Revival of Buddhism in Modern India – a personal perspective

At the invitation of Venerable Analayo, Brother Hing Seng Huat and I participated in the foundation groundbreaking ceremony for a Buddhist Centre in West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh, India on May 24th 2014. We were honoured to grace the occasion with great pleasure to help to revive authentic Buddhism in India, the country of its birth in accordance with the Pali Canon. Click on link to view a collage on the Foundation Ceremony of a Buddhist Centre at Andhra Pradesh | Buddhism and Daily Living.

Snapshots of Foundation Ceremony at Andhra Pradesh on May 24th 2014.

Snapshots of Foundation Ceremony at Andhra Pradesh on May 24th 2014.

Historical events on decline and revival of Buddhism

In an article by Shenali Waduge “Why Buddhism Prospered in Asia but dies in India” (Asian Tribune dated 10th June 2012) cited historian S.R. Goyal’s attribution to the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India to the Brahaminas.  An incident often cited is the destruction of the Bo Tree and Buddhist images by Saivite King, Shashanka, persecution by Pusyamitra Suga (185 BC to 151 BC) who detested the Law of the Buddha had set fire to the Sturas, destroyed Stupas, razed Samgharamas and massacred and killed the deity of the Bodhi Tree.

In modern India it was only after Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar started a neon-Buddhist movement among the untouchables in the 1950s that Buddhism was somewhat revived. In India it is mostly the dalits or “untouchables” who are embracing Buddhism.  He was one of the greatest social reformers of the 20th century, was a Dalit leader who was determined to reform Indian society and to eradicate the caste system.

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Born into a Dalit family in 1891, he traveled to the West in 1913 and won advanced degrees from Columbia University, the London School of Economics, the University of London and Gray’s Inn.  On his return to India in 1922 he became the most important leader of Dalit and low-caste people struggling for basic civil rights.  He argued eloquently for “the annihilation of caste,” worked to obtain political representation for Dalits, and eventually became India’s first Law Minister.  He oversaw the drafting of the Indian Constitution that made untouchability illegal.

During his lifetime Dr. Ambedkar realized that political and legal rights would never be enough to free people from the social and cultural discrimination of the Hindu caste system.  He decided that the solution was to change religions.  In 1956 he took the momentous step of publicly converting to Buddhism in Nagpur and encouraging similar conversions throughout India.  He saw Buddhism as a modern religion that is based on wisdom and compassion, supports tolerance and human rights, and speaks to the deep spiritual needs of all people.

Tragically, Ambedkar died only six weeks after his conversion.  But the movement he started has brought Buddhism back to millions of people in India.

Observations

There are Buddhist monasteries and centres in the Hindu predominate State of Andhra Pradesh with a large population forms the lowest rung of the caste system known as “untouchables.”  Many of these Buddhist establishments are headed by monks who lacked formal monastic trainings as they were sent to monasteries as a child by the parents to escape poverty and starvation and also the monasteries do not have proper training rules instituted to teach and guide these monks who later were to head a monastery or centre with a dire lack in the vinaya rules, much less the Buddhist Doctrines or Dhamma. “Those monks who bar out both the letter and the spirit, by taking the discourses wrongly and interpreting according to the letter, such are responsible for the loss, discomfort and sorrow of devas and mankind.  Moreover such monks beget demerit and cause the disappearance of this true Dhamma.” (Anguttara Nikaya, The Book of the Twos, Chapter IV, Sutta 11, Pali Texts Society edition, Page 65.)

I was glad to be in an entourage of Bhante Analayo when we visited many households, schools, colleges, universities and other establishments that have adopted Buddhism during the trip. However, many of them do not follow the Teachings correctly and many of them are deviants out of cultural influence or sheer ignorance although Buddhism was revived in modern India for more than half a century ago in the 1950s.

 

... many households, schools, colleges, universities and other establishments that have adopted Buddhism

… many households, schools, colleges, universities and other establishments that have adopted Buddhism

 Different traditions and practices

 On one occasion we were invited to dana for dinner by a householder, unknowingly a practice deviating from the Teachings when monks abstained from taking meals after noon as prescribed in the Pali Canon: “Samana Gotama takes only one meal a day, and fasting after mid-day”. [Digha Nikaya Sutta 1: Brahmajala Sutta (Discourse on the Net of Perfect Wisdom), Burma Pitaka Association edition, page 7].

Also, different traditions of Buddhism adopt and embrace different practices.  For instance, a Bhikkhuni in our group from a different tradition who embraced a vegetarian diet is allowed to take dinner. To abstain from taking life some traditions resort to a vegetarian diet with the belief that “A sentient being is any being with consciousness or the potential to become conscious. Animals and insect are sentient beings, while plants are not.” (Commentary on the ‘Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings’ by Master Hsing Yun, translated by Tom Graham, Weatherhill, Inc., page 16).

While in the company of the Bhikkhuni, she served us fruits: sliced and cut orange, apple and lime, with a fruit knife that she carried along with her contrary to Theravada tradition where a monk abstains from damaging seed and plant life as the Pali canon states: “Whereas some honourable recluses and Brahmins, while living on food offered by the faithful, continuously cause damage to seed and plant life – to plants propagated from roots, stems, joints, buds, and seed – the recluse Gotoma abstains from damaging seed and plant life.” [The Brahmajala Sutta (The Discourse on the All-embracing Net of Views). The First Sutta of the Digha Nikaya translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist Publication Society, Page 5].  

We visited a university and colleges that embraced Buddhism, with altars installed in their premises and attended the puja and; according to them is a daily affair of offering of flowers, water, candle and incense (joss sticks). However, it seems otherwise as the walls are slick clean without any trace or stain of smoke. Perhaps, in name only and not in practice.

A Gift of The Dhamma

 I was honoured to receive a book from the principle of a college “The Buddha and His Dhamma” by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar,  sanctioned by People’s Education Society and widely  accepted and used by local scholars, devotees, readers and lay people alike.

Without disparage to the learned author I beg differ on the authenticity of the book with much deviants from the Pali canon.  “The Buddha and His Dhamma” (henceforth refers to as “The Book” has numerous deviances (too labourious to enumerate them all), and here are some of the more glaring deviances from the Pali canon:

Conception or Mahamaya’s Dream

In The Book, Part 1, Section 3” His Birth”, paragraphs 6 to 10: That night Suddhodana and Mahamaya came together and Mahamaya conceived. (Emphasis added).  While asleep and in her dream she saw that the four world-guardians raised her and carried her to the tableland of the Himalayas, placed her under a great sal tree. The wives of the world-guardians then approached and took her to the lake Manasrovar, bathed her, robed her in a dress, anointed her with perfumes and decked her with flowers in a manner fit to meet some divinity.  Then a Bodhisatta, by name Sumedha, appeared before her saying, “I have decided to take my last and final birth on this earth. Will you consent to be my mother?” She said, “Yes. With great pleasure.”  At this moment Mahamaya awoke.

However the Pali Canon recounts: Sri Mahamaya Devi fell into a short slumber and had a dream, which foretold the conception of a Bodhisatta.   The four great Catumaharaja devas lifted and carried her bed to Lake Anotatta and four consorts of the Catumaharaja devas bathed her and dressed her with celestial costumes and applied celestial cosmetics to her. At that moment in her dream, she saw a pure while elephant grazing around the golden mountains then descended from the golden mountain.  The white elephant then walked around the Queen clockwise, and effected entry into her womb from the right side by breaking it open. [Maha Buddhavamsa – The Great Chronicle of Buddhas, Singapore edition, page 217 to 218].

Renunciation – The Four Sights or Parivraja – the Way Out

In The Book, Part 1 Section 14 to 18, “Conflict with the Sangh” recounts: The waters of the Rohini were used by both Sakyas and the Koliyas for irrigating their fields.  Every season there used to be dispute between them as to who should take the water of the Rohini first and how much. These disputes resulted in quarrels and sometimes in affray. In the year when Siddharth was twenty-eight, there was a major clash over the waters between the servants of Skayas and Koliyas with both sides suffered injuries. The Council of the Sakyas decided to declare war on the Koliyas and Siddharth opposed the motion and when put to vote with the overwhelming majority voted for war.  The Council encountered the plea urged by Siddharth: Performing sacrifices is the duty of the Brahmins, fighting is the duty of the Kshatriyas, trading is the duty of the Vaishas and service is the duty of the Shudras.  The Sakyas belonged to the Kshatriyas class.  Siddhartha had three choices to consider: to join the forces and participate in the war, to consent to being hanged or exiled; and to allow the members of his family to be condemned to a social boycott and confiscation of property.

Accordingly Siddhartha spoke to the Council: “Please do not punish my family. Do not put them in distress by subjecting them to a social boycott.  Do not make them destitute by confiscating their land which is their only means of livelihood.  They are innocent.  I am the guilty person.  Let me alone suffer for my wrong. Sentence me to death or exile, whichever you like.”  Siddhartha was only twenty-nine when he underwent Parivrajka (Renunciation).

According to Pali Canon Prince Siddhartha renounced the world after seeing the four great omens: When the Prince had travelled some distance on his way to the royal garden, the devas conferred: “The time for Prince Siddhattha to become a Buddha is drawing near.  Let us show him the omens which will cause him to renounce the world and become a recluse.”  They asked a deva to assume the appearance of an aged man, having grey hair, no teeth, stooping back, and trembling with a walking stick in his hand.  This omen of the old created by the deva could be seen by no one but the Prince and the charioteer. So were the other three omens. [Maha Buddhavamsa – The Great Chronicle of Buddhas, Singapore edition, page 262 to 266].

Note of Caution – “The Buddha and His Dhamma” by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has many deviants.

Note of Caution – “The Buddha and His Dhamma” by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has many deviants.

I understand The Book in banned in Sri Lanka and for those who are in possession of it, please abandon it. If you wish to read it out of curiosity, please thread it with caution.

Please, also be wary The Book is available as free apps (applications) download for tablets and smartphones running on Android operating system.

“Monks, a certain person who has wide learning in Sutta and the rest: but, as of the wide learning he understands neither the letter nor the meaning, he lives not in accordance with Dhamma. That, monks, is how a person of wide learning profits not hereby.” (Anguttra Nikaya, The Books of the Fours, Chapter I, Sutta 6, Pali Texts Society edition, Page 7).  

 Spreading the Authentic Teaching of The Dhamma

Venerable Analayo who is trained in the Theravada tradition has the mission to spread and propagate the authentic Dhamma in accordance to Pali Canon.  He hails from the State of Andhra Pradesh and is a highly intellectual monk.  See the other link for his curriculum vitae: Dhamma Talk by Venerable Analayo | Buddhism and Daily Living

He has undertaken a colossal task to build a Buddhist centre in a predominately Hindu state where the system of lowest caste exists to preach the Dhamma to the masses who are from lower-income group.  It is therefore, those who can afford should contribute towards the funds for building the centre: “… though he fed the Order of monks, with the Buddha at their head, greater would have been the fruit thereof, had he built a monastery for the use of the monks of the Order of the surrounding country.” (Anguttra Nikaya, The Book of the Nines, Chapter II, Sutta 20, Pali Texts Society edition, Page 7 and 8).

Furthermore, “Monks, there are five advantages from gifts. What five? He is good and dear to many folks; good and wise men love him; a good report is spread abroad about him; he stays nor from the householder’s  Dhamma; and, on the breaking up of the body after death, he is reborn in the happy heaven-world.” (Anguttra Nikaya, The Books of the Fives, Chapter II, Sutta 35, Pali Texts Society edition, Page 32 and 33).

It is indeed a noble deed to spread Buddhism in accordance with the true Dhamma.   As a devotee and a lay Buddhist I fully subscribed to the notion: “If there is something devoid of truth, it is not Buddhism. When there is no truth there is no Buddhism – not even a Buddhistic trace. The main characteristic of Buddhism is being truthful. Even one’s life has to be sacrificed to protect Truth.  We must be determined to sacrifice it.” (“The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived – The Supreme Buddha” by Venerable Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero, Published by Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre, Page 82).

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

Contributor: Chin Kee Thou

Date: June 23rd 2014.

The contributor takes responsibility for any inadvertence, factual or otherwise.

 

 

 

About Chin Kee Thou

Reading Buddhist scriptures and writing articles for the blog and newsletters.
This entry was posted in Buddhism in Daily Life, Dhamma in Daily Life, Events, Sutta in Daily Life. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Revival of Buddhism in Modern India – a personal perspective

  1. Teresa Tan says:

    Hi Bro Chin,
    Your post is enlightening and informative. Keep up with your good writing!

    Like

    • chinkeethou says:

      Hi Sister Teresa,
      Thanks for taking interest in the article.
      Any subject or thoughts on Buddhism that you may have and
      wish to share; you are welcome to post it.
      Every contribution is precious to us and can be meaningful
      and beneficial to others readers just like you.
      Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

      Like

  2. G. K.V. GURUMURTY SASTRY says:

    Dharmo Rakshati Rakshthaha Alaage Mee Sishyulamyna mammalani Kooda Rakshisthundi

    Like

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