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The standard account of the early history of Indian religion posits several discontinuities and fresh starts. Firstly, it is held that belief in rebirth is not to be found in the Rg Veda, but appears suddenly in about the sixth century BC, perhaps first in the early Upanishads; one then has to conjecture where it came from. Then the Buddha is thought to have little or nothing to do with the Upanishads; not long ago leading scholars even claimed that early Buddhist texts showed no awareness of Upanishadic texts or teachings. Jainism is acknowledged to bear some resemblance to Buddhism, but is assumed to have played no part in the main developments of Indian religion. Finally, it is doubted whether Buddhism had any effect on the religion of the Mahābhārata.
I believe all these four views to be wrong. Obeyesekere has shown that India need be no exception to the normal development and social logic of rebirth eschatologies; Jurewicz has made important (and in my view indisputable) discoveries about Vedic ideology and its connections to the Buddha's teachings; and my own research has found remarkable coherence in the Buddha's thought as presented in the Pali Canon, both internally and in its historical position. While one lecture is obviously far too short to present all the arguments, I hope at least to present in outline a more convincing picture, and in particular to cast grave doubt on the dogma, currently hegemonic in American Buddhology, that we cannot know what the Buddha thought.
Evans-Wentz Lecture XXXIV
Richard Gombrich was the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1976-2004; he is currently Professor Emeritus at Oxford University and is the Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and a Governor of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
Professor Gombrich's works include Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon, Theravada Buddhism, and How Buddhism Began. Professor Gombrich is a leading scholar of Theravada Buddhism. His more recent research focuses on Buddhist origins, stressing the importance of relating Buddhist texts and practices to early Hindu and Vedic thought.