The essential writings of Dharmanand Kosambi

I had a chance to read Dharmanand Kosambi: The essential writings, edited by Meera Kosambi. I can not say that the book is uniformly good; however, there is enough of interesting history, social anthropology and some glimpses of a scholarly mind at work to make it a worthy read. If your interests are in history (of religion and Buddhism in particular), or social anthropology, this is a book that you do not want to miss. Here are some sample passages from the book for your reading pleasure.

With ample textual substantiation Dharmanand narrates the salient features of the Buddha’s life — first that his name was Gautama and that he was never named Siddhartha; then that he was the son of a wealthy Shakya landowner dependent on agriculture, but not a king or emperor; that the story of his having lived in three lavish palaces during the three seasons was a myth (although Dharmanand earlier believed it to be true); that he practised Samadhi since childhood; and that the reason for his renunciation was not the improbable incident of seeing an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse for the first time in his late twenties, but his distaste for violent quarrels such as those erupting between the Shakyas and the neighbouring Koliyas over the water of the Rohini river (although a general awareness of the frailty of life was also a contributory cause (From Meera Kosambi’s Introduction in the book, pp. 34-35) .

I would really love to read the book mentioned in the passage above, Dharmanand Kosambi’s Bhagavan Buddha.

We went to Ashoka’s stone pillar, inscribed on which are words to this effect: ‘Lord Buddha was born here; therefore I came in person to worship here, and erected this stone pillar’. (p. 177)

By the way, from the book, I also learnt that Ashoka exempted the village where Buddha was born from taxes and even gave some endowments; so, it looks like though Guptas methodically used grant giving to temples to further their imperial agenda, the example was set much earlier.

Among them was found a rock pillar of King Ashoka, on which appears a Pali inscription as follows:

Twenty years after his coronation, Priyadarshi, the Beloved of the Gods (i.e., Ashoka), came here personally and offered worship because Shakyamuni Buddha was born here. (He) built a wall of stone pillars on all four sides and erected (this) stone pillar. The Lumbini village was exempted from tax because Lord Buddha was born here, and some revenue was assigned (to the vihara?) (p.245)

Apparently, this stone pillar is what makes Buddha a historical person, and not a Puranic deity derived from sun worship (as some scholars believed).

Lord Buddha would rise at dawn and meditate or walk back and forth quietly outside the vihara. In the morning he would go into the village [or town] to beg for food. He would answer any question that anyone asked, then preach to him and lead him on the right path. …He would return to the vihara with the begging bowl in which the cooked food given as alms had got mixed up, and had his meal before noon. After eating he would rest a little and then meditate. In the evening he would preach to householders or or monks. Late in the evening he would meditate again or walk back and forth. At about midnight he would go to sleep, lying on his right side, placing one foot upon another, and using his hand as a pillow. This sleeping position is known as the sleeping position of the lion. (p. 257)

There are more information about Buddha’s travel habits in that section, which, again I enjoyed reading.

Till I read the book, I did not know that Vagh Bhatta of Ashtanga Hridaya is a Buddhist (and, that Maitri is an object of meditation for attaining samadhi).

Also, by far, of all the writings, I enjoyed Kosambi’s the translations of the rock edicts of Ashoka and his The Buddha, The Dhamma and The Sangha the most (from which the above quotes are taken).

Kosambi’s writings on socialism, nationalism, reasons for the downfall of the Buddhist sanghas, and his feminist ideas make very interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Let me end this post with a quote from the preface of Kosambi’s play called Bodhisattva (which, in some way, for me,  indicates the importance that films started gaining in the Indian entertainment and edification landscape in 1940s).

Anyone desirous of making a film or a talkie on the basis of this play should take advance permission from me, and make changes–if any–only under my supervision.

Have fun!

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