This is Part 3 of the Buddha and Shankara series.
This is an excerpt from Nolini-da’s essay titled Buddhism and Hinduism (Vol 2).
Buddhism, or for that matter, Christianity or Mohammadenism or any credal and personal religion, is easy to understand. For they are each of them a single and simple entity, whereas Hinduism is a multiple and complex organism. The difference is that between a tree, a huge mighty tree, may be, and a vast and tangled forest. Buddhism, for example, may be likened to the great Bo tree under which, one may say, it was born; but Hinduism is a veritable Dandakaranya.
For Hinduism means all things to all men, while a personal religion is meant truly for a certain type of persons. Hinduism recognises differences and distinction even while admitting the fundamental unity of mankind; it does not impose uniformity as the other type does. Hinduism embraces all varieties of religious experience; it is not based on a single experience however overwhelming that may be.
Varying the metaphor we may say again that Buddhism rises sheer in its monolithic structure, an Asokan pillar towering in its linear movement; Hinduism has its towers, but they are part of a vast architecture, spread out on ample and chequered grounds-even like a temple city.
Hinduism, one may even say, Indianism, has cast Buddhism out of India, the mother country, to the wonder of many. Buddhism came to rub out the dead deposits and accretions on the parent body and in doing so it often rubbed on the raw and against the grain. Hinduism had to accept the corrections; in the process it had to absorb, however, many elements contrary to its nature, even antipathic to its soul. Buddha was accepted as an Avatar; he was given a divine status in the Hindu Pantheon. Divested, apparently, of all heterodoxical and controversial appendages, he was anointed with the sole sufficing aspect of supreme kindness, universal compassion. Even so, in and through this Assumption, not a little of the peculiarly Buddhist inspiration entered the original organism. The most drastic and of far-reaching consequence was the inauguration and idolisation of monastic life, which has become since then in Indian conception, the summum bonum, the supreme goal of human existence. It was not without reason that India’s older and truer tradition cried out against Shankara being a crypto-Buddhist (pracchanna bauddha), who was yet one of the most consistent and violent critics of Buddhism.
Life is an expression of the Divine Presence, earth is the field of labour for the gods – such was the original old-world Vedic view. It was the Buddhist dispensation that made life an inferior truth, a complex of unreality and decreed that the highest aim of man is to disappear from life after life’s fitful fever to sleep well – that seems to have been the motto given.
Buddhism saw and accepted a world of misery; therefore it knew how to touch the human heart, open up the doors in human consciousness to sympathy and compassion and love. Life it envisaged as an unreal persistence and therefore awakened and installed there the fiery urge towards withdrawal, ascension and transcendence. It was Buddhism that canonised the way of asceticism, laid out the path of the Everlasting Nay – although called (somewhat euphemistically perhaps) the Middle Path being tempered by an attitude of sweet reasonableness in the inner heart.
The original and primeval Indianism was built upon the Vedic realisation of the Everlasting Yes. That luminous body of an integral realisation, which means the Veda, came to be covered over by a more strenuous demand of immediate necessity, by an over-emphasis on one side or aspect or line of growth of the human consciousness; a negative approach was needed for man to rise out of its too earthly a tegument, to glimpse his divine possibility beyond, before he could hope to build it here below. The long reign of Siva was a necessary preparation for the advent of Vishnu.