I heard about The Search For The Buddha by Charles Allen from puredhamma.net and thought I’d give it a go since I haven’t read a paper book in awhile (my excuses being the time investment and poor eyesight maybe from reading too much prior.) I also chose to do so since I currently spend a significant portion of my time writing, speaking, studying and practicing “Buddhism” but without knowing much about its relatively recent rediscovered roots of which modern day Buddhism stems from. By the way, I’m impressed and grateful for the in depth investigation and analysis at puredhamma.net especially about the likely significant misinterpretations and distortions in Pali translations by early European scholars still perpetuated today.
I’m a fairly slow reader as once I commit to something like this I usually take it in fully and deeply with added reflection, contemplation, analysis and investigation. This time took even longer. Much of the source material is mentioned by name and interwoven in the main text — not relegated to footnotes — I easily sought out digital copies since much of this public domain material is readily accessible from archive.org.
Book description via Amazon:
Buddhism is now 2,500 years old and has about 300 million followers worldwide and almost 3 million adherents in the United States. Yet, until the late eighteenth century when Sir William “Oriental” Jones broke the Brahmins’ prohibition on learning the sacred language of Sanskrit, the Buddha’s teachings were treasures unappreciated in the West. Uncovering clues about Buddhism’s origins from inscriptions on pillars and rocks, Jones pioneered an enthusiastic band whose search for the Indian subcontinent’s secret religion is chronicled in this book of high adventure and monumental historical detection. Acclaimed narrative historian Charles Allen brings to life extraordinary eighteenth- and nineteenth-century characters and travels to lost holy places across the Eastern world as he tells the story of how Westerners found the Buddha. Allen has recorded the Western birth of a religion whose influence in America has increased tenfold in the just the past forty years.
Unless already familiar with the subject matter the nearly 20 following questions and observations may not make much sense since several don’t provide needed context for comprehension. However, I list page numbers (for the hardcover “First Carroll & Graf edition 2003”) so just grab a copy (online):
- What are the current politics involved in (the location for) Kapilavastu? Could an ancient megacity have spanned the contested locations of modern day Tilaurakot, Nepal and Piprahwa, India?
- How are Sanskrit manuscripts collected — for example by Sir Robert Chambers mentioned on page 46 — especially since the Brahmin pandits kept the Sanskrit language closely guarded and originally refused Wilkins plea to study it?
- What is the current status — ie. location/whereabouts, ownership, plans, access, etc. — of Dr Buchanan’s natural history drawings, journals and notes taken and filed away in the Writer’s Building in Calcutta (p.100)?
- What happened to Nalanda “once the largest and most renowned university in Asia and the last beacon of Buddhism in India”? (p.99)
- Is there an english translation of Mahavamsa Tika? (p.105)
- Where is Keppetipola’s head (or remains thereof) that was purloined by Dr Henry Marshall and presented to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh)?
- Who drew plate 5 ‘The Great Muni at Baragang called Batuk Bhairav’ (in the book’s middle illustrations section)?
- How/why was the unique script chosen for the Buddhist invocation who’s deciphering plays a prominent and somewhat central role in this book (and is associated with various discoveries mentioned)? How was being able to read it so quickly forgotten? Why did no one in 2,000 years pay attention to it on pillars and/or was not able to decipher it?
- This code was cracked by a hunch — certain characters saying “gift from so-and-so”. Perhaps a stretch, but could this intent of desire by the donors have echoed through time with enough energy and consciousness for deciphering? If so, how and why does this work (on a metaphysical level)?
- Why did various rulers of India want to wipe out Buddhism — in particular, physical traces of it and extinguish knowledge of various inscriptions mentioning Buddhism? Perhaps this was due to “persecution by Brahmin-dominated rulers” and “widespread adoption of Hindu tantric practices from Bengal…fatally weakening the Sangha from within…” and along with a kind of co-opting of the Buddha as one of the many avatars of Vishnu? And how and why did the “transformation of Brahminism in the eighth and ninth centuries into the Hinduism we see in India today” happen? Did this significantly weaken Buddhism? If so, how? What role did such a transformation play in the aforementioned extinction, if any? If so, was it deliberate? If so, who all significantly drove this agenda and who all benefited? What, if any, were the tipping points of this transformation? (p.286-7)
- How did several of these huge structures, ie. stupas, pillars, monuments, etc. get buried, while (I’m guessing) other structures of similar stature and maybe with similar surrounding land features at around the same time periods, or earlier were not?
- On page 235 it’s said Archibald Carlleyle went on for four pages about the town name of Bhuiladih being a corruption of the town name of Kapilavastu as it was known during the time of the Buddha and guesses that General Alexander Cunningham gave his blessing about it. What is the source material for this (perhaps somewhere in Archaeological Surveys of India, Vols I-XXIII)? Perhaps relevant — albeit wild — to the significance of Carlleyle uncovering a lying down Buddha statue is a wordplay/deconstruction for “Bhuiladih”: Bhui = Buddha, la-di(h) = lady.
- Did/do the agendas of the (Buddhist) Theosophical Society and its (founders’ backgrounds) play into the craving and insistence of possession and control of (the temple at) Bodh Gaya? If so, how? [chapter 13]
- Did King Ashoka distributing the Buddha’s relics from eight stupas to 84,000 stupas help weaken the concentration of the Buddha’s spiritual power, or help it become more widespread, both, neither, something else?
- How is it know a monk named “Bala” “donated” a ten-foot standing red sandstone Bodhisattva in the time of King Kanishka of Gandhara, especially since (Theravada) monks can’t own personal property much beyond robes and bowl? (It may be interesting to note that one translation of “bala” in Pali means power.) (p.286)
- How and why was there such significant Hellenistic influence on (early) Buddhist art in Gandhara and amongst the Kushans “in direct defiance of the Buddha’s own instructions”? (p.287)
- What is the current (comprehensive) status/veracity of the Buddhist locations mentioned in this book?
- Why was not much hinted at about the intelligence operations in Tibet? (p.287-8)
- Wikipedia mentions some authenticity issues with the Lumbini pillar. It doesn’t mention in the lower right of the inscription, for the second to last word or grouping of characters, it kind of looks like a concave space and/or the surface area appears more porous with higher image resolution. If this is not just this particular photograph, could this indicate alteration (perhaps by removal and re-inscription? And if so, who would want to alter this and why? If anybody has visited, or plans to visit, how close can one get for inspection?