything like that. Nor am I challenging scholarship about the 'Indo-Europeans'. Without firsthand understanding of this body of scholarship, I fully accept the possibility that the ancient people of India coud share certain bloodlines with the ancient people of Europe. I am NOT contesting this knowledge as such. What I wish to do, rather, is to reflect on how this knowledge was adopted. That is, I wish to reflect on the EFFECTS of this knowledge. Because regardless of whether this category of 'Indo-Europeans' is historically accurate or not, it had turned around a particular understanding of Aryanism and was also implicated in a certain science of race and colonial politics.

In other words, I'm NOT questioning the truthfulness/falseness of this set of knowledge but whether this set of knowledge had been put to use in skilful or unskilful ways: I am reflecting on whether the EFFECTS of this set of knowledge are kusala or akusala, and whether the reverberations of these effects can still be felt today or not.

To give a quick summary of the ideological impetus behind the development of the discourse of Aryanism:

By charting the 'noble' history of ancient India, European colonial powers saw Indian civilisation of the time to be in a state of degeneration and decay. It was the idea that Indian civilisation had lost its 'noble' past. The Aryan nobility which the Indians had abandoned was now better embodied by European civilisation. (It is worth noting that early Western knowledge of Buddhism--which still casts a long shadow over us today whether we like it or not--was filtered through such assumptions) So the notion of a shared Aryan 'noble' bloodline played a part in justifying colonialism. Regardless of whether one is today a postcolonial subject or not, I think it is clear that there is much about colonialism that is akusala, and that the unskilful effects of colonialism are still reverberating through both the societies of the former colonisers and the formerly colonised (or 'colonize' in American spelling).

(Note: this is not to say that scholars of the time were inherently 'bad' or 'misguided' or anything like that. It is simply the case the production of knowledge is always influenced by the prevailing ideological assumptions and political imperatives of the time. It is even the case today with, say, knowledge about climate change for instance. And because of these ideological assumptions and political imperatives, any set of knowledge could lead to skilful or unskilful effects, regardless of the intentions of those producing the knowledge.)

I will post again with examples of how the notion of 'Aryanism' was taken up in discourses about Buddhism.
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby zavk » Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:28 am

Please note that I while I cite a few figures below, I am in no way suggesting that these figures singlehandedly 'cause' any effects. I cite them because they were significant voices in the circulation of Buddhist knowledge of the time. While some of their views may be questionable, I am not demonizing them or attributing their views to their 'innate' personality or anything like that. These figures, like you and I, are products of their place and time; their views are influenced by wider historical effects. The discourses they produced may in turn interweave with these effects...

Much of the following is from Donald Lopez's Buddhism and Science, particularly the chapter 'Buddhism and the science of race'.


--------------------------

To pick up on my previous post. By the mid nineteenth century, the word Aryan (rearticulated by Western knowledge) had taken on racial connotations and had made its way back to South Asia. So for example, the inhabitants of the colony of Ceylon, the Sinhalese and Tamils, were categorised as Aryans and Dravidian respectively. Such a view was adopted by the great Ceylonese Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala, who proudly declared in 1902 that the Sinhalese were the true Aryans because they descended from an Aryan prince. He also claimed that the Tamil Hindus and the Muslim inhabitants of Ceylon were not true Sinhalese because they were not Aryan in language, race, and religion.

(Without pointing a finger at Dharmapala as the 'cause', I wonder if the effects of this distinction between the Sinhalese and the Tamils as the rightful inhabitants of the island still reverberate through the ethnic conflicts in Sri Lankan society today, conflicts which to my understanding are sometimes supported by 'Buddhist' politicians.)

It should be noted that Dharmapala's attempt to reform Buddhism was associated with his attempt to resist colonial hegemony and to restore national pride. One way of doing this was to turn the notion of 'Aryan' (produced in Europe) against the West. For example, in 1855 the renowned Max Muller had declared that no authority could 'convince the English soldier that the same blood was running in his veins, as in the veins of the dark Bengalese. And yet there is not an English Jury nowadays which, after examining the hoary documents of language, would reject the claim of a common descent and legitimate relationship between Hindu, Greek, and Teuton.' But being a colonial subject, Dharmapala was not interested in sharing this brotherhood. In 1924, he said:

The British people take pride in calling themselves Aryans. There is a spiritualized Aryanism and an anthropological Aryanism. The Brahmans by enunciating a system of Griha Sutras called those people only Aryans who lived in the territory known as Bharatvarsha [ancient Sanskrit name for India]. Those who did not conform to the sacred laws were treated as Mlechas [barbarians].

Buddhism is a spiritualized Aryanism. The ethics of the Bible are opposed to the sublime principles of the Aryan Doctrine promulgated by the Aryan teacher. We condemn Christianity as a system utterly unsuited to the gentle spirit of the Aryan race.


What Dharmpala is implying is that the British are not Aryan because they are not native to the soil of India. They are also not Aryan because their religious background is contrary to the ennobling teachings of the Buddha. It is understandable why Dharmapala would react in this manner. After all, such comments by Europeans about the Sinhalese were not uncommon at the time: 'in intellectual acquirements, and proficiency in arts and sciences, they are not advanced beyond the darkest period of the middle ages. Their character, I believe, on the whole, is low, tame and undecided: with few strong lights or shades in it, with few prominent virtues of vices.'

This reflects what I've said previously about the condescending attitudes shown by Europeans towards South Asians during colonialism. Such an arrogant attitude can also be detected in Max Muller's views about Buddhism. Apparently, Henry Olcott had visited Max Muller and saw a statue of the Buddha sitting on the hearth. Olcott suggested in a letter to Muller that he place the statue elsewhere because 'the Buddhists are very sensitive about such things, and a painful impression would be made upon the mind of any sincere person of that faith, if he should call at your house and see them in your fireplace.' Muller apparently replied that for the Greeks the hearth was a sacred spot, and hence the statue which was taken from the great Temple of Rangoon ought to be placed there.

One wonders if the statue had simply been 'taken' from the great Temple in Rangoon (possibly Shwedagon) or pillaged during one of the Anglo-Burmese Wars. In any case this is what Lopez writes about Muller's attitude:

For Muller, the Buddha, removed from Asia and transported to England, is not Asian and therefore need not be bounded by Asian custom. The Buddha is a figure of European culture, like a Greek god; and as the newest member of this ancient pantheon from which Western civilization emerged, he should be worshipped accordingly.


My point in highlighting these examples is not to accuse anyone as such, but simply to point to the need to be aware of how the notion of Aryanism has been deployed in relation to Buddhism and whether this way of talking about Buddhism has generated kusala or akusala effects. More importantly, I suppose, is to reflect on whether these effects are still reverberating through contemporary times and whether we are unwittingly adding to these reverberations or not.

To conclude with one last example of how such effects can sometimes exceed even good intentions, consider the following excerpt of a letter by the renowned Buddhist reformer from China, Taixu:

Kuling, 11 August 1937

To the Leader of the German People,
Mr Adolf Hitler

The scientific civilization of our time is borne by the Aryan race, but the religious culture of the past has its culmination in Buddhism, whose founder, Buddha Shakyamuni, was also of Aryan origin.

[Taixu goes on to highlight certain Buddhist virtues]

I believe that the Germanic people, now united under the Fuhrer, have wondrously developed three characteristics: knowledge, conformity, and courage. Thus only Buddhist religion, in which these three characteristics are primary virtues, can be the religion of the Germanic people. And only that most excellent scion of ancient Aryan stock, Shakyamuni, the Holy, can be the religious people of the Germanic people, that most excellent scion of ancient Aryan stock.

[NOTE: Judging from the date of the letter, it is likely that Taixu was not yet aware of the full political implications of the Third Reich. Moreover, it is very likely that this letter was prompted by the crisis facing China at the time: namely, the invasion by Japan on 7 July 1937.]


:anjali: :smile: :group:
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby Kusala » Fri Mar 18, 2011 9:34 am

zavk wrote:Hi all

This question about the Aryan identity of the Buddha was something that had piqued my interest too. I do not have knowledge of scholarship about the shared heritage of the Indo-Europeans as such. However, I have looked into the ways in which the notion of 'Aryanism' became associated with general perceptions of Buddhism. There are some interesting accounts of how the notion of 'Aryanism' was deployed in discussions of Buddhism. I don't have the material with me at the moment so I will post again with those examples.

The emergence of knowledge about the 'Indo-European' and the related notion of Aryanism has to be situated within its ideological context. This knowledge emerged in a time of colonialism, the same period when 'Buddhism' developed as an object of knowledge in the West. This was also a time of significant advances in the science of philology. Connections were made between the classical Indian language of Sanskrit and the classical languages of Europe, and hence consolidating the category of 'Indo-European'. Due to various cultural, social, political, and ideological factors, theories of language groups developed into theories of racial groups. The study of root verbs became a study of bloodlines.

Let me clarify that my aim here is NOT to denigrate philology. I do not have the expertise to even attempt anything like that. Nor am I challenging scholarship about the 'Indo-Europeans'. Without firsthand understanding of this body of scholarship, I fully accept the possibility that the ancient people of India coud share certain bloodlines with the ancient people of Europe. I am NOT contesting this knowledge as such. What I wish to do, rather, is to reflect on how this knowledge was adopted. That is, I wish to reflect on the EFFECTS of this knowledge. Because regardless of whether this category of 'Indo-Europeans' is historically accurate or not, it had turned around a particular understanding of Aryanism and was also implicated in a certain science of race and colonial politics.

In other words, I'm NOT questioning the truthfulness/falseness of this set of knowledge but whether this set of knowledge had been put to use in skilful or unskilful ways: I am reflecting on whether the EFFECTS of this set of knowledge are kusala or akusala, and whether the reverberations of these effects can still be felt today or not.

To give a quick summary of the ideological impetus behind the development of the discourse of Aryanism:

By charting the 'noble' history of ancient India, European colonial powers saw Indian civilisation of the time to be in a state of degeneration and decay. It was the idea that Indian civilisation had lost its 'noble' past. The Aryan nobility which the Indians had abandoned was now better embodied by European civilisation. (It is worth noting that early Western knowledge of Buddhism--which still casts a long shadow over us today whether we like it or not--was filtered through such assumptions) So the notion of a shared Aryan 'noble' bloodline played a part in justifying colonialism. Regardless of whether one is today a postcolonial subject or not, I think it is clear that there is much about colonialism that is akusala, and that the unskilful effects of colonialism are still reverberating through both the societies of the former colonisers and the formerly colonised (or 'colonize' in American spelling).

(Note: this is not to say that scholars of the time were inherently 'bad' or 'misguided' or anything like that. It is simply the case the production of knowledge is always influenced by the prevailing ideological assumptions and political imperatives of the time. It is even the case today with, say, knowledge about climate change for instance. And because of these ideological assumptions and political imperatives, any set of knowledge could lead to skilful or unskilful effects, regardless of the intentions of those producing the knowledge.)

I will post again with examples of how the notion of 'Aryanism' was taken up in discourses about Buddhism.


I think the early Suttas made it quite clear about the identity of the Buddha. We still see Northern Indians today with blue/green eyes...

Image

Image
Image

Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddha: Aryan SuperMan?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Mar 18, 2011 9:59 am

We could have the beginning of a new religious movement here - a cross between Buddhism and Racial Supremacy - The Arian Sangha...

kusala or akusala, I wonder?
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