Editorials by Sangharakshita

 
 

Buddha Gaya

This editorial first appeared in The Maha Bodhi May-June 1954

On May 17th Buddhists all over the world will recall the Birth, Enlightenment and Death of Gautama the Buddha. But inasmuch as to be born and to die is the lot of every being, whereas the attainment of Enlightenment is an event rare as the flowering of the Udambara tree, it is to the Enlightenment, to that deepest spiritual experience whereby mortal man achieved immortal Buddhahood, rather than to the physical accidents of birth and death, that our thoughts turn on the Thrice-Sacred Vaisakha Purnima Day. It is to Buddha Gaya, to the Diamond Throne beneath the Bodhi-tree, rather than to the garden at Lumbini or the quiet grove at Kusinara, that the main stream of our devotion flows. As we sit, morning and evening, and meditate on the Buddha's Enlightenment, there dawns upon our inner eye a vision of the stately spire of the Maha Bodhi Temple as it rises above the tops of the surrounding trees. We see the great Bodhi-tree, lineal descendant of the one beneath whose branches the young Indian ascetic sat, five-and-twenty centuries ago, resloving that though the blood should dry up in his veins, and his body crumble to dust, he would not stir from his seat until Enlightenment had been attained. For an instant we have, as it were, a glimpse of a Figure sitting radian and victorious in the rays of the early morning sun, and hear the songs of praise which were echoed by the deva hosts from the earth even to the highest heaven. Then the centuries roll like clouds across our mind's eye, and when they have passed we find ourselves back in the twenty-fifth century. The Eye of Faith, which opens so rarely, has closed, and the eye of flesh sees Buddha Gaya as it is today - a hot, dusty and dilapidated place where, after more than sixty years of agitation, the Buddhists of India still have less than half a share in the manangement of their own holiest shrine - to them the most sacred spot in the universe - and the millions of Buddhists in Ceylon, Burma, Siam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Tibet and Nepal no share at all.

 

Hence there must be a touch of sadness in our remembrance of the Buddha's Enlightenment. Though conditions at the sacred shrine have in many ways improved considerably since the Government of Bihar passed an Act which provided for the setting up of a Managing Committee, the fact that this body is so constituted as to have a permanent non-Buddhist majority, is a state of affairs perhaps even more humiliating to the Buddhists than was their previous total exclusion from the management of the affairs of the Temple. Surely none but Buddhists would have had the forebearance to aquiesce in such a thoroughly inequitable arrangement! However, they did so aquiesce, in the hope that they would eventually be able to obtain by peaceful means recognition of the justice of their claim that the management of the world's most sacred Buddhist shrine should be in the hands of Buddhists. Now that the Chief Justice of Burma, who recently came to India on pilgrimage, has submitted a report on the Temple to the Union Government of Burma, it is to be hoped that the movement for full restoration of the Temple to Buddhist hands which was started by Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala, Founder of the Maha Bodhi Society, and which has unfortunately slackened off during the last few years, may increase in momentum until a long outstanding injustice to the whole Buddhist world is removed and the Maha Bodhi Temple at last made over to the followers of the Enlightened One.

Meanwhile, we have to bring to the notice of our readers yet another threat to Buddhist interests in Buddha Gaya. At a village eight miles from the sacred spot there took place, from the 18th to the 20th April, the sixth Sarvodaya Conference. The Conference was presided over by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, the veteran follower of Mahatma Gandhi, whose movement for the voluntary donation of land (Bhoodan Yajna) has recently attracted the attention and enthusiastic support of a large section of both public and press. Six hundred delegates from various parts of the country attended, and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Vice-President of India, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, were also present and addressed the Conference. On the social, economic and political aspects of the Srvodaya movement we have no comment to make. What most gravely concerns all Buddhists, however, is the announcement made by Sri Bhave at the morning session of the Conference, an announcement which has already produced effects which may well be detrimental not only to the interests of Buddhists but also, here in India at least, to Buddhism itself. Sri Bhave announced his intention to establish at Buddha Gaya a Samanvaya Mandir, or centre for religious, cultural and racial synthesis. The way in which this announcement was hailed (under banner headlines, of course) by one newspaper gives a clear indication of the kind of mental attitude which could lead to the conception of such a project. 'Buddha Gaya', we are informed, 'is shortly to assume further importance in the eyes of the world'. The attainment of Enlightenment was not, apparently, sufficient to give the place that full importance which it will now gain by having a Samanavaya Mandir built there by Sri Bhave. Could blasphemous impertinence go farther than this? It is as though one should think to increase the importance of the Himalayas by building a sandcastle upon their lower slopes.

Not only is the importance of Buddha Gaya to be enhanced, but the teachings of the Buddha are, apparently, to be improved upon. 'Vedanta and Ahimsa (teachings of Lord Buddha) were interlinked, one could not fully develop without the other. Particularly Ahimsa, non-violence, could never have solid basis without the foundation of Vedanta' - thus runs the newspaper report of Sri Bhave's speech. Here we find him playing the good old game, so popular among certain people, of belittling Buddhism, with all its elaborate ethics, intricate psychology, and profound metaphysical conceptions, by reducing it to a single negative ethical precept which occupies in the whole system a place analogous to that of a single leaf on a gigantic tree. Having reduced it is this way, they complain of the deficiences of Buddhism, and declare that it needs to be supplemented by some outside teaching. Holding as he does such a low opinion of Buddhism, we need not be surprised that Sri Bhave continues his speech with the assertion 'Satya (Truth) was revealed in all its glory only in Vedanta'. Naturally, one would not expect a system which teaches only Ahimsa to reveal the truth in all its glory! The result is that we are to have at Buddha Gaya a centre for the sysnthesis of Buddhism and Vedanta.

How completely removed is Sri Bhave's line of thought (if such confusion of views can be represented by a line at all) is still further revealed by the fact that on April 17th he declared 'God has initiated me in Bhoodan Yajna and he has guided me throughout', while on the 18th he asserted 'I was inspired in my Bhoodan work in Buddha Gaya by Lord Buddha'. Either the speaker equates the Buddha with God (a fantastic idea) or one of the statements is simply false. To try to enlist the prestige of a great name in support of some ephemeral movement is a trick which modern people, especially politicians, are fond of playing. We have been told that the Buddha was an agnostic, a rationalist, a social reformer, a democrat, a socialist and even a communist. Now we are told 'Lord Buddha's teachings were in fact the teachings of Sarvodaya'.

Let the Buddhist world know fully the facts to which we have referred, and let them understand the significance of those facts. At a spot only two hundred yards from the Diamond Throne of the Buddha an institution is to be established for the propagation of ideas which are not only different from but even hostile to the teachings of Buddhism. This institution is being established by a person who, doubtless in all sincerity, believes himself to be inspired by God, a being whose very existence was emphatically denied by the Buddha. The ideological background of the institution is the notion that since the Buddha taught nothing but Ahimsa His teachings are inadequate, and need to be supplemented by the teachings of Vedanta which, we are explicitly told, alone reveals truth in its fulness. That Sri Bhave's ideas are not without powerful backing is evinced by the fact that the digging of the well which will mark the centre of the Sarvodaya Mandir was inaugurated by the President of the Indian Republic, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, while the Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, made a donation toward the cost of sinking the well. The Mahant of the Shaivite Monastery at Buddha Gaya, whose predecessors opposed by all means, fair and foul, the transfer of the Maha Bodhi Temple to Buddhist hands, has donated five bighas of land to the institution - a circumstance which must surely arouse the worst suspicions of any Buddhist who has even the slightest knowledge of events in Buddha Gaya during the last sixty years.

We wonder what would be the reaction of the Muslim world if a movement which denied the existence of Allah, and asserted that the teachings of Mohammed were in serious need of supplementation, should attempt to establish in the shadow of of the Kaaba an institution for the dissemination of ideas which were opposed to the doctrines of the Quoran. Or what would be the Catholic reaction if Sri Bhave, after declaring that Christ was not the Son of God, that his teachings were defective, and that truth in its fulness could be found only in the Vedanta, should try to found in St. Peter's Square an institution for the synthesis of Christianity and Vedanta? Possession, we are told, is nine points of the law, and the fact that Mara has been in possession of the Diamond Throne for so many centuries, and has only recently been made to shift a few inches in his seat, seems to have made the Buddhist world reluctant to insist upon their right and their duty to care for the sacred place. But the challenge now made to the very existence of Buddha Gaya as a centre for the dissemination of pure Buddhist religion and culture cannot be allowed to go unanswered. What answer will the Buddhist world make? And when?