The Golden Books series of Indian religions is specially planned and designed for the general educated reader in India and abroad, who in the 21st century of the Third Millennium, wants to know about them to contribute his lot to the fast growing globalisation of world cultures. It includes Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhistic and Jain religions, the mainstay of Indian culture, which have made their mark in various ways in Asia and West since olden times. In terror-stricken modern times also, they are trying to play their role in setting things right and devising a new, eclectic wa of life.
Indian religions have lots of philosophy and hundreds of scriptures with commentaries and commentaries on commentaries, which present a highly complicated picture especially in comparison to one-book religion-cultures. The Golden Books select the most important and the best of them, translated into simple, easy and understandable English, by learned scholars and present them in capsule form for wider use and benefit.
Buddhism is a much-loved and respected religion in modern times, as also the image of the great Buddha, which emanates kindness, harmony and peace. Its role in the ancient world, limited to Asia at that time, has been unusually remarkable. It spread by its own intrinsic values, not by force of any kind, and holds its lamp even in the present terror-stricken times. Its scriptures are galore, translated into Chinese, Tibetan, Thai, etc. etc. This work presents the most significant of them selected from various sources, and provides a bird's eye-view of the original Buddhistic, Hinayana and Mahayana traditions for the benefit of the intelligent, conscientions readers. The literary quality of these scriptures adds its special flavour, lacking in most similar writings.
INDIA BOOK VARSITY provides the best of philosophy, religion, arts and history of the most ancient, essentially thought-oriented, secular-democratic, federative and peace-loving community and culture-India-for the new generation now spread all over the world, looking for their roots, identity and seeking authentic knowledge about it.
This is in part a revival of already published works of great quality by Western scholars over a century ago, thoroughly edited, keeping in view the mindset and requirements of the present-day fast progressing youth, and the globalisation of life in all its aspects.
Any ideas and suggestions, as well as support, would be welcome.
The Series-Editor, Mahendra Kulasrestha, has been the first editor of the well known Orient Paperbacks and has been associated with the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, V. Vedic Research Inst., Hoshiarpur, Pb.; Vision Books; Hind Pocket Books; Rajpal and Sons; Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust; HUDCO; DDA (Slum Wing); SEWA Delhi, etc. He has planned and edited the useful Public Concerns Series, and been Consultant Editor of International Books Update.
His books include: Japan-An Enigma, An Anthology of Japanese Literature in Hindi, Tagore Centenary Volume, The Genius of Tagore, Aspects of Indian Culture, World Poetry Number of a Hindi Literary Magazine, An Anthology of Hindi Short Stories, Existence and Other Poems (English translation of Amrita Pritam's poems), A study of 14 Western philosophers in Hindi, etc.
I am also of the definite view that Hinduism made a very great mistake by pushing out Buddhism from their/our country, and without going into a discussion, would like to emphasize the urgent need of rectification, in moral and cultural, as well as political interests. Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherji, the Hindu Mahasabha-Jan Sangh (now BJP) leader, had this vision-which should be honestly followed by the present-day Hindus. The following articles culled from the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda also underlines the good things of Buddhism in an effective manner.
The significance of Buddhism in modern times cannot be under-rated. If religion is a basic necessity for human beings, perhaps Buddhism, with certain pluses and minuses, can be promoted as the global religion of the fast globalising world. Since I am not a scholar of this great religion, I take the liberty of presenting the views of an authority on the subject, Dr. N.K. Devaraja, who retired as the Head of the Dept. of Philosophy at the Benares Hindu University, now late, in some detail. He was also a well-known litterateur, and a friend of the present writer; his works on philosophy are well known. In a contribution to the Silver Jubilee Commemorative Volume of the Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology and other Buddhistic studies, published by Vision Books, with which the present writer has been associated. He writes:
"During the recent decades Buddhism has been steadily gaining in popularity particularly among the intellectuals. Unlike the pundits belonging to the times of Kumarila and Sankara who felt intense hostility towards Buddhism, modern Indian Scholars, most of whom are Hindus and some Jains, have been inclined to be as sympathetic and painstaking in their studies of Buddhist thinkers as in those of their own philosophers. An important factor here, no doubt, has been the growth of the nationalistic sentiment which makes people anxious to recover and preserve our cultural identity vis-a-vis- the cultures of the West, and to reassert, through redefinition and renewed emphasis, the values, intellectual, moral and religious, that characterise that identity. Hindu and Jain scholars have also been struck by the identity of spirit underlying the surface differences between the major spiritual traditions developed in this country. Thus, scholars like late Prof. S. Radhakrishnan, and Prof. T.R.V. Murty have emphasized the similarities of attitude and outlook, as also of spiritual vision, informing such divergent looking systems as the Advaita of Sankara and the Sunyavada of the Madhyamikas.
"In the West, however, the reasons for the increasing popularity of Buddhism have been entirely different. A characteristic development in the West during the past three centuries has been the growth and diffusion of the scientific outlook. The conflict between science and religion during the last several centuries having been settled in favour of science, Western man has been suffering from deeply felt alienation from his ethico-religious heritage. Unable to reconcile Christianity with science, the Western intellectual is faced with the unpleasant choice between disregarding the testimony of science on the one hand and the guidance of religion and the optimism of faith on the other. In the circumstances discerning intellectuals, unable to endure the vacuum created by loss of faith in the traditional religion and its wisdom, felt drawn towards the rationalist gospel of the Buddha with its pronounced aversion to belief in a creator God and the dogma of creation. The empirical of experiential temper of Buddhist teaching is another factor that appeals to the minds of modern men and women. For the Buddha's teaching is based, not on the authority of any scriptures, but on the testimony of experience, the existential situation of man endowed with sensitive self awareness.
"A provocative verse of Dharmakirti enumerates five marks of a fool. These include belief in scriptures, belief in the dogma of creation, and pride born of belief in caste hierarchy. The verse empitomises the revolutionary content of the Buddha's teaching. The Buddhist denial of an enduring self and enduring objects, and their distrust of language as the vehicle of objective knowledge so poignantly expressed by Nagarjuna are other aspects of the Buddhist doctrine that appear intriguing to the modern mind.
"Modern science has progressed by refusing to base itself on authority, religious or personal. Nor does the scientific world-view, insisting as it does on the prevalence of inviolable laws in nature, countenance belief in a creator lord of nature. Science has also dealt a blow to the category of substance, so dear to metaphysicians of all brands. It is no mean achievement of Buddhist thinkers to have questioned that belief centuries before the rise of modern science. And the Buddha's repudiation of caste and of the cult of animal sacrifice, were equally daring feats in the peculiar historical circumstances in which he found himself.
"The peculiar charm of Buddhism for the modern man consists in the fact that, with all its rationalist and experiential bias, it claims to embody a world-view and a philosophy of life that centers mainly around ethico-religions values. In contradistinction to other world religions, Buddhism provides man with a system of religious values without putting him in conflict with science; it thus tends to fill the void produced by the breakdown of traditional religious beliefs, brought about by the impact of science. For, unlike Buddhism, most of the religious traditions require their followers, when faced with the disconcerting consequences of science, to take shelter in uncritical faith-faith in this or that scripture, in this or that Saviour, and so forth. This insistence of faith, on uncritical acceptance of dogmas in conflict with science or reason, produces traumatic disturbances in sensitive minds.
"Buddhism is of interest to the modern man as a creed of philosophy that centres its attention on man and teaches a wisdom that can elevate him spiritually in his life here on earth. This need not imply that Buddhism has said the last word as to the wisdom of living. Nor is it necessary for us today either to accept Buddhism in its entirety or to reject it completely. All that can be claimed on behalf of Buddhism is that, as a religious philosophy and a way of life, it is more suited to our scientific age with its humanistic temper than most other religions of the world."
Our knowledge of Buddhism is limited to the name of Buddha, the words Suffering, Nirvana, and perhaps the maxim Bhaujana Hitaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' also. It is a pity, to say the least. I have always wanted to know more about it; the books simply do not exist. The present work tries to provide a sampler from the many scriptures, representing the two main segments, Hinayana and Mahayana, with selections from his life penned by the famous Sanskrit poet Ashvaghosa, Buddha-Charit, though not form its original in Sanskrit but from its Chinese translation-because Buddhist scriptures were relatively easily available in those languages. The concept of heaven in Buddhism, which sounds strong in the background of its basic ideology, is also presented in a separate chapter; it is known as Sukhavati- the land or city of bliss-and has a much larger and elaborate version also. Buddhism, as it spread in other countries, acquired various shapes and forms, perhaps to suit their levels and requirements.
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