The tiol conference on Buddhist education at a central Himalayan culture studies centre in Dahung in Aruchal Pradesh’s West Kameng district last week was a refreshing one, given the pragmatism of Buddhism as a spiritual way of life and its role in any education system of values that we, unfortutely, are bereft of these days. These are times of rampant materialism and loss of spiritual vision. Can the Buddhist outlook on life, when absorbed by an education system, help us achieve self-transformation?
Buddha, born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, has often been called the world’s first ratiol man. Experts who have adopted Buddhism as a way of life, non-practising Buddhists included, often hail Buddhism as a way to enlighten oneself with the mysterious law of existence – or what they call “the law of cause and effect”. In Nichiren Buddhism, which is a Japanese stream of Buddhism introduced by the Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin in the 13th century, the stress on the law of cause and effect is far stronger, with the mantra m myoho renge kyo, translating to “I am devoted to the mystic law of life and its manifestation”, guiding its followers towards self-awakening. Nichiren Buddhists, most of whom are Buddhist by choice, say the mantra has salvaged them from their hours of gloom and despondency, coming to their aid whenever they felt there was no reason to hope for anything better in the world. They say the mantra, when chanted repeatedly, has helped them attain an extraordiry state of peace or calmness leading to a state of unconditiol love and compassion, which the modern world, torn asunder by terrorism and senseless violence of varied shades, so badly lacks.
But what was Buddha’s main thrust? His was an agnostic view of life: it did not matter to him whether God existed or not, whether He was indeed the Master Creator of the universe or not. Buddha was primarily concerned with human suffering and its chief cause. According to him, it is desire that causes a man to suffer, and life is a saga of suffering because it is a saga of desires in the first place. This is a very practical outlook on life, and a very easy concept to understand, unlike the complex theories of life and its meaning and purpose as enunciated in the Vedas and the Upanishads, apart from what Krish tells Arju in the Bhagawad Gita. Given this, he begins with suffering and tells us that we suffer because we nurse desires. Drop your desires, and you will not suffer. In other words, the condition for non-suffering or happiness or joy is a desire-less existence.
Is it possible? It is impossible to find one who does not have any desires and who is therefore happy. It is impossible to think of a person whose life is a saga of everything but desires. For, if there is no desire, what use is life? How can life be beautiful, meaningful? Can life have any purpose? And if life is purposeless, why should one live at all? These are practical questions.
In Nichiren Buddhism, which is a huge attraction in the West these days, thanks to the initiative of the intertiol spiritual movement called Soka Gakkai Intertiol (SGI), there are hints of solutions to such questions. This, I say with confidence because though born into a Brahmin family where the ethos of Hinduism in its purest – and at times highly conservative – form are followed rigorously, there has been a choice-based spontaneous conversion to Nichiren Buddhism in me where my discovery is highly refreshing and transformative. One can find here a very ratiol approach to human life – its vagaries – without the burden of god worship, or more importantly, without the fear of any god because god is not a matter of concern in the scheme of things here; what is, is love and compassion for fellow beings, including the flora and fau around. There is no parochialism and bigotry here, because the very philosophy is such that it precludes rrowness from taking roots. There is no malice here. No vitriol.
It says one just needs to be a loving, caring and compassiote human being, and spread the happiness of him being filled with love and compassion. This can be a desire that does not lead to any suffering. Help others, it says, without any motive, and spread the happiness of you being so because you have helped others without seeking anything in return. But this calls for a huge heart – some sort of a Pacific Ocean, filled with motiveless love and compassion. Which is possible for each one of us, but seldom do we take a pause and ponder.
Swami Vivekanda, the first Indian to inform the world of the richness of the Vedanta school of thought and the spiritual wisdom of Hinduism as a philosophy, and not merely a regime of rites and rituals, said of Buddha that this sage’s chief characteristic was that he was without any motive and he wanted his followers not to work with a motive in mind. This is itself non-violence. For, when you are associated with someone without any motive in your mind, where and how can there be any place for violence? Ages before Mahatma Gandhi came to the scene and made non-violence a political tool as he sought absolute freedom from the cruel and exploitative clutches of the imperial British, a sage called Buddha had walked on earth and informed it of the essence of non-violence: love and compassion, and thereby, righteous conduct. There is no complexity in his theory. It is all so simple, and yet so appealing. It goes straight into your heart and mind. The layman is not confused when he listens to Buddha and makes a self-transformation endeavour.
In the light of this, the three-day “tiol Conference on Buddhist Education” at the Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies at Dahung, which was graced by Aruchal Pradesh Governor Brig (retd) BD Mishra on its day of iuguration last Monday, holds great significance, in which the Governor rightly said, “It is time to develop Buddhist education for creating happy individuals which is essential for a peaceful society.” This simple sentence sums up the whole quintessence of Buddhist education. In other words, if one is educated in the Buddhist tradition, one can lead a happy life – a life where joy comes in turally – and there cannot be any question of discord, rift and violence. We shall have a peaceful society then. Is this not precisely what we are looking for? Is this not precisely what we lack so badly despite our best conflict-resolution efforts and numerous peace studies and research centres?
If there had been no Buddha to teach us perhaps as the world’s greatest teacher of love, compassion, fellow feeling, non-violence and intellectual dissent (Buddha was open to all kinds of query, disagreements and dissent), the world would have remained engrossed in parochial, petty and paltry interpretations of religion and spirituality, thus depriving us of human revolution. India must be proud of this revolutiory sage. But India should be prouder: that it is at the root of a radical education system drawn from the essence of Buddhist philosophy that inspires a value-based education system towards achieving peace and order across this violence-ragged world.
Remember, what worth is education if it cannot help us attain a state of peace and order, which is so crucial to the scripting of any development story? There is no gainsaying that for peace and order in their real sense, the chief prerequisites are love, compassion and fellow feeling? And what worth is education if it does not prompt us to undertake a serious and meaningful inner journey towards self-awareness and self-realization? Here comes the spiritual dimension of education, and it is here that the Buddhist fashion of education can work out wonders if it is understood in its entirety, and followed too.