Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Enter the Dragon*

At around 5th century BCE in India there were those who considered the socio-religious Brahmanic structures maintained by the 'householders' to be oppressive. Such people wished to break free in order to seek an alternative understanding of the self and the world. These were the peripatetic 'renouncers' who attempted many different ways of gaining personal insight outside of any specific tradition, often subjecting themselves to extreme temperatures, hunger, thirst, and other forms of asceticism. They sought answers to the same big questions asked by the Vedas, the most important one being, What is the ontological status of the self? All possible answers to this question seemed to be held at the time:

The strong materialistic view in which there is no immaterial self at all.

The annihilationists who believed that, if there is a self, it is annihilated upon physical death anyway.

The eternalists, such as the Upanishadic brahmins, who held that the ultimate self is a permanent and unchanging essence, i.e., Atman (self) is Brahman (ultimate reality).

Others who, although rejecting an eternal self, believed in the existence of a self which survives physical death.

For those who did believe in some form of continuity of the self they would also have believed in karma and the transmigration of self which constituted samsāra and so the point of seeking answers to these questions was that knowledge of the nature of the self would have effected the moksha (liberation) from samsāra that they sought.

Such was the philosophical climate into which was born Siddhartha Gautama at around 485 BCE.

*In Ch'an Buddhist literature the enlightened are sometimes referred to as dragons. Also, of course, 'Enter the Dragon' is a definitive martial arts movie starring the legendary Bruce Lee.


Antharyami said...

i object your opinion on brahminical tradition being oppressive. i suppose such oppressions are inherent to any part of socio-political structure and noway concerned about classical religious traditions. how would an ancient pedagogical and most sought religious lineage be innately oppressive ? no its not ! kindly revise

Paul Turner said...

From my reading, the correlation between religious power and social hierarchy, administered and guarded by the brahmins with the same degree of rigidity as the sacrificial ritual itself, was such that some found the prospect of living within the strictures of the Brahmanical fold oppressive. If this was not the case, why the conflict between renouncers and householders in the first place?

Anyway, I've modified the post to remove the impression that the tradition is INNATELY oppressive. But that many seem to have found it oppressive I will not revise.