Regarding David Reigle’s “New Introduction.”

By Robert Hütwohl on August 30, 2015 at 11:07 am

The very well-researched “New Introduction” to the English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s book: The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, is a valuable and much needed adjunct to the entire Bhattacharya-study. The serious student will want to study the entire book.

For the student who wants to get their feet wet regarding the subject of understanding Gautama Buddha’s view regarding whether he taught an ātman or Eternal Impersonal Self doctrine by denying an anātman or no-self (personal self), David’s fairly succinct study, within ten pages, is a most worthwhile addition to the book, adding an historical and doctrinal survey of post-Buddha views from the main great Buddhist commentators as to their refutation of a permanent personal self. This is all most important because the idea of the prevailing Emptiness idea in Mahāyāna Buddhism as originally taught by the great Nāgārjuna, in the minds of many students of Buddhism, is that Emptiness = voidnesss, nothingness, as opposed to the Eternal Womb. 

My survey is there are very few students who equate Emptiness or Śūnyatā with the eternal, impersonal ātman. This New Introduction and book can only contribute towards a better contextual perspective for many of the terms found in the Maitreya Ratnagotravibhāga (which begins with an homage to Vajrasattva) and other texts: dhātu,* tathāgata-garbha, ratna (Tib., dkon mchog), puruṣa, tathatā, gotra, vajradhāra, vajrasattva, tathāgata-dhātu, etc., etc. I am not saying all of these terms are equivalent.

*This is, unquestionably, the most common term in the Ratnagotravibhāga. (See: http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/dhatu-atman/), with Jñāna and sattva being the second-most common terms.

Although today’s version of the Hindu upaniṣads are the laghu (abridged) or edited versions from the original ancient, larger upaniṣads, Bhattacharya’s book may help one to further appreciate the Hindu Upaniṣad-tradition. As pointed out by Pratap Chandra, in “Was Early Buddhism Influenced by the Upanisads?,” particularly three upaniṣads were pre-buddhistic, though not in the abridged form we have today.

No doubt, Bhattacharya’s book is unavoidably academic as to its approach to the central issue, but this New Introduction is complete in itself for both a beginning or advanced student of Buddhism. However, I do hope students, scholars and academics from around the world will read the entire book including this New Introduction, and Nancy Reigle’s informative “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition.” 

As a whole, the entire book will be a perpetual resource for coming ages. It should serve to alter current Buddhist scholarship in many new directions from its currently overly intellectualized confusion of investigations which have been a total waste of time, all due to an original misinterpretation of what the Buddha taught.

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