Pali tradition and Axial India
Comment on Hinduism in quotation marks
16.11.09 at 11:49 am
I guess my discussion of these topics is a bit unusual (from the average Westerner who delves in here) in that I have never had any interest (outside of historical interest) in the medieval to modern (beginning in the 19th century) Indian “spiritual” scene or any of the teachers that came out of it. It was probably because I was first introduced to the Pali tradition and its rather low opinion of Upanishadic/Tantric/Hindu doctrines and mysticism. While I don’t consider myself a part of that tradition, I am glad that I encountered it first as it has given me a reference point to guage the level of these gurus. After getting well versed in it, for instance, I could tell (maybe it is unfair to compare traditions) that Ramana Maharshi, who was arguably the greatest religious teacher that India produced in the modern period, got stuck in an arupa jhana by his description of his “enlightenment.”
Your wariness of ‘late Hinduism’ is well-taken, and we have seen that the Pali tradition is one of the classic ‘resurfacings’ of the primordial Indian tradition, one that managed to invoke its Jain predecessor and bypass the crystallizing horrors of Hinduism, that great phantom of the Aryan entry into India.
It may be that Ramana Maharsi was the greatest of the great. But he was also a bit reserved, and never did or said anything much that might have demonstrated who he was. I think that he is not exception to the narrow perspective of culture that has overtaken Hindu culture, with its niggardly view of non-Hindus. Keep in mind that figures like Da Free John are part of the Ramana legacy also.
So the Pali tradition, as you say, is something in principle beyond all that.