Hinduism and Buddhism

Hinduism and Buddhism, by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, ed. Keshavaram N. Iengar and Rama P. Coomaraswamy, new edition, revised and enlarged, New Delhi : IGNCA, Manohar, 1999; pp. xxiii+87; Price : Rs. 250/-

This new edition of the classical and celebrated work of A.K. Coomaraswamy is the eleventh to be published by the IGNCA which is planning to reprint the complete works of this great master of traditional doctrines. The present edition is the first to include the later revisions and additions made by the author and must therefore be considered as the definitive edition of this seminal work which became famous ever since its first edition saw the light of day in 1943, the book consisting of the text of two lectures delivered the year before on the two great religions of India.

Hinduism and Buddhism is one of the last works of Coomaraswamy and among his most significant as was recognized by Rene Guenon who, in a review written in 1946 in Les Etudes traditionelles, referred to it an “ouvrage importante”. Like Time and Eternity and Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power in the Indian Theory of Government, which belong to the same period in life of the author, Hinduism and Buddhism deals with the essence of the subject that it treats and it does so from a purely traditional and metaphysical point of view. The author looks upon Hinduism and Buddhism, not from a historical point of view, but from the perspective of the philosophia perennis to which A.K. Coomaraswamy would add et universalis. In a masterly manner he reaches the heart of Hinduism through the major scriptural and other traditional sources from the §Rg Veda to the Vaisnava, Saiva and Tantric texts and especially the Bhagavad Gita and summarizes the teachings of the tradition under the categories of myth, theology and anthology, the way of action and the social order. Coomaraswamy’s perspective is strictly metaphysical throughout and he refutes many distorted ideas including the popular understanding of reincarnation.

            In the case of Buddhism also Coomaraswamy is more interested in the myth in the traditional sense at the heart of the religion rather than in its historic development. He sees Buddhism as the re-establishment of perennial truths and shows its proximity to the teachings  of the Upanishads. After examining specific teachings of Buddhism such as the monastic regimen and dharma which he equates with the charioteer of the chariot whose symbol is present in both the Upanishads and Buddhist texts, Coomaraswamy concludes that the Buddha, the Arhat, is none other than the spirit (atman) within all beings. To quote Kapila Vatsyayan in her foreword, the “Buddha thus is Brahma, Prajapati, Light of lights, Fire or Sun, in short the first principle, and ultimately the realization of Nirvana is the flight of the alone to the Alone and is the void that passeth to the Void.” (p. xiii).

            This new edition is well printed and includes besides the foreword of Vatsyayan a preface by Robert A. Strom dealing with the reaction to this perennial work after its appearance in 1943. We must all be grateful to K.N. Iengar and R.P. Coomaraswamy for their careful editing of this enlarged and definitive edition of one of the most important traditional studies of Hinduism and Buddhism. This truth holds even if some of the followers of Buddhism were not pleased with the way that Coomaraswamy sought to show the profound metaphysical unity underlying the teachings of the two religions. All admirers of the works of A.K. Coomaraswamy must also be grateful to Kapila Vatsyayan and the Indira Gandhi Centre for making this and other precious works of the doctor available once again.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr

University Prof. of Islamic Studies,

George Washington University

First published in Sophia, publication of the Foundation for Traditional Studies, United States. We express our gratitude to Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr for his contribution and permission to reproduce the review.



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