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Vedas

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The Vedas are the most ancient and most important of all Hindu sacred literature. There are four Vedas, although only three are mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures (M.II,133). They are the Ṛg Veda, the Sāma Veda, the Yajur Veda, all composed between the 20th and 7th century BC, and the Atharva Veda, included into the sacred canon only several centuries after the Buddha. The Vedas are believed to be an eternal (sanātana) revelation (śruti) of divine origin (apauruṣeya). Those who deny the authority of the Vedas are said to be ‘impure’ (nāsitaka). The Buddha said that nothing is eternal, he considered revelation to be an unreliable means of knowledge and he rejected the idea of a supreme god as unconvincing. He also cast serious doubts on the claim that the authors of the Vedas had divine knowledge. Once a brahman asked him what he thought of the claim that the authors of the Vedas had direct experience of the divine. The Buddha replied, ‘What do you think about this? Is there one brahman who says, “I know. I see. This alone is true, all else is false”’? ‘No Gotama.’ ‘Did any of the teachers of the brahmans or even their teachers going back through seven generations ever say that’? ‘No Gotama.’ ‘Then what of ancient brahman sages who composed the Vedic hymns, who chanted, uttered and compiled them and which the brahmans of today still chant and recite, just repeating what has been repeated and chanting what has been chanted? Did they ever say “We know. We see. This alone is true, all else is false”’? ‘No Gotama. They did not.’ ‘Imagine a string of blind men each touching the other. The first one does not see, the middle one does not see and neither does the last. The claim of the brahmans is like this. The first one does not see, the middle one does not see and neither does the last. So it seems that the faith of the brahmans turns out to be groundless.’ (M.II,169-70). The Buddha dismissed the worship of the sacred fire (aggihotta), the central sacrament of Brahmanism, as ‘an outlet to failure’ (apāyamukhānī, D.I,102). The practice of animal sacrifice, the efficacy of rituals, the caste system, the belief in an eternal soul and indeed nearly all practices legitimized by the Vedas, were similarly rejected by him. Those who say that the Buddha was a Hindu or that Buddhism is a reformed version of Hinduism are seriously misinformed.

The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads, A. B. Keith, 1970.

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