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Was Buddha an Incarnation of Hindu God Vishnu?

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#1

Hi! Many Hindus propagate this view that Buddha was an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. To what extent this statement is true? Or it was a propaganda to assimilate Buddhism into Hinduism?
I don’t know that why Buddha was included as an Incarnation of Vishnu in Hinduism. Is it to glorify the Buddha or to discredit the Buddha? If it was for glorification of Buddha then why do Hindus don’t believe in the core principles of Buddhism such as Anatta? Please answer.


#2

In the Viṣṇupurāṇa Book III Section XVIII Viṣṇu’s descent and birth as the ascetic Gautama is explained an contextualized as a ploy to lead heretic asurāḥ (demonic titans) away from the Vedas.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/vp/vp092.htm.

One can only assume that those asurāḥ became the early bhikṣusaṃgha. So I would say that no, it is often not in the interest of glorifying the Buddha or Buddhism.

The Hare Krishna’s do it to glorify the Buddha, but claim, like the Bahā’i’s who similarly claim that their God spoke to the Buddha and delivered to him His revalation to the people, that the Buddha’s original teachings have been lost and distorted (far pre-textually, as per most ‘Great Apostasy’ narratives). This is glorifying the Buddha in a certain way, but it is somewhat as if I were to say “The Buddha is such an amazing teacher. He taught scientology.”


#3

Could it be because to believe in anatta, is to not believe in a Sould (atta) that merges with Brahma? At a deeper level, it is also to not believe in the existence of Brahma as the supreme being or God.

with metta


#4

My understanding is that part of the reason for the disappearance of Buddhism in India was Hindus began recognizing Buddha as a part of their pantheon. I am not totally sure about this but I get the feeling that Hindus feel like Buddhists are Hindus who specialize in one emination of Vishnu. Its hard though because many tenets of Buddhism pretty much reject Hinduism so that may explain why there isn’t a lot of interest in the depth of his teachings. Anatta would conflict with atman for example.


#5

I have come across this before- people trying to argue that Buddha was part of the Hindu pantheon of gods. It was an attempt at assimilation.

with metta


#6

Something interesting from the wiki:

Much like Hinduism’s adoption of the Buddha as an avatar, Buddhism legends too adopted Krishna in its Jataka Tales, claiming Krishna (Vishnu avatar) to be a character whom Buddha met and taught in his previous births.

This seems to be a relatively common religious maneuver.


#7

There’s an amazing amount of confusion, religious maneuvering and politics going on:

Scholars contest whether the Hindu perceptions and apologetic attempts to rationalize the Buddha within their fold is correct.[9] Though an avatar of Vishnu, the Buddha is rarely worshipped like Krishna and Rama in Hinduism.[1] According to John Holt, the Buddha was adopted as an avatar of Vishnu around the time the Puranas were being composed, in order to subordinate him into the Brahmanical ideology.[12] Further adds Holt, various scholars in India, Sri Lanka and outside South Asia state that the colonial era and contemporary attempts to assimilate Buddha into the Hindu fold is a nationalistic political agenda, where “the Buddha has been reclaimed triumphantly as a symbol of indigenous nationalist understandings of India’s history and culture”.[13]
Other scholars such as Hermann Oldenberg, Thomas Rhys Davids and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan have stated that there is much in common between the two religions.[14][15][16] According to the British scholar and founder of Pali Text Society Rhys Davids, Buddha was “born, brought up, lived and died a Hindu”.[15] It is a misconception, states Rhys Davids, that Gautama Buddha was an enemy to Hinduism, nor did he seek to destroy an alleged system of “iniquity, oppression and fraud”.[15] Richard Gombrich, an Indologist and a professor of Buddhist Studies, and other scholars, the Buddha did not begin or pursue social reforms nor was he against caste althogether, rather his aim was at the salvation of those who joined his monastic order.[17][18][19] Modernists, states Gombrich, keep picking up this “mistake from western authors”.[17] The Oxford professor and later President of India Radhakrishnan states that “Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion” and considered Buddha to be a Hindu".[14] [link]

with metta


#8

Hello.

This was explained by Bhante a while back regarding this same topic.

Best regards.


#9

I have no problem with Hindus believe that Buddha is an incarnation of God.
My problem is when Buddhist monks say that Nibbana is another type of consciousness or Anatta means Anicca.
As much Buddhism creping to Hinduism, the other religious idea are creeping to Buddhism as well.
This is a result of people trying to hybrid two religions. They are not totally happy with their religion the same time they are not happy with the new religion either so they hybrid it.


#10

In the original comment here I made a mistake whether a quoted saying was correctly attributed to TW Rhy Davids. I was corrected by Ven Dhammanando, for which see below. To avoid confusion and misquoting, I’ll correct what i say here.

The Wikipedia page of the Buddha and Vishnu quotes Rhys Davids saying that “the Buddha was born, lived, and died a Hindu”. This is from an earlier work, a series of lectures published in 1896 under the title Buddhism: its history and literature, on page 116. But by 1912 his views had changed, for on page 83 of Buddhism: Being a sketch of the life and teachings of Gautama, the Buddha, he said:

https://archive.org/stream/buddhismbeingske00davi#page/84/mode/2up

Gautama was born, and brought up, and lived, and died a typical Indian. Hinduism had not yet, in his time, arisen.

So yeah, that’s a bit different. If anyone’s not familiar with the historical situation, his argument—which he established on firm grounds over a century ago—is that the Brahmanical/Vedic tradition that existed in the time of the Buddha was radically different from what is known today as Hinduism. Obviously there is a historical continuity, but it is no more correct to say that the brahmins at the Buddha’s time were Hindus than it would be to say that Abraham and Noah were Catholics.

On page 85 he also says:

In the long run the two systems were quite incompatible. … Gautama’s whole training lay indeed outside of the ritualistic lore of the Brahmanas and the brahmins. The local deities of his clan were not Vedic. His teachers had renounced the sacrifices.

Anyway, the point here is that the Hindutva agenda has so overtaken the modern discourse on these matters that it’s almost impossible to get any accurate information from something like Wikipedia.

I haven’t personally researched the question of the Buddha and Vishnu, but it seems to me likely that such a belief arose in a complex way, with a diversity of motivations and perspectives, both benign and critical. Consider the complex ways that Vedic and other deities are treated in Buddhist texts: both to confer their authority on the Buddha, but at the same time, to undermine, even ridicule, their beliefs and authority.

The Hindu apotheosis of the Buddha happened, I believe, generally around the 5th century CE. The date of the Vishnu Purana, like all Puranas, is unknown, but Wendy Doniger’s estimate of 450 CE is probably the least unreliable.

This text is clearly aiming to denigrate Buddhists; but this should not be seen in isolation. The author of this passage of the Vishnu Purana was not simply writing fiction. It must have been in response to something, and that something was in all probability the attraction to Buddhism felt throughout the Hindu community. That is to say, the passage in the Vishnu Purana only makes sense if many brahmins and/or their sympathizers and devotees were interested in Buddhism, learning it, and perhaps incorporating its ideas into their own religion. This prompted an orthodox reaction, to keep the “true” religion pure.

Yes, exactly, it’s just dismissing everything about his teachings and claiming his authority.

One of the nice things about the way that interreligious dialogue is depicted in the suttas is that it takes the tenets and practices of the different religions seriously, and intelligently responds to them, either agreeing or disagreeing, but not blithely wiping them away.

Well, on the one hand it is true that the Buddhist texts, from the earliest times, depict Vedic deities and often make them into disciples of the Buddha. On the other hand, the nature of this specific tale rather reveals the opposite of what they’re claiming.

A sage called Krishna (= Kanha) is in fact found in the Pali canon, and this may be the earliest mention of this deity; or it may be entirely unrelated. It’s not an uncommon name.

The Jataka—Ghata Jataka at Ja 454—is awesome, and you should all read it! I wrote on this in White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes. But in brief, it has all the hallmarks of an ancient myth, filtered down through the medium of folk legend. It seems to me likely that it is not derived from any Hindu myth; rather, both the Hindu and the Buddhist versions stem from an older and less knowable mythic tradition. The Buddhist version, in fact, may be the oldest version of the Krishna legend we possess.

Also an interesting detail I hadn’t noticed before. the opening lines of the Jataka verses mirror a stock phrase in Buddhist verses on arousing energy:

Snp 2.10

Uṭṭhahatha nisīdatha,
Arise, sit and meditate!
ko attho supitena vo;
What’s the point in your sleeping?
Āturānañhi kā niddā,
For the sick what rest is there,
sallaviddhāna ruppataṃ.
pierced by the dart of pain?

Ja 454

Uṭṭhehi kaṇha kiṃ sesi,
Arise, Krishna, why sleep?
Ko attho supanena te;
What’s the point in your sleeping?
Yopi tuyhaṃ sako bhātā,
When your own brother’s
Hadayaṃ cakkhu ca dakkhiṇaṃ;
heart and mind are being
Tassa vātā balīyanti,
dissipated as if by the wind.
Ghaṭo jappati kesava”.
O dark-haired one: Ghaṭa is raving!

I’m not really sure what the implications of this are, but it suggests that perhaps the Buddhist phrases and terms on rousing energy in particular were influenced by the heroic literature.


#11

Yes, probably. Maybe we should try to assimilate Hinduism into Buddhism. :yum:


#12

I was told by different Hindu’s - from different schools - that the Buddha’s avataric mission on Earth was to counter the practice of ‘animal sacrifice’ that was on the increase at the time. Ashoka also championed this cause! The Hindu’s are mostly vegetarians and abhor the needless killing of animals. The Vedic teachings had been polluted and defiled by the practice of animal sacrifice in the name of Vedic religion. The Buddha most definitely did speak out against this heinous religious ritual, therefore, many Hindu’s revere him for his compassion and ‘non-violence’ (avihimsa). The role of an avatar in Vedic religion is to establish their understanding of true-Dharma. Some yoga teachers - including Gurus - revere the Buddha as one of the great awakened masters and have no hesitation in honouring him. I know of some that have no problem with the Buddha’s teachings and see them as a great gift to all of us - irrespective of our religion, ethnicity, culture etc.


#13

Weren’t there places where the Buddha seems to praise the renunciate practice of religious people many generations past, whereas it had become degenerate, by his time?

with metta


#14

Sorry to burst your bubble here, but Hindus are almost invariably completely unreliable when it comes to the history of their own religion. Sad, I know, but true.

The first and most important fact: Hinduism did not exist at the time of the Buddha. It developed about a millenium later. The religious practices at the time of the Buddha, some of which continue through to later Hinduism, are better known as “brahmanism”. The ancient religion depicted in the Vedas—again, another 500 or thousand years older—is best known as “Vedism”. No historian would deny that there is continuity between these various religious strata; but equally, no historian would simply assume they are the same thing. As soon as anyone starts speaking of “Hinduism” in the time of the Buddha, you know you’re dealing with sectarian myth-making, not history.

As for sacrifice, both human and animal, it is no later corruption, but has been intrinsic to Vedic religion as long as it has existed. In fact, the Vedic tradition grew out of much older Indo-European traditions that were practicing sacrifice long before they even arrived in India.

You can find a brief mention to certain of the old sacrifices in this article. Use with due caution, and remember that the Rig Veda is the only real authority when it comes to the oldest Vedic practices.

Vegetarianism and ahimsa are much later developments, undoubtedly influenced by Buddhism and Jainism, and are not found in ancient Vedism.

That there are many modern Hindu teachers and practitioners who respect the Buddha and his Dhamma is great. I too have great respect for brahmanical teachings and practices, and have spoken of my love for the Upanishads on many occasions. I believe that, if we really respect another religion, we should pay it the courtesy of listening to what it actually says.


#15

I choose to see Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs as spiritual brethren (not that everyone else couldn’t be too I suppose). I know that may not actually be that accurate when you really examine the religious teachings, but in a country that is very much so Judeo-Christian, I like to meet people from the same family of religions anyway. Most Hindus and Jains I have met respond quite positively when they find out I am a Buddhist. I don’t believe I have ever “outed” myself to a Sikh person but my guess is its similar.


#16

Yes, the religious history of that region is long and complex - full of many twists and turns. It is wonderful that the EBT’s give us ‘some’ insight into all of this! We do know something of - to varying degrees - the evolution of teachings, practices, the various acharya’s, mystics, ideologues, etc. And, it is fair enough to point out the continuities and discontinuities. Out of the enormous complexity it is possible to extract a number of different scenarios for various reasons. To believe that we have a clear and definitive picture of a historical line of development may not be entirely accurate.

I have heard another perspective that is not derived from your area of expertise with regard to the early development of rishi-culture and, their ashrams. I found this interesting as it provided a window into what might have been going on - on the ground - in the early Vedic period.

Just looked at your link on animal sacrifice - I never new it was there in the early Vedas but, there does seem to have been a movement against it that developed later on - possibly due to the influence of Buddhism?

“Animal sacrifices are forbidden by the Bhagavata Purana in the Kaliyuga, the present age. The Brahma Vaivarta Purana describes animal sacrifices as kali-varjya or prohibited in the Kaliyuga. The Adi Purana, Brihan-naradiya Purana and Aditya Purana also forbid animal sacrifice in Kaliyuga.” - Wikipedia

With regard to Shaktism - as you probably know - this appears to be a later development and, they seemed to have found its earliest known text in a library in Nepal - a transitional hybrid between the earlier teachings and shaktism. There is the image of a shiva-like meditating figure on a clay-fragment found in a pre-aryan city - but this may have nothing to do with the later shaktism/tantric teachings.

Hinduism and its predecessors may not be ‘exclusively’ Vedic/Aryan - in origin. There seems to have been some syncretism going on that goes back into the mists of time. This may explain how it changed from the earlier Aryan religious forms into the home-grown Vedism that ‘evolved’ in what we now call India’. The earlier indigenous civilisations that existed before the Aryan invasion may have had an influence in the formation of early Vedic thought and practice.

What we call ‘meditation’ may have had its early genesis in the pre-aryan civilisations? I heard ‘Ajahn Brahm’ suggesting as much - on a field trip - in a hospital lift! Reincarnation is also absent in the earliest Vedic literature. This may have also been an import from the mystic-shramanas that the Brahmins first encountered when they wandered into their settlements?

The last question to ask is: is there a universally applicable definition of Hinduism? As far as I know a person could be a Christian and technically still be a Hindu - not contradicting Hindu syncretism. Likewise, the new-age phenomena is not something that exists in contrast to Hinduism. Hinduism - the term invented by Muslims - is a very inclusive religion. As witnessed in the kaleidoscope of its manifestations in India - and elsewhere. The theosophical movement could be seen as a form of Neo-Hinduism. It includes many themes that extend beyond Indian gods/goddesses etc.

If, we broaden our understanding of what Hinduism includes - under its umbrella - then, Buddhism could easily be considered a form of that religion - without losing its distinctive insights and characteristics. Hinduism as we find it today is largely the result of developments that post-date early Buddhism but it would be a case of ‘selective attention’ to ignore the continuities from earlier teachings - that pre-date the Buddha.

The Buddha wanted to create true-Brahmins - as found in the Dhammapada. He gave advice to Brahmins on how they could make their practices more meaningful. He spoke of teachers of the past with some admiration - as I recall? I have the impression that the teachings on anatta/sunya are ‘not’ entirely absent in every other school and tradition. There is some variation but there are teachings - other than purely Buddhist - that do ‘quack like a duck’. What you are looking for may have an influence on what it is you expect to find? Language-games can add to the difficulty - does everything have to ‘expressed’ in exactly the same language and idiom in order to mean the same thing?

This reminds me of the last verse of the ‘Hsin Hsin Ming’:

" Words!

The Way is beyond language,

for in it there is

no yesterday

no tomorrow

no today.


#17

Both quotations are correct — they are from different books. The Hindutva-approved one is on page 116 of Buddhism: Its History and Literature, which is the transcript of a lecture series given by RD over a decade before the publication of the Sketch and Life book.


#18

“Para-Brahman” the formless aspect of Divinity beyond Brahman is equivalent to “true emptiness” - Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia

Para Brahma(n) (I.A.S.T.: para-brahma) or Parama Brahma(n) (the Highest Brahman) is a term often used by Vedantic philosophers as to the “attainment of the ultimate goal”. Buddhists use the term: Brahma-satya - correct?

Below is a teaching that may be the basis for ‘why’ the followers of Vishnu believe the Buddha is synonymous with - or a form of - Vishnu/Shunya? It might require us to think ‘outside the box’ - move from an exoteric to an esoteric way of looking at traditions and their teachings.

"Virahaa viShamaH shUnyo ghRRitAshIrachalaschalaH. विरहा विषमः शून्यो घृताशीरचलश्चलः. Here, Shunya would mean “nothing”! Zero is a mere representation of nothing! Various commentaries on Vishnu Sahasranamam (Meanings) give the meaning: “The Void. Here Void means the total absence of (a) the equipments-of-experiences-the body-mind-intellect; (b) the fields-of-experiences-the objects- emotions-thoughts; the experiencer-attitudes-the perceiver-feeler-thinker personality. In Brahman … all these three (a, b and c) are totally absent … So the Lord, in His Infinite Nature, is ‘without attributes;’ seemingly then, He is the “Void.” - Quora

Given the above, and knowing the Buddha is ‘shunya’ - could we define the Buddha as the embodiment of Shunya/Vishnu?

‘Brahman’ (the sphere of infinite consciousness) is referred to as the ‘Self’ in some Vedantic traditions. The false- ego/self is what is seen through in order to attain formless spheres - does this sound familiar? When formlessness is surmounted then: ‘Para-Brahman’ (emptiness/shunya) - does this sound familiar?


#19

Holy cow! For years I’ve seen this quote and never been able to source it.

His views on whether the religion of the time could be called “Hinduism”, and the Buddha’s place in that, obviously changed drastically over the intervening years. I’ll correct my previous statement so as to not mislead anyone.


#20

IMO Śūnya-Viṣṇu is a paradox. Viṣṇur viṣvater vā vyaśnoter vā, “one who enters everywhere”. If he is entering everywhere how is everywhere empty? Because ‘he’ is emptiness itself? Vṣṇu from √viś, ‘to pervade’. Emptiness pervades, but what ‘is’ it? Is the emptiness that pervades my computer the same emptiness as the emptiness that pervades your body? Most Mahāyānists would say, or should say ‘no’ afaik, on precedent from their teachers, whether they understand why the answer is ‘no’ or not. I cannot speak for the dispensation of the EBTs.