The war is over in Sri Lanka. Peace has just begun. How should India react?
Sri Lanka is the only neighbour that India can rely upon. Our links with Tamils and Sinhalas are historical. But the past is still a drag on both. Unless we overcome the unpleasant memories of the past, we cannot work out a new destiny.
But, first, how do we dispel the fears of the Sinhalas? Do they still fear that we may work in favour of the Tamils? That India’s sympathies are still for the Tamils. Or do they still fear that one day Eelam would become a reality and that it would change the course of Sri Lanka’s destiny?
Why do such fears continue to persist? For the simple reason that we—Hindus and Sinhalas—have not exercised our minds on our long term destiny.
Dear Readers, we have, as peoples and nations, our dreams. We want to live in a world which honours our values. There are others who are working for a different world. Naturally, the world is in perpetual conflict. Of late, it is called “the conflict of civilisations.” In this conflict we must have friends.
Who are our friends? Beyond all doubt, the Buddhists first of all. For historical reasons the Sinhalas are our brothers. It was Ashoka who founded the first Buddhist colony in Sri Lanka.
But this is not the only link between Hindus and Sinhalas. There are others—more profound. For example, the fact that Buddhism is the fulfillment of Hinduism. How many of us Hindus know this? Very few. Remember Hinduism swerved into serious errors—to materialism (Kapila), to atheism (Charvaka) and hedonism (Lokayatas). It was the Buddha who opposed these errors. In fact, he saved Hindu civilisation from death. He purged it of its grossest errors—for example, its ritualism and casteism. As for God, Buddha has never said anything definite on the matter. And we Hindus were the first in the world to propagate atheism. And we are not in a hurry to close the discussion on God. Do not forget that we have chosen the jnana marg as our path. In this philosophic quest, only the Buddhists are our companions.
Now that we know that we are together on this cosmic journey, other issues pale into insignificance. Yet we will take up an issue or two.
There is a view among Buddhists (and this is true of Sinhalas) that Buddhism was “driven out of India” by the Hindus. This is ridiculous. The tragedy is: even eminent Buddhists give vent to such canards.
What are the facts? Central Asia, which was Buddhist, was the first to fall to Islam. The Afghan region, again a Buddhist stronghold, resisted Islam for three long centuries! But it fell and the way was open for the final decimation of Buddhism in India.
Buddhism was more well organised in India. Naturally, the Muslims turned their fury on the Buddhists. They destroyed the viharas, which were not only centres of learning, but also the habitat of the Buddhist monks. With the destruction of the viharas Buddhism lost its organisational strength. Worse, those monks who survived the holocaust fled to Nepal, Tibet and South India. It is unfortunate that no Buddhist scholar has ever tried to go into this subject.
The Buddha was highly vanerated by the Kshatriya rulers. And if the Sakas, who embraced Buddhism were driven out by Harsha, let us not forget that Harsha was a great patron of Buddhism. If there was a struggle between Hinduism and Buddhism for pre-eminence, it was largely academic. Sanskrit literature is full of their polemics. With Ashoka’s Third Buddhist Council, Buddhism became pre-eminent in India for a thousand years. It was only after the revival of Hinduism under Shankara that Buddhism lost its pre-eminence. In any case, its decline had set in, after the advent of the Bhakti movement. In the meantime, Islam made rapid advance in India with the unlimited resources of the Muslim empire. If Sanskrit literature is to be believed, Buddhism was deeply corrupted by the 7th century.
We have already taken a few tentative steps to unite the Buddhist states through our “Look East” policy. But the “children of Macaulay are not likely to carry this policy forward.
India was always committed against the division of Sri Lanka. True, this was not always evident and the Sinhalas never believed us. Today, we can say with pride that the Hindus stood by their conviction.