Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Fwd: Ashoka And Pushyamitra Sunga: A Study In Mythmaking

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The allegation against Pushyamitra's intolerance is much less credible than the allegation against 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 PuranaDivyavadana = "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.


sent from samsung galaxy note3 neo, so please excuse brevity

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