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On the Buddha as an Avatāra of Vishnu

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by Geo-lyong Lee


It is true that the concept of avatāra played a major role in mitigating regional and tribal separatism and extending br2hma!ism to semi-civilized indigenous tribes. However, the Hindu doctrine of the Buddha as an avatāra of Vi4!u was a mere result of arguing from a self-centered perspective of Hindu philosophers. In other words, the great success of Buddha as a religious teacher induced them to adopt him as their own, rather than to recognize him as an adversary. Also, the Buddha avatāra concept betrays an attempt by orthodox Hinduism to slander Buddhists by identifying them with demons.

I. Introductory Remarks

According to a traditional principle of classification, most likely adopted by orthodox Hindu thinkers, the systems of thoughts or darśanas of Indian philosophy are divided into two broad classes, namely, orthodox (āstika) and heterodox (nāstika). The six chief philosophical systems, namely, M6m28s2, Ved2nta, S2!khya, Yoga, Ny2ya and Vai$e4ika belong to the first group.1 These are regarded as orthodox because they accept the authority of the Vedas. 2 Under the other class of heterodox systems, the chief three are the

Research Professor, Indian Philosophy / Dongguk University

1 The six systems mentioned here are not the only orthodox systems. They are the major ones, such as the Grammarian school, the Medical school, etc., also noticed by Mādhavācārya. 2 In modern Indian languages, ‘āstika’ and ‘nāstika ‘generally mean theist and atheist respectively. In a sense, among six systems only two, M6m28s2, and Vedānta, are schools of the Cārvakas, the Bauddhas and the Jainas. They are called heterodox because they do not believe in the authority of the Vedas. In other words, the systems of thought which admit the validity of the Vedas are called āstika, and those which repudiate it n2stika. In a sense, however, the distinctions mentioned above are merely nominal because the Yoga, classified as āstika, is practically independent of the Vedas. Of the six, M6m28s2 and Vedānta are more directly dependent on the Vedas. Of heterodox systems, Buddhism is regarded as one of the most original

which the history of Indian philosophy presents (S. Radhakrishnan, vol. ⅰ: 342). Nevertheless, the advent of Buddhism in India does not means that Buddhism came into being without any relation to the religious traditions of India. The history of Indian Buddhism, from the beginning to end, lasted in connection with Hinduism. In reality, the history of Indian philosophy is a dialectical development between Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a well-known fact that the rise of Buddhism served as the stimulus for the philosophical quest of the orthodox systems of Hinduism. Buddhism “exploded the method of dogmatism and

helped to bring about a critical point of view” (S. Radhakrishnan, vol. ⅱ: 17). It “served as a cathartic in clearing the mind of the cramping effects of ancient obstructions” (S. Radhakrishnan, vol. ⅱ: 170). In a sense, if there had not been Buddhism, there also could not be the profound depth of Hinduism. As a systematic speculation of ātman, which forms the basis of Indian philosophy, is caused by anātmavāda (the theory of not-self) of Buddhism, so the

latter became profound more and more by the former. While check and balance maintained by the interaction between Buddhism and Hinduism contributed to the philosophical development of the two religious traditions, sometimes they criticized each other for the sake of criticism. Such a tendency became prominent especially when check and balance between the two collapsed, and a typical example raised by the Hindu side is the misconception of the Buddha as an

avatāra (incarnation) of Vi4!u. The present paper is mainly concerned with how the Buddha, whose teaching is regarded as a typical nāstika system of thought by orthodox Hindus, came to be assimilated into Vai4!avism as an avatāra of Vi4!u. And I will make it clear that the doctrine of the Buddha as an avatāra of Vi4!u was a mere result of arguing from a self-centered angle of Hindu philosophers. In other words, the great success of Buddha as a religious teacher induced directly connected with the Vedas.

them to adopt him as their own, rather than to recognize him as an adversary. Also, the Buddha avatāra concept betrays an attempt by orthodox Hinduism to slander Buddhists by identifying them with demons.

II . Avatāras as Incarnations of Vishnu

When the Buddha is said to be an avatāra of Vi4!u, the word `avatāra' means `descent', especially of a god from heaven to e arth (Die Religionen Indiens, ⅰ:269). Jan Gonda mentions that an avatāra is an `appearance' (Erscheinung) of the deity (Die Religionen Indiens, ⅰ:269). However, the well-known term ‘avatāra’ is not used in early works of Hinduism. The Bhagavadgītā takes recourse to such words as jamman (birth, ⅳ.5), sambhava (coming into being, ⅴ.6)

and s28jana (creation) for expressing the idea of incarnation. The avatāra concept becomes obvious in the Pur2!as and the Epics. The Bhagavadgītā said that the Supreme Being (Puru4ottama) ‘assumed a form’ or ‘entered into a human body’, which occurs from age to age in response to a particular need or crisis. In the Pur2!as and the Mahābharata an avatāra is an incarnation, and is distinguished from a divine emanation (vyuha). Both concepts, avatāra and vyuha are associated with Vi4!u and Śiva, but particularly with the former, for Vi4!u is regarded as the preserver of the universe. Thus, the term avatāra has

special relevance to the legends concerning Vi4!u. While it is true that the avatāra concept becomes salient in the Pur2!as and the Epics, its embryo is founded in the hymns of the Ŕig-veda, which refer to Vi4!u 's having assumed another form in battle (Ŕig -veda, ⅶ.100.6). It is also pointed out that Indra, regarded as the chief of the Vedic gods, is depicted as a god to be able to assume any form by the creative power of his māyā and to roam about in

several forms (Ŕig -veda, 3.53.8; 4.47.18). According to the Bhagavadgītā, each avatāra of Vişņu descends in order to destroy evil (adharma) and establish the reign of righteousness (dharma).3 The god Vi4!u became incarnate in order to conquer an evil being, to stem the growth of wickedness, and to cause men to turn to righteous paths. “Whenever the law fails and the lawlessness uprises,” says Kŕ4!a (an avatāra of Vi4!u) to Arjuna in the Bhagavadgītā, “ O thou of Bhārata race, then do I

3 On the purpose of an avatāra, see S.L. Katre, The Allahabad University Studies, ⅹ, p. 48f.

bring myself to bodied birth. To guard the righteous, to destroy evil-doers, to establish the law, I come into birth age after age” (Bhagavadgītāt, 4.7-8). In other words, the god incarnates himself with a purpose, to destroy the wicked and protect the righteous. For this reason, as mentioned above, the avatāra concept is closely related to Vi4!u among Hindu trimūrti. As is well known, Vi4!u is a god who preserves the universe, and therefore descends from

heaven to earth. “Whenever truth is forgotten in the world, and wickedness prevails, the Lord of Love becomes flesh to show the way, the truth, and the life to humanity. Such an incarnation is an avatāra, an embodiment of deity on earth” (Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.1). In other words, avatāra is the periodic invasion of Vi4!u into the history of humanity, when evil triumphs over goodness and creates a crisis in moral life. The god Vi4!u has taken numerous such

births. In this form the doctrine seems to have been influenced by the Buddhist concept of the former Buddhas whose prime attribute is compassion (A.L. Basham, p. 304). The Buddhist doctrine is certainly attested to earlier. Some of the former Buddhas are known to have been worshipped as early as the 3rd century B.C. However, an important difference is that the former Buddhas are not regarded as incarnations of a divine being, as are the Hindu avatāras

(Margaret and James Stutley:33). Avatāras are the embodiments of the redemptive working of Vi4!u in the moral will of humanity with a view to recover it from its sinfulness. Vi4!u takes not only the form of a full human life but also those of animals, such as fish, tortoise, and boar, etc. As we shall see later, many other figures, such as Nayagrīva, Dattātreya, and the Haąsa (Goose), were regionally, or at times envisaged as avatāra of Vi4!u. Not only the

number but also the enumeration in the lists differs considerably. The Mahābharata even says that incarnations are uncountable (337.35).4 Although the tradition usually affirms ten avatāras of Vişņu, the number of them varies at different periods in Hindu tradition and in different scriptures. The N2r2!6ya section of the Mahābharata contains two lists, one (xii.326.72) enumerating six, and the other (xii.337.36) only four incarnations of the deity. A verse mentioning the ten incarnations of the god is now proved to be a late interpolation. It seems that the four incarnations of the god, the Varāha (Boar), Narasi8ha (Man-Lion), Vāmana (Dwarf),

4 It seems that on the analogy of the Bodhisattvas of Buddhism the incarnations of Vişņu are said to be incalculable. See Suvira Jaiswal's Origin and Development of Vai4!avism (Delhi; Munshiram Manoharlal, 1967), p. 119.

Mānusa (Human, i.e. Kŕ4!a), represent the original nucleus, and is also found in the 0ra!y2ka Parva of the Mahābharata (ⅲ.100.9), and the Marka!deya Pur2!a which, however, mentions Māthura, i.e., Kŕ4!a, in place of Mānusa. Gradually, the number was extended more and more in later works, so that the Bhāgavata Pur2!a, and the Pañcarātra Sahita enumerates as many as twenty-four and twenty-nine incarnations of the god. But by the close of the first millennium CE a set of ten had acquired the widest currency. Although the number of the primary avatāras of Vişņu appears to have been fixed somewhat early

as ten, their names vary in the lists given in the early Pur2!as. According to the most popular classification, these ten avatāras of Vi4!u are Matsya (fish), Kūrma (tortoise), Varāha (boar), Narasi8ha (man-lion), Vāmana (dwarf), Paraśurāma, Śrī Rāma, Balarāma, Buddha, and Kalkin. These ten chief incarnations are of a more special type, for in them the full essence of the god is believed to have taken flesh to save the world from imminent danger of

total destruction. The arrangement shows an interesting ‘evolutionary sequence’. We move from pure sea animal (Matsya) to more amphibian creatures (Kūrma, Varāha); then from semi-human and deformed human (Vāmana) to fully human beings (Kŕ4!a, Balarāma, Rāma, Paraśurāma, the Buddha) of the past, and of the future (Kalkin).

III. Assimilation of Indigenous gods into Vaishnavism through the Concept of Avatāra

It is a historical fact that the different avatāras of Vişņu often appear to regional or tribal deities who have been subsumed by established Hinduism under the rubric of one of Vi4!u’s many forms. A variety of animals and heroes are looked upon as prototypes of a benevolent deity, Vi4!u and they are at last identified with the latter. Since “whatever is mighty or fortunate or strong springs from a portion of my glory” (Bhagavadgītā, ⅹ.49), every good or great man or thing could be regarded as a partial avatāra of Vi4!u. An incarnation might be total or partial,5 and, with reference to the assimilation of indigenous religion and its gods into Vai4!avism, the concept

5 The concept of an a8 śāvatāra, ‘partial incarnation’, remained unproductive outside of the circles of the scholastics; in some areas a84a is actually used as a synonym of avatāra.

of an a842vat2ra, ‘partial incarnation’, played an important role. We can easily discern that most of avatāras of Vişņu originally had nothing to do with, and were even opposed to the god Vişņu. It is pointed out that the legend of the Boar avatāra, for example, which is enumerated as the third incarnation of Vi4!u, developed through a primitive non- Āryan cult of a sacred pig. The Ŕig -veda speaks of a Boar, hostile to the Āryans, and killed by Indra, and the Taittrīya Saąhitā mentions that a boar kept the wealth of the Asuras on the other side of the hills. From these, it is probable that the

boar was a totem of some powerful non-Āryan tribe undergoing br hmanization in the age represented by the Br2hma!as.6 The Mahābharata (ⅲ.185) speaks of the Matsya who saved Manu, and the Kūrma who supported the earth on his back at the time of the churning of the ocean (ⅰ.16.10 - 11), but it does not connect them with Vi4!u. It has also been suggested by some scholars that the animal forms, such as fish, tortoise, boar, etc., assumed by Vi4!u may have

originally been totems of some other tribes foreign to the belief in Vi4!u. In a passage of the Ŕig -veda (ⅷ.96.13-15), even Kŕ4!a is spoken of as a non- Āryan chief waiting on the banks of 28$umati to fight Indra. By viewing these regional deities, heroes, and animals as so many varying forms of Vi4!u, Hinduism tried to accommodate itself to a great variety of local traditions. Although not all traditions and philosophical schools accepted such a non-transcendental status for Kŕ4!a, the pattern proved extremely productive in other areas, because it allowed for the inclusion of the popular heroes and

figures of worship under the general belief of Vai4!avism. Already at a relatively early stage, the Vedic figure of Trivikrama was included, now under the name of Vāmana. By widening the definition of the term, culture-figures like the Vāraha, Kūrma, Matsya, and Nŕsimha, could be included. Somewhat later also Rāma, Balarāma, and Paraśurāma were also included. Even the Buddha was appropriated by certain traditions. The concept also began to appear in forms of Hinduism other than Vai4!avism. For example, many figures of local goddesses became regarded as avatāras of Durgā, wife of Śiva. Regional deities like

Kha!dob2 are interpreted as avatāras of Śiva by way of their assimilation in Sanskrit. Another extension of the concept that proved particularly useful was the idea of an arcāvatāra, viz., the descent and permanent residence of a deity (particularly Vi4!u) in the sculpture of a temple image (arc ).

6 Traditionally the legend of the Boar reflects back to the Brahmanas

Finally, various religious movements have tended to regard their founder or their sages as avatāras of their own specific deity. For example, in the case of Caitanya, some strands of the movement founded by him regarded him as the dual avatāra of Rādhā and Kŕ4!a, embodied in one person. In recent times, the concept of avatāra, especially in relation to animal figures, has been challenged by reforming and rationalizing movements (e.g. Brahmo Samāj).7 At the

same time, the belief put forward in the Bhāgavata Pur2!a, that humans can become avatāras by a divine infilling, has allowed the title to be extended to religious leaders, such as Gandhi and Satya Sai Baba, and to non-Hindus, such as Jesus and Muhamad. In this course, however, it was inevitable that so many myths and even historical facts were modified and changed to be in harmony with the avatāra concepts. This aspect of the doctrine of avatāra is nowhere so well illustrated as in the case of the Buddha.

IV. Introduction of the Buddha into Avatāras of Vishnu

he Buddha avatāra concept seems to have formed during the period between the middle of the fifth century and the sixth century. This means that the Buddha avatāra, who is said to be the last historical incarnation of Vi4!u, is closely connected with the period when the Pur2!as were founded in India. The Buddha avatāra is not mentioned in the Mahābharata8 and appears first in the Vi4!u Pur2!a,9 where it is already established in full detail. However, it should be pointed out here that only a few Pur2!as mention the Buddha as an avatāra of Vi4!u. For example, the Vāyu Pur2!a also enumerates the avatāras of Vi4!u, nevertheless the name of Buddha is not included in them. The Buddha avatāra is also described on the Gupta Da42vat2ra Temple at Deogarh(A.D. 600) and mentioned in a seventh-century Pallava inscription

A 9th century Hindu reform movement, it had its antecedent in the Brahmo Sbha (1828) of Ram Moha Roy(1772-1833). 8 The Mahābharata lists them Ha8sa, Kūrma, Matsya, Varāha, Narasi8ha, Vāmana, Rāma(Bhārgava), Rāma(Dāśarathi), Sātvata(i.e., Vāsudeva or Bakadeva), and Kalkin. Apparently the Buddha had not yet been recognized as an avatāra. 9 The earliest that alluded to the Buddha incarnation may antedate the Vi4@u Pur2!a, but this has yet to be proven.

and on an eighth-century Tamil inscription (Banerjea, Jitendra, pp. 420-425). It seems that the Buddha avatāra is originally foreign to the cycle of avatāras of Vi4!u. In fact, the Buddha is somewhat less rigidly included in such lists of ten in comparison with others. Before the appearance of the Vi4!u Pur2!a, the Kŕ4!a avatāra is followed by the Kalkin avatāra. The Mahābharata (3.188.14) and the Vāyu Pur2!a (2.36.96), which does not mention the Buddha

avatāra, say that Vi4!u will be born as Kalkin in order to destroy barbarians and heretics. In the Vāyu Pur2!a (2.36.103-155), Kŕ4!a is said to become incarnate to establish dharma and to destroy demons, deluding ill creatures with his yoga-māyā, he is then followed by Kalkin. When this list appears in the later Matsya Pur2!a (47.247). Kŕ4!a disappears and it is said that Vi4!u became the Buddha to establish dharma and to destroy demons. He was an ascetic

with the form of a god or a demon. In other words, when the Buddha avatāra appears in the list of ten avatāras, it usually replaces the Kŕ4!a avatāra. This means that the Buddha was included in the list of the avatāras of Vi4!u some time later. For this reason, we frequently see that the role and characteristics of the Buddha avatāra are overlapped and confused with those of Kŕ4!a who immediately precedes the Buddha, or Kalkin who immediately

succeeds the Buddha. This is also the reason why the Buddha and Kŕ4!a coincide at the beginning of the Kali-yuga. Traditionally, the Kali-yuga starts at the death of Kŕ4!a. That is, on the very day when Kŕ4!a leaves the earth, Kalkin descends (Vi4!u Pur2!a,ⅴ.38.8). However, as Huntington mentions, “From the later vantage point of the Pur2!ic authors engaged in combating Buddhist teachings, the advent of the Buddha seemed to correspond more closely to the

descriptions of what was to happen in the Kali age” (Huntington, Ronald, p. 29). And so the Bhāgavata Pur2!a and other texts simply assert that Vişņu will be born as Buddha at the beginning of the Kali-yuga. In other words, the genealogy of avatāra passes directly from Kŕ4!a to the Buddha. When Buddhism posed a serious threat to the fast-burgeoning Hindu revival, the Buddha appears in the list of avatāras of Vi4!u, immediately preceding Kalkin. When the Buddha was woven in the list of the avatāras of Vi4!u, the concept of the Buddha avatāra seems to have been inspired by that of the Kalkin avatāra. In most

Pur2!as where the two avatāras appear, their tasks are explicitly related and even confused. In the Agni Pur2!a (16.5-10), for example, it is said that Vişņu became the Buddha and created Buddhists and other heretics, and that at the end of Kali-yuga, Kalkin will suppress the barbarians. The Buddha avatāra is asked to protect the worshipper from heretics, and Kalkin avatāra is asked for protection from impurity (Garu3a Pur2!a, 196.11). Here, the distinction

between the role of the Buddha and that of Kalkin is blurred, since the heretics are identified with impure men. This confusion may well arise from an assimilation of the Buddha to the soteriological function of Kalkin, who follows immediately after. The two avatāras are almost never represented separately, but they appear on reliefs of the ten avatāras from the Gupta period onward.

V. The Role of the Buddha Avatāra in the Puranas

In spite of the frequent confusion of the Buddha and Kalkin avatāra, in the Pur2!as it is said that the role of the Buddha avatāra is to delude the wicked, lead them to deny the Vedas, and thus ensure their damnation. In the Bhāgavata Pur2!a, for example, Vişņu is said to have been born as ‘the Deluder’ in the Śākya race in order to delude the demons with false doctrines and thus work for their undoing :

Then after full advent of the Kali Age, He will be born with Buddha as His name, and as son of Ajana in the Kikata country. . . . Seeing that asuras (enemies of gods) who follow the path of Veda, will harass the world, travelling in cities moving with invisible velocity constructed by Māyā, he will assume the disguise of heretics, deluding the mind and attracting the hearts of asuras, he will extensively explain to them heretic doctrines (Bhāgavata Pur2!a, ⅰ.3.24; ⅱ.7.37).

In these passages, the purpose of the Buddha avatāra is quite clear. Although the demons come to know the sacrifice of the Vedas, they are not qualified to perform it. Their corruption and destruction are the necessary consequence of their moral defects. In the Vi4!u Pur2!a, the role of the Buddha avatāra is described in a concrete way.

The demons, led by Prahlāda, had stolen the sacrificial portions of gods, but they were so full of svadharma, Vedic worship, and asceticism that they could not be conquered. Vi4!u created a man of delusion to lead the demons from the path of the Vedas; the man was naked, bald, carrying a peacock feather fan; he went where the demons were practicing asceticism at the banks of the Narmada and made them all into arhats, discouraging them from their asceticism and teaching them contradictory tenets about dharma . . . Then the man put on red garments and taught the rest of the demons that the sacrifice of animals was an evil act. He taught, “If the animal slaughtered in the sacrifice is assured of arrival in heaven, why does the

sacrificer not kill his own father?” Then the demons became heretics, abandoning the Vedas and reviling the gods and brahmins, discarding their armor of svadharma. The gods attacked them and killed them (Vi4!u Pur2!a, 3.17-18).

In the above quotation, the Buddha avatāra is a composite figure: he walks naked like a Jain, and he also teaches a second heresy recognizable as Materialism by its satire on the traditional rationalization for animal sacrifices. However, the main point is that the Buddha is an avatāra who teaches heresy in order to delude the demons. Thus, they accepted his teachings, gave up Vedic rites and practices, and as a consequence were defeated by the gods.

As mentioned before, although the avatāras of Vi4!u appear according to the current of the times, they are same in both their roles to destroy evil (adharma) and to establish the reign of righteousness. In this respect, the Buddha avatāra, referred to as the ninth avatāra of Vi4!u, seems not to be an exception, in other words, there is no doubt that the Buddha is regarded as an avatāra of Vi4!u. However, what should be pointed out in this connection is

that the question is not Buddha himself, but his teaching, i.e., Buddhism; Buddha is honored as a savior against the demons while his teaching is condemned. In other words, Buddhism itself is deprecated as a malicious teaching to delude demons and heretics, and therefore those who follow this teaching, that is, Buddhists, are identified with demons and heretics. In fact, the confusion around the Buddha and Kalkin avatāras suggests that the

concept of the Buddha avatāra is a clever machination on the part of the Br2hma!as to promote hatred towards Buddhism and Buddhists. The fact that the Buddha is confused with Kalkin avatāra suggests that the Kali-yuga, the age of corruption, begins with the appearance of Buddhism. The Siva Pur2!a, thus, mentions;

Vi4!u said to the man of delusion, “After spreading the dharma of darkness and destroying the Triple City, go to the wildness and maintain your svadharma there until the beginning of the Kali Age. Then reveal your dharma and cause your disciples to spread it. ” . . . After the Triple City was burnt, the bald

monks bowed to the gods and said, “Where shall we go? What shall we do? We have done a bad thing, to destroy the demon's devotion to Śiva, and now we will have to live in hell. But you wished us to do it, and you must tell us how to find peace.” Vi4!u, Brahm2 , and the other gods said, “Do not fear. Since

Śiva commended this, nothing bad will happen to you. From today, this doctrine will be the ruin of men who adhere to it, in the Kali Age. You must hide in the desert until the Kali Age begins. Then you will establish your doctrine, and fools of the Kali age will be deluded and

Geo-lyong Lee : On the Buddha as an Avatāra of Vi4!u 159 accept it.” And so the bald monks returned to their hermitage (Śiva Pur2!a, ⅱ.5.4.19-21; ⅱ.5.12.21-33).

In the above passages, the Buddha avatāra, called the man of delusion, is depicted as an agent who quickens corruption of the Kali-yuga and causes the results of corruption to be explicitly revealed. It is also evident that the Buddha himself is regarded as the founder of depraved doctrines of the Kali-

yuga. Compared with the general characteristics of the avatāras of Vi4!u, the function of the Buddha avatāra is quite extraordinary. The avatāras as a whole take a positive attitude in fulfilling their soteriological function, whereas the Buddha avatāra resorts to negative measures to delude heretics. In this respect, the characteristic of the Buddha avatāra varies far from that of other avatāras of Vişņu. This is also the reason why the Buddha avatāra should be regarded as an interpolation added to the list of avatāra of Vi4!u at a later period. Where this is done, the intention must have been to effect a depreciation of Buddhism. In fact, The Buddha avatāra is only briefly alluded to in some of the Pur2!as, since it is originally foreign to the lists of the avatāras of Vi4!u. Jayadeva's Gītā Govinda (ⅰ.1.13), however, which contains one of the earliest lists of incarnations, states that Vi4!u became the Buddha out of compassion for animals, in order to put an end to bloody sacrifice. This probably gives a clue to the background of the Buddha avatāra.

VI. Concluding Remarks

It is true that the concept of avatāra played a major role in mitigating regional and tribal separatism and extending br2hma!ism to semi-civilized indigenous tribes. It is also true that it gave the country a kind of cultural unity and succeeded in establishing the same kind of social structure all over India. However, as regards the concept of the Buddha avatāra, it should be said that its introduction was an attempt to distort the popular

perception of the Buddha and Buddhism. The introduction of the Buddha in the list of the avatāras of Vi4!u is no more than a result of arguing from a self-centered angle of the Hindus. This is evident from the Pur2!as in which the Buddha avatāra is first mentioned. At that time in history Hindus felt a need to promote the Buddha as an avatāra of Vi4!u, because he exerted such immense influence and won so many disciples. But as his teaching was

opposed to their own, they skillfully say that it was to mislead the enemies of the gods that he proclaimed his doctrine. The result is an awkward paradox where the Buddha is honored as an avatāra of Vi4!u while his teaching is condemned. Likewise, Rsabha,10 the first Tīrtańkara of the Jaina tradition, is said to be an avatāra of Vi4!u in the Bhāgavata Pur2!a (ⅱ.7.10). The Buddha was included in the list, as were older deities, in order to assimilate

heterodox elements into the Vai4!avite fold. In other words, with an eye to the syncretic absorption of Buddhism, the Buddha was inserted in the Hindu system and regarded as the 9th avatāra of Vi4!u under the pretext that Vi4!u in this form enticed the heretics to apostatize from the Vedas for the purpose of destroying them. This was a peculiar way of acknowledging the greatness and sanctity of the heretical teacher and decrying the doctrines attributed to him. Hinduism has indeed tried to absorb whatever is good in non-Vedic Indian religions, but this assimilation took place in the earlier, more tolerant period in which Buddhism and Hinduism grew up together and borrowed freely from one another, long before the texts in which Vi4!u appears as the Buddha. In reality, the advent of the Buddha avatāra concept in the history of Hinduism points to the decline and decay of Hinduism itself.


Agni Pur2!a 1986
Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology Series, vol. 27, Delhi; Motilal Banarsidass
Bhagavadgītā 1976
trans. by S. Radhakrishnan, London; George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Bhāgavata Pur2!a 1986
Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology Series, vols. 7 & 9, Delhi; Motilal Banarsidass
Banerjea, Jitendra 1956
The Development of Hindu Iconography, 2nd ed. Calcutta
Basham, A.L 1995
The Wonder That was India, New Delhi; Rupa & Co,
Jaiswal, Suvira Origin and Development of Vai4!avism, Delhi;
 10 Not much is known about the early teachers of Jainism. It is said that the first twenty-two tīrtańkaras belong to mythological ages. R4abha who heads the list of teachers is mentioned even in the Vedic lore.
Geo-lyong Lee : On the Buddha as an Avatāra of Vi4!u 161

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