Buddha Purnima in a mainly Buddhist country like Thailand has a special resonance for an Indian. It was quite something this week to see the sincerity of faith in the public and their instinct for beautifying everything they touch from wood to watermelons. The luminous figure of Sakyamuni, hand in ‘abhaya’ (freedom from fear) mudra or ‘bhumisparsha’ mudra (touching Earth for strength and protection) is beautiful to behold. It’s rather like finding an old sandalwood treasure chest and opening it to rediscover ancestral heirlooms. I was fascinated to find for instance, that the Mahavamsa, an old Sri Lankan Buddhist chronicle, relates that King Asoka — that’s right, the king whose ‘wheel of dharma’ is centred on our flag and after whom modern India named her highest military honour, the Asoka Chakra — sent two emissaries, Sona Thera and Uttara Thera (Monk Sona and Monk Uttara) to ‘Suvarnabhumi’, the Golden Land.
Two Jatakas dear to the Thai heart are the episodes of Kings Vessantara (Vishwantara) and Mahajanaka, who were both great givers. It makes you marvel at the unity underlying all religions. At the end of the day, the virtue upheld the most by all great teachers, prophets and gurus is loving service, which includes the ‘daan’ of both pelf and self. It’s great to write cheques and it’s great to volunteer, indeed entire societies subsist on the seva of a strong corps of volunteers. So, following the spirit of our Constitution, it seems a good idea to look again at the best practices we may have let lapse although they were good for India. For one, we could reconsider the concept of a ‘moral science’ class the way we once had it in Indian schools. Many schools already expose their children to and engage them with the seva principle. It was the school movement that stopped many families from buying firecrackers for Dipavali, so we know moral resistance can work (well, we should, considering Bapu).
In an age where examples of verbal and physical violence by public figures are all too common, the need to do some damage control on the minds of watching children becomes critical and crucial to our future. The cynicism that results from watching ugliness every day can perhaps be tackled if exemplary lives are taught with happiness and enthusiasm, not tiresome piety, to children. The Buddha is a sublime example: the prince who had it all, but wanted more.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture