Round and Around

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From a great remove the history of religions might resemble cellular activity: entities come together, multiply, divide, regroup, split off, etc., all in a distant dance of transformation. In actuality, the individuation of any one tradition rarely proceeds so gently. Yet Shakyamuni Buddha’s example seems to offer an exception. He rejected the magical rituals and animal sacrifices of the Brahmanic priesthood, along with their asceticism and intellectual polemics. His followers included kings and merchants, sweepers and women and, contrary to the core tenets of his society, he assessed moral virtue by deeds, not caste. Most impressively, he accomplished his progressive agenda without creating an adversarial backlash.

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