If Harry Truman were alive today, he would modify his statement “if you cannot convince them, confuse them” with a new premise “if you cannot convince them, fake yourself”. The latter one is very much in sync with today’s epoch, especially when it comes to dealing with the ‘historians’ and ‘experts’ and last-but-not-least the trollers-and-toadies who twist narratives to respectively serve the interests and agenda of their political ideologies and masters.
And, this has been going on for centuries!
Recently, in my observation, there’s something fishy against Buddha on social media, especially on Twitter. Suddenly. Verily. No doubt the current landscape has benefitted a lot from the production and dissemination of ‘fake’ news, but it went so far that ‘otherization’ has been normalized very conveniently. With all due respect, please take note of a very uncomfortable fact: Buddha is not an avatar of Vishnu
Buddha aka Siddhartha Gautama was a cool chap who did not smoke weed; neither preached violence nor committed violence. Even in his best conscious state of mind, Buddha never commented that he is an avatar or son of any God.
Buddha disbelieved in Vedas and also refuted them, like Mahavira (founder of Jainism), and practised the philosophy of agnosticism. Buddha, as recorded in Tipitaka, in his discourse Majjhima Nikaya, scorned the system of ‘caste’. His encounters with ‘untouchables’ like Prakriti, Suneet and then a few Brahmin scholars are convincing enough to lucidly notify any Hindutva entity that “casteism” existed long before Islamic, Portuguese and British invasion, and unfortunately, the axioms of casteism continue even today.
Buddha’s teaching is mind-blowing. His teachings make a hell lot of coherent appeals as well. He would never get a job in today’s corporate sphere, for he questioned everything and told his followers to believe ‘what they want to’ than ‘what he wants to’.
The popularity of Buddhism, in pre-Islamic era, in India, envied a lot of Brahmins. Eventually, they appropriated and expropriated Buddha to calm the tits of their community members. Although they have succeeded in enlisting Jainism in their fold, Buddhism continues to stay aloof as a separate sect. Hinduism, as we know it, today, can be attributed to the works of Adi Shankaracharya who consolidated the five modern Hindu Sects and established the 10 orders of Hindu monks (dasa-nāma-sanyāsis) based on the Buddhist model, and established four great pontifical seats on the four points of the compass. Most Hindus, today, unlike before, are associated with one or other of these four pontifical seats. Goes without saying: Buddhists are not considered as Hindus.
Devdutt Patnaik also has something relevant to say on how Buddha came to be seen as a Vishnu avatar:
Initially, followers of the Vedas (Nigama traditions) were opposed to followers of the Puranas (Agama traditions) as they valued yagna rituals over the puja rituals of the temple. But gradually, the Nigama and Agama schools merged, and the brahmachari-sanyasi acharyas became heads of monastic orders as well as temples. This happened about a thousand years ago. In other texts, such as Gita Govinda, Vishnu takes the form of a hermit to save animals from animal sacrifices, referring to the idea that at least some Vedic sacrifices involved offering of animals (an idea that many orthodox Hindus reject and see as wrong interpretation). Over time, Vishnu’s ninth avatar was seen as the hermit, perceived by some as Buddha and by some as Jina. This was, perhaps, a strategic move to get many Buddhists and Jains to become a part of Vaishnavism, and later Hinduism. Or maybe it was a sincere move to show how, sometimes, to save the world, Vishnu has to renounce the world and become a hermit-teacher.
On 11th November, 1999, in Varanasi, a joint communiqué was issued by Vipassanacharya Guruji Shri S N Goenka and Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakoti Pith in this regard:
Because the practice of universal Dhamma of sila, samadhi and pañña and the resultant brahmavihara of compassion is inseparable, it can play a successful role in uniting the adherents of different views. Close ties can certainly be developed and strengthened between India and its neighboring countries based on this universal foundation. But if we do not bear in mind the following dos and don’ts while establishing relations with these countries all our friendly efforts will not only be completely unproductive but will result in ill will and enmity.
- When anyone calls the Buddha an incarnation of Vishnu and thinks that he is giving the Buddha a status equivalent to Ram and Krishna making him an object of worship, he is unknowingly making a big blunder. Actually, he is insulting the Buddha. The Buddha became completely liberated from the cycle of birth and death after attaining perfect self-enlightenment. How can some devotees of the Buddha accept that the Buddha, who is completely liberated from the wheel of existence, is an incarnation of Vishnu who incarnates himself again and again? It seems that the belief in the theory of incarnation arose with the Puranas. The story describing the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu was originally created in the Vishnu Purana and was repeated in the other Puranas. The origin of this belief is so shamefully abusive that it not only gives offence to our neighbors but also produces pain in them like a poisonous arrow piercing the heart. According to this story in the Vishnu Purana, the Buddha was not the incarnation of the good qualities of Vishnu but of his unwholesome qualities such as ignorance and delusion (Maya-moha). The only aim of this incarnation was to turn the followers of the Vedas against the Vedas and prevent them from going to heaven so that the reign of Indra and other gods in heaven could be secure. This narrative censures not only the Buddha but also his teachings. The Buddha taught the ancient technique of Vipassana that tears asunder the veil of ignorance and liberates people from the cycle of birth and death. He became known as the embodiment of compassion in the whole world. To proclaim that he is an incarnation of ignorance and delusion who sends people to hell by spreading a net of deceit is not only a total falsehood but also extremely offensive. Therefore, the mistake of proclaiming the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu made in the middle ages because of mutual hostility and enmity should not be repeated in the best interests of everyone. The belief that Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, will completely destroy all Buddhists is even more offensive. One must understand how deeply it will hurt the devotees of the Buddha. If we really want to improve relations with our neighboring countries this false theory of the incarnation of Vishnu as the Buddha must be stopped immediately for the benefit of all.
- There is one more thing that is extremely hurtful to the feelings of our neighbors. When one says that the Buddha had nothing of his own to give to the world; the source of his teachings is from the Vedic tradition, this greatly hurts them because it is a totally false. The truth is that the Buddha was the leader of the Ṣramana tradition. Instead of giving importance to prayers he gave importance to one’s own strenuous efforts and exertions. He clearly said, “I am not the giver of liberation, I am a giver of the path to liberation.” This difference between the Vedic tradition and the Ṣramana tradition is very clear. How absolutely wrong it is to say that the Buddha had nothing of his own to give, when he has given such a detailed description of the interrelation between mind and body: “Because of (reactions to) the sensations that arise on the body, defilements arise in the mind and keep on multiplying, but if the sensations are observed equanimously, old sankharas are eradicated and new ones are prevented from arising.” This in itself was a great contribution made by the Buddha. The liberating technique of Vipassana that he taught proved to be a priceless result-oriented scientific discovery not only for India and Nepal but also for all human beings of the world. Therefore, to say that the Buddha and his Ṣramana tradition is dependent on the Vedic tradition is false and unbearable for the devotees of the Buddha. It is best to avoid making such statements. Keeping the truth in mind, one should say that the Ṣramana and Vedic are both independent ancient traditions of India. Both these traditions which have prevailed concurrently for centuries have certainly influenced each other to some extent.
- The division of society into varna (class) based on birth and the system of castes and sub-castes derived from Vedas has weakened the country so greatly! The caste system is still enfeebling the country. Whatever may the reason for the importance given to birth in a particular caste in the past, it was not proper even then. But considering the precarious situation today, this belief of regarding one as high or low only on the basis of birth is proving to be very dangerous to the country. This belief erodes the importance of Dhamma. Morality and ethical standards lose all value. One may have a high position in society in spite of committing a thousand immoral deeds just because he is born from the womb of a high-caste mother; while another may have a low place in society even though he leads a moral life just because he is born from the womb of a low-caste mother. This system is completely opposed to Dhamma. It is extremely unfortunate that birth from the womb of a certain mother became more important than a moral and ethical Dhammic life. The time has come for a complete transformation in this system. Only moral conduct should make one great or high; only immoral conduct should make one low. Even the lowest of the low should be able to obtain a high position in society by giving up immoral deeds and performing moral deeds. When this system is established, Dhamma will get its true importance and the poison of the caste system that has spread throughout the country will be removed. Mutual affection among the citizens of this country will increase, which will have a beneficial effect on the neighboring countries.