Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Pushyamitra was more "secular" than Ashoka

(Published as a chapter in K. Elst: Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple, Delhi 2003. A bad case of the political abuse of history concerns Ashoka, glorified by Jawaharlal Nehru as the emperor who was first bad and Hindu, then "converted" to Buddhism and became good. This wilfully distorting spin has led to the ignoring of an earlier testimony which suggests a different story.)  
Why Pushyamitra was more "secular" than Ashoka
Let us elaborate one example of pro-Buddhist bias in modern indologist scholarship. It has to do with a story of alleged Hindu persecution of Buddhism by Pushyamitra, a general in the service of the declining Maurya dynasty, who founded the Shunga dynasty after a coup d'état. This story serves as the standard secularist refutation of the "myth" that Hinduism has always been tolerant.
Thus, the Marxist historian Gargi Chakravartty writes: "Another myth has been meticulously promoted with regard to the tolerance of the Hindu rulers. Let us go back to the end of second century BC. Divyavadana, in a text of about the second-third century AD, depicts Pushyamitra Shunga as a great persecutor of Buddhists. In a crusading march with a huge army he destroyed stupas, burnt monasteries and killed monks. This stretched up to Shakala, i.e. modern Sialkot, where he announced a reward of 100 gold coins to the person who would bring the head of a Buddhist monk. Even if this is an exaggeration, the acute hostility and tensions between Pushyamitra and the monks cannot be denied." (Gargi Chakravartty: "BJP-RSS and Distortion of History", in Pratul Lahiri, ed.: Selected Writings on Communalism, People's Publishing House, Delhi 1994, p.166-167)
We need not comment on Chakravartty's misreading of Divyavadana as a person's name rather than a book title. Before considering the context, remark the unobtrusive bias in the assumption that the supposedly "undeniable" conflict between the king and the monks proves the king's intolerance. The question of responsibility is evaded: what had been the monks' own contribution to the conflict? When Shivaji had a conflict with the Brahmins (see Jadunath Sarkar: Shivaji, Orient Longman, Delhi 1992/1952, p.161, 165-167), all secularists and most Hindus blame the "wily, greedy" Brahmins; but the Buddhist monks, by contrast, are assumed to be blameless.
The story is given in two near-contemporaneous (2nd century AD) Buddhist histories, the Ashokavadana and the Divyavadana; the two narratives are almost verbatim the same and very obviously have a common origin (Avadana, "narrative", is the Buddhist equivalent of Purana; Divyavadana = "divine narrative"). This non-contemporary story (which surfaces more than three centuries after the alleged facts) about Pushyamitra's offering money for the heads of monks is rendered improbable by the well-attested historical fact that he allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains. After Ashoka's lavish sponsorship of Buddhism, it is perfectly possible that Buddhist institutions fell on slightly harder times under the Shungas, but persecution is quite another matter. The famous historian of Buddhism Etienne Lamotte has observed: "To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof." (History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988/1958, p.109).
In consulting the source texts I noticed a significant literary fact which I have not seen mentioned in the scholarly literature (e.g. Lamotte, just quoted), and which I want to put on record. First of all, a look at the critical edition of the Ashokavadana ("Illustrious Acts of Ashoka") tells a story of its own concerning the idealization of Buddhism in modern India. This is how Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya, the editor of the Ashokavadana, relates this work's testimony about Ashoka doing with a rival sect that very thing of which Pushyamitra is accused later on:
"At that time, an incident occurred which greatly enraged the king. A follower of the Nirgrantha (Mahavira) painted a picture, showing Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha. Ashoka ordered all the Ajivikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. In one day, eighteen thousand Ajivikas lost their lives. A similar kind of incident took place in the town of Pataliputra. A man who painted such a picture was burnt alive with his family. It was announced that whoever would bring the king the head of a Nirgrantha would be rewarded with a dinara (a gold coin). As a result of this, thousands of Nirgranthas lost their lives." (S. Mukhopadhyaya: The Ashokavadana, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi 1963, p.xxxvii; in footnote, Mukhopadhyaya correctly notes that the author "seems to have confused the Nirgranthas with the Ajivikas", a similar ascetic sect; Nirgrantha, "freed from fetters", meaning Jain.) Only when Vitashoka, Ashoka's favourite Arhat (an enlightened monk, a Theravada-Buddhist saint), was mistaken for a Nirgrantha and killed by a man desirous of the reward, did Ashoka revoke the order.
Typically, Mukhopadhyaya refuses to believe his eyes at this demythologization of the "secular" emperor Ashoka: "This is one of the best chapters of the text. The subject, the style, the composition, everything here is remarkable. In every shloka there is a poetic touch.(...) But the great defect is also to be noticed. Here too Ashoka is described as dreadfully cruel. If the central figure of this story were not a historic personage as great and well-known as Ashoka, we would have nothing to say. To say that Ashoka, whose devotion to all religious sects is unique in the history of humanity (as is well-known through his edicts) persecuted the Jains or the Ajivikas is simply absurd. And why speak of Ashoka alone? There was no Buddhist king anywhere in India who persecuted the Jains or the Ajivikas or any other sect." (The Ashokavadana, p.xxxviii)
This just goes to show how far the idealization of Buddhism and Ashoka has gotten out of hand in Nehruvian India. When the modern myth of Ashoka as the great secular-Buddhist ruler is contradicted by an ancient source (one outspokenly favourable to Buddhism and Ashoka) which shows him persecuting rival schools of thought, the modern scholar (a Hindu Brahmin) still insists on upholding the myth, and dismisses the actual information in the ancient source as a "great defect". Moreover, the non-persecution of other religions, claimed here for Ashoka against the very evidence under discussion, was not unique at all: it was the rule among Hindu kings throughout history, and the Buddha himself had been one of its beneficiaries.
It is at the end of the Ashokavadana that we find the oft-quoted story that Pushyamitra offered one dinara for every shramanashirah, "head of a Buddhist monk". (Mukhopadhyaya: The Ashokavadana, p.134) Not that he got many monks killed, for, according to the account given, one powerful Arhat created monks' heads by magic and gave these to the people to bring to the court, so that they could collect the award without cutting off any real monk's head. 
At any rate, the striking fact, so far not mentioned in the Pushyamitra controversy, is that the main line of the narrative making the allegation against Pushyamitra is a carbon copy of the just-quoted account of Ashoka's own offer to pay for every head of a monk from a rivalling sect. Hagiographies are notorious for competitive copying (e.g. appropriating the miracle of a rival saint, multiplied by two or more, for one's own hero); in this case, it may have taken the form of attributing a negative feat of the hero onto the rival.
But there are two differences. Firstly, in the account concerning Pushyamitra, a miracle episode forms a crucial element, and this does not add to the credibility of the whole. And secondly, Ashoka belongs to the writer's own Buddhist camp, whereas Pushyamitra is described as an enemy of Buddhism. When something negative is said about an enemy (i.c. Pushyamitra), it is wise to reserve one's acceptance of the allegation until independent confirmation is forthcoming; by contrast, when a writer alleges that his own hero has committed a crime, there is much more reason to presume the correctness of the allegation. In the absence of external evidence, the best thing we can do for now is to draw the logical conclusion from the internal evidence: the allegation against Pushyamitra is much less credible than the allegation against Ashoka.
Mukhopadhyaya can only save Ashoka's secular reputation by accusing the Ashokavadana author of a lie, viz. of the false allegation that Ashoka had persecuted Nirgranthas. Unfortunately, a lie would not enhance the author's credibility as a witness against Pushyamitra, nor as a witness for the laudable acts of Ashoka which make up a large part of the text. So, Mukhopadhyaya tries to present this lie (which only he himself alleges) as a hagiographically acceptable type of lie: "In order to show the greatness of Buddhism, the orthodox author degraded it by painting the greatest Buddhist of the world as a dreadful religious fanatic." (The Ashokavadana, p.xxxviii). 
However, contrary to Mukhopadhyaya's explanation, there is no hint in the text that the author meant to "show the greatness of Buddhism" by "painting the greatest Buddhist as a religious fanatic". By this explanation, Mukhopadhyaya means that the writer first made Ashoka commit a great crime (the persecution of the Nirgranthas) to illustrate the greatness of Buddhism by sheer contrast, viz. as the factor which made Ashoka give up this type of criminal behaviour. There is a famous analogy for this: the cruelty of Ashoka's conquest of Kalinga was exaggerated by scribes in order to highlight the violence-renouncing effect of Ashoka's subsequent conversion to Buddhism. But in this passage, Buddhism plays no role in Ashoka's change of heart: it is only the sight of his own friend Vitashoka, killed by mistake, which makes him revoke the order. And it was his commitment to Buddhism which prompted Ashoka to persecute the irreverent Nirgranthas in the first place.
Buddhism does not gain from this account, and if a Buddhist propagandist related it nonetheless, it may well be that it was a historical fact too well-known at the time to be omitted. By contrast, until proof of the contrary is forthcoming, the carbon-copy allegation against Pushyamitra may very reasonably be dismissed as sectarian propaganda. Yet, we have seen how a 20th-century Hindu-born scholar will twist and turn the literary data in order to uphold a sectarian and miracle-based calumny against the Hindu ruler Pushyamitra, and to explain away a sobring testimony about the fanaticism of Ashoka, that great secularist avant la lettre. Such is the quality of the "scholarship" deployed to undermine the solid consensus that among the world religions, Hinduism has always been the most tolerant by far.


LV said...

I'm really surprised that you only gave a cursory glance at the new Reich study on the Yamnaya. It has some very interesting results that you would be interested in:

"This pattern is also seen in ADMIXTURE analysis (Fig. 2b, SI6), which implies that the Yamnaya have ancestry from populations related to the Caucasus and South Asia that is largely absent in 38 Early or Middle Neolithic farmers but present in all 25 Late Neolithic or Bronze Age individuals. This ancestry appears in Central Europe for the first time in our series with the Corded Ware around 2,500 BCE (SI6, Fig. 2b, Extended Data Fig. 1)."

"An interesting pattern occurs at K=8, with all the late LN/BA groups from central Europe and the Yamnaya having some of the “light green” component that is lacking in earlier European farmers and hunter-gatherers; this component is found at high frequencies in South Asian populations and its co-occurrence in late Neolithic/Bronze Age Europeans (but not earlier ones) and South Asians might reflect a degree of common ancestry..."

LV said...

More genetic studies:

A large, 2014 study by Underhill et al., using 16,244 individuals from over 126 populations from across Eurasia, concluded there was compelling evidence, that R1a-M420 originated in Iran.

Imli Bagh said...

The previous posts by LV seems like automated robotic postings...
Delete them.

The more I read about these self-hating Marxists/leftist Hindus, the more contemptuous I get of them. As Elst pointed out elsewhere, the enemy of the Hindus are these elite leftist Hindus themselves. And that makes it easier for the west, to pile on more on Hinduism.

Buddhism is in vogue now in the west. It presents itself to the west with none of inconveniences of Hinduism - None of myriads of Gods/Goddesses to deal with; no monkey God, No Kaali Mataa, etc.

LV said...'re a moron. Yes, robotic postings that deal with genetic studies on the IE expansion.

Imli Bagh said...

So, you are not a robot that makes it all the more interesting. What has your postings got to do with the new KE blog posting in which he talks about Ashoka vs. Pushyamitra? Zero. Go ahead and let us know if I am wrong. And give your ad hominem attacks a rest.

LV said...

Uhh...I don't know. Maybe it's because Elst is directly involved in the Urheimat debate. I don't have his email address so I might as well post it anywhere he can see it.

As for what goes by the name of "Hinduism," 99% is bullshit as you imply in the last sentence of your last post. I am of the opinion that Buddhism (in its Nikayas form) is better; for philosophical reasons rather than "leftist" reasons:

Imli Bagh said...

So you are too lazy to post it at a place where it is relevant and decide to regurgitate wherever you deem fit? Good thing you are on the other side of the debate.
I am done with you. You can have the last word. Go ahead with more of your drivel.

Gururaj BN said...

This malady of projecting Hinduism as bigoted goes as far back as even Indus Valley Civilization. Now, we have some novelists who re-write the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata from the view point of the Vanquished. Examples are "Asura" and "Roll of Dice" by Anand Nilakanthan, in which the author lionizes Ravana and Duryodhana and depicts the heroes of these epics are less than heroic, or downright as people without conscience. This is of course the usual poetic liberty. Indus Valley Civilization is attributed to Asuras, who were said to be most cultured and technologically advanced as compared to Devas (Read "Aryans") who were barbarian hordes. For a long time, the negative depiction of Hinduism was limited to the medieval history or Muslim rule period. Nowadays, while dealing with earlier history, Muslims are replaced by the Buddhists, Jainas, Asuras et al. This tendency of condemning the traditional Hinduism is seen even researches done in vernacular languages such as Kannada. One Dr.Sridhar Pisse, who has published a Ph.D thesis about Vasishnavite devotional literature in Kannada (Daasa Sahitya) condemns Sri Vyasaraya, a 15-16th century scholar and saint, for being a monarchist. Thus, projection of contemporary fads and political philosophies to the past does irreparable damage to the tradition, which has survived the onslaught of diverse hostile elements for several centuries.

Abhishek Thakur said...

It is one thing recognizing one's legacy- quite another to use it to browbeat the main legacy merely for political expediency. This example can be seen in Bihar- where Nitish Kumar takes a exaggerated view of Buddhism and puts a disproportionate amount of importance on it. Agreed- Bihar is one of the holiest sites for Buddhists (due Bodhgaya). However, what is the need of a gigantic "Budhdha smriti park" in the capital Patna?
It must be noted that the move to put Ashoka on a higher pedestal is a very subtle one- due to the diversity of the Hindu thought (including Buddhism), it was not immediately apparent that this move damaged the inner subconscious of the impressionable Hindu youth and planted one of those seeds of self hatred.

@ Gururaj BN sir- thanks for the illuminating comment.
"...projection of contemporary fads and political philosophies to the past"- quite true.

bharti sharma said...

मन की बात : “100 फीसदी कैशलेस संभव नहीं, लेकिन लेस-कैश तो संभव है” पीएम मोदी