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Was Buddhism A Social Reform Of Hinduism?

There is an academic notion that Buddha was not just a religious teacher, but a social critic and a revolutionary social theorist. He is also considered a social reformer who challenged the Brahmin orthodoxy. Buddha also reacted against the social structure made up of the four castes, which denied individual autonomy and human freedom.

This narrative fits well with the notion of a linear process where a new system differentiates from an existing system. It is similar to how Martin Luther reformed ritualistic Catholicism and how Christianity came out of Judaism. But was Buddhism a social reformation of Hinduism?

According to Ananda K Coomaraswamy, it was not. In his book, Hinduism and Buddhism, he writes that the distinction can be found only by people who study Buddhism superficially. A student with deep knowledge will not. According to him, there is nothing he could find which could be called as social reform or a protest against the caste system. Instead, Coomaraswamy says Buddha can be called a reformer because he had discovered the ancient ways of the awakened. The Buddha also praised the Brahmins who remembered the old path of the contemplatives that led to Brahma.

Both the Upanishads and Buddhist doctrines were born in the forest where they continued with purity. As time passed, the Brahmins moved to the courts and got corrupted by power, grandeur, and rituals. They became Brahmins by birth as opposed to those who knew Brahma.

The intention of both sets of doctrines was to restore the truths that were known before. The problem is that people admire Buddhism for what it is not and what scholars think Buddha should have said.

At the same time, there is selective suppression of what Buddha said. In lectures by American Buddhists, there is rarely a mention of reincarnation or supernatural powers. The talks mostly revolve around contemplative practices. These techniques are popular in the Western world; in a recent podcast,…

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