Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My tryst with Buddhism

Since my childhood, my family has been a passive follower of Mahatma Budh, generally because of the influence of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the Doaba region of Punjab. If my memory supports me well, I remember that even 50 years back, my uncle Jai Ram who had an artistic bent of mind, painted ‘Buddham Sharnam Gacchami’ on the doors of our house. With this early influence, I have been following Buddhism consciously or sub-consciously, in spite of the fact that neither my family nor I ever followed, at any time, religious rituals strictly. After joining government service in 1970, I went to Delhi. There also occasionally, I visited  Budh Vihar in R.K. Puram along with my likeminded colleagues and friends. In my day to day living when ever some thought of peace and compassion came to me, Mahatma Budh appeared at the back of my mind.

I was posted to the Indian Embassy in Beijing in 1977. The Chinese masses followed Buddha before communists took over. During my interaction with some of the Chinese, they told me that still most of the people particularly the old generation still worshipped and followed Buddha in their minds. I also told them that I was a Buddhist by mind. During my stay in Beijing, I visited many closed monasteries and other places where thousands of statues and images of Buddha were discarded and stored. Now with the changed situation in China, people are free to follow their religion and Buddhism is back in currency.

Sri Lankans follow Buddha. I was posted at Assistant High Commission in Kandy, the seat of Dalda Maligawa, where the tooth relic of Buddha is kept and preserved. I visited Dalda Maligawa many a times to satisfy my inner urges pertaining to Buddha.  I witnessed Perahera (procession) every year in which the tooth relic of Buddha is taken out. The tooth relic used to be carried by a majestic elephant named Raja, gifted by PM Jawaharlal Nehru in the early 50s. Raja was declared a national treasure by Sri Lanka. Raja died sometime in 1988. It fell on me to place a wreath on Raja, kept at the Dalda Maligawa, on behalf of the Government of India to condole the death and pay regards. I still cherish the memory of that unique experience. I had occasions to speak and interact with Bhikkhus (Buddhist priests) many a times during my stay in Kandy.  The link and association with things Buddhist were kept and maintained.

Japanese Buddhist Priest Rev. D.S. Uchida in Jalandhar
In the process of my diplomatic duties, I was assigned to the Indian Embassy in Tokyo from 2001-03. Japan being a Buddhist country, there were many opportunities to get associated with Buddhism. I visited a number of times the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, where the ashes (remains) of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose have been kept, to represent the Embassy at many events and joined the Buddhist ceremonies and rituals. My Japanese friend Reverend D.S. Uchida, who was a great friend of India, provided me many opportunities to visit Buddhist temples. I visited the famous city of temples Kyoto and went to many famous temples as a pilgrimage. I was specially obliged and honoured by Rev. D.S. Uchida and his associates by conducting a Buddhist welcome ceremony on the marriage of my daughter Vaishali at President Hotel in Jalandhar in December, 2001. They specially came to Jalandhar for the purpose on my humble invitation. I was touched by their generosity. On my introduction and request, Rev. Uchida visited a local Budh Vihar in Bootan Mandi, my native place, and made a special prayer.

I have had the pleasure of meeting His Holiness Dalai Lama. I met and had lunch with Dalai Lama in Tokyo in 2003 at the residence of DCM of the Indian Embassy Biren Nanda. Second time I met him in Prague sometime in 2006 at an international spiritual conference. Dalai Lama is such a humble dignitary that he immediately recognized me as the representative of the Indian embassy and hugged me warmly. My Buddhist spiritual instincts were touched and I felt contented from within.

With Japanese Buddhist Priest in Tokyo
In Scotland, where I was the Consul General of India in the years 2007-08, I regularly interacted with the Buddhist community in Glasgow, ardent followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and attended a couple of their functions. At one of the functions, they gifted me ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma” the book written by Dr. Ambedkar.  I read this book only recently, after my retirement in 2010. In Dr. Ambedkar’s own words, “it is a clear and consistent statement of the life and teaching of the Buddha.”

Lord Buddha’s teachings and philosophy has a considerable relevance in the day to day life. We are a poor country and most of the followers of Buddha in India are poor. As some food for thought, I quote from the book ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’ from the chapter “His dislike for poverty”.  Giving the reasons, answering a question, why one should acquire riches? Lord Buddha did not comfort the poor by praising poverty nor did he sublimate poverty as a happy state for man to live in. It is message not only for the poor followers of Buddha but for the whole country. The followers of Mahatma Budh shall not be poor and depressed.



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