Buddhism, Racism, and the Middle Path of History…

The purpose of knowledge is to ease suffering, not to lord it over others. When knowledge becomes a tool, then we have a problem that we need to deal with. And we do—have a problem that we need to deal with. You can call it racism, or nationalism, or simply false pride, but there it is, the fact that some people think that they are better than others, and intend to enforce that distinction, while providing sometimes elaborate proofs for its justification.

More often than not, though, the self-described cognoscenti think they can simply look at someone and deep secrets are somehow revealed, as a flight hostess once explained to me that they are taught to simply look at someone and know what language they speak. Must be nice. But it’s not. It’s cheating, cheating life, and cheating oneself.

I wondered for a long time, still do, why the Brahmin class of India refused to use written language, long long long, 1000 years, after their counterparts elsewhere were scribbling, scribing, and describing events in the Semitic alphabets that would become the world standard everywhere, except China, Korea, and related countries.

Meanwhile those Aryans-become-Brahmins only reluctantly acquiesced to allow their divine sacred Sanskrit to be submitted to the little graphs and symbols that constitute written language. They gave many rishis and sramanas their lay-off notices, too, since their services would no longer be required to painstakingly memorize the sacred Vedas, arguably one of the finest pieces of literature ever composed—composed, mind you, but not written.

That only occurred with the invention of the Devanagari alphabet in the first half of the first millennium CE, and in full use by the 7th century. Until then they had to make do with the rustic Brahmi alphabet, which only came into existence in the last half of the first millennium BCE. By then the Buddhist monkhood was well established, and not subject to the vicissitudes of language.

King Ashoka at around year 250 BCE used not only Brahmi and Kharosthi, modeled on Aramaic, but Greek and Aramaic itself to inscribe his famous inscriptions—in rock. Still the question remains: why the 1000-year wait? The clue finally came with the example of their long-lost cousins and like-minded Dorians of ancient Greece.

In the process of becoming the legendary hard-ass Spartans of history, they enslaved many a Minoan along the way, and—drum roll here, please—deliberately denied them education, much like the even-more-distant Mississippi rednecks did to their slaves (author’s note: I’m from Mississippi, but hopefully not redneck). Bingo! It all makes sense now.

The Brahmin-dominated caste system of Indian depends on holding their ‘lessers’ down (notably darker-skinned and of other origins, well-documented by y-DNA), by denying them the education which preserves Brahmin power. Buddhism rejected all that, though they were still long subject to its ramifications. Despite the current political turmoil, still life is better than it once was, and the message is clear. You can learn from the Buddha or you can learn from a virus. The message is largely the same: Do no harm…