A Socio-Historical Approach
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In this magisterial study of the social élan of early Buddhism, Nalin Swaris argues that the radical thrust of the Buddha’s teaching is based on his realisation that ‘the individual’ is a fiction of human craving. The Buddha’s decision to found a community of compassion and sharing was the practical expression of his conviction that individualism is the principal obstacle to human happiness. The Buddha’s Way was not discovered and preached in a social vacuum. Orthodox Hinduism classifies its sacred traditions into srutis (sacred truths of the Vedas ‘heard’ by ancient rishis while in a trance) and smritis (codes of conduct). In deliberate counterpoint to the brahman tradition, the majority of the Buddha’s discourses begin with the declaration: Evam me sutam—‘Thus have I heard’.
Swaris argues persuasively that Buddha’s teachings are not esoteric, but grounded in everyday life. The Dhamma is not a revealed truth that humans could not have discovered by themselves. It is like a light brought into a darkened room so that people could see what is already there, once the fog of delusion is dispelled. In a style that would appeal to both lay readers and scholars, Swaris shows how the Buddha anticipated Marx, Derrida and Foucault by centuries.
Nalin Swaris, born in Colombo, ordained a Catholic priest in 1962 in Bangalore, completed his PhD, The Buddha’s Way, at the State University of Utrecht in 1997 with summa cum laude. Swaris was also a human rights activist and the author of Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal.
‘This highly original work demonstrates that the Buddha’s path to awakening is oriented towards social liberation’—David R. Loy, author of A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack