Hinduism and Buddhism


First published in 1943, this outstanding book represents in many ways the most complete achievement of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), one of the main modern representatives of the Hindu tradition. Displaying an unequaled mastery of Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, Latin, and medieval German and Italian sources, Coomaraswamy shows that "the Indian tradition is one of the forms of the Philosophia Perennis, and as such, embodies those universal truths to which no one people or age can ...
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Hinduism and Buddhism

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First published in 1943, this outstanding book represents in many ways the most complete achievement of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), one of the main modern representatives of the Hindu tradition. Displaying an unequaled mastery of Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, Latin, and medieval German and Italian sources, Coomaraswamy shows that "the Indian tradition is one of the forms of the Philosophia Perennis, and as such, embodies those universal truths to which no one people or age can make exclusive claim."

This is the only English-language edition that includes all the additions and changes that the Author contributed, shortly before his death, to the French translation of his work.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781494001018
  • Publisher: Literary Licensing LLC
  • Publication date: 10/27/2013
  • Pages: 94
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.19 (d)

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Hinduism and Buddhism

By Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Philosophical Library

Copyright © 1943 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7584-1



Like the Revelation ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) itself, we must begin with the Myth ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the penultimate truth, of which all experience is the temporal reflection. The mythical narrative is of timeless and placeless validity, true nowever and everywhere: just as in Christianity, "In the beginning God created" and "Through him all things were made", regardless of the millennia that come between the dateable words, amount to saying that the creation took place at Christ's "eternal birth". "In the beginning" (agre), or rather "at the summit", means "in the first cause": just as in our still told myths, "once upon a time" does not mean "once" alone but "once for all". The Myth is not a "poetic invention" in the sense these words now bear: on the other hand, and just because of its universality, it can be told, and with equal authority, from many different points of view.

In this eternal beginning there is only the Supreme Identity of "That One" (tad ekam), without differentiation of being from nonbeing, light from darkness, or separation of sky from earth. The All is for the present impounded in the first principle, which may be spoken of as the Person, Progenitor, Mountain, Tree, Dragon or endless Serpent. Related to this principle by filiation or younger brotherhood, and alter ego rather than another principle, is the Dragon-slayer, born to supplant the Father and take possession of the kingdom, distributing its treasures to his followers. For if there is to be a world, the prison must be shattered and its potentialities liberated. This can be done either in accordance with the Father's will or against his will; he may "choose death for his children's sake", or it may be that the Gods impose the passion upon him, making him their sacrificial victim. These are not contradictory doctrines, but different ways of telling one and the same story; in reality, Slayer and Dragon, sacrificer and victim are of one mind behind the scenes, where there is no polarity of contraries, but mortal enemies on the stage, where the everlasting war of the Gods and the Titans is displayed. In any case, the Dragon-Father remains a Pleroma, no more diminished by what he exhales than he is increased by what is repossest. He is the Death, on whom our life depends; and to the question "Is Death one, or many?" the answer is made that "He is one as he is there, but many as he is in his children here". The Dragon-slayer is our Friend; the Dragon must be pacified and made a friend of.

The passion is both an exhaustion and a dismemberment. The endless Serpent, who for so long as he was one Abundance remained invincible, is disjointed and dismembered as a tree is felled and cut up into logs. For the Dragon, as we shall presently find, is also the World-Tree, and there is an allusion to the "wood" of which the world is made by the Carpenter. The Fire of Life and Water of Life (Agni and Soma), all Gods, all beings, sciences and goods are constricted by the Python, who as "Holdfast" will not let them go until he is smitten and made to gape and pant: and from this Great Being, as if from a damp fire smoking, are exhaled the Scriptures, the Sacrifice, these worlds and all beings; leaving him exhausted of his contents and like an empty skin. In the same way the Progenitor, when he has emanated his children, is emptied out of all his possibilities of finite manifestation, and falls down unstrung, overcome by Death, though he survives this woe. Now the positions are reversed, for the Fiery Dragon will not and cannot be destroyed, but would enter into the Hero, to whose question "What, wouldst thou consume me?" it replies "Rather to kindle (waken, quicken) thee, that thou mayst eat." The Progenitor, whose emanated children are as it were sleeping and inanimate stones, reflects "Let me enter into them, to awaken them"; but so long as he is one, he cannot, and therefore divides himself into the powers of perception and consumption, extending these powers from his hidden lair in the "cave" of the heart through the doors of the senses to their objects, thinking "Let me eat of these objects"; in this way "our" bodies are set up in possession of consciousness, he being their mover. And since the Several Gods or Measures of Fire into which he is thus divided are "our" energies and powers, it is the same to say that "the Gods entered into man, they made the mortal their house". His passible nature has now become "ours": and from this predicament he cannot easily recollect or rebuild himself, whole and complete.

We are now the stone from which the spark can be struck, the mountain beneath which God lies buried, the scaly reptilian skin conceals him, and the fuel for his kindling. That his lair is now a cave or house presupposes the mountain or walls by which he is enclosed, verborgen and verbaut. "You" and "I" are the psycho-physical prison and Constrictor in whom the First has been swallowed up that "we" might be at all. For as we are repeatedly told, the Dragon-slayer devours his victim, swallows him up and drinks him dry, and by this Eucharistic meal he takes possession of the first-born Dragon's treasure and powers and becomes what he was. We can cite, in fact, a remarkable text in which our composite soul is called the "mountain of God" and we are told that the Comprehensor of this doctrine shall in like manner swallow up his own evil, hateful adversary. This "adversary" is, of course, none but our self. The meaning of the text will only be fully grasped if we explain that the word for "mountain", giri, derives from the root gir, to "swallow". Thus He in whom we were imprisoned is now our prisoner; as our Inner Man he is submerged in and hidden by our Outer Man. It is now his turn to become the Dragon-slayer; and in this war of the God with the Titan, now fought within you, where we are "at war with ourselves", his victory and resurrection will be also ours, if we have known Who we are. It is now for him to drink us dry, for us to be his wine.

We have realised that the deity is implicitly or explicitly a willing victim; and this is reflected in the human ritual, where the agreement of the victim, who must have been originally human, is always formally secured. In either case the death of the victim is also its birth, in accordance with the infallible rule that every birth must have been preceded by a death: in the first case, the deity is multiply born in living beings, in the second they are reborn in him. But even so it is recognized that the sacrifice and dismemberment of the victim are acts of cruelty and even treachery; and this is the original sin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the Gods, in which all men participate by the very fact of their separate existence and their manner of knowing in terms of subject and object, good and evil, because of which the Outer Man is excluded from a direct participation in "what the Brahmans understand by Soma". The form of our "knowledge", or rather "ignorance" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), dismembers him daily; and for this ignorantia divisiva an expiation is provided for in the Sacrifice, where by the sacrificer's surrender of himself and the building up again of the dismembered deity, whole and complete, the multiple selves are reduced to their single principle. There is thus an incessant multiplication of the inexhaustible One and unification of the indefinitely Many. Such are the beginnings and endings of worlds and of individual beings: expanded from a point without position or dimensions and a now without date or duration, accomplishing their destiny, and when their time is up returning "home" to the Sea in which their life originated.



The Sacrifice (yajña) undertaken here below is a ritual mimesis of what was done by the Gods in the beginning, and in the same way both a sin and an expiation. We shall not understand the Myth until we have made the Sacrifice, nor the Sacrifice until we have understood the Myth. But before we can try to understand the operation it must be asked, What is God? and What are we?

God is an essence without duality (advaita), or as some maintain, without duality but not without relations ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). He is only to be apprehended as Essence (asti), but this Essence subsists in a two fold nature ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]); as being and as becoming. Thus, what is called the Entirety ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is both explicit and inexplicit ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), sonant and silent ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), characterised and uncharacterised ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), temporal and eternal ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), partite and impartite ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in a likeness and not in any likeness ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), shewn and unshewn ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), mortal and immortal ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and so forth. Whoever knows him in his proximate (apara) aspect, immanent, knows him also in his ultimate (para) aspect, transcendent; the Person seated in our heart, eating and drinking, is also the Person in the Sun. This Sun of men, and Light of lights, "whom all men see but few know with the mind", is the Universal Self ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of all things mobile or immobile. He is both inside and outside (bahir [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ca [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), but uninterruptedly (anantaram), and therefore a total presence, undivided in divided things. He does not come from anywhere, nor does he become anyone, but only lends himself to all possible modalities of existence.

The question of his names, such as Agni, Indra, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Siva, Brahma, etc., whether personal or essential, is dealt with in the usual way: "they call him many who is really one"; "even as he seems, so he becomes"; "he takes the forms imagined by his worshippers". The trinitarian names—Agni, Vayu and Aditya or Brahma, Rudra and Vishnu—"are the highest embodiments of the supreme, immortal, bodiless Brahma ... their becoming is a birth from one another, partitions of a common Self defined by its different operations ... These embodiments are to be contemplated, celebrated, and at last recanted. For by means of them one rises higher and higher in the worlds; but where the whole ends, attains the simplicity of the Person". Of all the names and forms of God the monogrammatic syllable Om, the totality of all sounds and the music of the spheres chanted by the resonant Sun, is the best. The validity of such an audible symbol is exactly the same as that of a plastic icon, both alike serving as supports of contemplation ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] lamba); such a support is needed because that which is imperceptible to eye or ear cannot be apprehended objectively as it is in itself, but only in a likeness. The symbol must be naturally adequate, and cannot be chosen at random; one infers ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) the unseen in the seen, the unheard in the heard; but these forms are only means by which to approach the formless and must be discarded before we can become it.

Whether we call him Person, or Sacerdotium, or Magna Mater, or by any other grammatically masculine, feminine or neuter names, "That" (tat, tad ekam) of which our powers are measures ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is a syzygy of conjoint principles, without composition or duality. These conjoint principles or selves, indistinguishable ab intra, but respectively self-sufficient and insufficient ab extra, become contraries only when we envisage the act of self-manifestition ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) implied when we descend from the silent level of the Non-duality to speak in terms of subject and object and to recognize the many separate and individual existences that the All (sarvam = [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) or Universe ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) presents to our physical organs of perception. And since this finite totality can be only logically and not really divided from its infinite source, "That One" can also be called an "Integral Multiplicity" and "Omniform Light". Creation is exemplary. The conjoint principles, for example, Heaven and Earth, or Sun and Moon, man and woman, were originally one. Ontologically, their conjugattion (mithunam, rambhava, eko bhava) is a vital operation, productive of a third in the image of the first and nature of the second. Just as the conjugation of Mind (manas = [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ) with the Voice ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) gives birth to a concept ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) so the conjugation of Heaven and Earth kindles the Bambino, the Fire, whose birth divides his parents from one another and fills the intervening Space ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Midgard) with light; and in the same way microcosmically, being kindled in the space of the heart, he is its light. He shines in his Mother's womb, in full possession of all his powers. He is no sooner born than he traverses the Seven Worlds, ascends to pass through the Sundoor, as the smoke from an altar or central hearth, whether without or within you, ascends to pass out through the eye of the dome. This Agni is at once the messenger of God, the guest in all men's houses, whether constructed or bodily, the luminous pneumatic principle of life, and the missal priest who conveys the savour of the Burnt-offering hence to the world beyond the vault of the Sky, through which there is no other way but this "Way of the Gods" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This Way must be followed by the Forerunner's footprints, as the word for "Way" itself reminds us, by all who would reach the "farther shore" of the luminous spatial river of life that divides this terrestrial from yonder celestial strand; these conceptions of the Way underlying all the detailed symbolisms of the Bridge, the Voyage and the Pilgrimage.

Considered apart, the "halves" of the originally undivided Unity can be distinguished in various ways according to our point of view; politically, for example, as Sacerdotium and Regnum (brahma-[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and psychologically as Self and Not-self, Inner Man and Outer Individuality, Male and Female. These pairs are disparate; and even when the subordinate has been separated from the superior with a view to productive cooperation, it still remains in the latter, more eminently. The Sacerdotium, for example, is "both the Sacerdotium and the Regnum"—a condition found in the mixta persona of the priest-king Mitravarurau, or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]—but the Regnum as a separated function is nothing but itself, relatively feminine, and subordinated to the Sacerdotium, its Director (net=[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The functional distinction in terms of sex defines the hierarchy. God himself is male to all, but just as Mitra is male to Varua and Varua in turn male to Earth, so the Priest is male to the King, and the King male to his realm. In the same way the man is subject to the joint government of Church and State; but in authority with respect to his wife, who in turn administers his estate. Throughout the series it the noetic principle that sanctions or enjoins what the aesthetic performs or avoids; disorder arising only when the latter is distracted from her rational allegiance by her own ruling passions and identifies this submission with "liberty".

The most pertinent application of all this is to the individual, whether man or woman: the outer and active individuality of "this man or woman, So-and-so" being naturally feminine and subject to its own inner and contemplative Self. On the one hand, the submission of the Outer to the Inner Man is all that is meant by the words "self-control" and "autonomy", and the opposite of what is meant by "self-assertion": and on the other, this is the basis of the interpretation of the return to God in terms of an erotic symbolism, "As one embraced by a darling bride knows naught of 'I' and 'thou', so self embraced by the foreknowing (solar) Self knows naught of a 'myself' within or a 'thyself' without"; because, as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] remarks, of "unity". It is this Self that the man who really loves himself or others, loves in himself and in them; "all things are dear only for the sake of the Self". In this true love of Self the distinction of "selfishness" from "altruism" loses all its meaning. He sees the Self, the Lord, alike in all beings, and all beings alike in that Lordly Self. "Loving thy Self", in the words of Meister Eckhart, "thou lovest all men as thy Self". All these doctrines coincide with the Sufi, "What is love? Thou shalt know when thou becomest me".


Excerpted from Hinduism and Buddhism by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Copyright © 1943 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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