May is a special month for Indian history. May, of course, is also one of the hottest months of the Indian subcontinent but for now, we will focus just on history and not geography.
It is in May that two of India’s two greatest leaders-one philosophical and the other a military/political leader- were born.
But, first we will understand the legacy and heritage of Gautam Buddha.
The fundamental difference that Buddha made for the millions of Indians was this- he espoused the philosophy of renunciation.
He was born in a royal family and was the heir apparent of the Shakya kingdom but, the sufferings of his subjects made him tleave the worldly trappings and go discover the sublime truth.
He is known for Ahimsa-non violence- which encouraged people to desist from slaughtering mute birds and animals in sacrifices and other rituals.
That a member of the royal family choosing to leave a life of luxury and propagating ahimsa and nirvana, made a significant impact on the minds of the common Indians.After all, how many, princes could forsake their wordly comforts?And, Siddhartha, the prince here, belonged to a family that traced its lineage to the dynasty of Rama, the legendary king of Ayodhya and hero for the countless masses of Indians?
Perhaps , the early traction for Gautam’s views got speed from his lineage.The depth of his philosophy was understood later.
It is believed that Gautam tried to simplify philosophy without going into semantics and metaphysics that makes the subject so boring. In that endeavour, he broke free from the orthodoxy of the scriptures and mindless rituals that were the order of the day.
However, when we look at his legacy objectively, there are two things that harmed India in the long run.
One, his emphasis on ahimsa, led subsequent rulers like the latter Mauryas to shy away from crossing India’s borders and pre empt the foreign invasions. Ahimsa requires us to not hurt any living being, the kings used to argue.
Of course, this led to an increased vulnerability of Indis’ borders to the various attacks of Huns, Sakas and later, Turks and Mongols.
|Rock Cut Images of Gautam Buddha|
The last ruler of the Mauryan dynasty , Brihadratha,was assasinated by Pushyamitra Sunga , his army general , who strongly felt that Buddha’s teachings were being wrongly interpreted by the monks and the kings.
The second legacy of Buddha that was wrongly construed by the ordinary Indians was the practice of renunciation. Ordinary folks got the cue that it was perfectly ok for them to go to the woods and jungles and leave their families home.After all, Buddha too had done it, is’nt it? And it was difficult for the monks and the kings to justify Buddha’s actions.
But, in the ultimate analysis, the philosophy of Buddha was so much compelling to follow that even after 2500 years, the man is still debated upon, revered, followed and looked after as a pole star.
But, there are a few questions which baffle me;
Why did Buddhism find favour with more Indians than Jainism? After all, Mahavira was the contemporary of Gautam?
Secondly, a large number of Jains also being Gujaratis and Gujaratis also being traders, what stopped Jainism from being exported abroad as Buddhism?
If you have answers to these, please let me know.
I am available at swayamt@ gmail.com
In my next post, I shall write about another prince of India that made a fundamental difference to our history- Maharana Pratap.