The second Revised Edition of this book was published in December 1999. Thereafter the Department of Buddhist Studies University of Delhi published in 2002 a reprint of the same. In the present edition sixth chapter has been completely revised and some printing errors of the previous edition have also been corrected.
I am grateful to Prof. Bhikshu Satyapala and Prof. Anita Sharma for taking keen interest in the publication of this paperback edition. I am also grateful to Dr. S.M. Haldhar Dr. A.K Singh Dr. Krishna Murari Dr Sanjay Kumar Singh and Shri Anmol Jha for doing various odd jobs relating to the publication of this edition. I owe thanks to the university grants commissions for a grant which partly defrayed the publication cast. In the end I am immensely grateful to Shri Ashok Jain of Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers for brining our this edition in a record time.
Since times Immemorial religion has been a major motivating force and thus human history cannot be understood without taking religion into consideration. However it should never be forgotten that the study of religion as an academic discipline is one thing and its personal practice another. An objective academic study of religion carries many dangers with it. The biggest danger involved in such a study is that it challenges one’s personal beliefs more severely than any other discipline. For most people appreciation of religious diversity becomes it contradicts the religious instruction received by them. For people experiencing such a difficulty it may be helpful to realize that it is quite possible to appreciate one’s own perspective without believing that others should also adopt it. Such and approach may be different but certainly not inferior to any other. It must never be forgotten that scholarship values pluralism and diversity is more humane than scholarship that longs for universal agreement.
An important requirement of objectives academic study of religion is that one should avoid being personal and confessional. In fact such a study must be based on neutrality and empathy. Without neutrality and empathy it is not possible to attain the accuracy that is so basic to academic teaching and learning. The academic study of religion helps in moderating confessional Zeal. Such a study does not have anything to do with proselytizing religious instruction or spiritual direction. As a matter of fact that knowing about and understanding a religion is one thing and believing in it another. Acquisition of information without empathy has too often led to communal hatred intolerance and ethnocentric behavior. For instance someone who learns that in Buddhism images are often venerated in their painted or sculpted forms without learning to understand as to why such a practice makes sense to the Buddhist may actually do more harm than otherwise precisely because he has more facts at his disposal but does not understand them accurately and empathically. Empathy often changes the way we think about religion. Some attitudes which one had earlier rejected may become more appealing whereas others that had appeared quite correct may become less attractive. It is only natural that once one understands the point of view of the other the claim that one’s belief’s is the only truth remains no longer as attractive or compelling.
Many scholars consider neutrality and objectivity as more important then empathy in the study of religion. Though the importance and objectively for the academic study of religion cannot be denied yet it would be impossible to adopt a completely value free position. On closer examination objectivity and neutrality simply turn out to be a propagation of the current conventions. In any case the study of religion can never be value free because its very existence depends on this value. Similarly in the writing of history it is not possible to maintain objectivity and neutrality. The preconceived notion and prejudices of the historian are bound to be interwoven into the delineation of the subject that the treats. However unscientific it might like those has its own value and interest. It will be futile and waste of time if the historian were to dig into the ever receding and irrevocable past simply for the sake of the past. The historian has to evaluate the past in the light of the present as well as his understanding of matters. Hence it is not possible t write purely objective and imperial history. Those who claim otherwise have their own snags and tags. Anyhow it is more than obvious that nay historical study should be of more than purely academic interest. Normally history is regarded as dry as dust a jumble of dates an unmeaning medley of wars and massacres. It should be a colorless spectator a good historians has to assume the responsibility of representing the people of whom he speaks and this write history in which masses are represented with full care.
But the job is not an easy one unfortunately human language is too poor to express the real nature of many things. One finds oneself too often in a situation like the fish telling the tortoise can only be realized and cannot be told or explained as human language emotion are not just enough to explain them. Words are symbols representing things and ideas known to us and these symbols do not and cannot convey the true nature of even ordinary thing. Thus language is often misleading and deceptive and such disabilities are at least for the time being unavoidable the historian having to work with them. When it comes to dealing with ancient scriptures the task of the historians becomes even more C.A.F. Rhys David once remarked. I am not so optimistic as to thin that a mere reading translated scriptures in the mass is of itself sufficient to give an adequate knowledge of Buddhism. That reading will make a man familiar with what the monastic editors at different times have come to make of the dimly remembered a half forgotten mandate handed down through the ages. If he wished to get down to those mandates if he though rule after rule sutta after Sutta, poem after poem catechism after catechism, other than the problem regarding the original doctrines the date of the Buddha is also far from settled. The Sanskrit sources and their Chinese separate facts from legends have met with little success. In the case of the Pali Tipitaka too we cannot say with certainty that it represents the earliest form of Buddhism. Mere survival of the Pali canon does not prove its antiquity and relative priority. Moreover we cannot deny the fact that there is a long gap between the days of the Buddha and the formation of canonical literature that the present three tier division is artificial made only after the actual production of majority of the texts concerned and that something must have existed as the original canon before the days of Asoka which we know nothing of. It must therefore be admitted their the Buddhist texts and the knowledge derived from them so far are hopelessly unable to give any definite clue to the understanding of the actual happenings of the life of the Buddha. Most of the historical material which can be extracted from our texts is in the form of stories direct verbal statements and objectives statements. Very little material is in the form of occurs again and again to the extent of an obsession. But an important point worth noticing here is the very incidental nature of the textual material increases its historical value.
In this book we have attempted to evaluate the origin and nature of Buddhism as reflected in the Pali Vinaya and Sutta Pitakas. Some scholars have called this form of Buddhism as primitive Buddhism whereas other have called it early Indian Buddhism we have called it ancient Indian Buddhism.
When we more form the Vedic period into the age of the Buddha agriculture had made a steady progress though it is difficult to perceive the role in the so called iron technology as much as often has been claimed. The development of agriculture in the middle Ganga basin was mainly a rice phenomenon since this area was eminently suited to rice cultivation particularly due to the year long supply of water form the river Ganga as well as substantial amount of rains. Some scholar argue that this had far reaching consequence on the population as the increase in rice cultivation and the declining dependence upon cattle rearing resulted in major dietary changes. In fact there is a suggestion that a definite relationship between rice growing area and a higher create of fertility exists because the consumption if rice gruel allows children to be weaned earlier so that the mother becomes ready to conceive again. The archeological surveys as well as excavations also tend to prove this hypothesis. The increase in population is suggested distribution pattern various narratives in the early Buddhist literature also speak of cities full of people jostling wage other and of numerous settlements in the countryside all of whom are an index of increase in population. The kingdom of Magadha is described as consisting of as many as 80,000 Gamas. This is obviously a typical Buddhist exaggeration but is a hint toward the fact that the economy could support the population as it expanded. We also hear of well fortified cities with gates and wardens to watch over the entry and exit points settlements were in considerable contact with watch other an people are frequently described as visiting other cities on various kinds of business.
A system of coinage had also come into existence. The existence of monetary exchange has itself been related to the exchange of goods i.e. barter system. As is well known normally barter works only when exchange of goods takes place between places located geographically closer to each other, barter and long distance find it difficult to coexist and as a result money economy comes into existence to meet the needs of its expansion. The birth of currency released multifarious forces which led to various consequences. Apart form social instability and distress the growth of money tends to make social thought impersonal and abstract and leads to reification of social relations.
The emergences of a more complex economy with a greater specialization contributed to the expansion of trade. Trade routes were established and caravan traffic made its appearance. In fact the early Buddhist literature is full of instances where various towns are shown as connected to each other failing on various trade routes. While the beginning of long distance trade made a special appearance in our period it was to reach still greater heights in the following period. This period may basically be termed as the take off period. Baranasi was perhaps the most important industrial and commercial centre of those early days. Baranasi was reputed to be famous for cotton and silk wearing muslin and sandal Campa Ujjeni Savathi Kosambi and Vesali were other important centers sea trade became popular only in the later period but it must have made its beginnings during this period e.g. Digha Nikaya mentions journeys to distant lands through the sea and birds are known to have been used to help in locating land on voyages. We also hear of a strong ship provided with oars and rudder. At the time of the Buddha the tradesman who goes about the country with his caravan the traffic figure in our narrative and according to the statement in these caravans the traffic cannot be small either with regard to the distance traversed or with regard to the wares carried. Furthermore the plentiful ness of great waterways in northern India allows us to assume an early development of internal maritime trade. Various corporate organization of trade has also come into existence and are proved by the use of terms like sangha, gana and paga. Guilds performed various types of important function including as varied activities as functioning as arbitrators to settle dispute between member and their wives. Settlement based on various kinds of occupations had also come into existence. The isolation of crafts and professions and their concentration in fixed area gave birth to the medley of castes and sub castes which formerly a more or less priestly hypothesis now began to harden into rigid social partitions on the basis of occupation and exclusive whose price India had had to pay heavily and is still doing so. The localization of crafts was also die to the policy of segregation adopted by the higher castes or the king with regard to the people following the hinasippas. But side by side one group of people was also cutting to the people tendency toward narrowness and exclusiveness and it was the group of people who were traders and wide with their caravans.
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