Contributors: L.M. Joshi, G.C. Pande, Shanti Bhikshu Shastri, B. Jinananda & Bhadant Anand Kausalyayan
Though mans religious consciousness has been, time and again, enshrined in song and scripture, in art and architecture, from the beginning there has always been a need for exegetical literature For — the saint and the lay man, the literature of prophecy is enough, but the advanced initiate and the rational thinker always seek doctrinal support. Each major religion, therefore, has gathered a huge mass of expository material which helps project its true image. Nevertheless, it continually requires fresh thought and application inasmuch as it has to meet the requirements of the changing imagination. That is indeed how a religion remains a living force. The effort of the Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University—the first Department of its kind in Indian Universities—to bring out up-to-date volumes on the five principle religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Christanity, Islam and Sikhism—is accordingly a scholarly step of great value, particularly as it synchronises with the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The release of the volumes on this occasion, therefore, is an apt and concrete tribute to the catholicity of the Founders mind.
The primary aim of these publications is to give the reader an idea of the fundamentals of the religions in question. Thus, no comprehensive analysis or exposition has been attempted, though, I trust, the scholarship, which has been commissioned, has made a good job of it. These skeletal studies are intended, in particular, to bring the younger people in our colleges and universities into contact with the various stream of religious experience, thought and practice. Religion, though frequently abused by the pundit and the padre, remains man’s most cherished heritage and hope. To open a window on to a long and beautiful vista is thus to invite the youth to unending pastures of pleasure. Literature of this kind has its own distinctive flavour and appeal. Once one has felt what Guru Nanak calls, “the touch of His Love,” nothing else will quite satisfy.
From the very beginning Buddhism has been a missionary religion with a universal appeal. The Buddha had commanded the first batch of his sixty-one disciples at Varanasi in the following words “Walk monks, on your tour for the blessing of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, — the blessing, the happiness of gods and men.”
The message of Buddha transcended the barriers of caste, race, country or nation; it was destined to make a spiritual and cultural conquest of the whole of Asia and beyond. Indeed, attempts were actually made by Emperor Asoka, the greatest lay follower of Buddhism, to achieve what he called the “righteous conquest” (dhormavijaya) over the whole of the ancient world, It was because of its spirit of reason and tolerance, ethics of love and purity, gospel of peace and spirituality that Buddhism appealed to men and women and became the leading religious thought current, It spread across the length and breadth of Asia through the missionary zeal of its adherents.
“Gautama the Buddha,” remarks S. Radhakrishnan, “is the voice of Asia, he is the conscience of the world.” The teachings of the Buddha, having penetrated deep into the veins of Indian civilization, spread to all parts of Asia—Ceylon, Burma, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Laos, Cambodia, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Central Asia, China, Mangolia, Indo-China, Korea and Japan. Emperor Asoka had sent his Buddhist missions to the countries of Western Asia, Africa and Europe. According to Alberuni, the whole of Western Asia was Buddhistic before the advent of Islam. in modern times, some of the greatest thinking men of the West have been greatly influenced by the Buddha’s message of wisdom and love. “Buddhism,” as Anatole France has said, “has a singular attraction for free minds.” The Kalarna Sutta (the Buddha’s discourse to the Kalam tribe) has often been described as the “Buddhist charter of free enquiry,” and Buddhism has been considered by some writers to be ‘the religion of reason’.
Buddhism is a complete civilization of man, it is a system of faith and reason, an institution of creative self-culture and social welfare.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is enlightenment for each and every creature and that is bound to the realm of flux and ills. One way to this supreme goal is that everyone has to work out his salvation with diligence; the scheme of salvation, which Buddhism offers involves a transformation of human instincts through the practice of some altruistic, spiritual and moral virtues. The aim of Buddhist ethics is the regeneration of humanity. The means prescribed are entirely peaceful. This was perhaps the secret of its success against many odds in the early stages of its history. The growth and spread of Buddhism in India and the countries of Asia was achieved through peaceful means. A singular feature of the history of the spread of Buddhism has been that not a single drop of blood was ever shed in the name of the Buddha’s teachings. Though the Buddhists had been persecuted by non-Buddhist votaries in India, China, Central Asia and other parts of the world, no Buddhist king or association is known to have resorted to war for the propagation of Buddhism.
Buddhism has been a most powerful matrix of human civilization and culture. Its profound and almost unending creativity has been manifested in a hundred ways during its long history of over twenty- five centuries. Wherever it went, thither went culture and civilization: the very name Buddha stood for awakening. The bhiksus, those self- abnegating lonely ambassadors of peace and creative self-culture, charmed, soto say, the numerous warlike tribal hordes of Central Asiatic region by their words of love and deeds of charity. The ideal of Bodhisattva, the hallmark of the Mahayana, revolutionized the moral and social ideology of the Asians and taught a universal gospel before which their national creeds paled into insignificance.
In almost all fields of human activity, Buddhism set up new models and opened up new and vaster vistas. In art and architecture, education language and literature, yoga and devotion, moral and dialectics, in tantra and mythology; in short, in all fields of human civilization, it produced tremendous results. In India, Buddhism revolutionized the traditional Brahmanism and transformed it into Hinduism. Buddhism has remained the national religion of nearly all the South-East Asian countries. In China it blended with Confucianism and Taoism, while still retaining its distinctive identity and produced several sects of what is called Chinese Buddhism. According to D.T. Suzuki, Buddhism has been the most powerful civilizing factor in the history of Japan. The impact of Buddhist culture on all those countries that came into contact with it has always been wholesome and creative.
Scholars and historians are puzzled by the striking paradox of the parctical disappearance of Buddhism as a living faith from the land of its birth after the twelfth century of the Christian era. It should, however, be observed here that Buddhism survived as a distinct faith even after the twelfth century in certain olutlying areas of India, especially in the sub-Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Assam and northern Bengal. A sort of revival of Buddhism started in India during the middle of the last century with the discovery and publication of Buddhist texts and other antiquities. The process is still going on.
The fact of the decline and disappearance of Buddhism as an independent system of faith after the establishment of Muslim authority in India should not mislead us. The process of decline was gradual. Buddhist establishments were despoiled. Many Buddhist monks either fled or were killed or converted to a non-Buddhist faith. The lay Buddhist votaries were likewise persecuted or converted to Islam or Hinduism. The continuity of Buddhist tradition in India was broken.
It will be a grave error, however, to suppose that Buddhism dis-appeared from India without leaving its influence on the Indian people and their culture. This was nearly impossible. Buddhism had flourished in India for more than fifteen centuries before the Muslim Sultanate come to be established in Delhi. During this long period (from cir. 600 B.C. to cir. AD. 1000) Buddhism had exercised a pervasive influence throughout the length and breadth of India. Its stupas, caityas, viharas, and icons had found their permanent place all over the sub-continent. For centuries, the Indians had loved and adored the names of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas, cherished their images and imbibed their teachings.
Buddhism had produced an enormous mass of literature in Pali, Sanskrit and the Vernaculars; the Buddhist universities, colleges and monasteries with their great teachers and rich libraries had educated Indian for several centuries; the numerous Buddhist centres of art and pilgrimage all over the country had been a source of education and refinement to countless Indians of ancient India. The religion, ethics, philosophy and devotional mysticism of Buddhism had developed to such heights as to make an enduring impact on the culture and civilization of India. The Brahmanical Hinduism of the Smiritis, the Epics and the Puranas imbibed a great deal of Buddhist legacy and accepted the Buddha as the ninth avatara of God. The eminent modern Hindus take pride in declaring the Buddha as the greatest “Hindu” sage, and as “maker of modern Hinduism.” There can be no denying the fact that Buddhism survives in Hinduism, that Hinduism has assimilated the central tenets of Buddhist ethics and metaphysics, and that it was
Buddhism which transformed the old Brahmanism into Hinduism or Neo-Brahmanism. Buddha was considered as an avatara of Vishnu. The Brahmanical Hindu authors superimposed their theistic notions on the non-theistic systems of Yoga, the Samkhya and Buddhism. This policy apparently succeeded in bringing the Yoga, the Samkhya and Buddhism into Brahmanical Hindu fold. But from the standpoint of Buddhism this policy was most harmful. It brought about the virtual win of Buddhism and resulted in its effacement. If we want to revive Buddhism in India as a distinct religion and philosophy in its own right, we must disabuse our minds of all Hindustic predilections. The Hindus, who are, for the most part, Buddhists by virtue of their being professed Hindus, should study it from its own standpoint and from its own sources. That will be the truly desirable attitude of ‘live and let Jive,’ and of respect for the faith of others.
This volume on Buddhism consists of five chapters, preceded by a Historical Survey, the origin of Buddhism, the life and teachings of the Buddha, the growth and spread of Buddhist movement in India, together with a brief survey of the art and literature of Buddhism have been included in the ‘Historical Survey’ written by Dr. L.M. Joshi.
The first chapter on ‘Buddhist Philosophy’, contributed by Professor G.C. Pande, seeks to discuss and interpret the basic tenets of Buddhist thought in India in its three distinguishable historical phases the original teachings of the Buddha, the systems of Abhidharma and those of the Mahayana. The treatment is based on a first-hand study of Buddhist sources and bears testimony to the author’s profound erudition.
Buddhist social and moral ideas and ideals have been briefly discussed in the second chapter under the title of ‘Buddhist Ethics and Social Ideas’ contributed by Professor Shanti Bhikshu Shastri. Both the Sthaviravada and Mahayan sources have been utilized to present the basic Buddhist moral standpoint.
The third chapter on ‘Buddhist Meditation and Mysticism’, contributed by Dr. L.M. Joshi, is divided into two main sections. The first section describes the importance of meditation in Buddhism, its types and stages whereas the second section seeks to discuss the salient features of Buddhist mysticism and the nature of the ultimate Reality in Buddhism.
A historiography of Buddhism in modern times is attempted in chapter four of this book. Dr. B. Jinananda, the writer of this chapter entitled ‘Modem Trends in Buddhism’, has sought to survey the progress of the revival of Buddhism in India together with a bird’s-eye view of the Buddhist movements in the contemporary world.
The fifth chapter ‘Buddhism and other Religions’, contributed by Bhadant Anand Kausalyayan, seeks to review the history of Buddhist culture in the context of Indian thought-currents.
It is hoped that this modest volume on the history and culture of Buddhism written by Indian scholars and published on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s birth quincentenary will be found useful to both scholars and general readers.
I take this opportunity to record my profound appreciation and thanks to my esteemed colleagues in the Department—Dr. L.M. Joshi, and Dr. K.R. Sundararajan, without whose assistance this volume could not have been published in time. My special thanks are due to the contributors to this volume for their ready cooperation at every stage.
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