Detlef Kantowsky's Buddhisten in lndien heute (1999) brought to a German audience new material, including many photographs and documents, on six facets of Buddhists life in India today. This English translation by Hans-Georg Tuerstig will bring Kantowsky's innovative study to an even wider audience. He has examined the literature on the New Buddhists, converts in the wake of Dr B.R. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism in 1956, and also studied the All India Bhikkhu Sangha, the organization of monks chiefly from that conversion. The efforts of the Sangha as documented in their conferences are new material in the literature on the Ambedkar movement.
The Maha Bodhi Society chapter also contains an unusual document, a letter from the founder, Anagarika Dharmapala, and the chapter on Bodh Gaya introduces three maps from very different perspectives. The central meaning of Nagpur to the Ambedkar movement is brought out and the Indian wing of the British Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the TBMSG, is analysed. The life of S.N. Goenka, who brought Vipassana meditation back to India, and his establishment, Dhammagiri, brings the book to a close.
Dr Kantowsky examines these facets of Buddhists today in a very personal way, including his opinions as well as the useful photographs and documents he has discovered in his journey among them. He has allowed Eleanor Zelliot to add her comments, sometimes contradictory, in a chapter at the end of the volume to which he replies in a Postscript. The result is a stimulating account of a living religion.
D. Kantowsky, born in Berlin in 1936, retired as Professor of Sociology from the University of Konstanz (Germany) in 1999. He pursued postgraduate studies at Banaras Hindu University from 1964 to 1967 and spent more than a year in a village of Varanasi District. He has maintained close research contacts with the region ever since, and is founder-editor (1990) of a series of publications on 'Buddhist Modernism' especially in the West. His other English publications include Sarvodaya: The Other Development (1980), Recent Research on Max Weber's Studies of Hinduism (1986), An Indian Village through Letters and Pictures (1995).
Eleanor Zelliot was a scholar of the Ambedkar movement in all its historic, social and cultural facets and also works in the field of medieval bhakti as a historian. She wrote some eighty articles in these fields, some of which are gathered in From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement (1992, 3rd edn. 2001).
MY DESCRIPTIONS of Buddhists in present-day India begin with a report about the literature on the social situation and the ritual practices of the New Buddhists. This analysis will be complemented by the following chapters and deepened through observations about and documents concerning the following:
• The Maha Bodhi Society, founded in Ceylon in 1891 as the bearer of a movement for the revival of Buddhism in the country of its origin.
• Bodh Gaya as the central place of Buddhism, where, in 1891, the Buddhist renewal movement began with the goal of recovering and reclaiming the main temple from Hindu domination and use, and to transform the place of enlightenment into a place of worship and devotion for all Buddhists from around the world.
• Nagpur as the central place of a New Buddhist movement, supported by former Untouchables. Here, on 14 October 1956, following the example of their caste-comrade Dr Ambedkar, whom some honoured as a Bodhisattva, several hundreds of thousands of Mahars and a few others publicly took refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the dhamma, and the sangha. Prior to this, they renounced Hindu traditions and deities.
• The Buddhist organization, the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayak Gana (TBMSG), founded in 1976 in Pune and sponsored by the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) based in England in order to help develop a form of socially committed and spiritually motivated lay Buddhism suited to the conditions of the country.
• The All India Bhikkhu Sangha, in which at present 574 monks who mainly come from a New Buddhist background in Maharashtra are registered.The leaders of the Sangha claim to represent the interests of all Buddhists in India and recently demanded that they be entrusted with the guardianship and administration of the Maha Bodhi Maha-vihara in Bodh Gaya.
I WELCOME THIS English edition of Detlef Kantowsky's Buddhisten in Indien heute because it is both innovative and imaginative. Buddhism in India today is in a complex situation, bursting with life and not always understood. Dr Kantowsky has tackled six facets of the Indian Buddhist world, leaving aside the Tibetans, who are covered in much other literature; small groups of Buddhists left over from the ancient Buddhist period; the foreign Buddhist institutions clustered around the Bodh Gaya temple; and the recent conversion movements in Delhi, Kerala, and, elsewhere in India. He brings great personal interest and much personal opinion to his narrative, and also offers niuch in the way of written documents and photographs. Fot instance, the way that Bodh Gaya is represented in various maps and the tedious but fascinating inner workings of the Bhikkhu Sangha are unusual and valuable sources for the student of the Buddhists in India today.
Dr Kantowsky's personal, even at times opinionated, commentary is of special value to me because it allows me to doff my strictly historical hat and write anecdotally of what I know of Ambedkar Buddhism, the TBMSG, and the Vipassana movement also in a personal way. As he notes, I have been bound by my historical approach and have not contributed as much as I know to the body of knowledge about Buddhists today. I also disagree with some of Dr Kantowsky's facts and judgements, and he has most graciously allowed me to place my conmients, at the end of his narrative, after which he will comment again. I hOpe that the result will be a book that engages the reader in a fruitful journey along the many paths of contemporary Indian Buddhism. And even if the journey is beset with questioning and wondering, that can also lead to knowledge.
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