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In the 13th century, Muslim soldiers attacked the Buddhist monastery Nalanda in India. This event is held up as an example of how Muslim invaders were responsible for the eventual destruction of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent. But it is far from the full story. Here, history professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, Johan Elverskog, talks to Tricycle editor and publisher James Shaheen about common misconceptions about the history of Islam and Buddhism, which are often rooted in stereotypes. Elverskog also debunks the assertion that the Mughal invasions were the sole cause of Buddhism’s waning on the subcontinent, a long-held narrative often used to justify Islamophobia.
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00:00:06hello and welcome to another episode of tricycle tots I'm changing editor and publisher of tricycle the Buddhist review today I'll be chatting with Johann Elder Scott history professor and share of religious studies at Southern Methodist University Professor hours is also author of several books including the subject of today's talk who does them and Islam is which explorers out to the world's great Traditions interacted and helped to shape one another on the ancient trade route will be focusing on the outside of historical claim that Islam in the mobile Innovations during the 12th thru 16th centuries were largely responsible for the decline of Buddhism on the Indian subcontinent it's a claim Professor Elmhurst take some issue with ball challenging, Health stereotypes about both religions
00:00:59thank you so much for joining us I want to say how much I enjoyed your book Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road and especially because it does so much to clear up so many historical misconception that's what I'd like to start with those misconceptions can you explain a little bit about how people have traditionally accounted for the demise of Buddhism on the Indian subcontinent thank you very much thank you for inviting me to be part of this discussion in and having the article or the excerpt publishing in the latest issue of tricycle and that's the issue kind of lays out which is they see the introduction of the book is the standard story that everybody knows and its founding in a academic monographs to travel brochures is the story of nalanda and the turkey is Muslim Buddhist destruction of it in the beginning of the 13th century I think a lot of people know that story and when I call it out and say that it's not necessarily happen the way that everyone claims that it did they think that I'm denying that Muslims do not destroy an alarm. I'm not supposed to
00:01:59not what I'm doing but I'm trying to point out is that this one story has come to encapsulate more than a thousand years of buddhist-muslim history and so whenever this encounter is it brought up everyone says well as we all know Muslims destroy Buddhism end of story and so what I wanted to use with the story of nalanda is to say that this is it was a horrific of that but that's not the whole picture me know as I find out though you know history is filled with a lot of Grey's and shadows and and things like that but we are a storytelling species and we love to have cause and effect of mono cause oh no no explanations are nice but they don't really tell the whole picture so what I start with in the Land of Stories okay so this did happen without a doubt but what else have and so that's kind of weird for it starts I mean what I was going to find out is I'm not the first person to make this argument I mean one of the most famous Scholars of Islam was Marshall Hudson roast of famous
00:02:59Opus 3 volume The Venture of Islam was the one first one who pointed out that this story of nalanda was deeply problematic in if you don't mind I'd like to read what he wrote sure go ahead I said probably Buddhism did not yield to Aslam so much by direct conversion of the time or Insidious Ruth the sources of recruitment to the relatively on Aristocrat and Buddhism for instant villagers coming to the cities in adopting a new allegiance to a quart to their new status turn now rather to Islam brothers and tuna doubt outdated Buddhism the record of the massacre of one Monastery and then go combined with the inherited Christian conception of Muslims of the devotees of the sword has yielded the wildly repeated statement that the Muslims violently destroyed Buddhism in India Muslims were not friendly to it but there was no evidence that they simply killed off all the Buddhas 3 than all the months it will take much active revision before such as Sussman so the role of Islam based largely unexamined preconceptions are eliminated even from educated mentality
00:03:59safety rotor 1977 an hour 40 years down the line and we're still dealing with the same issues and so that's what the book tries to do what actually happened in Buddhism Muslim met each other so could you talk a little bit more about other factors that played in to the decline of Buddhism in India and Western Asia I mean I mean if anybody's interested and I recently was by Giovanni and Berardi it's called hardships of the downfall of Buddhism in India and he has a long list of explanations of why it happened one of the main reasons was the Gupta dynasty Roofing the 3rd to the 6th Century basically attack Buddhism unsupported Hinduism they destroyed the famous not going to condone it was also the emergence of married monks live us. Final debate between the Buddhist and the brahmins shaped as a theist thoughts about those in the bag of Altos and then there's all these political divisions between the Vermont kingdoms of the Deccan in the territories controlled by the Buddhist and so
00:04:59all of this was happening within India another common explanation is done Buddhism was kind of mailed and if we can come into town trip forms of Buddhism was melting into the larger Hindu practices on top of all of this there was a lot of economic in this is one of those things that I look at the extensively in the book is the economic situation that had split apart the sub Asian continent into the three kind of economic zones and so you know Buddhist were moving more to the towards the east and you know Muslims are taking over the west and so both of these Traditions continue to thrive in their own severe spent on the frontier Borderland area but that one episode of things going haywire is what we all focus on a lot of people in this country right now or angry with those they considered it be Muslim apologists in response to your article surprisingly perhaps not surprisingly some of our leaders have level. Charge against you how would you respond to that one of the comments that I found in perfectly interesting
00:05:59listen to know somebody to put I have a distinguished Professor title and they going to put that in quotes and then said oh well great he gets his money from The Saturdays so they kind of combining of islamophobia with Aunt intellectualism but you know there's really nothing to say I mean if somebody wants to say that I'm supporting Isis or getting my salad from the salad mix is all completely Ludacris I mean everybody needs to realize that every religion is a work in progress right you can't put it in a bubble and say you know Islam is X whatever you say about Islam at that particular point in time at that particular commercial space in that particular theological orientation it's one thing how it is somewhere else at a different point I'm just going to something different and so that's one of the main things I stress in the book is that there's never been this kind of Monolithic two forces of Buddhism and Islam such a thing never existed and I would like to use those an introductory textbooks and you know it's categorizing The Human Experience but I really miss is my religion functions and so I would hope that anybody who
00:06:59Ingles claims they would you know read the book think about what I said look at the sources and if they can find other sources that can counteract but I think it's what actually happened I'll be more than happy to have a discussion but throwing out these kind of islamophobic statements and you don't answer intellectualism excetera I don't think there's much point in engaging of those kind of discussions why do you think this reductionist narrative persists that the Muslim simply swept in and wiped out Buddhist culture overnight well it was before we like to have very easy answers and where do we come from well you know the Bible tells us that God created us and we go from there and then of course be kind of pushed back there's a lot of other reasons that probably explains why we are here and the story of the Muslims came in and destroyed in the Londa and that was the end of the show is a very simple story is there a you know and it also fits all of our stereo types of you not speaking now in the modern world of Buddhism is dungeon of the peaceful rational scientific in on him to come with me to Modern physics and your medical tears and all the rest
00:07:59and it's long on the other hand is of course no backwards and primitive and violent and perfect clad women at excetera excetera so if it's only perfect stereotypes and it's a very simplistic story and the fact of the matter is the story was initially concocted by Buddhist themselves in order to explain their failure of we know why they lost now India Oven in India at the same time Buddhism was exploding in other parts of Asia. So it's not like Buddhism disappeared and even in South Asia I mean to thrive under Muslim rule for centuries we have all these inscriptions of Pinot even in Afghanistan up to the 11th century of Buddhist communities being supportive I mean all the way to the 17th century the Buddhist were active in India so the whole idea that they came to an end in the 13th century is so strong but it fits these kind of paradigms and so when Buddhists created this kind of history of graphical narrative
00:08:59in order to explain their own failure whichever is it was a theological economic political environmental whatever they give one reason Muslims did it in the stand by you know the Hindus later to explain their situation I was adopted by the British garage and in a 19th century was continued in you know the Western kind of creation of Buddhist modernism and so it fits all of these easy notes standard narrative trophy does a stereotypes it's simplistic and then explains everything but again I'm trying to find out it's far more complicated to those cases it's interesting to ask because it serve in the case of the British Raj how did it serve them to say it was the Muslims who have done it the British when they came in India that people go to working on from this colonial. One of the major things that they instituted was kind of them the categorization of India that they were Hindus on one side and and Muslims on the other and basically was kind of divide and Rule strategy
00:09:59and so was in this context I mean again a lot of people who work on mobile. Or Muslim. They look at there was a lot more your multiculturalism in Floral is no whatever kind of turns you on that talk about it and if the Raj Brokers apart in order to justify their own colonial rule and soda as a result of the bad guys always kind of Justified itself you know who classic Oriental this organelle that works I eat the whole Christian West is in a built on the idea that they're better than the Muslim East and so when I going to India the Muslims are the bad guys and they were the ones who the British Raj not to defeat I mean the defeated you know the finally the Moguls in 1857 and so they were the bad guys in power and so again if it's his Paragon of you know the Muslims are the bad guys don't look what they did to know Londa you know and again I was a British who discovered always Buddhist monument and so it again if it says hold larger Colonial
00:10:59of him putting the Muslims as a bad sign of course has been adopted by you know Hindi fundamentalist today and all the horror shows that are happening and you surprised by the Christmas is some of the responses in the anger that I was wondering if you received much push-back from the academy or is this pretty much the academic consensus the consensus is basically my argument you know I don't know if it confirms anything but I mean you know the book One the best book from the American Academy of religion which is the you know the leading scholarly community of religion study Scholars I mean so they recognize this was good work but again it pushes all these buttons. Everybody wants to cling to the Muslims are bad Buddhist are good and then when you kind of challenges people you know the context of this when you think about what's happening in Burma you know Buddhist I've been kind of going for a hundred fifty years that we're right yes we're good we're the best religion on the planet and then
00:11:59I have to deal with genocide and so maybe some of this anger is you know dealing with the fact that well now you have to explain yourself I know was Buddhism as great as you always thought it was every religion is a bloody mess and so Buddhism that's not avoided that and scholarship were the last 30 years made that abundantly clear me looking at misogyny in violence and excetera excetera and so maybe that's why they using for this kind of anger is Eva I mean we live in Trump's America that sang grow around because I had that sense that the consensus was that was a rather simplistic narrative and it was why I was so taken with it because you explained it so clearly and put up as I said when I began so many misconceptions
00:12:48you're listening to change Shaheen and conversation with Johanna Elvis cock you can find Johan's feature article in the monks meet the Muslims in the spring 2017 issue of tricycle the Buddhist review also in this issue is Young and bass journalist Joseph Friedman's who is the real sons G5 takes on my end Maher's controversial political leader whose silence violence against Burma's rohingya Muslim minority has gone worldwide condemnation visit tricycle. Org to read these and other articles watch a monthly feature films interact with some of today's most compelling teachers in our monthly Dharma talks series download one of our eBooks on Buddha's teachings
00:13:35now let's return to the conversation with James Johann
00:13:40so you say something that surprises a lot of people that Buddhism and Islam in many ways can be very much alike in this again runs counter to people's Impressions or maybe I should say stereotypes of Buddhism and Islam ways are they alike historically the I mean I use that term and I know if it's cost of endless headaches ever since I wrote this 10 years ago because everyone everybody picks it up and then again it could have challenged is all these stereotypes name of the project was to challenge me stereotype and again in a Buddhist are good Muslims are bad that's the you know the standard narrative that every follows and then again when you look at the Historical and I'm using you know the buddhist-muslim encounter to build on this anymore in the religion is changing organizing principle of the book is that each chapter looks at one function of the Human Experience I mean so the first chapter looks at how do Buddhism Islam deal with economics you know I'm basically comes down to the fact that both of them are Prosperity Theology and is large
00:14:40explain how incredibly successful they were is no Dynamic expanse of religion you know taoism didn't do it Hinduism didn't do it you know why did these to succeed in all the both of them were tied into it you know the large Imperial states of resources you know I can on extraction on this is tied into Buddhist theology I mean and then you know then it goes on to the second chapter which looks like understanding to know how did they see if each other both of them you know I have negative views but a lot of math positive use the one for today also do a lot of borrowing of each other and so like you don't like the color chakra Tom's room was famously has the Shambhala myth which in a proper size is that in the future Muslims will take over the world and then another 20 V the ruler of Shamballa the right out with his Buddhist Army in my late everybody and Usher in the Buddhist Golden Age these kind of simplistic simplistic but these conceptualization show one way that the Buddhist responded but at the same time the whole cosmological structure of the of the college
00:15:40Tantra is based on neoplatonic thought that they've got from the Muslim so yours is going to break you know encounter you know they hate the most ones but they're adopting their whole kind of intellectual system and in the process of this the third chapter does the the same thing with visual culture looking at the development of the porches of Muhammad you know again that's a big issue in recent years and the fact that there was a tradition of portraying Muhammad and I look at you now what was the Buddhist and roll in doing that I think was a very important and so again you know and then the Final Chapter looks at food until these are all things that you know all people deal with and all really just do it and so by saying that you know these religions are the same you know when you look at economics you look at the food you look at Bart there a lot of similar parallels and that's what I was trying to do
00:16:28you also mentioned that they were both religions initially at the Cosmopolitan Elite can you say something about that kind of prosperity theology I mean both of these Traditions developed in particular moment in time I mean in the Buddhist case this it says oh called axial age were these massive social economic political Transformations happening from 600 to 300 BCE and you know these are the larger what is the Urban ization introduction of iron growth of larger States and most importantly introduction of money and how many scholars of showing particular you feel like regular show up in the Buddhism was kind of the religion that promoted if you want to call a capitalism and individualism and you know go out and make your money as opposed to other Traditions was kind of you know did the conservative and said no that's not support this social mobility and transformation of famously Hinduism in that regard the same thing to happen with this mom came out of the side
00:17:28insula tribal Society if you still use that term you know and then it's expanded is this you know massive Empire the time together you know three continents in one kind of economic system and so Islam and Buddhism how to deal with these economic realities in both of them promoted this kind of Cosmopolitan Urban capitalistic Merchant delete and smoothies with a lot of the followers of the tradition at the same time you can talk and going back to the question of like how are they the same in both Traditions that glorify the production of wealth and getting money and all the rest of it they also have radical critiques of it and I saw Buddhism has the institution of the monks but the lady on the other hand for not doing what the Monster doing and you know it seems that this Lomb stressing the value of money in the famous line of one of the Mughal rulers who says that you know the best thing for my son to be is emergent and make money and that's been part of the Islamic tradition forever but at the same time as long as it's very much gear to helping the poor has a
00:18:28powerful message of equality to both of the Traditions are both simultaneously supporting this kind of Cosmopolitan Urban capitalist I know what's anachronistic can use but this kind of money making Elite and so you know again the point that I raised in the book is that Buddhism ran that show four thousand years and then when Islam came in and they took over and they know the Cosmopolitan to leave for multiple reasons converted to Islam of vital point the success of Islam yeah but it goes in various ways maybe also know Buddhist in a moved around I mean so Muslims came some of them open the doors to the to the city and you know we have records that the Buddhist for the one who traded and sold Goods with the Muslims and Muslims they were the ones who could talk with a Buddhist they were good they were on the same page they wanted to build this kind of laissez-faire economy and told her it was a lot of back in
00:19:28force between these two traditions in the earliest connection but I mean again with the conversion I think the line from Peter Brown the famous historian of Christianity in the late 90s. And he he says he knows of stories of christianization are the most incorrect when they provide a monolithic explanation and so he saying you know he has a great thing you know line where we're like little boys on the seashore looking at the waves coming in to break down the council and so and I was kind of like when we talk about you know it's long coming in we say all right here comes Islam everything else is dead everybody becomes a Muslim and of course not what happened I mean many Buddhists moved cuz I talk to me and moved into the central Asia a lot of them moved towards the east towards cashmere and it to bet other ones moved South and other ones no converted and again why they converted is this is probably as many reasons who are the people who converted so I think it's important understand that it's far more complicated than
00:20:27Islam shows up and everything changes I want to go back for a second to your statement that know within Buddhism there was this glorification of off in a similar way to Islam I'm just wondering though if you can say a little bit more about how one squares the Buddhist ideal of renunciation with other hand of glorification of wealth creation was it simply the separation of the lady and the gymnastics that's one very large important factor in a tank in the west I think when the lot of people think about Buddhism the first thing that pops in their head is a monk and the way the Buddhism has developed in the west what do people do as Buddha strictly meditating that was an exclusive practice of monastic cinnamon of very very very small or within the monastic at least I was looking at an article about the demographics of Buddhist communities in the medieval period and Nuno mean in Southeast Asia the numbers are about 1%
00:21:27the Buddhist population was monastic to 99% or the lady and so one of the things that I just want to stress and all my work is if we going to talk about Buddhism or Buddhist history we have to include the other 99% I'm not regard you know one of the things I mean the boot of us very much snow kind of a genius and social engineering and he's the one who created the monastic tradition he said the people who are doing the really important work seeking Enlightenment transcending desire and breaking the bonds of karma but at the same time he was very you know rational and recognizing that you know not a lot of people wanted to do this it's very very hard it takes 9 million lifetimes to achieve it it's for the very hardcore you know morally right if people who can do this and what are the other people going to do and so he knows the truth of the relics is all these rituals and excetra excetra but you know tight end of that is the production of Merritt right now how do you produce America to see transform Financial capital in the Merit you know building mom
00:22:27scary supporting monks know the rest of it so the same time heat again as I mentioned before he's very much supporting this kind of economic expansion and happens in the actual age. At the same time he radically critiques it as a fundamental problem of all suffering and desire and Cedric Cedric I'm fascinated with this notion that Buddhism and Islam in their exchange influence and help to shape each other so much could you give us a few favorable examples of cultural exchange between the two iconic story was kind of make captures the tunnel on the story the same time that in the Buddhist will come and destroy all the Muslims but again the whole kind of cosmological an astrological organization of the tax is a result of this you know I think the development of the Fortress of Muhammad within the real haunted Iran has a very great example other ones that aren't very much like is a transmission of paper
00:23:27Buddhist caves on technology to the Muslim World many people have 20 down it's very fortuitous of that date did actually happen because you know you can't have a tradition that's focus on the book if you don't have access to it says many people have pointed out with the rise of protestantism is very fortuitous at the printing press was around and the same of Islam that paper came in from China or on the paper paper Road and it's Jonathan Blum is called it and then also tell you that this the transmission of printing technology and then again there's always the missing piece. Was going to talk about all this printing in China and then there's Gutenberg what happened in the middle I will let Muslims didn't do anything but I think you know we had all this evidence sudden Buddhist didn't actually transmit all of these printing Technologies to the Muslim world there's three but I think it's pretty important I'd like to bring this into the present for a moment and discuss Myanmar if we can and the persecution of the rohingya Muslim minority there do you think the violence isn't any way she will buy the role that the Muslim
00:24:27in the Buddhist imagination is it in any way related to the historical Trends you talk about
00:24:34I think it's definitely a part of it I mean I've never been to burn myself and I'm as you pointed out amount of Burma specialist but I mean I spent that I'm in now in Thailand just over the border of course ties and Burmese don't necessarily see eye-to-eye many things but I mean in Thailand there's a lot of monasteries that have I can a graphic representations of the destruction of nalanda you know it is kind of like you can point to and say this is what the Muslims do and so that's certainly in the background it's it's it's part of Buddhist historiography and has been for the last thousand years so I'm sure it's hard of the 969 or not. I was kind of in a general discourse but if people who work on Vermont from or pointing out a lot of this stuff really I said he was kind of like Global islamophobia I mean all of the tropes that they're using a Muslims are too many kids excetera excetera is really part of this you know modern islamophobia that's a lot of the argument that they use the alt right here
00:25:34same kind of language I mean South part of this internet discourse on the rest of it at the same time Buddhism or Buddhist and Vermont can also point back and say well look what happened on the Londa and so this again revive the whole story all over again much like the Taliban destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas did here we go again and so I think even though I'm not sure if they do use it in there just course but it definitely fits the Paradigm of what the argument that they're making doesn't Peyton have to defend the Buddhist nation of Burma from these Muslims who got too many kids and they're trying to convert US to Islam I said recession characterization of Muslims in Burma right now is identical to the far-right elsewhere so I was just wondering about that because it seems to fit so nicely into the whole narrative else that you like to say about the book or what you were hoping to accomplish is it really is a wonderful book I advise all readers to take a look at it affected you hoped it would have to be
00:26:34guess it would go beyond the academy that's a great question is means of the matter is I wrote it more than 10 years ago I put it in the spring of 2007 in the fall of 2008 and I was on sabbatical back then and I was a very different time I mean it goes though you know still the bush years Obama was running for president but who knows what was going to happen and a lot of it was about my own personal thing was he know critique of what was going on in your rock pretty cool what's going on in Afghanistan just like the the toxic islamophobia that was going on and I just have to talk about in the book that was kind of disturbing interested in this question since I was a teenager going back to my fascination with with the beat writers and Piggly Brion gysin who had in the fifties was already mixing and matching Arabic calligraphy in Chinese calligraphy with this kind of the seeds I was planning on my mind more than 30 years ago you know again as with any book I was talking to my academic colleagues and I had like three large your argument that I was made
00:27:34King about you know Buddhism area studies models and how to think about religion I mean I had a hope that it would go beyond the academy or anything many academics always have that hope and I'm very happy that it did and hopefully people will read it because I see people who you know that she was meaning of gaslighting and all the rest of it that they can read it see the evidence that I know that I have in there and if they have other evidence that counteract my larger argument I'll be more than happy to engage with it and talk about it and so that's why I could you need a good move forward because it was Washington and ever more relevant given islamophobia that seems to be ripping the West right now so it seemed elucidating and although it is 10 years old I think it's more now than it was back then how's your thinking of all since then
00:28:27that's a great question I think I've been buried in all these other projects I haven't had time to really go back and think about it but invariably no I mean with the disaster and it started with in Sri Lanka and now the rest of it and then now it's happening in Burma it always keep circling back and you know I just keep going back to these initial arguments that we need to move Beyond these kind of very simplistic stereotypes the drive is kind of toxic atmosphere and also a genocide I mean this kind of dehumanization is built I mean it's kind of Peace in the tricycle says he any better stories in order to challenge these come in a very simplistic than the longest story in particular we need to really understand what did happen and again if you go read the book there was an enormous amount of back and forth between Buddhism and Buddhism changed as a result of meeting Muslims Muslims changed as a result of meeting Buddhist and so it's not all violence and so again if we can understand that hopefully
00:29:27I have enough Marshall enough material in order to make the argument but I don't think I do you know then we can have it more sensible discussion I just like to thank you again for your contribution and for your wonderful book can I hope our readers give it a chance and pick it up and read it it's called Islam and Buddhism on the Silk Road thank you so much for joining us on tricycle talks thank you very much I've been listening to tricycle talks produced by Paul roasted Argo studios in New York City let us know what you think of this podcast right it's a tricycle. Org I'm changing and publisher of tricycle the Buddhist review thank you for listening

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