Buddha as human and animal rights activist

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on May 16, 2010
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Buddha was an animal and human rights activist long before PETA and Amnesty International.

During the time of Buddha, circa 500 BC, the Vedic religion of the Brahmin priesthood  in India had become degenerate and suppressive and engaged in frequent animal sacrifices.

The Buddha is reputed to have denounced the Vedic religion at the time. He especially denounced the religious animal sacrifices so common during those days.

“Immense sacrificial ceremonies, such as the sacrifice of the horse (ashvameda), through which the Brahmans imposed their power, ruined the states financially,” writes Alain Danileou in his book While the Gods Play.

Danileou continues: “Gautama was at first attracted by the antisocial mysticism of the Shaivas (Tantra). For a time, he was also a disciple of Gosala and very close to Mahavira, who was three years younger. For several years he practiced with them the austere and free life of a wandering monk.”

The Buddha was not alone in denouncing these Vedic practices. His friend Mahavira, the now well known founder of the Jain religion in India, also became an ardent follower of ahimsa, or nonviolence.

Although it is commonly accepted that the Buddha spoke out against the ritualistic portions of the Vedas (karmakanda), it is doubtful that he rejected the Vedas outright.

“[Both Buddha and Mahavira] were in open revolt against the karmakanda [prehistoric ritualistic portions] of the Vedas, but they were not so opposed to the the jinanakanda [more recent philosophical portions, including certain Upanishads and Vedanta], because these were quite popular with spiritual aspirants.”

“Both Buddha and Mahavira vehemently opposed the ritualistic sacrifices, especially of animals, and both of them protested against the hostile attitude of the so-called dharma towards morality.”  Quoted from Namami Shiva Shantaya by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti

In other words, Buddha was an animal and human rights activist long before the popularity of PETA , Amnesty International, vegan and vegetarian activism. About 2500 years before PETA, in fact.

Fellow yogis, maybe we should all learn something from Buddha. Maybe we also should protest against those aspects of the Vedas that are not so kind against women, animals, and the lower castes, the untouchable dalits (population 160 million), for example.

Violence against Dalits is commonplace. Hillary Mayell, (2003) sampled some mainstream Indian newspapers and found headlines such as: “Dalit boy beaten to death for plucking flowers”; “Dalit tortured by cops for three days”; “Dalit ‘witch’ paraded naked in Bihar”; “Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool”; “7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash”; “5 Dalits lynched in Haryana”; “Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked”; “Police egged on mob to lynch Dalits” (as cited in Hillary Mayen, 2003).

Moreover, the UN and Amnesty International calls the caste system “human rights abuse.”

Next time you hear someone like Deepak Chopra or Georg Feuerstein or David Frawley make blanket statements,

claiming that “yoga came from the Vedas”, you tell them that yoga at least has nothing to do with that portion of the Vedas supporting animal sacrifices and the despicable caste system. At least.

Tell them Buddha told you.

Maybe this is one way we can give something back to India, the country that gave us yoga, these wonderful body-mind-spirit exercises we practice?

What do you think?


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


15 Responses to “Buddha as human and animal rights activist”

  1. Ramesh says:

    Luke commented on a post you were tagged in:

    "Let's not forget the serious animal rights issues which confront us in this
    quantum age ;-D

  2. This from Elephant's facebook:

    Zo commented on a post you were tagged in:

    "Roar: If you're going to cite someone, and I'm delighted that for once you have
    a source, get their name right. It's Danielou. Please enlighten us by citing
    the sections of the Vedas on animal rights, caste and gender which upset you.
    Ranting against Vedic religion because it's been used abusively by some people
    at some times is like denouncing the Bible because American Southern slaveowners
    used it to justify slavery. "

  3. Zo,
    thank you very much for alerting me about my misspelling Alain Danielou's name.

    It is commonly understood, even by Hindus, that certain portions of the Vedas relate to animal sacrifices. It is also commonly understood and amply highlighted in my short article about human rights abuses caused by the Vedic caste system, which is very much still alive today.
    I clearly divided Vedic religion in two portions in my piece above, which is also commonly understood by its followers and scholars, thereby showing that the Buddha mainly criticized the karmakanda, or ritualistic portion of the Vedas, which again is very much alive today. Moreover there are several Vedas, four in all, and five or six if you count the Brahmans and the Upanishads. So comparing my critique to a blanket critique of the Bible is not the same. I made it clear that there are certain portions of the Vedas and of Vedic religion we should denounce, not all. Moreover, slavery in the South has ended while the Vedic caste system is still very much alive.
    I am running out of time but will supply source material later today.
    Thanks again, Zo, for your astute observation and comments.

  4. Machado says:

    Buddham saranam gacchami
    Dhammam saranam gacchami
    Sangham saranam gacchami
    Dutiyam-pi Buddham saranam gacchami
    Dutiyam-pi Dhammam saranam gacchami
    Dutiyam-pi Sangham saranam gacchami
    Tatiyam-pi Buddham saranam gacchami
    Tatiyam-pi Dhammam saranam gacchami
    Tatiyam-pi Sangham saranam gacchami

    I go forth for refuge in the Buddha
    I go forth for refuge in the Dhamma
    I go forth for refuge in the Sangha
    For the second time I go forth for refuge in the Buddha
    For the second time I go forth for refuge in the Dhamma
    For the second time I go forth for refuge in the Sangha
    For the third time I go forth for refuge in the Buddha
    For the third time I go forth for refuge in the Dhamma
    For the third time I go forth for refuge in the Sangha

    Arhat Ariya

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    Ramesh…If a practicing Buddhist comes upon a human, animal, or even a god in need… do what is right and lovingly relieve the suffering as best you can. Make them comfortable. For the buddhist this action does not end here. If we are starting out upon the path of Buddhism or are already going on the path this is an opportunity to generate merit. There will be no merit if it is tainted with the idea of action in order to gain merit which may lack altruistic compassionate generosity. This altrustic compassionate generosity beyond the dualistic subject/object is what we strive to attain through all of the Buddha's teachings on meditation, Sutra, and Tantra. A complete selfless state where we have exhausted all karmic residue.

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    If we believe and continue to reify samsara with solidity and truth there will never be an end to samsara. If we engage samsara as buddhists with a belief that we can alleviate all suffering through worldly actions then we are no longer buddhists. There was no less suffering in the world at the time Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and yet without reifying samsara he went beyond samsara ans nirvana. So…ultimately there is nothing in which the Buddha did not liberate. This not only includes all animals and humans but also includes all gods, hell beings, pretas, and all thought. The Buddha never taught nor meditated. It is our perception which gives solidity to the Buddha.

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