JE Menon wrote:We are talking about a Chinese interpretation of social milieu in India, written in Chinese, and then re-interpreted by a colonial interpreter carrying his own theological/civilizational baggage - and with no other frame of reference on which to draw upon. I'm not sure why we are taking these people's words so seriously in the first place.
My reasons for taking this (semi)seriously are two fold:
1. These Chinese gentlemen have been meticulous in recording the details of their visits to India, with place names, social memes, details of rituals, details of Indian hygiene standards (which were impressive, according to them), details of the caste system, Vedas, circuits of kingdoms, number of viharas vs. devalayas, details of stupas, who built them, why they built them, what were the local legends associated with building these stupas, details of the significance of places WRT the Buddha (i.e., birth, enlightenment, first sermon, samadhi, and other events), language, Sanskrit terms re-interpreted into Chinese, with the original names faithfully transliterated, details of battles between kings (such as Harsha vs. Pulakeshin), food and crops etc. The other words regarding heretics, unbelievers, etc. fit in seamlessly into this overall matrix, there does not seem to be any place where the translator "photo-shopped" his own thoughts to make it blend into the matrix. If you read these translations, yourself, you will know what I'm talking about. The Chinese guys seem to have faithfully captured the flavor of India of those times. But of course, this is only my impression.
2. Again, I keep getting this "why take the Chinese guy's word so seriously, why not go with our own records?" Like I keep saying - go for it, if anybody knows of Indian records (I haven't yet done enough reading or research into this). Go ahead, anybody here, present the Indian side of the story, and if it is in conflict with the above, then I accept that it is better to trust our own sources, rather than third-hand translations of a foreigner's impressions of India. But if the Chinese records are all we have, then what do you want me to do, reject all of them in favor of some mythical Indian records which *might* have shown things in a different light?One thing I would like to say, is that Hsuan Tsang notes that Indians were meticulous about record-keeping, so this myth of "Indians didn't record their own history" might be just a myth after all.
So these are words used by an Englishman steeped in the Christian religious tradition. It is not surprising that words like "unbeliever" and "false doctrine" creep up in there - as these were (and continue to be) central to Christian thinking.
Fair enough, if you can show Indian records which don't show any conflict between Hinduism/ Buddhism. But why do you think that only Christians think like this, and that the Chinese of that era were unbiased? Maybe the Chinese were equally bigoted, and this is what shows up in Fa Hian's or Hsuan Tsang's work. These, after all, are the people who believed that they were the "middle kingdom," and that every other part of the world was "barbary." Like I also said, my impression was that the translator has fairly translated the work, and kept any of his biases or bigotry for the footnotes (I do see European bias in the footnotes). Again, the Chinese display this attitude of "more Buddhist than the original Buddhists (Indians) themselves," much like converted folk anywhere, and the pity they feel for the "heretics" fits in nicely with the bigotry of being "more Buddhist than the Indians." This could be just as likely an explanation for their pity and contempt for the "heretics" and "unbelievers" and their defense of the "true path."
I will also ask my Chinese colleague for his opinion on the faithfulness of these English translations. He has (I believe) already read Fa Hian/ Hsuan Tsang in the original classical Chinese.
Where in Indian literature is there any indication of violent conflict between Dharma & Dhamma in the pre-Islamic era? This is not a rhetorical question. I would genuinely like to know. If there isn't such literature (and if the conflict was widespread) there should be copious literature on it, why are we arguing on the basis of what one or two Chinese guys said and what an Englishman translated?
I also would like to know this, and would much prefer not to argue on the basis of Chinese impressions translated by Englishmen. So once again guys, go for it, please present any Indian sources you might be aware of from those times.
Again, for the record, my interest was piqued by the thought that there might have been a time in India when a proselytizing religion made massive headway among the general populace, and was then rolled back almost a 100% by persuasion and argument, rather than by violence.