1 – When the heresy of Buddhism seized hold of India
The Age of Epics has as its Grand Finale the colloquy of Krishna at Kurukshetra, a tremendous new synthesis of spiritual knowledge for India and the world. Seven hundred profound verses that “will yet liberate humanity”.
But the work and effect of the Gita’s gospel of action – in the world – was hampered by “the heresy of Buddhism”, a distinctly life-negating outlook which took a rather dim view of worldly action.
Here is a brief excerpt from Sri Aurobindo on this subject :
“Before the Bhagavadgita with its great epic commentary, the Mahabharata of Vyasa, had time deeply to influence the national mind, the heresy of Buddhism seized hold of it. Buddhism with its exaggerated emphasis on quiescence and the quiescent virtue of self-abnegation, its unwise creation of a separate class of quiescents and illuminati, its sharp distinction between monks and laymen implying the infinite inferiority of the latter, its all too facile admission of men to the higher life and its relegation of worldly action to the lowest importance possiblestands at the opposite pole from the gospel of Sri Krishna and has had the very effect he deprecates; it has been the author of confusion and the destroyer of the peoples.”
“As a result, under its influence half the nation moved in the direction of spiritual passivity and negation, the other by a natural reaction plunged deep into a splendid but enervating materialism. Our race lost three parts of its ancient heroic manhood, its grasp on the world, its magnificently ordered polity and its noble social fabric. It is by clinging to a few spars from the wreck that we have managed to perpetuate our existence and this we owe to the overthrow of Buddhism by Shankaracharya. But Hinduism has never been able to shake off the deep impress of the religion it vanquished; and therefore though it has managed to survive, it has not succeeded in recovering its old vitalising force.”
The weight of Buddha & Shankara’s World-Negation on India
“In India the philosophy of world-negation has been given formulations of supreme power and value by two of the greatest of her thinkers, Buddha and Shankara. There have been, intermediate or later in time, other philosophies of considerable importance, some of them widely accepted, formulated with much acumen of thought by men of genius and spiritual insight, which disputed with more or less force and success the conclusions of these two great metaphysical systems, but none has been put forward with an equal force of presentation or drive of personality or had a similar massive effect.
The spirit of these two remarkable spiritual philosophies — for Shankara in the historical process of India’s philosophical mind takes up, completes and replaces Buddha,— has weighed with a tremendous power on her thought, religion and general mentality: everywhere broods its mighty shadow, everywhere is the impress of the three great formulas, the chain of Karma, escape from the wheel of rebirth, Maya.”
Shankara and Buddha were both mighty personalities and their effect on India has been significant. What was at the heart of these world-views? Sri Aurobindo remarks that though Shankara helped overthrow Buddhism, the Hinduism that India retained “could never fully shake off the deep impress of Buddhism”. In what way was Hinduism influenced by Buddhism? If the impress was so significant what effect would this have had on the life of the nation?