Putting EBTs in context of contemporaneous Indian non-Buddhist texts

Could anyone please recommend some essential reading that places EBTs within the context of non-Buddhist texts eg Vedas, Upanishads, Jain suttas etc, using that context to help guide interpretation of the EBTs?

Many Thanks!


One of my favorite papers on the subject: Playing With Fire: Pratityasamutpada From the Perspective of Vedic Thought @ The Open Buddhist University


There’s not enough on this at all, but my recommendations would be:

  • read the early Upanishads
  • Wijesekera’s Buddhist and Vedic Studies

Most things that I know of tend to be either quite speculative and specialized, or else very general surveys of limited use. But then there are many things I am not aware of!


Well, I don’t know about essential, but I’ve also been trying to find this context recently. I found Richard Gombrich’s “How Buddhism Began” pretty helpful. I’m also currently reading “A History of Indian Philosophy” by Dasugupta, and I’m finding it pretty helpful. For some reason my mind is blanking and I can’t remember any other books that I’ve read, but if I remember I will be sure to mention them.

With Metta.


Would definitely recommend Jacobi’s Jaina Sutras in 2 volumes in the sacred books of the east series, easily findable online. Really good context, some of the similarities of phrasing and motif are really eye opening.


I recently read “Was Early Buddhism Influenced by the Upanisads?” by Pratap Chandra. Only 8 pages and a decent read. It basically debunks some of the earlier ideas (the paper’s from the '70s) that Buddhism was just the Upanisads but in a different way, or that Buddhism revered / was indebted to the Upanisads. It discusses how the Buddha/early texts are really only familiar with household ritualistic / theistic Brahminism, and the few references somewhat similar to Upanisadic doctrine seem to be lacking in understanding of the actual ideas, if they were indeed a reference.

What it concludes is that Buddhism was a separate movement that emerged and evolved from a very similar cultural context as the Upanisads with many shared ideas floating around at the time. The two schools of thought were, in some senses, responding to the same spiritual needs and questions of the time while, in another sense, coming from two different angles (the Upanisads being by brahmins in search of something more than sheer mechanical ritual, for instance, and finding cosmic metaphysical connections between human life and reality). It was a good reminder for me to see the Upanisads more as a fuzzy image of some of the ideas floating around that the Buddha was likely familiar with, rather than the Buddha being familiar with the text or detailed specifics laid out in the Upanisads—even the early ones—as we have them today. That is, the shared ideas in the Upanisads and Buddhism shouldn’t be seen as Upanisads->Buddhism, but rather as two manifestations or solutions to a greater, shared cultural strata of ideas in a philosophical melting pot.



Bronkhorst, Johannes. Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism. Leiden: Brill, 2011.
-----Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
-----The Two Sources of Indian Asceticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd,

he’s been challenged, but everyone’s familiar with his stuff …


He’s been on my radar for awhile but I never got around to reading him. Would you recommend starting with a specific book?

More …

You can try JSTOR … registering for a public account will get you 100 free article reads a year. But not for everything. And I don’t know if they carry these. Google Scholar is also a useful tool. It retrieves cached stuff from all over if it’s available.

Freiberger, Oliver. “How the Buddha Dealt with Non-Buddhists.” In Religion and Identity in South Asia and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Patrick Olivelle. Edited by Steven E. Lindquist, 186-195. London: Anthem Press, 2011.
-----“The Ideal Sacrifice. Patterns of Reinterpreting Brahmin Sacrifice in Buddhist Texts,” in Bulletin d’Etudies Indiennes. no. 16. (1998): 39-49.
-----“Negative Campaigning: Polemics against Brahmins in a Buddhist Sutta.” Religions of South Asia 3.1 (2009): 61-76. doi:10.1558/rosa.v3i1.61.


Well depends what you’re interested in. I’ll tell you what … Kosala is associated with the Eastern Vedic ascetic muni … and as you know Buddha was from a little republic there … start with that one and see what Bronkhorst has to say. That way we can find out if what he says carries any water …

Gem in the Lotus : The Seeding of Indian Civilisation
by Abraham Eraly.
I haven’t actually read the entire book, it’s not such light reading. But I’ve heard the book to be recommended by a couple of monastics whose recommendations I highly value.

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To me, the idea of “contemporaneous” sounds tenuous. For example, whenever Upanishad is searched in Wiki, it always says they cannot be dated, despite contradictory assertions about their dating. I think the only “contemporaneous” non-Buddhist texts can be those mentioned in the Suttas.

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I think perh

I think perhaps you are using a narrower understanding of “contemporaneous” than I am. I’m simply looking to better understand EBTs within the broader cultural and intellectual milieu in which they developed, a task which can accept a fairly broader temporal divergence between texts as long as the divergence is acknowledged.

I’m currently reading the dissertation discussed in the thread on the Buddha’s name, titled “Kosalan Philosophy in the Kānva Satapatha Brāhmana and the Suttanipāta,” by Lauren Bausch.

So far, it seems like it will be one of the most fascinating and in-depth, well-researched monographs on a particularly relevant issue. Could be just what you’re looking for!



While I suppose you never asked, my personal view is ideas such as the above tend to diminish or grossly underestimate the Buddha. Personally, it seems contrary to the texts to assert the Buddha was influenced by other ideas because the texts (eg SN 56.11) say repeatedly the Buddha (which is what defines a “Buddha”) discovered things he had not heard about before. It also diminishes the probable reality that Buddhism became the primary influence upon the development of the later Indian religions.

Its similar to sports. In some sports, where the capacity/ceiling for improvement remains high, there may appear a supernova of an athlete that progresses the sport to new levels. Then all of the other athletes must focus on catching up to that supernova. For me, the Buddha was the same. The Buddha was the ‘supernova’ that placed into the other ‘competitors’ the need to catch up.

Thus, if we study Indian religions, we may gain the impression as Buddhism evolved it was ‘dumbed-down’ where as the other religion ‘caught-up’ thus Buddhism eventually became extinct in India. :dizzy:

I fail to see how a claim like this could ever be more than a mere assertion without the very type of comparative analysis you dismiss.

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This could be what you’re looking for
Early Buddhism and its Relation to Brahmanism. A Comparative and Doctrinal Investigation

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