Thursday, 27 June 2013

Role of Buddhist Monks and Lay People in the propagation of Buddhism

  Role of Buddhist Monks and Lay People in the propagation of Buddhism
                                                                           S.R.Darapuri I.P.S. (Retd)

Buddhism today is the fourth largest religion in the world. It has been able to give solace and peace to all the human beings. The message of Karuna, Peace and Universal Coexistence has become very relevant in today’s world, which is suffering from many evils. Because of its universal message, Buddhism is becoming a global religion. The present world riven with violence and strife needs Buddhism more than before.
Lord Buddha had founded Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sanga ( Buddhist Monks Order) to preach his Dhamma (Religion) which he founded and bade them to take the massage to distant lands for the good of many and for the happiness of many. “Go ye, O Bhikkhus and wander forth for the gain of many, for the welfare of many, in compassion for the world for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men. Proclaim, O Bhikkhus the doctrine glorious; preach ye a life of holiness, perfect and pure.”
This noble work was carried out by Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis after the “Parinirvan” for about three centuries unaided by any king or queen until Ashoka, the great. He sent trained Bhikkkhus with medicine and herbs to relieve the suffering of the ailing human beings and animals. They traveled to far off places to spread the message of Buddha.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his scholarly essay titled” Buddha and the future of His religion” has said that Buddha created a separate Order (Sangha) of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis to set up a society which would live up to the Buddhist ideals embedded in the principles of Buddhism and serve as a model to the lay men. Buddha also knew that it was not possible for a common man to realize the Buddhist ideals. But he also wanted that these should be placed before the common man and a society of men who were bound to practice his ideals. That is why he created the Bhikkhu Sangha and bound it down by the rules of Vinay.  But there were other purposes which he had in mind. One such purpose was to create a body of intellectuals to give the layman true and impartial guidance. That is the reason why he prohibited the Bhikkhus from owning a property because ownership of property is one of the greatest obstacles in free thinking and free application of free thought.
Again in the introduction to his treatise titled “Buddha and His Dhamma” Dr. Ambedkar while defining the role of a Bhikkhu in society has opined that “if the Bhikkhu is only a perfect man he is of no use to the propagation of Buddhism because though a perfect man he is a selfish man. If on the other hand, he is a social servant, he may prove be the hope of Buddhism. Actually Dr. Ambedkar expected the Bhikkhu to be quite akin to a Christian Missionary who worked like a friend, philosopher and guide to the laity.
In the today’s western modern world, Buddhism has been labeled as Engaged Buddhism which has been defined as Buddhism which is engaged (as opposed to renunciation) in various social, political, economic, etc. institutions, structures and systems in society. Such engagement can take different forms (for example, voting, lobbying, peaceful protest, civil disobedience, and so forth), but it is always aimed at actually challenging and changing those institutions etc that are perceived as perpetuating suffering through various forms of oppression, injustice and the lie. Thus the Bhikkhus have to adopt a new role as Engaged Buddhists who while propagating Buddhism are socially engaged also.
Now let us have a look at the role of the lay persons (Upaskas and Upasikas) in the propagation of Buddhism. As real practitioners of Dhamma, the lay persons are the practical ground of Buddhism. Apart from going to Trisarna or Three Refuges and formal acceptance of Panchsheel or five moral precepts, it is also the responsibility of the laity to provide for the welfare of the monastic community through offerings of clothing, food and the like.
Upasakas and Upaskins by becoming Good Buddhists can become good propagators of Dhamma by becoming role models for others. Sh. Bhagwan Das in his famous write up on “How to become a Good Buddhist?” has described a good Buddhist as the one:” who is striving to attain a higher standard of culture, is truthful, honest, upright, courageous, compassionate and tolerant. He must have a very high standard of morality. He must try to elevate himself as well as those around him. No man can be truly great in isolation. Buddhism is actually opposed to individualism. A Good Buddhist cannot be selfish. He cannot be dogmatic. He is a rational person with compassion and loving kindness for all.” In this way Upaskas and Upasikas can serve as propagators for Dhamma through personal examples of being Good Buddhists.
Apart form the above Dr. Ambedkar in his memorandum submitted to Buddhist Sasna Council of Burma on “Buddhist Movement in India : A Blue Print” has contemplated the appointment of a number of preachers who could go about and preach Buddhism and see how they are following Buddha’s Dhamma. The lay preachers must be paid and secondly they may be married persons. In the beginning they may be part time workers. He further emphasized the introduction of congregational worship in the Viharas on every Sunday followed by a sermon. Dr.Ambedkar further proposed to build temples and Viharas, establishment of schools and colleges and the establishment of seminaries for training of Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis and lay preachers in which the lay persons have a very important role to play.
As discussed earlier in the case of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, the lay persons have also to become Engaged Buddhists just like Buddhists in the west who consider Buddhism as a part of personal cultural equipment and value it as a system of ideas an d orientation and this is an important fact in any discussion of Buddhist activism. Buddhism should be actually made a tool of social and political liberation. This task can be jointly performed by socially Engaged Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis and lay Buddhists. The movements like “Liberation of Mahabodhi Temple” has been rightly labeled by Taran N Doyle as “Socially Engaged Buddhism, Dalit Style.” Thus it transpires that the Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis and lay Buddhists have to play a role in the propagation of Buddhism. to make India and the world at large a Buddhist Heaven as contemplated by Dr. Ambedkar, a great revivalist of Buddhism in the modern world.

1.”Buddha and His Dhamma” Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, Siddharth Publication,Bombay, 1957.
2. “Engaged Buddhism in the West” edited by Christopher S Queen, Boston Wisdom Publication, 2000
3.”Bheem Patrika” Bhagwan Das, Bheem Patrika Pulication Jullunder, Punjab, December, 1973 and February,1974 isues
4.  “Revival of Buddhism in India and the role of Dr. Baba Saheb B.R.Ambedkar” Bhagwan Das, dalit Today Prakashan, Lucknow, U.P.India., 1998
5” Journal of Buddhist Ethics”, 2000 issue
6.” Buddhism in the Modern World” edited by Steven Heine and Charles S Prebish, Oxford University Press
8.  “A to Z of Buddhism” Charles s Prebish, Vision Books Pvt. India, New Delhi, India, 2001  

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