By M.S.N. Menon
Service to mankind?this was the great mission of Buddhism. ?He who would wait on me, let him wait on the sick,? exhorts the Buddha.
Alas, the Buddhists have forgotten their mission! Today, they ?wait? on the Buddha, and not on the sick and suffering. There is nothing to distinguish them from others. But the process can be reversed. ?Our highest duty, as human beings,? says Dalai Lama, ?is to search out the means whereby we may be freed from all kinds of sufferings.?
This was how it all began. On this, the Buddha himself had said: ?When I reflected thus, my disciples,? (that he was subject to decay and not free from the power of old age, sickness and death) ?all the joy of life…died within me.?
?Never before has the founder of a religion spoken like this!? exclaims Paul Dahlke, the German philosopher in his Buddhist Essays. Neither Christ nor Mohammed.
Siddhartha was overwhelmed by the tragic nature of the human condition. How is one to account for this? Desire?excessive desire?the ?thirst for pleasure, thirst for existence and thirst for material wealth?, replied the Buddha. Is there a way to overcome this desire? Yes, there is, by following the Eight-Fold Path.
Here is where Hinduism and Buddhism took different routes. While the Hindu sought his individual salvation, Buddhism sought the collective salvation of the sangha (Buddhist community). Did not the Enlightened One say: ?O Bikhus, go forth everywhere for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for compassion for the whole world.?
It was not a break with Hinduism. In fact, Buddhism ?is the logical development of the religion of the Hindus,? says Dr S.Radhakrishnan. It is time we Hindus saw it in this light. Hinduism had to grow into a world message. It did so in Buddhism. And it went out not to conquer and convert, but to set the example of a holy life, free from passions and desires in the service of mankind.
Ashoka set the example. He built roads, planted trees, constructed hospitals for men and animals, built rest houses, dug wells. And, above all, he gave up wars. Is there any wonder, then if he is called the greatest emperor in history?
An impression has been created that Buddhism is all about seeking nirvana. This is a false view. Buddha did not encourage a monk'slife, or a life of renunciation. He himself set the example by serving men till his death.
Once a rich man, Anandapindika, asked the Buddha: ?Must I, Master, enter into homelessness and give up my work and wealth in order to walk in holiness?? ?Not so, brother,? replied the Buddha, ?remain in your station of enterprise, apply yourself to your affairs with the utmost diligence…only do not cleave insensibly to wealth, life and power.? In short, the dharma does not require a man to go into homelessness or resign the world unless he himself has an inner calling.
Yes, do not cleave insensibly to life, wealth, and power, for these are sources of evil in the world. Evil is associated with the growth of family and private property.
The Buddha wanted men to be self-reliant. This, I believe, was the second mission of Buddhism. The Buddha tells Ananda, his chief disciple: ?O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves, betake yourselves to no external refuge, look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.? And yet the Buddhist clergy continues to ask the lay Buddhists to take refuge in the Buddha and the Sangha!
Buddhism is not a religion in the modern sense of the term. It is not a theistic religion, preoccupied with God and the after-life. It does not encourage dependence on God. In fact, Buddha had little to say on God.
Buddhism,therefore, teaches people to think for themselves, to be self-reliant. ?Place no head above your own,? says the Buddha. Here is a recipe for self-perfection. ?Believe nothing because a wise man said it. Believe nothing because it is said to be divine. Believe only what you yourself judge to be true,? says the Buddha. In short, Buddhism promotes the intellectual development of its lay adherents. Can we say the same of Islam and Christianity?
No wonder, Buddhism is considered the most scientific religion. In asking people to rely on themselves, the Buddha was pointing towards the design of Nature. Did not Nature give man the means to think and reason to make himself self-reliant? After this, to compel man to be guided by books, or to ?surrender? to God, seems very odd indeed! It is a subversion of the working of Nature.
India must still take the lead in Buddhism. The men to lead are sure to come.