Alexandria Digital Research Library

Buddhists, Brahmans, and Buddhist Brahmans: Negotiating Identities in Indian Antiquity

McGovern, Nathan Michael
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Religious Studies
Degree Supervisor:
Vesna A. Wallace
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Literature, Asian, History, Asia, Australia and Oceania, and Religion, History of.
Encounter dialog
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013

In this dissertation, I explore the way in which early Buddhists formed their own self-identity vis-a-vis Vedic Brahmans. Interestingly, while today we understand Buddhism and Hinduism as separate religions, and Brahmans as belonging to the latter religion, early Buddhist texts frequently refer to the Buddha, his enlightened disciples, or just the "ideal person" in the abstract as Brahmans. Many previous scholars have argued or assumed that the category "Brahman" was a term that belonged properly to the "Brahmanical tradition," whose roots long pre-date Buddhism, and thus concluded that early Buddhist uses of the word Brahman (brahman&dotbelow;a) should be interpreted as "borrowings" from the Brahmanical tradition, made for the purpose of polemic. I, however, argue that the word Brahman was a contested category that was not "owned" by a monolithic Brahmanical tradition and then borrowed by Buddhists to use polemically, but that it was a common honorific term that was actively contested by both Buddhists and (Vedic) Brahmans and only with time ceded by the former to the latter. In making this argument, I make use of a wide variety of early South Asian sources, including Brahmanical texts, inscriptions, and early Buddhist texts preserved in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan.

In the first part of my dissertation, I show that while there was a common vocabulary for describing religious practitioners in ancient India, Buddhist and Brahmanical texts deployed them differently in an effort to construct a unique and superior identity for their own respective ideals. Then, in the second part, I argue that the earliest Buddhist literature makes use of the word brahman&dotbelow;a ("Brahman") simply as an honorific for the ideal person, while later elaborations on this usage convert this simple honorific into a polemic against the Vedic Brahmans, who are depicted as unworthy of the name by which they call themselves. Finally, in the third part of my dissertation, I examine texts that I refer to as "encounter dialogs"---texts in which the Buddha encounters an interlocutor who is identified as a Brahman, and argue that through the implicit narrative structure of these texts, Buddhists effectively ceded the category "Brahman."

Physical Description:
1 online resource (682 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Nathan McGovern
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