Letter from Bodhgaya
Kindle Now the Dharma’s Light
And so I join my hands and pray
the buddhas who reside in every quarter:
kindle now the Dharma’s light
for those who grope, bewildered, in the dark of suffering!
-Shantideva, Bodhicharyavatara, 3:5.
Praise for the unusually peaceful nature of the election rounds recently concluded in Bihar State was barely being digested by a relieved and somewhat surprised citizenry when we were rudely reminded last Sunday that hatred and desire for revenge is still smoldering in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in pain.
A thousand Maoists/terrorists/suffering, groping sentient beings (I’m not really sure how to label them correctly and concisely) surrounded the jail at Jehanabad, some 65 kilometers north of Bodhgaya and, having exploded several bombs, proceeded to release over 350 inmates of the jail, many of whom were their comrades-in-struggle. Then they left the scene, not, however, before dragging away and executing some of the inmates who were members of a rival, upper-caste private army. It seems everybody got away before the police and army could do anything tangible. This was happening at about the same time as a diabetes patient was dying in a Patna hospital as ants proceeded to eat away her eyes, and a nurse was quoted as saying that it was not her responsibility to help in that particular situation.
One could go on in this vein but there seems little reason to do so, since you can hear and watch worse news on BBC or CNN. These sad stories merely accentuate the importance of what we’re trying to engage in, whether here in India or in any other corner of the planet, which is to imbue bewildered beings with an understanding of how to create the causes of lasting happiness and let go of our self-inflicted misery through wisdom and compassion.
I don’t find myself in conferences that often, but this last month has seen your correspondent attending three different ones in Nagpur, London, and Delhi, each in their own way addressing the issues of how to generate the right ingredients to ensure a happier humanity.
The first, in Nagpur, central India, bastion of the Ambedkar movement, was entitled “Buddhism and Social Equality” and subtitled “Transcending Barriers: Dr. Ambedkar and the Buddhist World”. You see, dear readers, there can be many buddhas – Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana buddhas, and also Buddha the Social Revolutionary, The Reformer, the vanguard Hero who takes on the might of Brahmanical India . And do not mistake this for mockery on my part. If I’d been born an untouchable, then this is probably what I too would initially see the Buddha as – a liberator from the hellish caste system that over the centuries has produced a whole group of disenfranchised, traumatized and angry human beings who now need all the help they can get from those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to receive the conditions where we’ve been able to benefit from mind-transforming teachings. We’ve had the most excellent and qualified teachers on this planet. Perhaps it’s now our turn to pass on some of what we’ve imbued to our Buddhist brethren in need.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama also attended two sessions. In one of them, the public lecture, I’d fully expected His Holiness to give a kind of pep talk to the assembled masses, which included a lot of women and young people. Of course, I was wrong. Pep talks are for cricket teams. His Holiness planted seeds of rich Dharma in their minds by talking about Buddhist tenet systems and extensively praising Nagarjuna and the Nalanda tradition in general. He urged the assembly to study Sanskrit and thus deepen their hitherto largely Pali-based understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. Some sat outside in the rain listening. I certainly got the impression that a rain of Dharma was in progress and that the roads outside that had turned to hardly-negotiable mud would one day be as firm and passable as the royal road to the Great Awakening.
The second conference in the UK, an attempt to clarify the aims and praxis of Essential Education (the new term replacing Universal Education), through the medium of a new organization now entitled Universal Compassion and Wisdom for Peace (UCWP) [see page XX], was marked by organizational efficiency, practical professionalism, and much good-heartedness. How do we help people at large, most of whom are not Buddhist, develop the good heart, the cause of lasting happiness and peace in this world? This and other sub-themes were worked at during six productive days at an event which I’ve no doubt will prove to be historic. It was wonderful to meet so many old and new Dharma friends, all of us sharing the same wish to carry forward our gurus’ wishes in making Essential Education available to a wide range of people in many places. Just this morning two colonels from the military camp near Bodhgaya expressed interest in visiting the Maitreya School to get an idea of how we are helping youngsters grow up with a loving heart as well as an intelligent mind.
The third conference, connected with our theme of generating the causes of happiness, was in Delhi and titled “Mahayana Buddhism – History and Culture”. His Holiness made a speech at the inauguration in which he made it very clear that sincere practice had to follow on from a thorough immersion in, yes, you’ve guessed, the Nalanda tradition. He also commented with a chuckle that some portions of the Abhidharma literature relating to cosmology were a “disgrace” and that, if reborn in this day and age, Vasubandhu would have to rewrite some of his passages based on modern scientific findings. His Holiness said we needed to understand that there is Buddhist science, Buddhist philosophy, as well as Buddhist religion. His Holiness may have spelt it out, but your correspondent missed it and so I leave it to the patient reader to work it out! Perhaps it was a reminder to be as comprehensive as possible in our study and application of what we loosely term “Buddhism” so that we can be more beneficial to a wider range of beings.
It seems, does it not, that many initiatives are underway, all of them in their own manner attempting to help solve the profound challenges of our times? Or at least, if not solve, then at least plant some seeds that will help generate the oases of sanity and kindness that we need for our spiritual as well as bodily survival. Being an Indian monk amongst so many anguished countrymen, I feel some urge to carry on the work of teaching and welfare that Buddha initially intended for his bhikshus and, as at the beginning of this rambling scribble (for which, patient reader, I beg gentle forgiveness), I’m reminded of some words from the master Shantideva that I, for one, sorely need to contemplate again and again:
The elephant tormented by the noonday sun
will dive into the waters of a lake,
and likewise must I plunge into this work,
that I might bring it to completion.