The below post is originally from a politicsforum.org post that I made earlier today, and it contained some interesting information that I had to track down concerning the nature of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion. Overall, I think it was one of the more interesting things I’ve really thought about and while I am not sure of the veracity of all of it, I open it up to discussion.
If anything seems funny in the wording, remember it was originally in reply to other people; I haven’t bothered to take away this quality from it and present it in its original format to you.
Hinduism & Buddhism are both Salvific faiths just as Islam & Christianity are. Buddhism has all manner of texts (especially Mahayana Buddhism) that emphasize the role of the teacher as ultimate. To be a Dharma teacher is quite an important and great thing in Buddhism. Many sutras focus on the idea of spreading the teachings of the Buddha as an important and necessary path for the Buddhist monk, and there are examples of sutras condemning monks who spent their entire lives looking inward as opposed to spreading the message.
Hinduism was transmitted to Indonesia for a long period of time — perhaps with the very goal of providing a method of attaining salvation to the masses. I can’t really comment further on that… But I would guess the lack of salvific outreach to others has to do with the fact that India was already a massive, divided place and expanding beyond Hindustan isn’t exactly an easy task. Not to mention, it is not as if the Hindustanis had the infrastructure or means to really make an easy going of a sustained mission abroad… though apparently to some degree this did happen in Indonesia.
Perhaps it is also worth noting, as FRS did, that Hinduism is a great patchwork of many different beliefs there; consider the Zoroastrians of the Iranic world. Before Zoroastrianism the Iranic religion is incredibly similar to Hinduism, and while tere are some different gods there are basically such striking similarities, that the Rg Veda is considered to provide us information with pre-Zoroastrian Vedic-Aryan deva worship. You can read more here.
So, basically, until Islam took out Zoroastrianism, we know that the most accessible lands surrounding India were essentially Buddhist (Afghanistan, parts of northeast Iran), or they were Zoroastrian (the rest of Iran, much of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.). Zoroastrian can be regarded on some level as a reformed, monotheized version of the regionalized Hindu-esque religion that had existed there…
… And gods know (appreciate the subtlety) that there was probably significant variation in the daily language, names and worship of the gods in Bihar and the gods in Tamil Nadu, and the gods in East Bengal and the gods in Punjab.
We might be running into a situation where Hinduism cannot spread to these lands beyond the Hindu Kush because it was more or less already there. Albeit, in a different and reformed version (though who is to say that there was not enclaves and villages still practicing a faith more similar to that of the pre-Zoroastrianism?).
In some sense, could we not argue that Hinduism had nowhere to expand from India, because it already had the Persian & Afghan empires?
(And we all know that it is Islam that supplants Zoroastrianism).
How does this dial into it?
Perhaps something like:
– Hinduism was salvific and spreading, as it did to Indonesia.
– Hinduism had no need to ‘spread’ to Persia and Iranic lands because it was more or less already there. It was then just reformed drastically right around the same time that Buddhism was formed.
– Buddhism & Jainism cause rifts within Hindustan and spread far and wide; the success of Buddhism in spreading abroad to some degree functions as a transmission as it is of Hindu culture, and perhaps even hints at the impotence of Hinduism to be of importance within Indian society. It is suggested by Gombrich in his book What The Buddha Thought that Buddhism was a religion primarily of the merchant / trader class, as it stands, and thus makes sense that while the Hinduism of the Brahmins stays put, the Buddhism of the Vaishyas spreads further & furhter.
– As time passes the Zoroastrians & Buddhists are defeated by the Muslims. Hinduism now has no options to spread and rather will be fully prepared to reel back in the face of Islam.
– Hinduism is then eventually enclosed by Islam to the West, and then there’s the far more Buddhist Bengali lands that eventually become Islamic; the Muslims then even spread their messages to Malaysia & Indonesia via Indian trade routes and usurp the old lands where Hinduism spread…
So after a 1,000 years they grow accustomed to constant inward looking.
It’s easy to become extremely introverted when surrounded by enemies… Ask the Koreans, ask the Shi’ites, ask the Druze, etc.