Sunday, July 19, 2015

Would the Buddha have loved books?

Ashley Wells, Sheldon, Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly
"Lisa, everyone knows dragons do not attack cars. Geez, pick up a book." "I pick up book like you pick up beers!" "Then you have a serious reading problem" ("The Simpsons, FOX TV).

Little Lisa Simpson is an American Buddhist (Samye Ling/
Tea time reading is fascinating! Princes love it!
Long before the Bodhisattva became the Buddha, he read. He read and read.

Even in the final rebirth, the Bodhisattva read. Then as the Shakyan prince of Shakya Land (ancient Scythia in Central Asia including modern Afghanistan) just west of what is now called "India" and what was then loosely affiliated kingdoms and clan territories called janapadas he was given the greatest education possible.

He was raised full of worldly knowledge to rule and general instruction from his royal tutors and instructors. In a famous previous life in the same general area, the Bodhisattva and the being who became Ven. Ananda together attended university in Taxila (Takkasila), once the capital of Gandhara, in what is now Pakistan in the region of the once famous Indus Valley.

Bodhisattvas read! (literatureismyutopia.tumblr)
In the past due to the caste system only Brahmins, the elites, were regularly afforded a rigorous education. (The same was true the U.S. when only "Boston Brahmins" got to go to our country's great early universities).
But royals, training for leadership, could be taught by Brahmin teachers. They almost certainly, however, would not have been taught Brahmanism, the religion of the Vedas inherited by Hinduism. So it is quite mistaken to say that Prince Siddhartha, who later became the Buddha, was born a Hindu. There was no Hinduism at that time, and his clan were more shaman and Central Asian with influences from the former Indus Valley Civilization.

Making it to Doughnut Heaven
As the Buddha began teaching in "India," more technically in states like Magadha, Bihar, and Savatthi (only returning to Shakya Land, with one of its seasonal capitals at Kapilavastu, possibly modern Bamiyan, seven years later), he would have taught in terms Brahmins could understand.

As the elites, Brahmins were the trendsetters. So those influenced by Brahmanism, the Brahmin religion worshiping Brahman and Brahma as supreme, would have understood these Vedic ideas as well.

To be wiser than Lisa, Homer meditates.
But the folkloric traditions familiar to them and not to the Brahmins were of startling diversity, and included the shramanic or "wandering ascetic" movement and popular ideas of karma (the power of intention), dharma (social duties and obligations, the intrinsic nature of things, etc.), and samsara (the round of rebirth and the fact that we live many, many lives) that the Brahmins would never have shared with non-Brahmins. Such beliefs the British later lumped together and dubbed "Indus-ism" (pronounced Hinduism), a catchall term for the many belief systems along the Indus river and valley, in north India and Central Asia from Burma to Iran.
And Brahmins read, memorized, and recited the sacred Knowledge Books, the Vedas. They would have read accounting, mathematical, medical, and other ancient literature as well. But the thrust would have been of an oral tradition handed down from teacher (guru) to pupil (chela), from master to apprentice, from instructor to learner.

Why did Lisa Simpson become a Buddhist?
Richard Gere, Springfield Buddhist Temple
Buddhism by being pro-education, pro-thinking, pro-wide learning appeals to Americans and Westerners who follow in the footsteps of the Indus Valley Civilization tradition with a shared Indo-European language family, the roots of which must have contributed to ancient Greek and Latin.

Like Prince Siddhartha, vegetarian animal-lover Lisa loves to read, which makes her the wisest and most compassionate of the whole Simpson clan.

So the real question is not whether the Buddha would have read books or scrolls, as if the All Wise One would have needed to with other means of knowing (psychic powers, witness-devas to inform him, the Akashic Records). No, the real question is whether he would have used headphones.

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