Buddhagaya, The Light Of Asia And Struggle For Spritual Mastery

Speech by 

The study of Buddhagaya is an interesting topic when we attempt to examine its status through the ages. First of all we must agree to this point that the name Buddhagaya emerged just after acquisition of the Supreme Enlightenment by Siddhartha Gautama and then onward he came to be known as the Buddha. Since then Buddhagaya became the place of a holy pilgrimage for all those who adhered to the personality and preaching’s of the Buddha. Its golden days passed through the regimes of Asoka, the Maurya emperor, Harshavardhana, the ruler of Kanauj, the Pala rulers of Bengal and Bihar, and some tolerant rulers of eastern and southern India.[1] This is evident from Buddhist art, architecture and other monuments spread widely in India. Above all, Buddhist monasteries and educational centres of India are the best examples.[2] All these points indicate that the epicenter of Buddhism had always been Buddhagaya.

However, a turning point came when the Turkish invasion, under the leadership of Bakhtyar Khilji took place in A.D. 1199. It was a serious calamity. Educational institutions and monasteries were destroyed to a large extent.[3] Very recently a reliable evidence has been excavated from famous site of Telhara near Nalanda Mahavihara. It is a stone inscription which mentions that the invaders had demolished it for the sake of a big treasure.[4] This spread a panick in the Buddhist world. Image of Buddhagaya and its other precincts suffered much due to lack of visits of pilgrims and followers. Besides anti-Buddhist religious groups were additional disturbing agents. They regularly campaigned against the original doctrine of the Buddha and tried their best to underestimate and belittle the sanctity of Buddhagaya. Buddhagaya went down the memory lane of historians. About four centuries later Buddhagaya witnessed an ‘Age of Darkness’ when in 1590 a wandering Savia Sanyasi, named Gosai Ghamandi Giri came to this place and settled over here with a determination to dominate over the Mahabodhi Mahavihara complex.[5] His disciples gradually spread their sphere of influence and converted the image of the Buddha into an image of Siva by applying white paint and other devices, although this humiliating and bad situation could not be perpetuated.

Fortunately, after a long gap of time, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, an extraordinary event occurred when the famous poetic work The Light of Asia of Sir Edwin Arnold came to light in 1875. Sir Edwin Arnold (10 June 1831-24 March 1904) was not only a composer of this prestigious poetry over the life and achievements of the Buddha, but was also an activist Buddhist who carried on a great campaign. He personally visited Buddhagaya and wrote an independent text related with his experiences and appeals to the proper authorities and concerned sources.[6] This Report is very touching and full of detailed description of the Mahabodhi Mahavihara temple. No other piece of work better than this could convass the cause of Buddhagaya among the Buddhists of the world. It has been mentioned that “Arnold introduced the World’s Buddhists to each other. The struggle for Buddhagaya united the Buddhist world more than any number of committees, flags or common principles could ever do. Buddhagaya became the responsibility of Buddhists everywhere.”[7]

On this piece of information, the great Buddhist monk-scholar, Anagarika Dharmapala (17 Sept. 1864 – 29 April 1933) of Ceylon, had been moved by description of Buddhagaya by Sir Arnold and rushed to inspect and observe personally at Mahabodhi Mahavihara Temple. Dharmapala went into action. He fired off dozens of letters and articles for Buddhist publications. His own funds were nearly exhausted, but vowed not to leave, even if he were to die of starvation. On February 7, 1891 he wrote in his Diary, “This night at 12 for the first time in my life, I experienced that peace which passeth understanding. For the next forty years, until his death in 1933, the battle for Buddhagaya would be at the centre of Dharmapala’s life. [8]

Anagarika Dharmapala founded on 11 May 1891 Bodhgaya Maha Bodhi Society, in Colombo with a firm aim to return Bodhgaya to the World’s Buddhists. After encountering many hurdles created by the Mahant, he organised an International Buddhist Conference at Bodhgaya. Delegates came from Chittagong (Bangladesh at present), Ceylon, China and Japan and many strong resolutions were passed. In this connection he also floated a Buddhist journal, the Maha Bodhi Journal for uniting the Buddhists of the World. In its first issue of May 1892, edited by Anagarika Dharmapala, his co-campaigner Colonel, Olcott wrote, “A United Buddhist World”, and “The Mahayana School of Buddhism”. These articles manifested unprecedented effect and soon aroused the unique missionary fervour of the modern International Buddhist movement for Bahujana Hitaya and Bahujana Sukhaya.[9] Later, Dharmapala initiated a vigorous movement for the purpose of materializing his aim with the cooperation of Indian Buddhists under the leadership of Ven. Kripasaran Mahasthavira, the founder of the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha (Bengal Buddhist Association) of Calcutta.[10]

An opportunity came in course of this prolonged struggle for Mahabodhi, Mahabodhi Mahavirahara, when Anagarika Dharmapala met Mahatma Gandhi and put the whole story of Mahant and his efforts for the Temple. Mahatma Gandhi responded, “Much as I should like to help you, it is not possible for me to do anything directly at present moment. The question you raise can be solved in moment when India comes to her own.”[11] In fact, it was the time of Independence struggle for India and no concrete result came at the moment. But peaceful struggle continued. In this connection Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana and Sankaracharya episode of arguments for and against the cause of Buddhayaya followed. But it was merely an academic venture. Finally after Indian Independence Bodh Gaya Temple Act (Bihar Act XVII of 1949) was passed. That Act provides the constitution of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (B.T.M.C.) for entrusting it with the management and control of the Buddha Gaya Temple. [12]

In this way, an interesting phase of Buddhagaya found suitable place on national and international fora or platforms which emerged as a history to be remembered and lessons to be followed in future. The glory of Buddhagaya, after all, is to be found in the proper processes through which Siddhartha Gautama could acquire Supreme Enlightenment. An account of these processes has been given in a small Booklet, Glory of Buddhagaya by the late Ven. Dr. Rastrapal Mahathera. Description of those places in the premises of Mahabodhi Mahavihara is highly inspiring. In the light of the above mentioned script I would like to quote the last utterance of the Buddha as shown in the Mahaparinibbanasutta[13] wherein the Buddha said “accomplish your task free from laziness diligently.” [Amantayami O, Vayadhamma Sankhara, Appamadena Sampadeyanti]



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