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Buddhism—an Indian contribution to World Civilisation

Friday, June 1, 2018

Greetings to the East Indian community following the recently observed Indian Arrival Day. It is now 173 years since the East Indians have been domiciled here and they have been recognised for their innumerable contributions to T&T as well as to the wider world.

In fact, India’s accomplishments have positioned the country at a high point in what is now called soft-power, a concept about which I shall write on another occasion. But there are some achievements that are not apparent to us in T&T.

Buddhism is one of them.

Buddhist devotees worldwide number over a billion. The founder of Buddhism was an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama. He was also called Gautama Buddha, sometimes Shakyamuni Buddha or just The Buddha. He was born into a royal family sometime between the 6th and 4th Centuries in Lumbini.

Siddhartha’s spiritual quest guided him to a Middle Way, a reformation of Hindu precepts.

Emperor Ashoka the Great, who was born in 304 BC and reigned from 268-232 BC, was the first Indian ruler to propagate the spread of Buddhism. Considered to be one of the greatest Indian leaders, he spread Buddhism via missions to various countries as far south as Sri Lanka and as far west as certain Greek kingdoms.

Ashoka’s edicts written on pillars and rocks have been a fundamental tenet of Indian civilisation. One source states:“The inscriptions revolve around a few recurring themes: Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism, the description of his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare programme. The edicts were based on Ashoka’s ideas on administration and behaviour of people towards one another and religion.”

The Ashoka Chakra, so called because it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, has been placed at the centre of the current Indian flag, replacing the spinning wheel which was on the pre-Independence flag.

Gandhi embraced the Buddhist concept of ahimsa (doing no harm to others) and incorporated it in his doctrine of non-violence.

Rabindranath Tagore said, “At Gandhi’s call all India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before, in earlier times, when … Buddha proclaimed the truth of fellow feeling and compassion among all living creatures.”

It is not good that there is no curriculum in our schools for Indian history (nor for that matter, African, Chinese, Syrian and Lebanese history). Where faiths are concerned there are no programmes for comparative religion.

When we consider Buddhism, which remains a minority faith in T&T, there were Buddhists among early Chinese immigrants. Trevor Millette, author of “The Chinese in Trinidad”, outlines their experience.

T&T had an acquaintance with Buddhism because of Lobsang Rampa, a widely read author during the 1960s and 1970s. Investigations have revealed that there is suspicion about the true spiritual experience of Rampa.

On the other hand, we know His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who now lives in exile in India, is a revered and popular world figure. He was in T&T at a Harmony in Diversity Conference in September 1995.

Within recent times the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) International, followers of Nicheren Daishonin, have become the most prominent group among the small gatherings of Buddhists in T&T.

Originally called Soka Gakkai, the multi-faceted organisation was formed in the 1930s in Japan as a reformation of the 700-year-old Nicheren School of Buddhism. In 1975, Daisaku Ikeda became the president of SGI when it became an international organisation.

SGI came to T&T in 1960 and they follow the Lotus Sutra. The sutras are collections of the Buddha’s teachings.

Their perspective is that “both communism and capitalism have used people as means for their own ends. But in the Lotus Sutra…we find a fundamental humanism in which people are the goal and purpose, in which they are both protagonist and sovereign.”

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is their mantra.

Aiyegoro Ome


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