brAhmaNa-s and nAstika-s

We had discussion with our friend as to whether the brAhmaNa-s subverted the nAstika mata from within. In a sense, this is not a new theory: Astika narratives state that rudra sent bR^ihaspati to delude the asura-s by posing as the tathAgata, the peddler of false shAstra-s. Alternatively they state that nArAyaNa incarnated as the tathAgata and also generated the nirgrantha to delude the asura-s with fake teachings. We also have the narrative about bhaTTa kumArila, who poses as a student of the nAstika-s for long and then attacks their doctrines from within and defeats them. Of course, there are other ways of looking at it — as we have mentioned before, there could have very well been a brahminical brain drain due to the intellectual attractions of the nAstika cult and its suitability for pursuing a certain ease of life. Consequently, this brain-drain could have resulted in a passive imitation of the brahminical style by the nAstika-s and an inundation of their system with brahminical memes. One could also argue that there was really nothing strange about the brahminical participation the nAstika cults. Some would point out that even today in anti-Astika movements like socialism (including institutional sepoy leftism of Western academia and its implants), “liberalism” and secularism there is a significant population of people of formerly brAhmaNa pedigree. We also see a prominent brahminical presence in modern bAbAisms — fatal attraction for pAShaNDa-s. Likewise, in the past some brAhmaNa-s became bauddha-s. While distinct, these alternatives are not mutually exclusive and there could be a bit each in action. Indeed, there is also the reverse possibility that the nAstika-s were attempting to subvert the brAhmaNa-s. After all we know well that the tathAgata himself was the master at this. So the presentation of brAhmaNa-s as purveyors of the nAstika-mata could be a means of trying to say: “See the brAhmaNa-s themselves after studying all the veda-s are endorsing this stuff, so better follow it.” After all we also know that nAstika Acharya-s, searching for amenable kulA~NganA-s, posed as shaiva guru-s among avarNa-s and claimed to teach them the kalottara tantra. A basic problem with this line of argument is a lack of understanding of how the varNa system operates. Demonstrating what happened objectively from textual studies is not entirely easy and we need to create a proper framework of measurement for it. One feature that could be used to measure this is the frequency with which the nAstika texts introduce statements that reduce the divergence between the substratum of the Astika and nAstika narratives (e.g. the role of the veda). In this regard we found a corrupt narrative in the ma~njushriya-mUla-kalpa to be of interest, though puzzling. The MMK has a long section that is like the bhaviShyata purANa of the Astika-s, which “predicts” future events of kings and teachers. Certainly, I do not understand all of this narrative as it stands due to the corruption and the lacuna on top of the vulgar form of the bhASha.
MMK 53.887-895 (I am now using the gaNapati shAstrI edition as against vaidya’s):

mantra tantrAbhiyogena khyAtAH kIrtikarAH smR^itAH |
adhunA tu pravakShyAmi dvijAnAM dharmashIlinAm ||
mantra-tantrAbhiyogena rAjya-vR^ittim upAshritA |

This part speaks of brAhmaNa-s, who are upholders of dharma, who will be engaged in stately or royal activities by means of mantra-s and tantra-s.

bhavati sarvaloke .asmiM tasmiM kAle sudAruNe ||
vakArAkhyo dvijaH shreShThaH ADhyo vedapAragaH |

These verses state that there will be a dreadful time in the world when a great brAhmaNa will be born, with his name containing the syllable va (an allusion to vajra) rich and completely knowledgeable in the veda-s.

semAM vasumatIM kR^itsnAM vicherur vAda-kAraNAt ||
tri-samudra-mahAparyantaM para-tIrthAnAM vigrahe rataH |

This brAhmaNa is said to go around the land till the three oceans for debates and delight in disputations with rival scholars.

ShaDakSharaM mantra-jApI tu abhimukhyo hi vAkyataH ||
kumAro gIta-vAhy AsIt sattvAnAM hita-kAmyayA |

He will keep doing the japa of the ShaDakShara mantra, muttering it and meditating on the deity; he will bear the song of kumAra for the benefit of the good people.

etasyai kalpa-visarAn mahitaM buddhitandritaH ?! ||
This half-verse is particularly puzzling — if there is no deletion in the extant text then the etasyai is certainly out of place. It is probably a scribal or editorial misreading for etasya referring the brAhmaNa with the name containing a ‘va’ in the earlier verses: masculine genitive singular: etasya will be more suitable than an unaccountable feminine dative singular. Then there is the compound: buddhitandritaH which would mean he was of lazy intelligence or a mUDha. But this is completely out of character with the description in the rest of the text, assuming no break occurred. So perhaps here again the word is erroneous and the original was intended to mean the opposite (?). In any case it is likely that the text implies ‘va’ dvija was renowned for his knowledge of numerous texts (kalpa-s) or knowledge of mantra-s.

jayaH sujayash chaiva kIrttimAn shubhamataH paraH |
kulIno dhArmikash chaiva udyataH sAdhu mAdhavaH ||

Here other kumAra mantra sAdhaka-s are mentioned: jaya, sujaya, shubhamata and the good mAdhava born of a noble, Dharmic family.

madhuH sumadhush chaiva siddha …h…. namastadA |
raghavaH shUdra-varNas tu shaka-jAtAs tathApare ||

Then there will be madhu, sumadhu, the siddha (break in the text), and rAghava of the 4th varNa who will born in the midst of the shaka-s.

te .api jApinaH sarve kumArasyeha vAkyataH |
te chApi sAdhakaH sarve buddhimanto bahu-shrutaH ||

All these are said to do japa, muttering the kumAra mantra (i.e. the ShaDakShari) and these sAdhaka-s will all be intelligent and learned.

AmukhA mantribhis te cha rAjya-vR^itti samAshritA |
tasyApareNa vikhyAtaH vikArAkhyo dvijas tathA ||

They will portray themselves as mantrin-s and be involved in business of kingdom.Then it goes on with the narrative of the dvija born with a ‘vi’ syllable in name, who comes there after.

Kashmirian ma~njukumAra (from Norton Simon collection)

Though there are problems with the text, we can easily discern the basic meaning of what is being conveyed. A key point to note is that if this textual fragment were shown to someone one without the context one could almost mistake it to be an Astika narrative. There are some key words such as the para-tIrtha-s which betrays the work to be nAstika one. There is another more subtle point of note — the mantra practitioners here are not buddha-bhikShu-s i.e. monks cut off from society. They are apparently politically highly engaged individuals with interests in the deployment of the mantra-shAstra for kings, and engaging in duties of states. They are well-read scholars who are lead by dvija-s who have learned the veda-s, but also include shUdra-s. While both the tathAgata and the nagna were most probably active mantra-vAdin-s, and they had some contact with rulers, their respective mata-s still started as monastic institutions. The monks did engage in abhichAra on each other and the lay populace, but they were hardly involved in royal activities like an atharvavedI brAhmaNa expert’s rAjakarmANi. So in this we see a conscious imitation of the brAhminical activities. Further, these nAstika mantrin-s like the ‘va’-named one are not described as specially learning any nAstika texts but more generally veda-s (as an Astika would do) and tantra-s and their mantra-s. Even the mantra in this section is couched in general terms — the ShaDakShari could easily be the kaumAra ShaDakShari of the Astika world, though what is meant the nAstika ma~nju ShaDakShari -i.e. a ra pa cha na dhIH ||. The mantrin-s are said to bear the song of kumAra. These could well be kArttikeya-s stuti-s as well, but probably what is implied is some version of the ma~njushrI nAma saMgItI.

It is in the context of this connection to the kaumAra system that we get to a generally unnoticed point regarding the bauddha-brAhmaNa convergence we are discussing. We have previously discussed how in the early phase of the development of the bauddha mantra-shAstra (the kriyA tantra-s) there was absorption of the kaumAra system to give rise to that of ma~njushrI. In the MMK, the various siddha along with ‘va’ are described as chiefly practicing the vidyA of kumAra. This vidyA is described as the ShaDakSharI mantra which is normally taken to be the one of ma~njushrI cited above but this is not specified here in the MMK. However, it should be noted that in the Astika parlance the mUla ShaDkaSharI is the kaumAra mantra: vachadbhuve namaH || (e.g. expounded in the old kaumAra tantra, the skanda-sadbhAva). The literal meaning of the root word in this mantra, vachadbhU is that kumAra is the one born of speech. This connection is important because ma~njushrI is also remembered as the deity of speech (e.g. vAdirAT), and in the above narrative the worshipers of kumAra are described as engaging in verbal debates. We do observe an old appropriation of kumAra by the nAstika-s — e.g. there is the tale that indra sent his army chief skanda as nAgasena to convert the yavana milinda to the bauddha-mata. The nagna-s likewise hold that indra sent nejameSha to root out the brAhmaNa molecules from the body of vardhamAna and make him a pure kShatriya. However, in the context of the MMK role of kumAra is distinct. In fact the tathAgata-s take the backseat while the dvija-s and shUdra-s actively worship kumAra — i.e. while add the façade that he is doing the work of the tathAgata, it is kumAra and not the tathagata whose active worship they are conducting — the spirit of which is maintained in the ma~njushrI-nAma-saMgItI. Now, we should place these in the context of various events happening in the Astika world: 1) Even here kumAra-s role as the victor in philosophical debates is remembered by tradition. The famous bhaTTa kumArila is remembered as an avatAra of kumAra who arrived to defeat the nAstika-s in debate. 2) Grammars and other forms of extraordinary scholarly achievements are acquired through the invocation of kumAra (this tale of vararuchi’s enlightenment forms an important component of certain versions of the bR^ihatkatha, e.g. that narrated much latter by bhaTTa somadeva). 3) In the Astika realm kumAra was also invoked for the victory of rulers in wars and several dynasties make mention of royal worship of kumAra. In some cases, as in the yaudheya republic, kumAra was even seen as the real ruler of the kingdom on whose behalf the council administers the kingdom.

Reflections of these elements are seen in the above snippet and also abundantly elsewhere in the MMK. The MMK started crystallizing over a period of time beginning during the peak of kaumAra shAsana and the emergence of national as well as regional powers all over bhAratavarSha whose kShatriya-s invoked kumAra as a key deity. These observations suggest that this phase of nAstika-brAhmaNa convergence was due to the drive within the bauddha-mata to compete for roles of Astika brAhmaNa mantra-vAdin-s in royal circles. While formerly the nAstika-s occupied a role of receiving the largess of kShatriya-s like ashoka, now they wanted to interact with kShatriya-s not just as bikShu-s but also as members of the court who could perform mantra services. The MMK suggests that the major move in this direction happened in the milieu of the kumAra-worshiping kingdoms of the early Tantric age. The drive we suspect allowed brAhmaNa-s and others including shUdra-s to be within the bauddha fold and perform roles closer to their traditional Astika roles in a royal context and allowed convergence.

~ by mAnasa-taraMgiNI on January 17, 2010.

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