India rediscovered and the Buddhist Resurgence



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by Upali K. Salgado


The legendary Mayan Civilisation in Guatamaia, South America, the towering high Pyramids and the well preserved Mummies of Egypt, the enchanting Greco-Ghandhara Art and sculpture of Northern Pakistan and Kashigistan in lower Mongolia, are just a few areas that have drawn the attention of a rare stock of men identified as Archaeologists, Egyptologists, Epigraphic and Philologist whos spent their most fruitful years working silently to unravel the engineering skills and art of buried civilizations. Whilst all this activity took place beneath the good earth history was created illuminating the lost landmarks associated with the ministry of Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha.


Long before David Livingstone and Cecil Rhodes explored the, vast wilds of central Africa, another adventurer Godfrey Fawcett boldly ventured deep into the crocodile, scorpion and reptile lands upstream of the Amazon river of Brazil, (never did he return), the Silk Road linking the heart of central China with Persia and Greece was known. In 627 a Buddhist Chinese monk Xuanzang (better known as Hsuan Tsang), wearing long dark robes with prayer beads in hand, left the old city of Chang-an in north China, with an unquenchable thirst, to find for himself and bring back glorious suttas of the sage, Sakyamuni Gothama Buddha. His adventurous expedition covered good part of the Silk Road, that was known about five hundred years previously when the notorious waves of marauders of history, the Huns were a great threat to the the peace and stability of China.


Hsuan Tsang (Xuanzang) was born to an educated family, and in his younger days dwelled into religion. In that background, he yearned to travel to where the Buddha trod. On a great journey lasting several years he moved from Oasis to Oasis of Central Asia, known for extremes of climates, of wealth, strong winds and having difficult terrain to travel on. In one instance, he escaped death when a snow avalanche nearly buried him. Travelling on horseback, he joined caravans of traders who were interested in bartering their Chinese florid looking porcelain, alabaster ornaments silk and spices, beautifully woven Persian carpets. He passed through the great Central Asian Talakaman desert touching Bisnket and Tashkent from there on to the gates of rugged mountainous Afganistan,then to Peshwar, a wellknown border post in the Khyber Pass leading to the Indian Sub-Continent.


ALEXANDER THE GREAT


By that time there had been interaction with the Greeks which resulted, in Alexander the Great and his artists leaving behind their footprints of culture portraying the appealing Greco Ghandara sculpture in the Indus valley chiseled on white marble brought from distant Greece. This happened about five hundred years after the Buddha’s Maha - Pari Nibbana (demise)


It was in this era that the Greek Bactrian King Milander had long fruitful recorded conversations with the intellectual Buddhist monk Nagasena. Often the King appeared fascinated and also puzzled about the teachings of the Great Master Gotama Buddha. He therefore sought clarification before he accepted the word of the Buddha. Like Hsuan Tsang, King Milander was always like an explorer in search of something..... it was nothing but the TRUTH.


On one occasion, King Milander asked Nagasena, "Can there be any rebirth where there is no transmigration?" The monk replied, "Yes there can, just as man can light one lamp from another but nothing moves from one lamp to another; or as a pupil can learn a verse by memory from a teacher, but the verse does not transmigrate from the teacher to the pupil." Again, the vexed King asked Nagasena, "Is there any being who transmigrates from this body to another?" The monk replied "No there is not", the King then said, "if that is so, would there not be an escape from the result of evil deeds?" The monk said, "yes there would be an escape, if they are not to be reborn, but there would not be, if they were to be reborn. The mind and body process commits deeds either pure or impure, and because of that KAMMA, another mind and body process is born. Therefore this mind and body is not free from evil deeds."


HSUAN TSANG travelled all over India and to Saranath, where at the Deer Park the Buddha preached His first sermon. At Saranath is the 145 ft tall DHAMECK STUPA. Then he went to Buddha Gaya the holiest spot for all Buddhists; and to Vaisali near Patna, where the Ratana Sutta was recited. HSUAN TSANG traveled to Sankasen (modern Sankassa) and then on to Kushinara where the Buddha passed away. Scholar Lal Joshi states that, at Kushinara (modern Kasinagar) remained for Buddhists the most sacred place of ancient times, until the end of the Gupta rule. This Chinese monk studied Sanskrit and returned to China with several Suttas and Buddha images, though some of them were unfortunately robbed on the way by bandits. He later translated these Suttas to be read in the libraries of Beijing. This celebrated explorer passed away at the age of sixty five in 664, and the grateful Chinese people have built in his honour a Temple containing many valued manuscripts. The Yogachara School in Beijing is yet another monument created to remember the great monk. In Chinese writings, HSUAN TSANG has been likened to a boat that crossed the great ocean of samsara (suffering). In the, process he faced great risks to his life, though he brought much happiness and learning to his followers


The Silk Road Relived


About 1400 years later, a spirited and gritty Chinese woman SUN SHUYUN, was born just 52 years ago, in 1960. In childhood she was nurtured by her devout Buddhist grandmother, to tolerate and live through Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She had vivid unpleasant memories of sudden raids at night by the Revolution Red Guards to Temples where Buddha artifacts were destroyed. Also she witnessed the shooting of thousands who gathered at Tianain Square, Beijing, as they were said to have ideas not moving with New China’s Forward March to be Communist State. Having digested the famous Chinese epic THE MONKEY KING on which they believe, Chairman Mao had based a part of his LITTLE RED BOOK, this graduate from the Beijing and Oxford Universities was inspired to re discover the old SILK ROAD taken by their Idol Hsuan Tsang. She did not have to join the horse Caravans, or meet dangerous brigands and thieves enroute to India but moved on an archaic coal powered steam driven puffing noisy locomotive with a few carriages, all having hard seats of wood. When necessary, she travelled in a "relic" of a jeep, which often needed mechanical attention. Her journey’s last leg had to be by a small size Airplane as she was denied an entry visa at a border post - point of entry a few miles away from Pakistan.


Thereafter her travels were by train and other public forms of transport within the Indian sub-continent. On her way to India, she passed through Gaochang city, the second major oasis outside China and then to see the NINGRONG CAVE MONASTERY where the Bozeklil murals are. There are some fifty caves at this spot which had beautiful world famous Buddhist murals. Most of them have been vandalized by a German Explorer Albert van Lee Coq (1904 -06) for the Berlin Ethnographic Museum. Besides the Germans, the Swedes, Americans and Japanese had raced with each other to unearth antiquities of value, found in a rich civilization that had blossomed in central Asia. Mrs. SUN SHUYUN had travelled a ten thousand miles in one hundred and eighty days, paying homage to the Buddha at Saranath, Buddha Gaya, Vaisali and Kushinagar. On arrival at the Afghanistan border, a hostile climate prevailed. On 26th Feb. 2001 the Taliban Leader, Mullah Mohamed Omar Decreed:


"In view of the Fatwa of prominent Afghan Scholars, and the verdict of the Afghan Supreme Court, it has been decided to destroy completely all statues/idols present in Afghanistan. This is because idols are gods of infidels who worship them, and are respected even now, and may be turned into Gods again. Our Great god is ALLAH only, and all other false Gods must be removed"


Bamiyan situated about 250 km North West of Kabul, and is nestled between the Hindu Kush and Kohi-baba mountain ranges at an altitude on 2850 meters. The Big Buddha image 55 meters tall, Carb in the 6th Century AD. and a small Buddha image 38 meters tall were dynamited by the Muslim Taliban group to the horror and condemnation of the entire world, which was made known at all levels and in world forums. After this insensible fanatic behavior, there triumphed unsolicited, sympathy and a great fund of goodwill towards Buddhism from all parts of the world, as it is well known that Buddhism was a noble religion with no history of wars for religious conversion. From the ashes and dust of the dynamite at Bamia there arose a Buddhist awakening.


Other Pathfinders of Buddhist Glory and Worship


Straddling the generation of HSUAN TSANG, and SUN SHUYUN of our jet age, there lived in British Colonial India, an Archaeologist - a Colossus of his time, who brought out with his untiring efforts, light to recreate a Buddhist India. He was an Engineer in the Army. Major General SIR ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM, had on his own studied Sanskrit and the Chinese languages. On being released from the Army this military man turned Archaeologist became a key player to discover with the help of his Assistant Archibald Carlyle, several Buddha relics. As the first Head of the Indian Archaeological Survey, Cunningham followed Hsuan Tsang accounts referring to follow the path trod by the Buddha, during His Mission of forty years. At the age of forty seven, in 1861 Sir ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM began a fruitful exercise to devote the rest of his Life to unearth the buried Buddhist religion, in the very country it was founded. Very few people at that time spoke of Buddhism except those living in Ceylon. Burma, Siam, Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia and in Japan. In the West there were few books on the subject. Buddhist Scholars Etienne Lamotte, Louis De La ValLo Poussin, Oldenberg, Rhy Davids wrote on Buddhism much later in the 20th century. ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM concentrated his efforts to restore the 170ft tall Buddha Gaya temple which was first known as "Vajiraman Gaandhakuti". The structure dates beyond the 2nd century AD is majestic looking architectural masterpiece of Gupta Period.


Another who visited Buddha Gaya in 1868 was SIR EDWIN ARNOLD, KCIE, whose epic poem THE LIGHT OF ASIA aroused great interest in Buddhism all over the world and inspired ANAGARIKA DHAMMAPALA to visit the site and firmly resolve to take control of into Buddhist hands from the Hindu Mahantha. Largely due to his efforts through the Mahabodhi Society of India in Calcutta he urged the Indian Central Government to later (after his demise) appoint a Buddhist Committee drawn from several countries to,,Administer the temple which is today a World Heritage Site.


Restoring reclining Buddha


Archaeologist Archibald Carlyle was greatly responsible for restoring the 6.1 meter long red sand stone reclining Buddha image at Kushinara. This beautiful image was untouched by the Archaeological survey of India. When the Viharage housing it was rebuilt in time for the Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations in 1956. He also excavated the ARDHANA STUPA where in 1910, he found a copper vessel and plate indicating it was the place Gotama Buddha was cremated. Yet another Archeologist was JOHN MASHALL who did a tremendous amount of work between 1925 and 1940 to restore the Archeological park at Sanchi in Bopal state. John Marshall identified several beautiful gateways carved in stone which depict Buddhist Jathaka Stories and the bringing of the Sri Maha Bodhi sapling to Ceylon.


In search of Buddha’s Birth Place, Lumbini Gardens


Author Charles Allen in his book: THE BUDDA AND THE SAHIBS refers to the finding of a five foot nine inches tall polished stone pillar, where inscribed are four lines, which later with the help of Dr. Fuhrer, an Austrian residing in Vienna, were identified to be "Ashcan Brahmi. Dr. Fuhrer (Prof of lndology and Archaeology), revealed the sentences HIDE BUDHE- JATE SAKYAMINI – TI LUMMINIGAME when translated to be : "Here was the Buddha Born at Lumbini Village". Shortly afterwards, following upon traveller HUAN TSANG’S drawings he moved south, about 18km and identified Kapilavastupura the home of Prince Sidhartha Gauthama who became the Buddha. All these discoveries took place between 1895 and 1897, according to the Royal Asiatic Society Journals


Resurgent Modern


Buddhist India


History records that long after Sakyamui Gotama Buddhas time, Muslim rulers, Akbar the Great, and Shivaji wiped out Buddhist worship in North India to great extent, leaving small pockets of Buddhism in Uttara Pradesh where the Theravada Buddhist doctrine survived. It modern times, it was left to a Scheduled Caste brilliant scholar and Lawyer, DR. BHIMRAO RAMJI AMBEDKAR (1891 – 1956) to lead the "Buddhist Revival. Like Mahathma Gandhi Dr. AMBEDKAR is today revered by millions who are Dialits (the lowest of Hindu Castes) of Indian society. He was a scholar from Columbia University who later became a Lawyer and a respected Political Leader in the Cabinet of Sri Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and V. Patel. They lead the Indian Nationalist Movements to gain Indians’ Independence. He was the chief Architect to draft the new Indian Constitution which was adopted in 1947. At a mass Rally held in Napur, along with over 30 thousand "scheduled" caste Indian’s he publicly embraced Buddhism, and thereby gave the lead to the revival of Buddhism in modern India. Today, India has a Buddhist population of over 100 million people in Uttara Pradesh, Madya Pradesh Maharatra Pradesh and around Guntur in the South East. Once again the scented flower of Buddhism bloomed in the land of his birth. Today the untouchable caste Indians of yesteryear are a reckonable political force and hold high positions in administration under a guaranteed percentage for employment in Government. The State of India has given patronage to the rightful place of Buddhism in the Country by using the Dhamma Chakka (Wheel of righteousness, used by Emperor Asoka the Great.)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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