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Thứ Sáu, tháng 7 01, 2005

No. 0387 ( Hạt Cát dịch)

TRAVELS ALONG THE MIDDLE PATH
Nirvana: Buddhist Pilgrimages in India
By Subhadra Sen Gupta, Rupa, Rs 295

Buddhism emerged mainly as a reaction against the prevalence of rituals and caste divisions within Hinduism. The religion derived a lot of inspiration and wisdom from the Upanishads as well as Kapila’s Samkhya philosophy. Ancient texts are replete with numerous instances that prove that the Hindus nursed a considerable degree of animosity towards Buddhists. For instance, the Sanskrit play, Mrichhakatika, clearly documents this tradition of hostility between the two religions in the country.

In the twelfth century, the invasion of India by Muslims brought about a fragile peace between Hindus and Buddhists. This led to the Buddha being co-opted in the Hindu pantheon as an avatar of Vishnu. Around the same time, Jaidev, the court poet of Lakhman Sen, is believed to have sung paeans to the Buddha as the ninth incarnation of “Keshava”, a fact which is recorded in Geet govindam.

A closer interaction with Buddhism generated certain changes within Hinduism. The former reformed not only the Hindu religion but also Hindu society at large. The concept of dhamma, so to speak, mobilized and unfolded a near-static, inward-looking Hindu society through mendicant monkhood and the expansion of trade and commerce.

In this particular book, the author, Subhadra Sen Gupta, does not quite address the larger socio-economic implications of the synthesis while revisiting the old faith. But she is alive to the nuances of Buddhist philosophy and carefully traces the genealogy of different sects in that particular religion, highlighting their ideological differences. Sen Gupta’s lucid prose throws a flood of light on the Buddha’s life and teachings. The book also devotes considerable space and attention to the influence Buddhism had on literature, art and architecture, as well as on the various sculptures that depict the Buddha in myriad poses. Sen Gupta also dwells on the issue of metaphysical symbolism that is believed to be linked with these figures. The art forms associated with Buddhist imagery, especially the Gandhara school of art which flourished during the Kushana age, have also been dealt with in an expansive manner. The account of the perilous journeys undertaken by Fa-Hsien and Hiuen Tsang have been fleshed out delectably by the author.

The book, as the subtitle suggests, is actually a thoroughly-researched tour guide for pilgrims visiting the famous Buddhist sites in the country. It also comprises wonderful photographs of these sites and important information on travel routes, mode of transport and other logistics. Myths and histories come alive as the reader embarks on a journey through a period of Indian history which witnessed the rise of a truly egalitarian religion. Little wonder then that a great man like B. R. Ambedkar was inspired by Buddhism and believed that the religion could show mankind the true path to emancipation.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050701/asp/opinion/story_4929555.asp