|Sunday, 14 April 2002|
Revival of the Buddha Dhamma in India
When the colonial rulers started literally unearthing the Buddhist past of India, they were only fulfilling a historical obligation as then rulers of India, irrespective of what their real intention was. It was soon followed by the translations of Buddhist texts into English, Rhys David's Buddhist India and Sir Edwin Arnold's classical poem 'Light of Asia'.
This rediscovery of Buddhist past awakened the intelligence of the Indians to their past glory and they were unable to shut their eyes once again. It was the first step towards revival of the eclipsed Dhamma in its motherland. Many English-educated youth started remembering the glory of their forgotten master. Their feeling finds expression in Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore when he says:
"Buddhism was the first spiritual force, known to us in history, which drew close together such a large number of races separated by most difficult barriers of distance, by differences of langauge and custom, by various degrees and divergent types of civilisation. It has its motive power, neither in international commerce, nor in empire-building, nor in scientific curiosity, nor in a migratory impulse to occupy fresh territory. It was a purely disinterested effort to help mankind forward to its final goal."
But still it was rejected and forgotten for centuries. All that greatness was lost. The Indian history of the later centuries became the history of slaves. Swami Vivekananda was absolutely right when he attributed this fall of the nation to the rejection of Buddha by the Indians in a letter to his disciple Alasingha Perumal.
Anagarika Dharmapala's zealous missionary activities once again transformed rediscovered holy sites into pilgrim centres. The early Buddhist monks came from the high caste communities. Three of them became Buddhist monks after studying the Vedas thoroughly and then renouncing them completely, like all the great Buddhist monks of the past. One of them Swami Ramsukh Das was a member of then Buddhagaya Temple Management Committee from the side of Hindus and became a Buddhist monk later, under the name Rahul Sankrityayan.
Later on he invited his two friends who became Ven. Ananda Kausalyayan and Ven. Jagdish Kshyap. Three of them worked tirelessly for the re-establishment of Dhamma in it's soil by translating the Pali scriptures into Hindi and by teaching students.
Rahul Sankritiyayan even made so hazardous trips to then free Tibet and brought more than two thousand lost scriptures back to India. His exploits inspired many Indians. For some time it even became a fashion for the university goers to memorize the whole of Dhammapada. Now a whole gallery is devoted to the exploits of Rahul Sankritiyayan in Patna Museum.
So when H.H. The Dalai Lama of Tibet came into exile. Tibet was no longer an unknown nation across the mighty Himalayas and he received the welcome that is accorded to a son of the soil returning from abroad. Dharmananda Kausambi who preceded the above three was responsible for the starting of scholastic study of Buddhism in Indian Universities. Now many Indian universities offer courses in Buddhism.
Thus the second phase of the revival was scholastic and intellectual. Then comes the grandman of the third phase - socio-religious revival. That is Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was a great nationalist even though it deceived him and his people from even basic rights. He knocked at the doors of Hinduism for a long time very unsuccessfully before he recognised it to be the cause of the plight of his people. He realised that this plight can be changed only by changing into some other religion which doesn't have castism as its soul. He also didn't like to create a new nation in a newly emerged state. So he wanted something Indian. Like all the men of his age he also believed in rationality. Buddhism fit into all criteria he had in his mind and he got converted into it with half-a-million followers.
Thus he created an unshakable base for Buddhism in its own land. His followers are called Neo-Buddhists as they follow Buddhism as understood by Dr. Ambedkar. This sect has few thousand monks.
All the people responsible for these earlier developments had their base in Theravada.
The fourth phase which is the revival of the Dhamma, is heralded by Sri Goenkaji. He was born in a Puranic Hindu family in Burma. His lust for money landed him both in money and migraine headache. His migraine ultimately landed him in the fifteen year studentship of Sayagyi U Ba Khin and his mother's poor health brought him back to India. When he was still in Burma, he had heard of a Burmese Buddhist belief of return of the Dhamma to its motherland and spreading all over the world again with India as its base. His arrival in 1969 was to pioneer the process.
The beginning of all great things is small. So he started conducting Vipassana Meditation (Vedananupassana) courses for small groups. The first permanent centre was constructed in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and now they have tens of centres in all over India and abroad, including one at Hindagala, Kandy. His method of Vedananupassana became popular after he successfully conducted a course for the prison members of Tihar Jail. This jail now is having a permanent meditation block. Some other prison authorities also followed the example. This writer once had an opportunity to serve as a Dhamma Worker in a Central Jail. There he was impressed by a convict serving every one involved in the course. When he asked him what brought such a nice person like him to a prison, he said: "It might have been to receive Dhamma. If I hadn't been convicted, I would never have got it".
Neither Goenka Ji nor his assistant teachers and students speak about any kind of Buddhism, which is a much later development. They adhere only to the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha. Hundreds of all his assistant teachers and thousands of students come from varying backgrounds. Traditionally they come from Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities. It basically is a practice oriented spiritual movement.
One keeps away all his religious beliefs for ten or more and practises meditation for ten to eleven hours a day. Non religious symbol is allowed into the Dhamma hall as it is the place of pure Dhamma. This writer worked as Dhamma worker in the HQ Igatpuri, Maharashtra and witnessed four to five hundred people taking part in the courses at a time. He could never experience any kind of disturbance during his stay. The whole environment is Dhamma environment and everybody is reminded of it now and then. This writer would like to quote from the experience of his friend.
Sri Goenkaji's meditation angered many people of the majority religion. Some of them suspect him to be converting people into Buddhism. One day a group of people belonging to a semi-militant outfit entered the mediation centre as students and started shouting slogans later. Sri Goenka Ji told his people not to react with hatred as it helps none. Every one took it to be an opportunity to practise Dhamma and the troublemakers left the other day after extending their apologies.
The Dhamma should bring self transformation. The Buddha had taught it for this purpose. One realizes this purpose and starts experiencing it within himself after attending these courses. The group of people attending them do not call themselves as traditional Buddhists or Neo-Buddhists, but they call themselves Dhammists. It is this kind of people that are growing in number. Some fifty thousand people every year take part in these courses all over the world.
And the number is ever growing. They are helped by four hundred trained teachers with a long practice of Vipassana. Sri Goenkaji also established a Vipassana Research Institute which published the whole Tipitaka in Hindi script and a CD-Rom containing the whole cannon in seven languages of Theravada countries including Sinhala. Now they are translating Atthakathas into English and Hindi. They also have published many books in different languages. But most of them are related to the method of Vipassana they are following.
Much is needed to be done in this field. The whole movement is a movement of lay people and monks are well respected only when they start practising Dhamma. A good monastic community may come into being in the next generation.
Ven. Sangharakkhita Mahathera initiated this process in Andhra Pradesh when he ordained three local young men.
Andhra Pradesh was a Buddhist stronghold. The Dhamma reached here even during the time of the Buddha, with the disciples of a Bramhmin named Bawari. Sutta Nipata glosses the discussions held by those Brahmin students with the Lord.
Amaravati Stupa of Guntur District is supposed to be the place where the Stupa worship originated. It was the biggest Stupa constructed on Indian soil, though only ruins remain now. This again is a place of Ven. Buddha Ghosa, the celebrated monk of Pali Buddhism according to one version. Some 140 Buddhist sites altogether were excavated in the State. Their periods range from 2nd century B.C. to 14th century A.D. Andhra is also supposed to be the home of the great Mahayana thinker Acharya Nagarjuna.
Andhra now boasts of a huge Buddha's statue which is the largest monolithic statue in the world. Andhra Pradesh Tourism is offering regular bus services for the people to visit the eminent of these Buddhist sites.
The number of Dhammists in this state too is ever growing. The Chief Minister of the State once declared of granting special leave to all the State Government employees wishing to do Vipassana Meditation, following the example of Maharashtra State Government.
The only thing lacking in this revival is a good Sangha. The teacher of this author Ven. Sangharakkhita Mahathera is working hard to establish a Vihara to train the monks and nuns on Indian soil. He is sending his students to different Buddhist countries to learn the theory of Dhamma to practise and to help the other practitioners of the Buddha's motherland.
Two of his students here (this author and his friend) are working at present on an anthology in Telugu which gives the comprehensive picture of the Buddha's life and teaching in a precise way. This is going to be the first translation of the primary Pali sources in to Telugu, a language of seventy million people. The next step in this process would be the translation of The Major Nikayas.
It were the Indian monks who took the Dhamma or Dharma to foreign lands and established there. When they wanted it back again they started going everywhere to bring it. This individual effort is taking the shape of organised effort now. Sooner or later India may develop its own real Sangha. Then this aspiration of Gurudev Tagore will be fully fulfilled.
Produced by Lake House