Was ‘Buddhism’ really separate from ‘Hinduism?’ ‘First Sermon of the Buddha in Saranath’ – did it happen at all? – Questions & Notes

October 2, 2022


No doubt, Gotama ‘Buddha’ Siddhartha was a brilliant, articulate man, a remarkable missionary & an inventor of a new monastic order. He successfully repackaged some of the pre-existing tenets of what he understood as Dharma & made it his lifelong mission to propagate his version. He is one of the many Gems that Bharat has produced & kind of continues to produce to this day.

He is one of our many teachers, Gurus of our Sanantan Parampara & Dharmic Traditions. No questions about that.

But his projection (starting from when the Orientalists ‘discovered’ him & ‘his Buddhism’) has always had an agenda conforming to a Abrahamic Theological world-view and defined by the then Victorian sensibilities (or senselessness depending on your perspective).

It transpires that, only during the nineteenth century that Buddhism became, in the western mind, a religious tradition, totally separate from Hinduism – and then was propped as one totally opposed to the Brahmanical Dharmic paths and to the ‘oppressive social system.’

If one goes thru the literature and understands the contexts, facts emerge.

That, Buddha was moving around in elite circles and was funded by them, endorsed the existing varna-ashrama dharma, was for social-stratification (what we now call Caste/Jati), was not against the slaughter of animals (the non-violence part of Buddha is a mere myth), had views on women that could easily be construed as totally patriarchal & misogynistic – and he even batted for his tribes.

But, all these complex parts of history were whitewashed, and he was propped-up as a ‘Revolutionary’ – because it suited the interests of the Abrahamic/Colonial establishment, to dismantle the ‘Idea of Bharat.’

As a result, Buddha was facilitated and made to emerge from a realm of multiple myths and was addressed as a historical figure; of course there could be a historical kernel to many of Dharmic legends – including Sri Rama to Mahabharata to…


There is an illuminating Book by Philip C. Almond, which rigorously establishes this Thesis.

Without loss of generality, one can say that this is the first decent book to examine the British discovery of Buddhism during the Victorian period.

Almond’s explorations: he talks of British interpretations of Buddhism – of its founder, its doctrines, its ethics, its social practices, its truths and values – and illuminates more than the various aspects of Buddhist culture – actually it sheds light on the Victorian society making these judgements.

A lot of Buddhism and our views on Buddhism have been shaped merely in the past 170 years or so.

And, a lot of these views are at variance with what are mentioned clearly in the primary sources.



It is fashionable these days, to ‘celebrate’ it as the ‘Festival of Buddha.’ Even folks in powerful positions & thought leaders habitually call it the ‘Dharmachakra day.’

One understands the many reasons for these kinds of developments:

  • Buddha is seen as some kind of ‘Protestant leader’ who allegedly questioned the Sanatana Dharma. So, he was/is a poster boy of Revolution & Revolt against an alleged ‘Oppressive Order.’
  • He is also projected as a remarkable Teacher, a Guru if you will – and is seen as an exalted/liberated person by the infatuated Orientalists of all kinds.
  • It is chic to talk about Zen, Nirvana & ‘Right paths.’
  • Near total appropriation of Buddha for ‘Social Justice Warriorship’ and in the muddled ‘Dalit Politics’ & ‘Oppression Olympics.’
  • etc
  • Most importantly, the weaponization of Buddhism (with its ‘revolt’ angle & agitprop), ironically for the destruction of Dharmic Traditions of Bharat!

Given these kind of catalysts, it is important for the Dharmic forces to, rightfully, ethically & with political-savvy – claim Buddha and his legacy too – as part of their tradition and not position themselves in opposition to it.

Of course, one understands all that.

But calling Gurupurnima as ‘Dharmachakra Day’ and allow its exclusive appropriation by merely only one of the many Dharmic paths?

Is it even rational?

Of course Buddha was a brilliant teacher – but was he THE only teacher? (leave alone the fact that Gurupurnima was originally meant to celebrate the Vyasas of the Dharmic world)


‘First Sermon’ of the Buddha, the day on which it was supposedly ‘given’ and thus ‘turned the wheel of dharma’ is called ‘Dharmachakra Day.’

His deed of giving the first sermon or the first sermon itself is generally referred to as Dhammachakkappavattanasutta. Now, this is totally a later-day invention as early texts of ‘Buddhism’ do not even talk about the date of the ‘First Sermon,’ so-called. Even the date as per the later invented tradition do not coincide with a traditional Gurupurnima day, which is celebrated on the given full-moon day of the month of Ashada. In spite of all this – many folks (even learned-ones, so-called) superimpose a later invented tradition on something else – like foisting ‘Dharmachakra Day’ on ‘Gurupurnima.’

But am digressing.

What is more galling than the usurpation, appropriation by Buddhism-mongers is: the fact that, it is not at all clear, whether the ‘First Sermon’ happened in Saranath at all, or when it happened – or whether it was merely one of places associated with Buddha’s many sermons. Or whether the whole event was a continuously developed & well embellished legend. There are several pointers (of Scholars) to support these Points of View.

1. There is a considerable distance, ~200 kms, between the site of the Enlightenment, Bodhgaya & that of the First Sermon, near about the ancient city of Kashi/Varanasi located on the banks of Ganga.

Why would anyone travel so much to announce to the public of his ‘enlightenment?’ Why would the ‘Enlightened’ be bothered about marketing, with its attendant aspects of packaging & positioning?

[Alfred Foucher] However, this might have been because Kashi was the most appropriate place for Buddha (or/& for his later day myth-makers) to announce his ‘coming of age’ & ‘convert’ his first followers.

Sanctified for centuries by religious ascetic/eremitic practices, since antiquity after all, Kashi was one f the holiest cities; amidst its lushly wooded forests, ascetics congregeated from all over Bharat & lived in reclusion; so what better ‘targeted audience’ & what better forum of Dharmics than those in Kashi, to impress? [Diane L Ecke]

2. Mauryan Chakravartin Asoka, in/during his pilgrimage to the sites important in the life of the Buddha, erected a column at Benares; however, it is not recorded whether this was to commemorate the First Sermon, or as merely one of the many places where the Buddha visited and preached.

It lacks an inscribed edict like the one found (above) at Lumbini which commemorated ‘the place of the Buddha’s birth.’ [Shri MP Lad]

3. The location of the First Sermon was barely mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Xian in the year ~400 CE, in the account of his pilgrimage to India. [Samuel Beal, Fo-Kwo-Ki]

4. The story of the ‘First Sermon’ appeared late in the Sutras; although the Pali Canon ends with the First Sermon, as per the Scholars, the myth-matking evolved considerably later. Mahaparinibbanasutta does not mention it. Vinaya version evolved late. [EJ Thomas]

“In other words the legend of the First Sermon HAD NOT YET ORIGINATED”

“In the Canonical accounts, there is NOTHING to show that the Compiler knew ANYTHING of it!” [EJ Thomas]

The ‘First Sermon’ story is actually inserted into Vinaya versions later & is an interpolation.

5. The earliest of the Chinese scriptures to tell the story of the life of the Buddha, the Xuxing Benji Jing, translated in 197 CE, ends with the Enlightenment & excludes the First Sermon ALTOGETHER! [via PE Karetzky <- Taisho Tripitaka, SAT Daizokyo Text Database]

6. The Taizu Ruiying Benqi Jing, translated in the second quarter of the 3rd century CE, the first of the Chinese scriptures to narrate the event of ‘First Sermon,’ treats it in a cursory & confused way… [via PE Karetzky <- Taisho Tripitaka, SAT Daizokyo Text Database]

7. Both the Mahavagga of the Pali Canon & the Guoqu Xianzai Yinquo Jing translated in 420-479 CE have an extended narrative cycle of the events of the First Sermon.

“Compared to the narratives of the Enlightenment, scriptural versions of the First Sermon in both the Pali Canon & the Chinese translations vary & abound in disparities.” There are many anomalies; but some interesting recordings are that, Buddha perhaps was not convinced about preaching initially & then thought about who to address… [Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky + for most inputs]

8. In Buddha’s hagiographies that got further and further embellished over time, including ‘steering the dharma-wheel’ – it is difficult to isolate and zero-in on truth.

However, if we accept (as Buddha himself accepted/practiced) that he happened to be one among the many acharyas/gurus of Bharat, who drank from the fount of Dharma/Veda or Hinduism if you will, then Gurupurnima can also be associated with our current, real Acharyas, Professors, Teachers & of course, Buddha too – whether or not ‘First Sermon’ happened.

But appropriation & exclusivization of Gurupurnima to Buddha in terms of ‘Dharmachakra Day’ – no, it is not AT ALL defensible; there were many acharyas & gurus before Buddha (that he himself learned from), some contemporaneous with him and many after him each pursuing his/her own path in the Dharma forest & the lineage of ‘seeking & transmitting knowledge’ thankfully continues to this day, in spite of the best efforts of Religion of Peace (Islam), Religion of Love (X’ianity) & Religion of Oppression (Socialism-Marxism).

Thanks to Dharma & Rta.

6 Responses to “Was ‘Buddhism’ really separate from ‘Hinduism?’ ‘First Sermon of the Buddha in Saranath’ – did it happen at all? – Questions & Notes”

  1. Muthukumar Says:

    I feel to add two more X
    Religion of Love (XXX’ianity)

    • You are a naughty lad, it looks like.

      (what I meant by ‘abrahamic’ is the common fount of both Chrisianity and Islam; however Islam as a theology, does not have nuances as it privileges Sword over everything – including the practitioners’ lives. But Christianity has moved past that in the context of Evangelicism, so to that extent, is more long term and cancerous to the target populations of heathens/infidels.

      ‘Discovery’ & Twisting of Buddhism (as a separate religion and against Hinduism) started off because of Jesuits visiting Japan originally and later politically spread its wings under the Colonial Project in the past 170 years or so )

  2. RC Says:

    நல்ல பதிவு நன்றி.சில சந்தேகங்கள்.1) உயர்தளத்தில் இந்து மரபின் ஓர் அங்கமாக பௌத்தம் உள்ளது.ஆனால் இன்று “இந்து” ௭ன்ற சொல் வர்ணாஸ்ரம பகுப்பை மட்டுமல்ல,வேதங்களையும் ஏற்பவர்கள் ++ என்பதைக் குறிக்க பயன்படுத்தப்படுவதுதானில்லையா? 2) Non-vedic Hindu என்று பௌத்தரைக்கொண்டால்,நடைமுறைத்தளத்தில் இன்றைய சாதிப் பிரிவினைகளுக்கு தீர்வுகள் கண்ணில் தட்டுப்படாதபொழுது உயர்தளத்திலும் வர்ணாஸ்ரம எதிர்ப்பை எடுப்பதுதானே செய்யக்கூடியது? Text based சரியில்லை என்பதை ஏற்றுக்கொள்கிறேன்,ஆனால் “all inclusive” தான் என்ற வாதம் யாருக்கு பயன்தரும் என்று உயர்தளத்தில் யோசிப்பவர் எடைபோடலாமா? Intellutual honesty vs Practical usage என்ற இருமைக்குள் சிக்கித்தானே ஆகவேண்டும் இல்லையா?

    சந்தேகங்கள் நியாயமானவையா?

    • நல்ல கேள்விகள்; என் அறிவுக்கு எட்டிய வகையில் முடிந்தவரை க்ளிப்தமாக என் கட்சிக்கான வாதங்களை வைக்கிறேன், சரியா?

  3. Vijay Vanbakkam Says:

    இன்னொரு வேடிக்கை- திராவிட, திருமா அமைப்புகள் புத்தர் ஆரியத்தை ஒழிக்க வந்தார் என்பது. புத்தமதம் தன்னை `சதுராணி ஆர்ய சத்யணி` , (நான்கு ஆரிய உண்மைகள்), அஷ்டாங்க ஆர்ய மார்க ( ஆரியரின் எட்டுவழி மதம்) என்றுதான் தன்னை அழைத்துக்கொண்டது

  4. […] மீதான ஒரு எதிர்வினை குறித்து… (Was ‘Buddhism’ really separate from ‘Hinduism?’ ‘First Sermon of the Buddha in Saranath’… October 2, […]

மேற்கண்ட பதிவு (அல்லது பின்னூட்டங்கள்) குறித்து (விருப்பமிருந்தால்) உரையாடலாமே...

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