The Majestic Spiritualist
The enlightenment of Gautama at Bodh Gaya made a great impact on human consciousness and changed our future course. In Rabindranath Tagore's novel Ghare-Baire (Home and World), the author-protagonist declares-"It was Buddha who conquered the world, not Alexander"-for Buddha threw light on something of eternal value.
The doctrine of the middle path, which emphasises moderation in all things, accommodation of antithetical points of view, and primacy of a common-sense approach, is not without its possible misuses. To arrive at the middle path is not to compromise but to hold a harmonious view among conflicting interpretations. This is difficult task. At a deeper level, it denotes unity of mind and thought.
In Buddha's conception of dharma, there was no place for priest-craft and ritualism. Love and kindness are the very basis of society. Hatred, he said, is never appeased by more hatred, it could only be defused by friendship and sympathy.
Our ordinary sense of love and compassion is involved with attachment. The deep feeling of compassion and love for one's own family is related to attachment, and so is confined to a limited circle. It is centered on familial relationship. In contrast to this is a clear recognition of the importance and rights of others. Developed from that viewpoint, compassion will reach even our enemy.
Buddha believed that every individual must find the truth in his own way and should question everything, even his own words and sayings. In this new rationality there was no place for blind faith.
M.K.Gandhi felt that if we had accepted Buddha's social philosophy there would have been no question of practicing untouchability.There would have been no denial of education to women or to certain sections of society.
Buddha is today seen as a rationalist, an empiricist, and a social prophet, and his dharma based on non-violence and compassion presents a practical ideology for a new age.In his teachings he never deviated from human nature and natural surroundings.He would emphasise that nirvana or enlightenment was natural to human experience and so was not the preserve of a select few.
Modernists feel strongly about the social role that Buddhism can play.In India, for example, a crusade was initiated in 1958 against the caste theory of untouchability.The solution was presented in the form of a return to Buddhism.It was clear that individuals who would experience cruelty at the hands of some forms of institutional religious practices would be welcome to move to Buddha's teachings of Karuna(Compassion) and love.
Buddha's scrupulous empiricism, his support of intellectual and personal independence, his belief in dialogue and promotion of the "Middle Path" are beacons to help us see our way out of present-day problems.We may not be able to fully practice the method he prescribed or raise ourselves to the level of his conduct but can certainly move towards building institutions and supporting individuals that make for a truly compassionate political and social architecture.
The approach of rational self-enquiry also enables a person to achieve a higher state of discipline and harmony beyond narrow sectarian and national prejudices.All these become axiomatic when seen in the light of the well-known Buddhist maxim-"Be a lamp unto yourself".