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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.
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
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.
Prof. of Islamic Studies,
Copyright IGNCAŠ 1999