History is full of instances of ‘refugees’ eventually ennobling their host country. Dalai Lama’s legacy will be the noblest that mankind ever knew - if he indeed succeeds in engineering a Buddhist renaissance in India. If India regains its role as the fountainhead of Buddhism, that will be the beginning of a golden page in India’s modern history.
Buddhism will be a broad spectrum antibiotic for the Indian society. The beauty about broad spectrum antibiotics is that they aren’t limited to attacking a particular virus. Thus, while we may isolate an atheistic, crassly materialistic, consumerist, worldly, hugely successful country like China run by hopeless communists through the ‘geopolitical’ weapon of Buddhism, something good may also happen to us through such renewed contact with Buddhism.
Let me modestly number the areas which readily come to mind where intimate contact with Buddhism will do India a lot of good: a) India’s massive militarization; b) our ubiquitous, obnoxious, oppressive caste system; c) Hindutva politics; d) ‘Naxalism’; e) Lok Pal Bill; f) removal of AFSPA in J&K and Manipur; g) end to dynastic politics, h) Koodankulam, etc.
Least of all, India’s historiography. The brutal decimation of Buddhism by the Hindu revivalists has always remained the most shameful chapter in the history of Indian civilisation - so shameful that we even refuse to acknowledge it. In fact, Indian civilisation never recovered from the Dark Age that followed Adi Sankara and the so-called ‘Hindu revivalism’.
My part of India and adjacent Tamil Nadu state were strongholds of Buddhism. There is a strong case for locating proposed International Buddhist Confederation
in one of these states - that is, if UP chief minister Mayawati would agree to forgo her natural claim. The late Dr. P.C. Alexander (former governor and member of parliament) wrote a marvellous PhD thesis while still a doctorate student of history in Kerala University in the late 1940s, which threw much light on the bestiality of the Hindus in driving out the Buddhist monks and nuns from their ‘vihars’ in Kerala by desecrating those sacred abodes of worship and meditation and in many cases by forcefully converting them as Hindu temples!
Alexander’s dissertation was a unique work. It seems the scurrilous songs sung at the time of festivals in some HIndu temples in Kerala hark back to those times of vandalism and barbarism. It seems Hindu fanatics thronged the ‘viharas’ and hurled abuses at the Buddhist monks with a view to scandalise them, which of course eventually forced those pious men to give up, close their ears and walk out…
In Kerala at least, those Buddhist followers who dared to defy the Hindu revivalism and stuck to their faith were outcast as ‘untouchables’ by the ‘revivalists’ and subjected to unspeakable barbarity for centuries. Quite a bit of this gory chapter of India’s civilisational heritage lies locked up in the collective consciousness of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka. So, I wonder how they can ever agree to India’s leadership role in the Buddhist faith. Indeed, we are doing the right thing by linking up with the Australian and Vietnamese Buddhists.
Dalai Lama will be leaving a great legacy behind if he restores Buddhism to its rightful place in the Indian society. But, can he? Will India’s ‘middle class’ elites allow him to do that - the Ranades and Pandeys and Mishras and Tiwaris who would have organised last week’s conclave in Delhi? They may have some specific diplomatic or ‘geopolitical’ use for Dalai Lama, but he will know their true colours if he becomes audacious enough to challenge India’s well-established social and political order.
Indians have burned alive Christian missionaries for far lesser crimes. In sum, I am not convinced that my country is ready for a Buddhist renaissance. For the time being, let us settle for the limited role Buddha can play. Which is to embarrass China - as it keeps rising relentlessly right in front of our eyes.