Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Great Indian

Today happens to be Buddha Poornima, a special day when Gautam Buddha supposedly took birth as Siddharth, achieved enlightenement to become Buddha, and passed away into Nirvana (some coincidence eh). What makes this Buddha Poornima even more special is that today is 2500 years since his birth, a feat magnificent enough for the Lalu-led Indian Railways to run a special Buddhist circuit train.

Amartya Sen considers Gautam Buddha to be the Greatest Indian ever (though Buddha was technically born in Nepal, unlike Madhuri Dixit, I am sure Sen does not consider Nepal a part of India; just that Buddha's bulk of professional work was done here in India). In my mind, the only likely competition for Buddha comes in from Mahatma Gandhi, active in a more contemporary era, but who would have been truly made divine if he was born even a couple of centuries back. Vivekananda was an equal in terms of spiritual enlightenment, while Adi Shankaracharya possibly equalled his zest for spiritual reform.

Yet, as a package, Gautam Buddha remains unsurpassable. His first step towards divinehood emanated from some existential questions, sort of similar to what Arjun asks Krishna in Gita, and even what Peter Parker asks himself in Sam Raimi's Spiderman-II. The questions were basic, yet profound enough to change life, and lives. Apparently, at the age of 29, Siddharth left everything ( a character flaw, or virtue, which Buddha shares with his supposedly preceding avatar, Lord Krishna, who also sacrificed most familial ties and relationships for the global good). Siddharth visited Godmen, and undertook rituals, yet finally achieved enlightenment all by himself, at the age of 35, meditating under a Bodhi tree at Gaya for forty-nine days (Source: wikipedia).

Buddhism is the most logical and humane philosophy possible. For me, its fundamental tenets are balance, reason, compassion, and agnosticism. The beliefs are pessimistic, though true (of the world being a sad place). Yet the way-of-life remains extremely positive, of finding your own way, your own calling, and even your own beliefs (the Ian Chappell/Tony Roche school of coaching anyone?). In a fast codifying religious world hijacked by high-sounding priests, the masses simply took to this simple man preaching in the then common language, Pali.

Buddha was not trying to start off a new religion, just reform the existing one, or rather show a way-of-life. Hinduism responded in a very smart manner, by branding him as an avatar of Vishnu. However, the Buddhism religion really took off a couple of centuries later, when the most famous personality from Bihar ever, Ashoka, sent out his missionaries on the most successful cultural mission from India (possibly matched only by Raj Kapoor's Awara and Shri 420 a couple of milleniums later).

The Buddhist religion spread like wildfire, from Japan in far East to Sri Lanka in immediate South. And at most places, the religion went against the very tenets of what Gautam Buddha had preached. He was called a God, and there were massive gold statues built in his name. Yet, I find Buddhist leaders a lot more easy, a lot less stiff than most other religious leaders. Just compare the Dalai Lama to the Pope, one smiles and talks about homosexuality and teenage sex, the other preaches about abstinence instead of using condoms.

The Buddha and Yoga are easily India's most famous exports. We rarely manage to incorporate Krishna's high-brow sermons in the Gita, I guess it will be a much simpler idea to listen, think about and do what Gautam Buddha said. You know, they both said almost the same things!


multisubj yb said...

Buddhism-- religion is different from what Buddha preached and practised. What supreme knowledge did Buddha gain by abandoning Yashodhara and Rahul? We gain the same knowledge from going through the conveyor belt (roller coster) of life.
Vivekananda was an extrovert with his own pitfalls.

Amit Bajaj said...

Only one facet of the Buddha irks me a bit - that he partook of meat. Somehow it doesn't go too well with the rest of his persona, though my own vegetarian roots may be causing me to see things in a slightly distorted way. From another point of view, if Buddhism had insisted on vegetarianism as a way of life, maybe it would have ended up with Mahavira's results - restricted to vegetarian India. Isn't it also a fact that the Buddha died of poisoned meat/food poisoning caused by goat meat or something..though i am not sure if you can't still attain nirvana!

Citizen Shaker said...

The key is Buddha never made any rules as such (apart from his Universal truths). His middle-path is open to definition by you.

My guess is the Ahimsa bit came in as a missionary development, and stood more for non-violence in thoughts, not literally like in the case of Jains. Apparently, Buddhism (or Buddha's teachings) were dominant in India for a millenium, before losing out to the Bhakti movement (which got Krishna and Hanuman back, along with avatars).

Satyabrat Sinha said...

Bajaj, buddha died of food poisioning, was eating pork.

Anonymous said...

very informative piece. if you’d like to read more about how the gita inspired gandhi, check out