Recently, I’ve been thinking about the importance of having a decent background in the pre-Buddhist world for understanding the EBTs. I’ve been thinking about having a reading list which points to the most important pre-Buddhist literature for those who want to have a good background in the Vedic and Sramana traditions. Arguably, this is helpful in better understanding the EBTs themselves.
Regarding the Vedic literature, its massive, so I don’t think one needs to sit down and read all the Vedas for this. It would probably not be that helpful either. However, perhaps reading a few passages would be useful. Not sure if there is a book with some key excerpts out there that gives one a decent overview. One could also just read the main Upanishads, which are like 10 or so and have been well translated by Patrick Olivelle. They probably would give one a decent overview of the pre-Buddhist Brahmanical religion.
Regarding the Jain literature, this is easier, since they lost most of their early works. Probably reading a few of the earliest Agamas would suffice. According to Bronkhorst, this is mainly the the Ācārāṅga Sūtra, the Sūtrakṛtāṅga Sūtra, and the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra. They’re freely available in an old (but seemingly serviceable) translation.
Besides that, there’s no primary sources for the other worldviews or sects during the Buddha’s time, like Carvaka, Ajivika or the non-Vedic religions which were practiced outside of the Aryavarta. So one would probably need to go into the secondary literature here. But I am not aware of any one book which summarizes or explains these.
Anyways, I was wondering what people though would be useful to read regarding the non-Buddhist background to the EBTs. What are must reads?