Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste

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SAGE Publications India, Aug 5, 2003 - Social Science - 316 pages
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This book is an historical survey of Buddhism in India and shows how over a period of 2500 years, Buddhism has been engaged in a struggle against caste-hierarchy. It has challenged Brahmanism, the main exploitative system of traditional Indian society, and instead endeavoured to build religious egalitarianism.

The book focuses on the question of what is the 'core' element in Buddhist Dhamma, on what role it has played in the development of Indian civilization, and the changed perspective of Buddhism in a modern industrial age.

The author starts with the rise of Buddhism in the middle of the second millenium BC amidst crucial cultural and social developments. The teachings of Buddha and the different forms of Buddhism have been discussed. Here the contrast between Buddhism and Brahmanism with regard to the caste system, the origin and role of state, the approach to various social groups and the position of women is well defined.

The author examines the civilizational impact of Buddhism, its connections with ancient India's leading role in trade, its spread and popularity in South and Southeast Asia, its role in fostering a dynamic and open society as against the hierarchical, village-bound, caste-defined Brahmanical social system.

Then came the defeat of Buddhism in India and the reassertion of Brahmanism. For centuries Buddhism retreated to what some term as its 'underground survival'. Its relationship with the syncretist Bhakti movement has been another important aspect of the book.

Finally the revival of Buddhism in the nineteenth century, the dalit-based success of the religion under Ambedkar and its future in India have been studied. The author argues that Ambedkarian Buddhism can serve as a powerful force for reconstructing society in a new and challenging millenium.

 

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Contents

Reconstructing the World
1
1 The Background to Buddhism
23
The Basic Teachings of Buddhism
53
3 Transitoriness and Transformations
86
4 Buddhist Civilisation
117
5 The Defeat of Buddhism in India
149
The Bhakti Movements
186
7 Colonial Challenges Indian Responses and Buddhist Revival
217
8 Navayana Buddhism and the Modern Age
243
9 Conclusion
266
Bibliography
283
Index
299
About the Author
315
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

Dr. Gail Omvedt has been living in India since 1978, became an Indian citizen in 1983, and works as a freelance writer and development consultant. She has also worked actively with various social movements including the Dalit and anti-caste movements, farmers’ movements, environmental movement and especially with rural women.

Besides having undertaken many research projects, Dr Omvedt has been a consultant for FAO, UNDP and NOVIB and has served as a Dr Ambedkar Chair Professor at NISWASS in Orissa, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Pune and an Asian Guest Professor at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Research Director of the Krantivir Trust.

A prolific writer, Gail Omvedt has published a large number of books including Dalit Visions (1975), Violence against Women: New Theories and New Movements in India (1991) and Dalits and Democractic Revolution (1994) besides having translated Growing up Untouchable in India: A Dalit Autobiography. She is currently engaged in translating Tukaram, considered to be the greatest Marathi writer of all time.

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