Monday, 6 April 2015

How India Is Squandering Its Top Export: The Buddha




From The Huffington Post 
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse


"India and Nepal gave the world one of its most precious resources -- the Buddha. Yet neither country truly values this extraordinary legacy, let alone takes pride in it. In the Buddha's own birthplace and homeland, his teachings are marginalised, his wisdom is unappreciated, and his legacy is invisible in society.

The pervasive neglect of this treasured inheritance is an inestimable loss. After all, few products from this region have ever been so widely valued and respected, or travelled as far and as successfully, as the teachings of the Buddha.

Yes--yoga, curry, basmati rice and Bollywood have their global influence. But Buddhism has transformed whole societies in China, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Japan and more, is fast penetrating the Western world, and continues to touch the hearts and minds of millions around the world.

And yet, amazingly, this intense global interest is barely evident in the lands where the Buddha himself was born, became enlightened, and taught. It is unfathomable that neither governments nor the vast majority of people here in India and Nepal truly cherish the Buddha today or hold him in their hearts and minds as one of their own.

This lack of concern for their Buddhist heritage is both a leadership failure and an endemic societal blindness. In Nepal, interest in Buddhism only seems to be roused when someone claims the Buddha was born in India, at which time the Nepalese zealously declare their own country as his birthplace -- even though neither Nepal nor India existed as entities 2,500 years ago.

The disregard for Buddhism is manifest everywhere... even at the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the world, the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened, which remains under majority Hindu management -- a situation akin to having the Vatican or the Kaaba in Mecca run by a majority of Buddhists."

In India the blindness extends from the failure of India's educated elite to learn about, appreciate, and preserve their country's Buddhist heritage all the way to those who make a living selling Buddha's pictures and bodhi beads at pilgrimage sites, and to the fake monks and charlatans who score donations from unsuspecting Buddhist pilgrims.

And this disregard for Buddhism is manifest everywhere, like at the bookstore at Varanasi airport -- the gateway for countless pilgrims to the sacred site of the Buddha's first teaching -- which carries not a single book on Buddhism in the midst of its rich Hindu and Indian collection.

And it is manifest even at the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the world, the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened, which remains under majority Hindu management -- a situation akin to having the Vatican or the Kaaba in Mecca run by a majority of Buddhists, or a Jewish congregation run by mostly Protestants.

It is not easy to explain this wilful neglect. To some extent the plight of Buddhism in India today may be a legacy of the country's long colonial history, which seems to have led to a wholesale embrace of secular values at the cost of forsaking India's own profound spiritual heritage.

One recent example is the supposed revival of Nalanda, the world's oldest and greatest Buddhist university, which predated the founding of Oxford University by 650 years. The project's first Chancellor, Amartya Sen -- in the name of a firm "distinction between religious studies and the practice of religion"-- indicated he would tone down any Buddhist or spiritual teaching in favour of a secular curriculum. Indeed Prof. Sen writes about Nalanda with no mention of its Buddhist heritage.

India purports to value its heritage, but in practice acts more in accord with Western, worldly, materialist and non-spiritual values than with the profound wisdom its traditions have bequeathed to the world. And so, while India proudly claims its place as the world's largest democratic country, the Buddha remains a stranger to most Indians. Indeed, India's educated intellectuals know more about Marx and Marxism than about Buddha and Buddhism.

In the case of the Hindu and Muslim destruction of Buddhism... India has unfortunately opted for a more cowardly political correctness. It has given in to the pressure of violence and intimidation, but has failed to reward non-violence with any protective action.

Western secular political correctness is on display even at the entrance to the Nalanda ruins, where the historical marker fails to mention that the university and its huge, invaluable library were actually destroyed in 1193 by Muslims on religious grounds because its texts did not uphold the Qur'an. The government prefers to tell visitors simply that the destroyer was a man by the name of Bakhtiyar Khilji... read more 



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