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The Buddha Smiles
The Times of India

The Buddha would have been amused at the headlines describing the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statue by the Taliban. The Buddha cannot be blasted nor can he be bombarded. To mistake the likeness of the Buddha made by human hands and not to take part in a communion with the essence of the Buddha is to miss the message of impermanence, non-spirit and suffering of the Mighty Intellect. The artist who visualised the Bamiyan Buddha would have first invoked, as per tradition, the moods of friendliness, compassion, sympathy and impartiality. He would not be driven by considerations of self-expression nor ideas of connoisseurship and aestheticism. The state of mind and the importance of the idea itself was all important. All these virtues are sadly amiss in the hearts and minds of those who are breaking ancient monuments in Afghanistan as well as those who seem to be protesting about such vandalism. In the Divyavadana, Upagupta asks Mara, who has the power of assuming shapes at will, to take the likeness of the Buddha. Upagupta bows in reverence to this figure, which shocks Mara. Upagupta says that he is not worshipping Mara but the person represented by Mara:"Just as people venerating earthen images of the undying angels do not revere the clay as such, but the immortals represented therein." The least that can be said about the events in Afghanistan is that these are the triumph of the slave mentality, the main characteristic of which is the spirit of revenge. The ideal typical slave is incapable of forgetting, unable to love, admire or respect. Such individuals constantly impute wrong to others and perpetually blame the whole world for real and imagined wrongs. They cannot give or create.

In other words, there are Taliban-like organisations, individuals and symptoms within India which are as intolerant and brutal as their counterparts in Afghanistan. The sangh parivar for long has represented and actively promoted this negative strand in Indian society. Acharya Giriraj Kishore's reaction to the happenings in Afghanistan is indicative of the cult of hatred and mindless recriminations that the sangh parivar has promoted. Where were these self-righteous guardians of Indian heritage when the Babri Masjid was destroyed? If the statues in Bamiyan are `our' heritage, then so is the Babri Masjid. Instead, the Taliban and the sangh parivar have sought to divide the world into `us' and `them', between `friend' and `foe'. What is common to both is a very literal interpretation of Islam and Hinduism, without remotely understanding the essence of either faith. Also, the sad state of our museums and monuments suggests that our concern for heritage is extremely superficial. What the Taliban has done in a couple of days is being systematically done slowly and steadily for the past fifty years. "We shall not stand on the Buddha's head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry dock", lamented the writer Bruce Chatwin in 1980. Sad indeed. But this gives us an opportunity to look inwards and set our own house in order.


Updated: 9-3-2001

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