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Early Buddhism and The Bhagavadgita

Early Buddhism and The Bhagavadgita
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Item Code: NAE293
Author: Kashi Nath Upadhyaya
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788120808805
Pages: 586
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 675 gms
About the Book

This is a critical and comparative philosophical analysis and assessment of the teachings of Buddha as found in the early stratum of the Pali Canon and those of Lord Krsna as embodied in the Bhagavadgita. It is for the first time that the foundational works of the two most important traditions of Indian thought have been brought together for comparative treatment.

The widely prevalent opinion among scholars that Hindu thought did not have any significant contact with Pali Buddhism, might perhaps be one of the reasons why no attempt has previously been made to undertake a comparative study of the Bhagavadgita and early Buddhism. The author, however, with no such preconceived notion, makes a thorough examination of the question bearing on the chronology and the sources of the Bhagavadgitã and early Buddhism, and reaches a conclusion contrary to the prevalent opinion.

The author covers the whole field of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics in detail and depth, and bases his conclusions throughout on the original texts, making careful examination of, and paying due attention, to the commentatorial exegeses and scholarly interpretations.

About the Author

Kashi Nath Upadhyaya was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii. He received his M.A. in Philosophy from Patna University and Ph.D. from the University of Ceylon. Besides many articles published in professional journals of India and America, he has also authored the book Outlines of Indian Logic and Epistemology.


Hinduism and Buddhism are, undoubtedly, the two best known philosophical traditions of India. Despite the fact that they seem to hold mutually opposed points of view in relation to some major philosophical questions such as those of God, soul, scriptural authority, etc., they are both held in very high esteem, and are acclaimed for their moral earnestness, spiritual insight and philosophical profundity. A critical and comparative understanding of the fundamental ideas and principles of the two traditions, therefore, is a great desideratum.

Both Hinduism and Buddhism, however, in the long course of their continued growth, have given rise to many schools and sub-schools and their literatures have become so enormously vast and confoundingly diversified, that it is well- nigh an impossibility to attempt a comprehensive, comparative study of the total stock of the two systems of thought,’ unless one focuses one’s attention on some specific phases of their development. Some attempts have been made, for example, to deal comparatively with some branches or aspects of the Mahãyana school of Buddhism and the Advaita school of the Vedànta. Notwithstanding the merit and value of such comparative studies, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the two schools represent the later phases of the respective traditions, by which time considerable interpenetration of ideas had already taken place, and, hence they had undergone significant changes. It has, therefore, been considered more fruitful for our purpose to attempt a critical and comparative analysis and assessment of the two traditions in their early phases.

The Bhagavadgitã has been looked upon in traditional Hinduism as containing the quintessence of the Upaniads3, and the latter in turn have been regarded as ‘the culmination of the Vedic thought’ (vedanta). The Bhagavadgitã, therefore, has rightly been regarded as representing “Hinduism as a whole”4 and constituting “the philosophical basis” of it. The Pali Canon, particularly the Sutta Pitaka, on the other hand, represents the earliest collection of the teachings of Buddha. The present work, therefore, seeks to explain and evaluate critically and comparatively the fundamental ideas and doctrines of the Bhagavadgitã and early Buddhism (as embodied in the early stratum of the Pall Canon).

Although there are many books dealing independently with either early Buddhism or the Bhagavadgita, no attempt has hitherto been made to undertake a systematic and comprehensive study of the two in a critical and comparative manner, except for some casual observations and stray remarks here and there. Naturally, many of the significant ideas which could be brought to focus by viewing the problems in a comparative light have either escaped attention of scholars, or have not been prominently brought out by them. Such a study is particularly relevant in view of the fact that there is a general tendency on the part of scholars to undermine the significant philosophical differences, on the one hand, and to overlook some essential elements of unity, on the other, implying thereby that Buddhism basically is either the reorientation and development of the same traditional thought or is a protest and revolt against it. At any rate, it has not been considered worthwhile by any scholar to undertake comprehensive, critical, and comparative study of these two important foundational works of the two traditions. The fact that early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita are both noted for their intensely practical concerns makes it all the more imperative to bring together their respective points of view for examination and evaluation.

The comparative study of the two works seemed to necessitate a decision with regard to their relative chronology, since the opinions of scholars are widely divided in relation to the question as to whether the Bhagavadgita is a pre-or post Buddhistic work. There appear to be certain elements which the Bhagavadgita has in common with early Buddhism, whereas in some other respects it seems to run counter to the latter. Since many of the doctrines of both the Gita and early Buddhism can also be traced to the Upanisads, the question of borrowing from a common source, as well as that of the one influencing the other, can be decided only through a careful examination of all the available historical data. With this purpose in view, the first two chapters of the book have been devoted to a historical discussion bearing on the chronology and sources of the Gitã and early Buddhism. This discussion is intended to provide historical perspective to the subsequent philosophical discussions of the book, and to lend support to their conclusions. But even if the historical findings are challenged, the results of the comparative philosophical analysis and assessment would remain important and useful in their own right.

The philosophical discussions are contained in the last three chapters of the hook. In them, the attempt has been made to cover the whole field of epistemology, metaphysics and ethics in detail and depth. The discussion is based throughout on the original texts, and conclusions are reached by relying on original sources rather than by following the sign posts of other scholars. To make the expositions and criticisms clear and easily intelligible, care has been taken to avoid technical philosophical jargon as far as possible. My desire all through has been to be objective and impartial. Although in dealing with religio-philosophical matters, it is difficult to escape the shadows of one’s own approach and the influences of the intellectual atmosphere in which one’s mind is nurtured and shaped, yet the genuineness of commitment to truth, it is hoped, will have sufficiently helped me in extending fair and objective treatment to both the systems of thought, and in highlighting the value of their respective approaches. In any case, it is hoped that my effort will arouse interest in the hitherto ignored comparative study of the bask works of the two traditions.

While presenting this book to readers, I am deeply sorry that the late Professor K. N. Jayatilleke, Head of the Department of Philosophy, University of Ceylon, who was most interested in the publication of this work, and who had been a constant source of inspiration to me, is no longer with us to see this work in print. I was waiting for a foreword to the book from him when the shocking news of his sudden and premature death came to me. It is under his guidance that the work was originally submitted for the Ph. D. degree in Philosophy at the University of Ceylon in 1964, although it has been considerably changed and revised since then. I am deeply indebted to him, and the references made in the body of the work do not sufficiently indicate the extent of my obligation to him. It is also with a deep sense of gratitude that I remember Dr. G. D. Wijayawardhana, Lecturer in Sinhalese, University of Ceylon, who helped me in many ways during the course of my studies in Ceylon. I would also like to express my thankfulness to Mr. P. D. Premasiri and Mr. N. Abhayawardhana, Lecturers in Pali and Buddhist civilization, University of Ceylon, whose discussions with me on Buddhist Philosophy were quite helpful. (The latter has now assumed the name Sri Jnanananda, as a Buddhist monk.) I must also place on record my thankfulness to the Government of Ceylon whose award of Commonwealth Scholarship enabled me to carry on my work at the University of Ceylon.

In this book I am using, with additions and alterations, two of my previously published papers, ‘The Impact of Early Buddhism on Hindu Thought (With Special Reference to the Bhagavadgitâ’ and ‘The Bhagavadgitã on War and Peace.’ They appeared in slightly different form in Philosophy East and West, vol. 18 (3),July 1968, and vol. 19 (2), April 1969 respectively. They are used by permission of the University of Hawaii Press, for which I am thankful to the Press and the Editor, Philosophy East and West. In preparing the Index of the book I have received ungrudging help from Mr. Edward J. Quigley, Graduate Assistant of Philosophy, University of Hawaii, for which I am obliged to him.


Chapter I
Section AThe Chronology of the Bhagavadgita1
1The Divergent views of scholars1
2The Need for an Analytic approach4
Section BThe Chronology of early Buddhism30
1Buddha as an Historical person30
2The date of Buddha31
3Where to look for the original tenets of Buddhism39
4The chronology of the pali canon and the Nature of Buddhist councils40
Section CThe chronological relation between the bhagavadgita and the Nikayas58
Chapter II
Section AThe sources of early Buddhism60
1The need for inquiry into pre-Buddhistic Tradition60
2The pre-vedic stage62
3The vedic and Brahmanical stage68
4Upanisadic stage75
5Religious conditions of Buddha's Time87
6A resume of the Development of the Thought-Process91
Section BThe sources of the Bhagavadgita106
1The Compromising character of the Bhagavadgita106
2Elements of ritualism107
3Elements of the Upanisads109
4Elements of Sankhya115
5Elements of Yoga120
6Elements of Buddhism124
7The uniqueness of the Bhagavadgita and its Primary source134
Section CThe converging and diverging lines of the Bhagavadgita and Buddhism147
Chapter III
The epistemology of the bhagavadgita and early Buddhism151
1General Introduction151
2The nature of knowledge154
3The Process of knowledge183
4The sources of knowledge198
5The limits of knowledge273
Chapter IV
The Metaphysics of the bhagavadgita and early Buddhism282
1Buddha's Approach to metaphysics as distinct from that of the bhagavadgita282
2The nature and significance of Buddha's silence283
3The problem of the self301
4The problem of salvation335
5The problem of rebirth363
6The problem of the world377
7The problem of the God390
Chapter V
The ethics of the Bhagavadgita and early Buddhism409
1Ethics as the basic foundation of the holy life409
2The basis of ethics409
3The summum bonum of life and the major Ingredients of the holy pursuit422
4Buddhist and the B.G. Ideals of holy of the west428
5The criterion of morality436
6Unity versus diversity of the path446
7The path of action versus the path of renunciation483
8The problem of caste498
9The problem of war513
IOriginal sources541
IISecondary authorities549

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