Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Buddha and God" (8)

                            

                   Chapter Eight

 

        The Vedic View of the Buddha

 

     

Within the vast structure of spiritual teachings which constitute the Vedic religion of India (the Vedas and Vedic-based scriptures are the great, ancient holy books of that religion), there is a view of the Buddha which sees him as an incarnation of Divinity.

 

     The monumental scripture called the Srimad-Bhagavatam

(revered by the Vaishnavas – devotees of Krishna-Vishnu – as one of the most sacred books of all time) contains the following reference to the Lord Buddha:

 

 “Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga [the age of quarrel and hypocrisy], the Lord [Krishna] will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, in the province of Gaya, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.24, quoted in Vedic Paradigm, ed. by Danavir Goswami, Rupanuga Vedic College, Kansas City, 2,000, p. 323).

 

     Prince Siddhartha did indeed “become” the historical Buddha under the Bodhi Tree at Gaya, and the Vaishnava understanding of the Buddha’s mission is that it was to attract people of atheistic propensities and cause them to revere him. The atheists thus (unwittingly) were paying homage to a great Divine Being, whom Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (founder of the modern Krishna Consciousness Movement) describes as “a powerful incarnation of the Personality of Godhead.” (Vedic Paradigm, op.cit., p.323).

 

     Commenting on the above passage from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes:

 

     “He [Buddha] deluded the atheists because such atheists who

       followed his principles did not believe in God, but they kept

       their absolute faith in Lord Buddha, who himself was the

       incarnation of God. Thus the faithless people were made to

       believe in God in the form of Lord Buddha. That was the

       mercy of Lord Buddha: he made the faithless faithful to

       him.” (ibid)

 

     It is the Vaishnava teaching that Buddha’s chief mission was to stop the animal sacrifices which were being heavily indulged in at that time in the name of the Vedas. The Buddha preached non-violence (ahimsa), spoke out against the slaughter of animals and advocated vegetarianism (a number of the Mahayana sutras confirm this, although regrettably and shockingly many modern-day Mahayana Buddhists insist on eating meat!). According to Srila Prabhupada, Buddha outwardly rejected the authority of the Vedas, so that people would renounce the animal sacrifices which those sacred books seemed to recommend. Srila Prabhupada comments:

 

     “The animal sacrifice as stated in the Vedas is different from

      the unrestricted animal-killing in the slaughterhouse.

      Because the asuras [aggressive, demonic beings] or the

      so-called scholars of Vedic literatures put forward the

      evidence of animal-killing in the Vedas, Lord Buddha

      superficially denied the authority of the Vedas. This

      rejection of the Vedas by Lord Buddha was adopted in order

      to save people from the vice of animal-killing as well as

      to save the poor animals from the slaughtering process of

      their big brothers who clamor for universal brotherhood,

      peace, justice and equity. There is no justice when there is

      animal-killing. Lord Buddha wanted to stop it completely,

      and therefore his cult of ahimsa was propagated not only in

      India but also outside the country.

      Technically Lord Buddha’s philosophy is called atheistic

      because there is no acceptance of the Supreme Lord and

      because that system of philosophy denied the authority of

      the Vedas. But that is an act of camouflage by the Lord.

      Lord Buddha is the incarnation of Godhead. As such, he

      is the original propounder of Vedic knowledge. He

      therefore cannot reject Vedic philosophy. But he rejected it

      outwardly because the sura-dvisa, or the demons who are

      always envious of the devotees of Godhead, try to support

      cow-killing or animal-killing from the pages of the Vedas,

      and this is now being done by the modernized sannyasis

      [renunciates]. Lord Buddha had to reject the authority of

      the Vedas altogether.” (Emphasis added; ibid, p. 324).

 

Srila Prabhupada goes on to say that a follower of Krishna should submit him/herself to Buddha, since Buddha can assist that person in not mis-applying the Vedic teachings:

 

      One should therefore surrender to Lord Buddha so that

      he can help one avoid misusing the injunctions of the

      Vedas.” (ibid).