Buddhism has to evolve to
remain socially relevant in Asia
By Madhusree Chatterjee
Delhi, Nov 21 (IANS) Buddhism will have to evolve rites and
rituals to become more socially relevant in Asian nations,
including India, where people identify religion with prayer
rites, feels Buddhist scholar Lokesh Chandra.
is an institution which is highly centralised and it does
not have a socio-religious structure. Most of its rituals
are monastic because monks live in communities. In India,
especially with regard to Hinduism, rituals give religion
social relevance," Chandra told IANS, in response to
the query why Buddhism, which was born in India, has been
reduced to a minority faith here.
to the scholar, the mainstream Hindu religion in India could
be divided into three components - rituals, vidwan or vidya
(religious scholars or knowledge) and the priests or purohits,
the lords of the rituals.
Hindu priest is always a married man - who must have his wife
next to him to conduct rituals, Chandra said. But Buddhist
monks are bound by vows of celibacy.
81-year-old scholar won this year's Dayawati Modi Award for
Arts, Culture and Education along with Tibetan spiritual leader
the Dalai Lama.
has no texts, no domestic rites, the scholar pointed out.
"Last week, I told a Japanese delegation that unless
you create rituals, the religion will not survive.
the Buddhist monasteries were destroyed in Islamic India,
nothing remained of the monks, barring their communes. The
shrines were razed, and along with it the scriptures and documents
preserved over several centuries.
of the monks moved out of the country. As a result, the faith
became a code of monastic rites practised within the precints
of the monastery," Chandra explained.
scholar supported his statement with arguments from everyday
"What happens if a couple who are Buddhists by faith
want to marry? Where do they go to get married - at the monastery
or at home? The monastery has no wedding rites and the faith
does not provide for domestic rituals for couples to marry
Who will sanction their wedding?"
said recently he had to create a set of ad hoc wedding rituals
for one of his Buddhist friends, who wanted to solemnise his
son's wedding according to the Buddhist faith. "But it
was a personal affair," the scholar said.
said the community of Jains in India faces a similar problem
because all Jain religious rituals relate to their seers.
"They do not apply to the common man".
Chandra feels, is a homocentric religion - one that serves
humanity - in contrast to theocentric faiths like Hinduism
that centre on the concept of gods.
aspect of the faith makes it relevant to today's troubled
times. The answer to conflicts around the globe could also
lie in Buddhism because it teaches "sharing", Chandra
does not preach tolerance, but mutual respect," the scholar
said. The root of fundamentalism, he explained, lay in absolutism
moment one learns to share and respect diverse cultures and
thoughts, terror will cease to exist and schisms will fade.
If you have to eliminate terrorism, you have to fight god
because he is dictatorial and absolute," he said.
a tenet from Buddhism, Chandra said: "When the Buddha's
favourite disciple and cousin Ananda asked him who would lead
the Buddhists after the Buddha's death, Gautama replied, 'Seek
the dharma within you'."
is currently working on a 15th century biography of the Buddha
from the Ming period with illustrations and Chinese notations.
He has more than 360 works and texts to his credit, including
classics like the "Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary",
"Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature",
"Buddhist Iconography of Tibet" and a 20-volume
dictionary of Buddhist art.
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)