Sorry for late reply. Kinda distracted by all political drama going on now.
sudarshan wrote:Buddhists very much had a pantheon. It's like a wise man once told me. The human mind needs idols. So the Buddhists brought the Buddha himself back as an idol. Xtians have the Cross, even Muslims have their Kaaba idol. But on top of that, Buddhism, having emerged from India, was heavily into pantheon stuff. Currently reading Hsuan Tsang's memoirs. What strikes me is that this Chinese Buddhist guy prayed to a mother goddess (a goddess of Chinese flavor) when he thought he was going to die even before he started his journey, at the edge of the desert in China. Then he talks about car-festivals in central Asia, with the Buddha idol being taken in procession (in fact, Fa Hian also witnessed this car procession centuries earlier). Then his stories about the Buddha in India refer to legends of how the Buddha came back from heaven to preach to his mother, and how, when he did, Brahma came on his right holding a chamar (fan), and Indra on his left holding an umbrella. In fact, the Buddha is said to have converted the Devas themselves. Then when king Harshavardana was hosting Hsuan Tsang, a little before Tsang was about to return to China, Harshavardana dressed up as Indra and held an umbrella for a Buddha idol, while the king of Assam (nominally a Hindu) dressed up as Brahma and held a fan. Ashoka raja finds a lot of mention in Hsuan Tsang's memoirs, but surprisingly, there is nothing there about that epochal Kalinga battle which supposedly provided the guilt-complex, which led to Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism.
Yes, human mind needs idols, but did our vedic ancestors used idols(moorthi)?
That's where I am having problem with the whole story. If we observe IVC sites, we don't see any temples. They have public baths. I am firm believer in 'first lake, then temple'. We see lakes at our old sites, but not temple. To keep the moorthi, we need that temple. Anyway it gone off-topic.
Pre-Buddhist India was more about fire, ritual and corresponding deity. Buddha came into picture after this whole set up gone bad. He was against rituals and deity pandering(We don't worship). Ashoka came immediately after him(relatively saying). I don't see why he had to declare himself as dearest of gods.
Hsuan Tsang's travel accounts sparked stories, centuries later, about a Buddhist monk who traveled from China to India to fetch the scriptures. This monk was accompanied by a monkey, a pig, and a friar. In fact, it is this monkey who is the real hero of these tales. Modeled after Hanuman? There are some theories to that effect. And this monkey talks to various "gods" to get things done on the way to India - the cloud-pusher god, the wind god, etc. So it wasn't just Buddhists in India who had a pantheon, those in central Asia, China, Japan, also had "gods," probably rolled over from their earlier religions into Buddhism.
This transition, I am very interested in. If we can do research on it, we may discover new stuff. It may contradict the whole story so far we are following.
Bottomline - yes, the Buddha was against idol-worship, he was agnostic, he was ascetic, not caring about gold or precious stones. However, the legends which grew around him hundreds of years later, made him out to be the ultimate truth (God, almost), had him converting heretics (Hindus), nagas, and Devas, had the Devas precede him everywhere strewing gold and diamonds on his path, had him display yogic powers like ascending to the skies and traveling by air, etc. Those legends also took many Hindu stories (such as that of emperor Shibi) and rebuilt them around the figure of the Buddha. If ever one is in doubt about how "idolatrous" Buddhists are, one just needs to think back to the massive statues that have been built for him, including at Bamiyan (which Hsuan Tsang visited and wrote about).
I think that is bit of strong words for our monks. Buddhist didn't go and convert poor people by offering rice bags.
We all going through some hard times. It's nothing calm and pleasant these days. We really need to take a break from all the stuff going on.