May 16, 2010

Buddha as human and animal rights activist

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?

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