Is Buddhism the answer to religious fundamentalism?

Is Buddhism the answer to  religious fundamentalism?

The recent attack on the Buddha Gaya shrine has evoked little protest and exposed our widespread ignorance of history. This is not the first time that...

The recent attack on the Buddha Gaya shrine has evoked little protest and exposed our widespread ignorance of history. This is not the first time that an assault on the temple of the Buddha has been made. The Buddha, perhaps, is the only historical person who had received the largest and the most heinous attempts on his life when he was alive and on his memorials after the parinirvana. No individual in human history received so much of attention (with hatred) as did Buddha for the simple preaching of non-violence and compassion towards fellow human being. Therefore, we need to contextualise the so-called religious fundamentalist attacks on Buddhism, not yet clear who was behind it, to highlight the re-emergence of its relevance to a troubled world of capitalist expansion.

The emergence of Buddhism needs to be looked at as a response to the religious bigotry and institutional exploitation of an order at an early stage of gana-sanghas in the Sakhya and Koliya region. Ajatasatru who became a disciple of the Buddha belonged to naga clan as his grandfather Naga Sena suggests (Romila Thapar). It was not an advanced republic and the relations among the groups seem to have relied on ideological considerations as in a primitive communist order. This is very important to understand the so-called pre-capitalist modes of production, including primitive communism, ancient society, etc. Primitive communism as distinguished from primitive accumulation according to Hindess and Hrist (Pre-capitalist Modes of Production) is an articulation of a combination of economic and ideological relations between individuals.

In fact, the authors revealed how Marx and Engels adopted an erroneous classification of first organisation of society in history from the writings of millionaire-cum- missionary, Morgan. The enunciation and mission of the Buddha during his lifetime appears to be deliberate to socially integrate the downtrodden in primitive communist conditions. After conceiving the notion of dialectics, the first intellectual breakthrough in the history of ideas, the Buddha collected his disciples.

Lakshmi Narasu gives the list of his first batch of disciples consisting of Anathapindaka, Alavaka, Upali, Ambapali, Jivaka, Sunita, Visakha, and Angulimala. Interestingly, all of them seem to have originated from the indigenous groups (Mallas where he breathed his last) waiting for a leader to champion their cause. Earlier, the Buddha had dialogues with the Ajivikas like Poorna Kasyapa, Ajita kesa Kambal, etc, and got them into his order.

Is the recurrence of past socio-economic conditions together with religious fundamentalism reiterating Buddhism as a countervailing force today? One of the weaknesses in certain segments of Buddhist teachings and practice is alleged to be the priority given to Astangamarg and panchshila rituals without much study and reflection on the core of Buddhism. Some of the Bikkhus and the laity who claimed to follow the Buddha are not aware of the greatest intellectual contributions of Buddhism to humankind, lamented Dalai Lama in a seminar at Bodh Gaya in 2009 ( I was present).

It could be due to the split in the order into 18 groups like every other belief system. But, the distinction of Buddhism is that it did not develop as a religion (no God, or priest) but only as a way of life in the South Asian countries with common intellectual legacy. The contributions of Dignaga and Dharma Kirti, apart from Vasubandhu and even Rahul Sankrutyan, are accepted by every Buddhist.

What seems to be missing in the Buddhist order today is some kind of a parochial approach to project limited version or interpretations without a universal appeal to the masses. I must confess here that Sharad Patil wrote to me to find out whether Dharma Kirti, one of the greatest Buddhist scholars, was a Telugu person.

Yes, he was, if Kumarila Bhatt was his nephew; he belongs to Kalingandhra and Dignaga was from coastal Andhra. Dharmakirti's English translations are just available (2004 Dunne). His commentary on Epistemology in Pramanavartika was presaged 1200 years before what Hume propounded in the 18th century. Dharmakirti who confronted the unreality of caste through his secular philosophical thesis was thrown out of India and sheltered in Tibet. How is the so-called Taliban (talib, in Arabic, means students) is alleged to be one of the fundamentalist groups along with several other religious formations creating social tensions. It is easy to trivialise and stereotype a community for political reasons. But, we may never get to the roots without understanding the socio-economic and historical transformation of the community.

In this context, the contribution of Afghanistan to the world of knowledge and culture, particularly to Buddhist realm, needs to be recognised. How could anyone overlook the contribution of Gandhara Art (as a blend of Greek and Indian) in the Bamiyan Buddhas and the greatest service done by Pathan brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu to Buddhist Metaphysics. (Ghazni, Ghori, Shankaracharya, et al, are alleged Aryan expansionists). As a transit of the silk route, the people of the region were profited by the cross-cultural interactions. They dragged into the present situation due to the Arab problem.

The enlightened effort made by Prophet Mohammed in uniting and giving an identity to the anarchic groups in the Mediterranean region must be recalled. He brought peace through Islam.

Buddhism, scholars assert, had enriched Abrahaimic and Indian thought through its Philosophy of Logic and Temple architecture as the first monastic order in history. The cross-fertilisation of ideas contributed to development of science and technology. It seems the discovery of crude in the region and the accumulation of money through exports created glitches due to Sharia.

Interest on lending is forbidden in the Middle East. The Saudi billionaires with the support of American bankers have crafted a dubious strategy. The region is once again torn into pieces and there seems to be no leader or Messiah like Prophet Mohammed to bring unity and peace in the region and the poor have become a prey to the wicked designs of the global powers. It is reported that the poor among the Muslims in Saudi constitute 20 per cent and in Afghanistan 45 per cent and the same number in Pakistan and India. They are frustrated.

The conditions in India and Asia today remind us of the days of the Buddha. The leaders are baffled and constrained to look at the historical and intellectual directions like Buddhism to find solutions to religious fundamentalism. The oil-rich have no problems as all of their investments are safe in the West and the poor are made weird.

This internal socio-economic discrepancy across Asia and the Middle East is in muddles waiting for a competent leader and ideology to take on fundamentalism (market and religious). Do the three cornerstones of Anitya, Anatma and Nirvana of Buddhism with its ideology of compassion and integration help address the contemporary upheaval in Asia?

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