Gujarat, lying in the northwest corner of India, occupies the Northern extremity of the western sea of the country. It is bounded on the northwest by Pakistan. On the east by Madya Pradesh and on the north by Rajastan and on the south and southeast by Maharashtra. On May 1, 1960 as a result of [...]

Sunday Times 2

Modi on Buddhism and Buddhist Gujarat


Gujarat, lying in the northwest corner of India, occupies the Northern extremity of the western sea of the country. It is bounded on the northwest by Pakistan.

On the east by Madya Pradesh and on the north by Rajastan and on the south and southeast by Maharashtra.

On May 1, 1960 as a result of the Bombay Reorganization Act, 1960 the State of Gujarat was formed from the north and west (predominantly Gujarati speaking) portions of Bombay sate, the portions of the remainder being renamed the state of Maharashtra.
According to figures shown in the Year Book of India 1956, there were only two lakhs of Buddhists while there were 3,032 lakhs Hindus, 354 lakhs of Muslims, 82 lakhs of Christians and 62 lakhs of Sikhs.

The number of Buddhists increased up to 17 lakhs in 1981 and 63 lakhs in 1991 (most of them are from Maharashtra who are Amhedkar followers). However, now it is unofficially estimated that there are over 10 million Buddhists across the country.

Buddhist population in Gujarat was very small in 1950′s and now it has increased, but no figures are available.

However, during his tenure of as the chief minister of Gujarat Narendara Modi made all possible efforts to promote Buddhism, find ancient Buddhist monuments and archeological sites in Gujarat.

It was under his guidance an “International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage in Gujarat” was organised by the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda at Vadodara in 2010. Among those who graced this conference was the Dalai Lama.

Following are excerpts from Mr. Modi’s speech:

It gives me immense pleasure to address this international seminar on Buddhist Heritage of Gujarat and talk about the relevance of Buddha’s teachings in present day material world so as to seek purpose of life and follow the path of righteousness. Buddhism is all the more significant as we live in world rift with conflicting interests and nagging threat to world peace.

I have heard that they are the only two types of major religions in the world. Those which originated in the East — Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and those which originated in the relative West – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While the eastern religions believe in mediation, the western religions basically stress on prayer. In eastern religions god is a potentiality while in the western religions god is a person. There is another fundamental difference in the way these religions had spread in the past. While the eastern religions relied solely on the power of the words [the teaching], the western religions relied on the power of the swords along with words.

Buddhism is an Indian religion. It spread to the entire East and now it is fast spreading in the West. Arnold Toynbee considers “Coming of Buddhism to the West” as the most important event in the 20th century and not the landing of man on the moon, or launching a probe onto Mars. While teachings of Buddha are recognised and cherished world over even by non-Buddhists we have slowly forgotten our past association with Buddhism: The philosophy taught by Buddha, the places where it flourished, the heritage it created and the history shaped by it.

Gujarat has a rich heritage woven into a confluence of thoughts, dogmas and religion. From the day when Buddha spread his message in ancient India, Buddhism has been attuned to the great existential quest about self, the universe and for a dynamic new engagement. For centuries it remained the touching stone of creativity leaving behind a deep impact on social and cultural life of ancient Asia in general and south and southeast Asia in particular. As I told earlier it conquered the entire East through the words of Buddha.

You will be surprised to know that till early 19th century people thought that Buddha is only a mythological figure. It was through series of excavations started by British in Varansi in the early 19th century that we could establish he was not just a mythological figure but a historical figure and human being like you and me. The places where he lived, the path he walked were identified along with the words he spoke to establish him as a historical figure. Thus it is through archaeological excavations that the historicity of Buddha could be revealed and in that context the archaeological excavations, which were made in Gujarat in the past and which continues event today, has become highly significant.

Seen over time Buddhism has had a chequered history in this country differing from region to region often owing to the patronage received or denied by the rulers. Widespread presence of Buddhism in Gujarat can be seen from inscriptions on stupas, chaitya grahas, viharas, sculptures and images. Moray citing the Pali scripture of Theragahta says that even during the time of Buddha a few persons of Gujarat had become Buddhists. We find names like Vaddha Thera and Malitavamba Thera of Bharuh in Theragatha. Thus the link between Buddha and Gujarat is as old as Buddha himself. The trade and commerce of Gujarat also played a role in bringing Buddhism to the western part of India. The reason why Gujarat and particularly Bharukaccha, the ancient international port, is frequently mentioned in the oldest Buddhist literature is obvious. Traders coming from Buddhist centres like Benaras, Vaisali etc. brought Buddhism to Gujarat during its early days along with their merchandise. This is why territories of Gujarat are frequently mentioned in the oldest Buddhist literature.

Spread of Buddhism

Interestingly Buddhism was accepted both by common folk and upper castes since the main patrons were merchant community who donated vast amounts of money for Buddhist activities. However, it really got a strong foothold during the time of Ashoka. The Ashokan rock edict in Jungadh bears witness to spread of Buddhism in Gujarat during his time. During the time of Greeks, Partho-Scythians, Satvahanas, Bodhi dynasty, Ksatrapas and Saka rulers who supported Buddhism, several rock-cut monuments appeared in Gujarat, many of which have not been excavated yet. It will be news to many, but during the time of Maitraka kings there were more than 13,000 monks in Gujarat. We also had one of the greatest Buddhist universities “Vallabhi Buddhist University” in Vallabhipur in Gujarat during that period.

Gujarat is also the land of Shantideva, who gave the marvelous Bodhcaryavatara – one of the landmark texts in Buddhism in Sanskrit, which is known to us as “the way of the Bodhisattva”. Hundreds of commentaries have been written on his text, but the infinite wisdom in his words remains to be explored to the full. The prosperous Gujarat whose warehouses were full, and whose merchants carried out commercial activity according to Hieun Tsang supported the intellectual giants of Buddhism like Dharmagupta, Shrimathi and Gunamathi. Hieun Tsang who entered Gujarat from Maharashtra travelled extensively to places like Bharuch, Kutch, Vallbhipur, Saurasthra, including Vadnagar, and notes that both Hinayana and Mahayana were practised in Gujarat. Friends, the time has now come for Gujarat to find its rightful place on the map of the Buddhist world enshrining the glorious legacy and cultural heritage of Lord Buddha.

The excavation of a Buddhist monastery in my hometown Vadnagar is a historical milestone. Gujarat expects the site to grow into a prime destination for tourists on the Buddhist circuit.

Gujarat is poised favourably to become a Buddhist pilgrimage/heritage circuit not only in India but also the world. So far this aspect of Gujarat has not been given due attention. However, I feel that the time has come to make it known to millions of Buddhists, scholars and lovers of Buddhism about the historical and archaeological wealth available for them to enhance their understanding and practice.
The third aspect of this seminar is the philosophy of Buddhism. Though Indian philosophy is different in approach when compared to Western Philosophy, Buddhist philosophy not only matches the western philosophy but also surpasses it in many aspects. It is not only a theory of knowledge but also a system where knowledge and practice intermingle seamlessly creating a way of life. The similarities and differences between the philosophy of Buddhism and Hinduism have been debated for ages. For example, the concept of Shynata [emptiness] and Brahman are they same or different? Incidentally today we have two great authorities on these aspects on the dais.

I believe that one need not read voluminous philosophical treatises in Buddhism to understand Buddha. He had much to offer in the four simple truths than the wisdom contained in all the libraries of the world. In a sense recognition of the fact that there is suffering, and there is a cause for suffering is also the need of government and elected political executives.

It would be easier to offer the explanation of Karma for all the suffering of the people, the poverty, illness and all the rest of it and get away with the existing exploitations and inequalities, but to look for causes in the socioeconomic order the structure in which the society has been set up for the problems of poverty and worldly suffering is the only way to eradicate the same. Government works to change the suffering due to external conditions while monks work to change the internal conditions. What is important here is to see that Buddha did not speak about Karma as an ever-binding entity but a chain which can be cut and removed with proper tools.
It is indeed Buddhist way to liberation: to act but without greed for success, free from the wish to harm anybody and with reason. If there were no possibility of performing good deeds without becoming bound by karma, the internment of man with samsara would be indissoluble, and he would have no chance of ever escaping from suffering.

We hear that Buddhism teaches that everything in the world is determined by the conditions which some might come to the conclusion that Buddhism teaches fatalism and that man has no free will or that will is not free. The problem “whether man has a free will” does not exist for a Buddhist since he knows that apart from these ever-changing mental and physical phenomena, no such entity as “man” can be found and man is merely a name not relating to any reality and the question “whether will is free” must be rejected for the reason that ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is a mental phenomenon flashing forth only for a moment, and that as such it had no existence at the preceding moment. For a thing which is not, or is not yet, one cannot, properly speaking, ask whether it is free or unfree. The only admissible question would be whether the arising of “will” is independent of conditions, or whether it is conditioned.

The concept of inter-being

The concept of inter-dependence in Buddhism assumes much importance during the times of this climate change crisis.

To see everything both material and sentient things as interconnected in an unbroken whole is the essence of fighting climate change. This is what Thich Nhat Hahn calls as inter-being. Even in the material realm if one can see that everything is inter-connected and Mother Nature should not be overexploited it would save this earth and help providing a better world to our future generations.
The second level of looking at this is to look at the interconnectedness of all human beings. To see that all are interconnected through our professional as well as social life will lead to social and communal harmony. As Tagore says once we go beyond the narrow domestic walls that fragment the world to create the feeling of “us and them”, we can see humanity as one and this alone will end all acts of violence and terrorism.

The third level of looking at this is to look at the interconnectedness of human and divine. Even gods are connected to human beings. They depend on us as much as we depend on them, Vivekananda once said. Thus to look at this human connection with the divine provides the motivation for spiritual sadhana or self-transformation. Thus at every level the Buddhist philosophy goes beyond theoretical constructs and offers a practical way of life.

As I said earlier with the world riven by dissension and hate there is an urgent need for an interfaith dialogue to impart universal responsibility, love, compassion and kindness. Simple human-to-human relationships are becoming increasingly urgent with the world turning into a global village and becoming more interdependent than ever. A nation’s problem can be redressed only through universal responsibility in feeling for other’s suffering just as we feel for our own. This is the way a true understanding of human problems can emerge and here comes Lord Buddha’s teaching that anger or hate cannot be a countervailing force to other people’s anger or hate.

Showing equanimity to anger and abuse is the Buddhist way of remaining cool and composed. The reality is that we are rarely insulted though our ego feels otherwise. The ego ‘I’ in us brings forth the anger at being insulted whereas Buddhism enlightens us on the path of knowledge of how best to dissolve the ‘I’. That is why the third theme of the seminar is the exploration of the Buddhist Philosophy with relevance to the need to modern times.

Personally I used to marvel at the concept of Bodhisattva. I think that should be the motive of not only monks and saints but also those who are in public life that is putting oneself the last. Compassion is the basic necessity not only in spiritual sadhana but also in political life as well. In the troubled times we live, Buddhist teachings must be assimilated in our ethos, in our children and for a peaceful and healthy future for it reflects the ethos of Indian culture and tradition.

The last is the tourism aspect of Gujarat which is one of the four themes of this seminar. Even those great saints and sadhus who always live in search of Brahman also need to eat food, earn money and work for that. That is the material question. While we talk about lofty things like philosophy, archaeology and history we also need to look at the tourist potential. We have and its revenue implications. It will also generate development. Buddhist circuit in India at present does not include Gujarat. I told you earlier that we have plenty to offer by the way of tourism to the Buddhists and also for general public. Our historical and archaeological sites remain in their pristine purity.

We are continuing our excavations and discovering new things every day. There is no authentic document available in the public domain other than Moray’s book – “History of Buddhism” which was written 25 years ago. The work that has been going on warrants scholars and researchers to focus on the new discoveries and findings, to understand the rich Buddhist heritage of Gujarat.

(Sent in by Upali Rupasinghe)

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